"Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said, Because of your unbelief."—Matt. 17:19
It was a beautiful summer morning; the light was falling softly over the plain, the great plain that lay at the foot of Mount Hermon, when our Lord and His disciples descended from the Mount of Vision. It had been a wonderful time for them, which they could never forget. They had beheld Jesus in unparalleled glory, had seen a new light thrown upon the Old Testament Scriptures, and had received the most conspicuous and indubitable testimony it was possible to receive of their Master's unique relationship to God.
Suddenly they came upon an excited multitude, who ran to meet them, the Scribes in their midst, whilst a father, full of anxiety about his child, emerging from the crowd, threw himself at the feet of the Master and told Him of the demon-possessed boy, "who had been so from a child," and of the failure of the Master's disciples to help him. They came to Him afterwards with the inquiry of the text:
"Why could not we cast him out?" It is a question that is always being asked, and always should be asked. We have no right, in our conflict against evil, to sit down content to fail. God has so constituted the world that, strong as evil is, good is stronger; mighty as Satan is, Christ is mightier. There is no reason, therefore, for perpetual defeat, and it becomes us most earnestly to investigate the reason why we cannot cast out the great antagonist of good. The Greeks tell us of Sisyphus, who was always rolling the stone uphill that was always returning upon him. One of the saddest things for us all is to find that the world is still possessed with the same demon that assailed it centuries ago, and we go back to our Master, as our forefathers have done, saying, "Why have we failed? Why could not we cast him out?" And what is true of the whole Church is true of the individual. The youth becomes conscious of the power of an evil habit; he says, "I will soon overcome it," and girds himself to wrestle with it as though victory were easy and certain; but the habit proves itself too strong and resists his effort, and the young soul sinks down tired and amazed at its impotence, saying sadly, "I suppose I cannot help it." So year after year he allows himself to be led in chains. We fight, we try to exorcise the demon, but he laughs at us. We bid him be gone, but he returns; and even when our feet are beginning to touch the waters of Jordan we cry in supreme surprise, "Why could not I cast him out?"
And why is it that the evil is too strong, whether of drink, of impurity, of jealousy, or of pride? Why do the old strong evils resist the Church today as in early days? Why does that man fail in his inner conflict? Why? The Master says, "Because of your unbelief."
This was the mistake—there was no faith. Faith is the union between the Divine and the human, the receptivity on the part of man of the Divine dynamic, and unless you have these two united, Satan will laugh you to scorn. Only let there be faith, let the soul of man be saturated with the Holy Spirit of God's power, then the might of God working through a human soul as its yielded agent will be more than a match for every form of evil. The chisel, says Phillips Brooks, is naught without the sculptor's hand, nor the sculptor apart from the chisel; unite them, and the result is sure. Man without God is impotent, and God refuses to do His miracles apart from man, but Faith is the union of the twain.
Take the case of a man who is fighting against his own special form of evil, and probably there is some back door in every man and woman's life through which some special form of evil finds its way, and has so often entered that it is almost habitual to expect it to come. But directly the soul opens its whole capacity towards God, weeping its tears of bitter repentance, making its vow in the Divine presence and strength, willing to obey His commands, and keeping out of the way of temptation, victory is certain. Our faith must open itself to God, who will not act outside us mechanically, but in and through us spiritually. God does not save us, as He created the worlds from without, but with our acquiescence and fellowship, i.e., by faith. God works in us to will and to work, but we must work out what He works in. Ask, then, why you have failed, and you will find it there.
"Nothing shall be impossible to you." Here is a seed lying inoperative; it cannot produce its kind for want of soil, and there is the soil full of energy, but of itself, without the seed, it cannot produce mustard-trees. So man is helpless without God, and God will not act without man. Now put the seed into the soil. At first it is despoiled of its beauty, and seems overwhelmed by death; then the energy of Mother Earth knocks at its tiny door, and a kindly voice says, "May I come in?" The tiny, hopeless seed replies, "I am so small, so spoiled by the dark earth, so unable to give you aught, but you may come in if you like." Then Mother Earth enters gladly, her energy forces down the rootlet and forces up the tender green shoot, and presently the slender stalk begins to grow up into the great tree. Seed and soil working in co-operation produce the tree.
