The Energy of Faith – John Henry Jowett (historic sermon 1863-1923)
“Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence, to yonder plain: and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” – Matt. 27:20
And this great and optimistic evangel was spoken, not to men who were marching with swinging jubilant stride in the paths of victory, but to men who were temporarily disheartened under the experience of defeat.” Nothing succeeds like success”; it is easy to be an optimist, and optimistic counsel is congenial, when one has the “open sesame,” when the iron gate swings back at one’s approach, and the obstructive mountains sink into a plain. In such conditions it is easy to engage in the winning shout. But is there anything more pathetic and depressing than the spectacle of men baffled in a noble enterprise and retiring beaten from the field? What can be more pathetic than to have watched some chivalrous knight, riding forth in the promising dawn, with waving plume and glittering lance, returning, in the melancholy evening, torn, bespattered, and ashamed, leaving the flippant enemy triumphant on the field? And the tragedy of the home-coming is all the deeper and darker when the way winds through ranks of contemptuous crowds, who assail the beaten knight with ribaldry and jeers. Such was the pitiable condition of this little company of the first knights of the Lord’s Kingdom. They had gone forth with flying banners, gazed at by sullen and silent crowds: they crept back with drooping banners, to the laughing accompaniment of the crowd’s contempt. They had met the enemy, and they had been overwhelmed in the fight. They had gone forth to battle, and they had been driven from the field. “I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him!”
Let us get the scene into the imagination. Here is a man devil-possessed, writhing in the torment of his awful bondage. And here are the expulsive knights of the Kingdom. And around them is a great crowd, the majority of them hostile, many of them cynical, and all of them curious, watching this mysterious encounter with devouring interest. And the knights of the Kingdom get to work. They command, but they are not obeyed! One after another tries his power, but his power is proved to be weakness. The knights become more vehement, their imperative rises to a scream, but the devil remains enthroned! Time after time is the attempt repeated amid the muttered comments of the suspicious crowed, and time after time are they repulsed, until at last these much-claiming knights have to confess their failure, and, to the accompaniment of laughter, they retire angrily or silently from the field, leaving the devil in possession. “I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”
The victim was possessed of a devil. I will only pause to say I accept the explanation of his bondage. Some malign presence was making this man’s life chaotic, and was driving him according to its own malicious whim. There are phenomena in human life which cannot be otherwise explained. I cannot explain mysterious emergencies in my own mind and soul except on the theory of subtle and active presences, who seek by illicit snare and fascination to entice me into degrading bondage. The glamour of the world does not account for them. The gravitation of the flesh is an insufficient explanation. They are only interpreted in the Scriptural suggestion that “our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” But it is not necessary for my present purpose to win your assent to any particular theory: it is sufficient to insist that here was an evil in possession, exercising horrible control, paralyzing its pitiable victim, and the knights of the Lord’s Kingdom were incompetent to its expulsion. The evil was left on the field!
Now, our modern experiences very readily lead us to place ourselves in the depressed ranks of the defeated knights. Who is there who has not set out to evict an established evil, and who has not encountered bitter and ultimate defeat? It may be the evil possession was in your own body, or in your mind, or soul, or, maybe, it was housed in the life of your child, or in the life of your friend, or perhaps it was lodged in the corporate body in the shape of some social tyranny, some industrial disease, some national vice, whatever it be, and wherever its home, you have faced the intruder with the purpose of expulsion, and you have signally and utterly failed.
And now it is high time we hear our Master’s explanation of the failure. “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast it out? And He said unto them. Because of your unbelief!” There is no uncertainty in the diagnosis. The cause is not complicated. It is single and simple. “Unbelief!” There had been a want of confidence. There was doubt at the very heart of the disciple’s effort. There was a cold fear at the very core of his enterprise. He went out with a waving banner, but the flag in his heart was drooping! “Because of your unbelief!” Our Lord is not referring to unbelief in any particular doctrine, but rather to the general attitude and outlook of the soul. There was no strong, definite confidence in the disciple, and such unbelief always ensures paralysis and defeat. Power belongs to the positive: our confidences generate our force. Energy is not born of denials, but of affirmations. Denials are only empty cartridges, possessed of no explosive strength. Negations are not potencies, even though we have sufficient to load a ship. What do we believe?
What is the range and quality of our confidence? What amount of faith is there at the heart of our crusade? The answer to these questions will give the measure of our strength, and will reveal to us our possibilities in the ministry of expulsion. Faith is energy! Always and everywhere faith is force. Take an advocate at the Bar. His duty to his client will endow him with a certain force and persuasiveness of speech, even though he has no confidence in the inherent justice of the cause he advocates. But let it be further assumed that he believes his own brief, that he has a deep, unshaken confidence in the rectitude of his cause, that he has entire and absolute assurance in his client, and what tremendous heritage of power attaches itself to his attack or defense! It is faith that tells. It is not otherwise in the Senate. Let a politician support a measure for the removal of some injustice, let him do it, not because of his conviction in its inherent right, but with his eyes fixed upon votes and popular distinction, and his support is altogether unimpressive and futile. But let a man speak with faith, with a solid core of definite confidence burning in his soul, and the glowing energy of his soul will get into his words, and his ministers will be a flaming fire. It is faith that tells. I need not elaborate the matter. On familiar planes the principle is evident. Faith is energy. “Lord, what shall we do that we may work the works of God?” This is the work of God, that ye believe! Energy for all work is there.
