Through Faith We Understand
February 7th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THROUGH FAITH WE UNDERSTAND
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-60 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled Through Faith We Understand. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And the title is the text. I read, Hebrews 11:1, 3:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
And the title of the message is this text in Hebrews 11:3: Through Faith We Understand. There are two popular assumptions that are cleverly employed, but are no less certainly false. The first one is this: that in matters of religion we have to do with faith, but in all the other realms and activities of life we base our decisions and our actions on knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the common, ordinary, plain man lives a daily life by faith, just as the religionist.
The matter-of-fact practicalities of life are faced not theoretically, or philosophically, or theologically, but they are faced really and actually—just the same as we do in the realm of religion and the Christian faith. Whether the man is a religionist or not, their lives are alike, the religionist and the irreligionist. Both of them live by faith, and without faith it is impossible to live this life. We meet it in every day, in every matter, in every road. It is a common thing in common life that faith is the basis upon which all life is lived.
Could I say from the pharmaceutical world, there is a pharmaceutical company; they sell drugs at a high price, many times than anyone else. And they have a little motto in their pharmaceutical advertising that goes like this: “It contains”—their drug contains, I quote—“the priceless ingredient.” Now they explain in that little motto by “the priceless ingredient,” that when you buy their drugs, you can be assured of its purity because of the integrity of the company. And they add a little more to the price of the drugs, they say, because you’re paying for “the priceless ingredient.” That is, you can have trust in their company, and you can have faith in the purity of their medicine. They sell it and charge you more for it on the basis that you can believe in it.
Well, let’s take another one, for it’s everywhere: there is a great insurance company that every time they advertise, and every picture they publish of their company has a tremendous rock in it and on it, the Rock of Gibraltar. And they use that great rock as a persuasive sign that their company is one in which you can have illimitable trust. Why don’t they use a sand dune with the wind blowing it away? They want to create in you a persuasion that you can have great trust in the steadfastness of this insurance company that uses a picture of the Rock of Gibraltar. I’m going to charge these people for what I’m doing for them, don’t ever worry!
There is not a bank of any consequence but that has in it a “trust department.” In fact, when you go to looking at a bank, you will find in it the same nomenclature, the same language, that you will find in a church; they are exactly alike, a trust department—and the words they use to describe what they do. There was a woman that called the First National Bank in this city and was given the trust department. And she asked about some securities, and the trust officer replied, “Are you interested in conversion or redemption?” And she said on the other end of the line, “Am I talking to the First National Bank or the First Baptist Church?”
You don’t live without it. You cash a check by faith; you make a deposit by faith; you pay an insurance premium by faith; you undergo an operation at the hospital by faith. When that fellow gets his butcher knife out and begins to sharpen it, you hope, you trust, you commit your life into his care.
You hire a babysitter by faith. The farmer sows his seed in the hope and the persuasion that somebody up there will make it sprout and grow. All trades, all business, all government, and all life is built upon faith. And any time you assume that in religion we are dealing with faith, but in practical life we are dealing with knowledge, you have fallen into a most cleverly employed assumption that is untrue—far, far from the truth.
I get a bang out of, I get a kick out of, I am always intrigued when scientists make fun of one another. I have an illustration here that I have taken out of a book that I want you to look at, illustrating this thing that I am speaking of, concerning you have to have faith to do even the humblest, simplest things in life.
One of the great, brilliant astronomers of our generation is professor A. S. Eddington of England. And in his book, The Nature Of The Physical World, he insists that it takes faith even to walk through a door. Now he’s an astronomer and a scientist, and he’s going to talk about atoms and the speed of this world around the sun and all. So you watch him now as he talks about it, that it takes faith just to walk through a door.
Now I quote from him: now, I like something like this:
I am standing on the threshold about to enter a room. It is a complicated business. In the first place, I must shove against an atmospheric pressure of a force of fourteen pounds on every square inch of my body. I must make sure of landing on a plank, traveling at twenty miles a second around the sun. I must do this while hanging from a round planet, headed outward into space, and with a wind of ether waves blowing at no-one-knows-how-many miles a second. The plank has no solidity of substance. It is a veritable hurricane of moving atoms. To step on it is like stepping on a swarm of flies. Surely I could fall through.
Verily, verily, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. And whether the door be a barn door or a church door, it might be wise that he should consent to be an ordinary man and walk in, rather than wait until all the difficulties involved in a really scientific ingress are resolved.
Just better take it by faith, open the door and step on the plank, rather than wait to solve all of the scientific difficulties involved. You don’t live a life of faith in religion as though that were different from any other kind of a life that you live. Both of them, whether religious or irreligious, are lived by faith.