Perhaps in your family there is some demon-possessed one; in your place of business, or in your workshop. But each of these might be delivered from this demon power. It does not matter how evil they are; probably it is in part due to your unbelief if the demons still possess that place, and to your unbelief if the demons still possess that life. There is ample power in the Risen Christ, and if you would only yield your entire nature to Him, His omnipotent might would enter and flow through you to salvation.
No demon power can stand before Christ if Christ is in you, but there must be prayer and fasting. Prayer—that is, the transfiguration mount; fasting—that is, the putting away of everything that hinders the Spirit. We keep saying, Why cannot we have a revival? But we must put out of our own lives the thing that hinders Him who alone is the author of revival. We must abstain from wrong things, doubtful things, and questionable things. "This kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting." It is at ruinous cost to the spirit that we pamper and indulge the flesh; but when the body is kept in its right place, and the spirit exerts its rightful supremacy, it becomes as receptive of the power of God, as the seed is receptive of the power of Mother Earth. Moreover, as the power of Nature in the seed is often strong enough to burst open leaden coffins, to disintegrate brick and marble walls, and to roll down masses of earth from the cliffs, so the power of God, working through yielded souls, is irresistible. "All things are possible to him that believeth."
The father said, "If Thou canst do anything for us." But the Lord replied, "If thou canst believe." Not, Can God overcome the power of evil within my heart? but, Can I believe that He will? Not, Can God work a revival? but, Can His people in united prayer believe that He can? Not, Can God save the heathen? but, can His Church believe as much? What art thou, great mountain, casting thy shadows far across the plain? Thou shalt be leveled to the earth before the faith of one who is little else than a helpless worm, but is entirely surrendered to the indwelling and in-working of the Omnipotence of God.
"Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God" (i.e., "Have the faith of God").—Mark 11:22
This is altogether a remarkable incident. Coming, on one of the last mornings of His life, from Bethany to Jerusalem, our Lord, being hungry, saw a fig tree, whose leaves suggested the supposition that there might be some figs also. Approaching this tree, He found that there were leaves only, and therefore pronounced upon it His anathema, that it might stand for evermore upon the page of inspired truth as a reminder that the fruitless soul, or nation, which abounds in promises but not in fruit, must be exposed to the Divine curse. This was only doing in a moment of time what is constantly being done throughout the universe—that that which ceases to fulfill its function is put away. On the following morning, when He and His apostles again traversed the same route, they saw this fig tree standing shriveled and dead upon the side of the path. It immediately arrested the attention of Peter especially, who pointed it out to the Master, and said, "See, Master, how pertinent your curse was; the fig-tree is withered."
Now, we might have supposed that the Lord would have then turned to the apostolic band, and pointed out the lesson of the cursing of the fig tree, and perhaps have gone forward to show how, for souls of men and nations and Churches alike, such a doom must ensue upon barrenness. Instead of that, however, He said "Have faith in God, for if you do you will have power, not simply to wither fig trees, but to remove mountains." In other words, instead of deducing an obvious lesson from the stricken tree, He proceeded to indicate the power by which it had been stricken, that it had been by an act of faith in His Father; that the tree stood there blasted, not by the putting forth of His own inherent Divine power, but by the reception from the Father of His power which awaited His demand. Then, turning to the apostles, He said in effect: "The very power that I exercise may be exercised by you; and the attitude of spirit by which I put Myself into union with God, so that His might may pass through Me and work with Me, is the function that you too may exercise—have faith in God." It seems, therefore, as though Christ stands in the midst of His Church, unfolding the conception of an altogether new force, which is within the reach of spiritual men.