But there are different degrees and qualities of faith. There is faith in oneself, and such faith is by no means unaccompanied with power. No one can read the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, from his obscure early days in Corsica to the brilliant days when he strode across Europe like a Colossus, without being impressed with the amazing energy which attached to an audacious self-confidence. He fought for no principle, he had no ideals, he was allured by no constant and noble ambition. His confidence was not in a cause, but in himself, and his confidence generated a marvelous strength. But there is a faith and confidence higher than this, and endowed with a corresponding larger dynamic and resource. There is a faith in principles, in causes, in the tenacity of truth, in the indestructibility of virtue, in the invincibility of the righteous order of the world. Such faith is uninfluenced by bribes, undismayed by majorities, untroubled by threats and frowns: it tightly holds to the truth, and confidently waits its day. But still higher is the plane to which we can rise in the ascending gradient of faith. There is a faith in the living God, a faith in His love and good will, a confidence in His blessed Presence and companionship, an assurance that we are one with Him in the sacred inheritance, and that in Him we are partakers of all the mighty ministries of grace. That is the sublimest of all faiths, and it carries with it the most tremendous of all energies, for it has behind it the omnipotence of God.
“Faith as a grain uprooting a mountain! Such is its mighty energy! I do not shrink from the startling conjunction. Our scientists are telling us that there is energy stored in one grain of radium sufficient to raise five hundred tons a mile high. And I am not daunted when our Master, speaking of a finer power than radium, a subtler energy, a spiritual force, tells us of the enormous energy, the miracle- working energy that is housed in faith of a supreme quality, even though it be only “as a grain of mustard seed.” “Ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence!” Is that to be taken literally or figuratively ? Probably figuratively, for the words appear to be quoted from a familiar proverb which was used to express any vast and difficult achievement. To start a gigantic enterprise was spoken of as an attempt to uproot a mountain. But why did I say, “probably figuratively,” as though there was any lingering doubt about the matter?
Why not have finally disposed of the question by declaring that the energy of faith has no dominion outside spirit, and that its decrees do not run in the material world? Because that is precisely what I cannot say. We are dimly gleaming that spiritual energies may have more currency than we have ever dreamed. We are discovering more and more clearly that spiritual faith and temper have much to do with physical health, and that our doctors are comparatively impotent when the soul has a malady, or when there is present “a grief that saps the mind.” I believe that many an ailment would vanish if the unbelief went out of the soul, and if in its place there came a sweet, sound, strong confidence in the Lord. ” Ye shall say unto this mountain. Remove hence! . . . and it shall remove!
And I am equally convinced that the exercise of a vigorous faith in God has more dominion than we have yet realized in securing the entire expulsion of impure bodily habits and lusts. Here is a man or woman possessed by the unclean devil of drunkenness. How can the devil be expelled? Well, we commonly say that it is a disease, and it must be treated as a disease. Yes, but how shall we treat it? A physical mountain can only be removed by physical means. Are you absolutely sure of that? The doctor shall prescribe medicine. Very well. The food shall be prudently selected, and all stimulating diet shall be tabooed. Very good. His environment shall be changed. Ah, are you sure that you are now altogether on the material plane? Are you not coming to another domain? Are you not bringing mystic forces into the ministry? He must have a new hobby! What now is your drift? His society must be refined, and his reading must be of a more restful and sedative type. Has not the treatment of the physical mountain now left the purely physical means? I do not disparage these minor ministries, for I regard them all as the beneficent gifts of God.
But, above and beyond all these, sometimes entirely apart and independent of them, I would exalt the marvelous power of the grace of God, acting through the means of alert and confident faith. I say that in these regions, even the regions of fleshly habit and passion, faith has removed mountains. I have known the craving for drink annihilated in an hour by the tremendous spiritual resources commanded by faith, and even if the instance stood alone, which is by no means the case, it affords a glimpse of a world of spiritual dynamics which we have not yet used or even realized.
And so it is in the entire mountain-range of human difficulty and enterprise. Faith is energy, energy by which the mountain is to be removed. Enterprises born in doubt are smothered at birth. Can we sweeten and purify our streets? Everything depends upon our faith. Can we expel the devils of drunkenness and lust ? Can we cheer and enlighten and redeem the slums? Can the desert be made” to rejoice and blossom as the rose”? Can we ourselves be the ministers of a great salvation ? ” According to your faith be it unto you.” “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder plain: and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,” What, then, cannot we do, if we march together, in the power and constraint of a confident faith? We can still work miracles, in the name of the Lord of Hosts.