The second popular assumption that is cleverly employed and is as equally false is this: that in religion you live according to a creed, and you have faith in a creed, but in irreligion you don’t have any faith, and you don’t have any creed. Nothing, again, is further from the truth, for it takes as much faith to believe the creed of an atheist or of an infidel as it does to believe in the creed of a Christian.
In my humble opinion—of course, I am a Christian—in my humble opinion, it takes far more faith to believe in the creed of an atheist than it does in the creed of a Christian. Because to me, to believe in the creed of an atheist is to stretch credulity beyond all imagination!
A teacher was trying to illustrate to his little junior boys about God. And he took his watch and held it up—he had one of those big round ones, a pocket watch—held it up, and he said: “Boys, you see this watch? A very intricate mechanism, but nobody made it; it just happened to be.”
He said, “There came rolling along a wheel and it plopped down; there came rolling along a spring, it plopped down; some hands, and they plopped down; the case, and it plopped down; the crystal, it plopped on. Until finally, it just all got together and there it is in my hand.”
Now one of those little junior boys looked at him very critically and said: “Say, mister, ain’t you crazy?”
Robert Ingersoll was in the home of a friend admiring a beautiful map of the world, a globe of the world. And Bob Ingersoll, the famous infidel, said to his friend, “Who made that beautiful globe?”
And the friend said, “Why, nobody, Bob. It just happened to get together.”
I am saying that it stretches credulity to the extreme to believe the creed of an atheist, that out of nothing, nothing created this visible universe. I say you have capacity for real faith to accept that. Brother, you’ve got it! And you are a real believer of vast proportions and illimitable depth.
It takes great faith for a man to believe that dead, inert matter could create mind, and soul, and personality; that out of the deadness of the rocks, you were born in frame and walk in the earth. I say, you have a great capacity for faith to believe that.
And you have great, infinite capacities for faith to believe that there is no meaning to life. It’s a story told by an idiot: it didn’t come from anywhere; it doesn’t mean anything now; and it’s not going anywhere. It takes faith to believe in the creed of an infidel, just as it takes faith to believe in the creed of a Christian.
I copied from Bertrand Russell, the famous English philosopher of atheism and infidelity—he expresses the creed more eloquently than any man I ever read after. In his A Free Man’s Worship, Bertrand Russell says, and I quote:
That man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of the accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no antipathy of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the noon-day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins; all these things, if not beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built.
It takes as much faith for a man to believe that creed as it does to say with the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12:
For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded…He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.
Or to say with the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28:
For we know that all things work together for good to them that love the Lord, to them who are called according to His purpose.
Or to say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1:
We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Or to say with the apostle John in 1 John 3:2:
Brethren, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.
It’s just which group of assumptions you want to receive, but it takes faith to believe in either one of them: the creed of the infidel or the creed of the Christian.
You listen to me: don’t you ever fear, and don’t you ever be timid about standing up and giving the answer of a Christian to the facts of life. For to me—and to my ability to reason and to think—to me, there’s only one answer that can confronts all of the facts of life, and that is the answer of the Christian religion.
In great humility, I can say with Luis Auguste Sabatier, the marvelous French philosopher and theologian, in his Outlines of a Philosophy of Religion:
If wearied by the world of pleasure or of toil, I wish to find my soul again and live a deeper life. I can accept no other guide and master than Jesus Christ, because in Him alone, optimism is without frivolity and seriousness without despair.
Now may I speak from the Book here? The presentation of your life as it is described in the Word of God: there are three kinds of life, three kinds of living, and the New Testament describes it under three very distinct words. One is the word soma and then somatikos. The second word is psuche. You have it in your English “psyche”: and then the psuchikos, the psuchikos. And the third one is pneuma and then the word pneumatikos. All three of those words are used in the New Testament to describe the three kinds of life.
Soma is the Greek word for “body”; somatikos would be “bodily.” Paul will say, for example, in 1Timothy 4:8: “For bodily exercise”—somatikos exercise; this exercise of the body.
In 1 Corinthians 2:14‑15, Paul will compare the psuchikos life and the pneumatikos life. And he says it like this, 1Corinthians 2:14:
For the natural man—the psuchikos man—for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the—now this is the fifteenth verse—but the pneumatikos man—but the spiritual man judgeth all things.
[1 Corinthians 2:14-15]
All right now, let’s take those three kinds of life that are mentioned in the New Testament: first, the soma life—the somatikos life, the body life—a vegetable and an animal are indistinct in those early primeval forms. You can’t tell which is what. It takes an expert to classify them, and then the classifier doesn’t exactly know whether they belong in this group or in some other group.