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Suppose, as we opened our newspapers tomorrow morning, we were to see heading one of the paragraphs or articles the announcement of the discovery of a new motive force. There have been several such discoveries. There was the discovery, for instance, of the mighty power of steam, of the mysterious force of electricity, of the novel power of compressed air. But suppose, in addition to these, there should be the announcement of the discovery of a new and yet more compelling dynamic, would not wealth and commercial enterprise set all the scientific men of the world to work to discover the laws of its operation?
But Jesus Christ has discovered a new force, the operation of which He discloses in this word. Mountains have always stood in the way of the improvement of the world. They have reared their mighty crests and ramparts, forbidding men to go farther. Man has been pent and confined, so to speak, in the valleys, and has longed for room to spread himself out right and left, but the mountain ranges have forbidden him. He has imagined, therefore, that mountains should be removed by engineering, by excavation or tunneling. And accordingly he has sought by all the ingenuity in his power to remove the mountains of evil by which the progress of the world has been arrested. Still, age after age the mountains have laughed at his efforts to remove them. Finally he has resigned himself to his fate, and has piously wished that the time might be hastened when God would remove the mountains. Man tries his best and fails. Then he looks to God, but God does not come out of His hiding-place. The mountains still stand.
Then Jesus Christ stands amongst us and says: "There is another method of dealing with the mountains—not man by himself, not God by Himself, but by a new unit of power, in virtue of which God and man may blend perfectly, man becoming the receptacle of God, and God indwelling man, working through man, co-operating with man. You may depend upon it, that there is a method of submission of the human will to the Divine will which makes way for the Divine power to enter the soul, and so the soul becomes empowered with an altogether new energy; and when it steps forth in union with the eternal God to confront the difficulties by which the world is cursed, it cries, "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Jehovah thou shalt become a plain." The temple, the building of which seemed surrounded by every obstacle, is completed, to remain for centuries as the House of God.
Jesus Christ has introduced among men a new conception, a new unit of power; not of man alone, not of God alone, but God received into the heart—into Livingstone's heart, into Spurgeon's heart, into Müller's heart—so that things which man would be unable to effect become easy by virtue of his union with the Almighty.
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But faith must be nurtured. To some extent it is possible to create and foster this attitude of soul by studying the promises of the Bible—taking up promise after promise, looking at them, and setting one's heart to believe and expect; but even thus the soul often fails of strength, and the palsied. Hand falls back in its impotence. No, we cannot get this wonderful attitude of soul, before which trees shall wither and mountains disappear, until we learn to live in constant fellowship with the Promiser. We must know more and more what it is to enter into the chamber of God's presence. The eye of the soul must be directed towards Him, receiving within it impressions of His majesty and truth and love. The ear of the soul must always be attent to His voice, that through His Word spirit and life may be generated. We must spend time—hours of fellowship, days of intense communion, in fact, all our life must be spent in the very presence-chamber of God; we must summer and winter with Him until the thought of God engrosses us.
There are three methods which will help us.
(1.) The Study of Nature.
To look up at those wonderful stars, perhaps from the deck of a steamer on the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, and to realize that God sent each of them upon a mission, and sustains them by His mighty power, and to say to oneself: "The God that made the Milky Way, the Creator of that clustered light, is mine; I am His child. I am greater than this ocean, greater than this world, greater than this universe. I am a child, and in my heart there is a spark of His own nature." Thus one has climbed up the ladder of Nature to realize the greatness of God, and, turning to some difficulty, some mountain which has stood right in the path, one has said to oneself : "God made these stars and sustains them by His power; He is in me, and through me He can make that mountain disappear. He built the mountains and He can destroy them."
(2.) The Study of Scripture.
The promises are faith's natural and necessary food. As we take up the Bible and consider the wonderful things which God has done for His saints, we are tempted to forget our own special difficulty and trouble. As we become absorbed with the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, of the falling of the walls of Jericho, of the mighty deliverances vouchsafed to God's ancient people; and as we think of the God of history, the God of the saints of all the ages, our souls expand, and we exclaim, "What are mountains, the mountains of difficulties which hem in our lives, to Him?"