A vegetable cell, when you look at it, it has the cell wall; it has protoplasm, cytoplasm, the nucleus, and life just like any other life. But when you wound it and it bleeds, the sap comes out or drains down, it doesn’t feel. Like a tree, when you cut it, hurt it, it will bleed; but it doesn’t have any feeling, yet it’s alive. It has somatikos life—it has a body and protoplasm—it is a living thing.
The second kind of life is a psuchikos life, a psychic life. That’s the life of a creature like you. It is the life of all animals; and we’re all alike in that. That’s the animal life, a psuchikos life. When you hurt the animal—when you cut the animal—it will bleed; but it will also feel the hurt. Now that’s the psuchikos life, the animal life.
There is another kind of life, a higher life, and that’s the pneumatikos life. When you have the pneumatikos life, you cannot only feel when you are cut or when you are bleeding or wounded, but you can feel also in your heart and in your soul. You can feel moral and spiritual truth, which has nothing to do with a physical wound at all.
You may go in a room somewhere and shut the door and bleed in your soul. You haven’t been shot. You haven’t been cut. You haven’t been wounded. There is no sign of blood, but your heart hurts and your soul aches. For example, David said before the Lord, after he had numbered Israel, when he saw the angel with his drawn sword over Jerusalem, David said:
O Lord, I have sinned and done wickedly in Thy sight: but these poor sheep, what have they done? Let Thy sword, I pray Thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.
[2 Samuel 24:17]
Judas, when he came to the elders, took his thirty pieces of silver and cast it down in great remorse, saying: “I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood” [Matthew 27:3-5].
Job cried: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” [Job 23:3].
Another kind of a life, a spiritual life, a life of God—an intangible thing. It’s a matter of love, and of sin, and of the oppressiveness of guilt. “Who am I?” and, “Where am I?” and, “What have I done? And, “Who is this? and, “What is my relationship to Him?”
Why, it’s an altogether different world. We enter the fullness of the somatikos life through the five senses: by our feelings, and seeings, and touchings, and tastings. We enter the fullness of the psuchikos life through our intellectual capacities. We can read and study and learn.
But we enter the pneumatikos life through the exercise of the faculty of faith; seeing with an unseen eye and hearing with an inexplicable, undrawn, undelineated ear. And yet the ear is as real, and the eye is as real—though it is never seen—because they belong to the faculties of the soul.
And he that lives the somatikos life alone is destined for depravity. And he that lives the psuchikos life alone is destined for sterility and barrenness. A man may know the contents of all hundreds of the greatest books in the world and still his life be sorrow and empty and meaningless. But he that enters the pneumatikos life, the spiritual life, has his face toward heaven.
A ditch digger, shoveling gravel out of a pit who pauses to ask: “What is the meaning of my life, and who is it that has to do with me, and where am I going?” and sets his face to the celestial city has exchanged existence for real living. He has ascended up into that higher and glorious world where lives the habitation of God. Through faith, we understand [Hebrews 11:3].
Now God is invisible, and it is only in the exercise of that higher faculty that we ever come to a communion with Him. Jesus said to the woman at the well:
God is Spirit—invisible, no man has seen God at any time [John 1:18]—God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
The apostle Paul said in the closing verse of the fourth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” [2 Corinthians 4:18].
We come to know God and have communion with God with the eyes of the soul, without which we are blind. We come to take from God with the hands of faith, without which we have no grasp for eternal things: to deny faith is to be blind; to deny faith is to live impoverished. The man that has no faith has no hope, he has no communion, he has no fellowship, he has no destiny, he has no answer. He is like a stone! He is like a clod; he is like an ox! The only thing that differentiates man is his capacity to know God.
And we know God through faith [Hebrews 11:1-3], and to destroy that faith is to destroy the soul. And every answer that we seek, that really matters in this earth, through faith we understand. All of the meaning of this universe and its intricacies, where did it come from? Through faith we understand the genius, and the power, and the hand of God.
Our Lord Jesus never revealed Himself to any but His disciples after His resurrection from the dead. The last time the world saw Him, He was slain and nailed to the cross [Matthew 28:32-50]. But through faith we come into that sublime, holy, heavenly relationship with Jesus, known to the trusting and the believing heart. And to turn aside from that trust and from that faith, to turn aside is to live a life of despair and of deceit: we weave nets for our own entanglement. We are like blacksmiths, forging chains for our own hands. We’re like warriors seeking the point of the bayonet. We’re like mariners seeking the rocks in the sea. We’re like the despondent who are creating difficulties for which we have no answer.