The Study of our own life-story. There are times when we forget Nature and History, and begin to recall the wonders of our own redemption—how we have been brought up from the miry clay and horrible pit; how our sinful souls have been cleansed by His precious blood; how the whole force of preference and desire, which were once toward evil, has been turned toward God. We know the aspirations of our heart are towards Him; we realize what He has done in our moral and spiritual nature ; and we reckon that He who has brought us to this moment will perfect what concerneth us. Know God, live with God, call on history, call on Creation, call on the record of your own soul, and get great thoughts of Him, and then throw wide your entire nature to Him, and let the tide of His Being come flooding up into the bay, let the light of His glory permeate the hemisphere, let the whole being be empowered by God in you, with you, and through you, then speak. Say to the mountain, "Remove " Dare to believe that God in you can accomplish everything which He allows you to claim and trust for.
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Notice here one of the deepest words Christ ever spoke. He says: "Whatsoever things ye desire when ye pray"—the old version puts it, "believe that ye receive them"—but the new version suggests, "believe that ye have received them." Now here is the great law.
"Believe that you have received and you shall have." Oh, if I could rivet those words upon you so that you could never forget them! "Believe that you have received." O servants of God, what prerogatives are yours when by faith you get within the veil, and receive from God definitely that which is not yours as yet in experience!
Hudson Taylor’s "Have faith in God" might be rendered, "Reckon on God's faithfulness." Put it as you will, it is only when the soul looks away from emotions and appearances, and counts on God, that it becomes able to believe that it has received when as yet there is no outward and visible sign. You see the mountain, but you look at God, you take from God. There is a definite transaction, a promise, and a guarantee. You leave the presence of God knowing you have received, though as yet your hands are empty, and the difficulty as great as ever, but you are not discouraged, you know that you have your petition. By faith and patience you inherit the promise. Hour after hour passes, the mountain is there; day after day, the mountain is there; week after week, the mountain is there ; and then some morning you wake up and the mountain is gone!
Some are face to face with the mountain of guilt, of unforgiven sin, and penalty. Look at the Cross; there a Sacrifice is being made which is to put it away; look into the face of God and receive His forgiveness; then go forth, not necessarily feeling it, but counting on it; not rejoicing in it, but reckoning on God that He has done in the spiritual sphere what presently will appear in the emotional.
Some may have an awful difficulty to meet tomorrow, the result of circumstances over which they have no control, which, like a mountain, cast a shadow over their life, hiding their sun. Do not look at the difficulty, look at the great Father-heart of God, and receive His deliverance; and then, if the actual emancipation tarries, know that deliverance must come. Increase your capacity of receiving by greater thoughts of God, until you realize that He grants deliverance; and when you come to the hour of difficulty the mountain will have become a plain.
Some are perpetually being met by terrific temptation, and always fall under it. Have a transaction with God today, receive deliverance—a deliverance which will be yours as long as you live. Count on God to be true, and face your temptation; it will have become a plain.
Some are doing Christian work, but are overpowered by its difficulty—the poor neighborhood, the squalid people, the drink, betting, and impurity. Deal with God about it, and then go forward: "He shall have whatsoever he saith." Say it; speak out; dare, in the name of God, to utter the word of emancipation, of deliverance. Say to the mountain, "Begone!"
Let us take this as our motto from today: "I will make my mountains a way," and what has resisted and opposed you shall be the very pathway by which you advance to new victory. Oh, what victory is ours when we have learnt the secret of union with God, of receiving from God, of meeting difficulty in God! For the soul that rests in Him there are no more mountains of insurmountable difficulty. He makes the crooked places straight and the rough places plain, and reveals His glory to the soul.
"All things are possible to him that believeth."
These chapters are taken from F. B. Meyer’s The Soul’s Wrestle With Doubt.