A crowd on a city street had gathered, and the fellow down the way, looking, asked a Negro janitor in a nearby building what the excitement was about. And the Negro janitor said, “A man just jumped off of that tall building and committed suicide.” And then the janitor replied, as if thinking to himself, “Well, you know,” he says, “when you lose God, there ain’t nothing left but to jump.”
Now this faith that is described so eloquently here in the Bible, and presented so beautifully, that faith through which we understand—faith is not inoperative. It’s not theoretical; it’s not philosophical; it’s not intangible; it is not ephemeral, but faith is very positive, and very active, and very dynamic. Faith is a tremendous, actual motion and power in human life.
I copied a little poem here by Coleridge on the motion of faith:
Think not the faith by which the just shall live
Is a dead creed—a map correct of heaven;
Far less a feeling fond and fugitive,
A thoughtless gift withdrawn as soon as given.
It is an affirmation and an act
That bids eternal truth be present fact.
[“The Just Shall Live by Faith”; Hartley Coleridge]
Faith is conviction grown courageous; faith is vision plus valor. Faith moves, faith does, faith acts, faith inspires, faith lives. Faith walks, it talks, it grows, it moves.
Now I haven’t time even to begin to follow it through, but this author takes a little moment to do it. Then he says, when he defines faith, “By faith, Noah, warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear” [Hebrews 11:7]. He says that’s faith.
When God said, “One hundred twenty years and I am going to destroy this world” [Genesis 6:3, 7], Noah believed God, and he built an ark [Genesis 6:12-22]. All the rest of the people laughed at the judgment day of God, but Noah was afraid because he believed God. That’s faith! [Hebrews 11:7]
Then he illustrates it again, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out, obeyed. And he went out, not knowing. He went out not knowing” [Hebrews 11:8-9]. That’s faith! He moved out!
Doubt sees the obstacles,
Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darksome night,
Faith sees the day.
Doubt dreads to take the step,
Faith soars on high.
Doubt whispers, “Who believes?”
[quoted in Explore the Book, J. Sidlow Baxter]
He went out, he obeyed, “not knowing whither he went.” By faith, he moved [Hebrews 11:8-9]. He illustrates it again and again. Here in the life of Moses, he says, “Moses chose rather to be with the people of God” [Hebrews 11:24-25], with the people of God! It’s association that makes this demonstration of his faith. It makes the church, it makes the congregation. “Choosing rather to be with the people of God”; that’s faith! [Hebrews 11:25].
“Down this aisle, preacher, And on this confession of my heart in Christ, to be baptized into the body of Christ”; that’s faith! It moves; here it is.
Oh, there are some compositions that cannot be interpreted by a solo. No matter how fine and skilled the first violinist may be, he alone is not adequate. You must have the oboes, and the cellos, and the drums, and the trumpets, and the woodwinds. You must have the whole orchestra in order to interpret the great truth, and feeling, and reality, and loveliness, and glory, and harmony, and symphony that was in the mind of the music composer. So it is in the symphony of God. Faith joins in the orchestra. It plays a part. It takes all of us to make the music of God like God wrote it in the score.
Or let me change the figure. Could you imagine the days of General George Washington, a man coming up to the general and saying, “General, I surely do admire you. I listen to your speeches and I follow your deeds. And in my solitary moments, you bring great cheer to my heart.”
I can imagine General Washington saying: “Man, there’s a fire raging! There’s a battle being fought. The army is afoot. A great cause is calling. He who believes follows after.”
Same thing, same thing; faith is not a thing that we indulge in by ourselves, that we employ out there somewhere. But it is a dynamic, moving, challenging, calling thing to which a man that’s got it responds. “Here I am, down the aisle, and with the people of the Lord.”
“Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt” [Hebrews 11:26]. Phillips Brooks defined it, “Faith, forsaking all, I take Him”: F-A-I-T-H—Forsaking All, I Take Him.
“Obtained promises, out of weakness was made strong” [Hebrews 11:34]; that’s faith! Into that aisle and down here to the front, “Preacher, here I am, and here I come.” From this balcony down one of these stairwells and into the aisle, “Here I am, and here I come.” That’s faith! That’s faith, kneeling down to pray, talking into emptiness and nothingness to a heathen; but to us, talking to the great God and our Savior.
Faith moves! Faith lives! Faith glorifies God! Faith fills the church. Faith walks the aisle. Faith is the faculty by which we come into the understanding of the great presence and purposes of God. “Without faith, it is impossible” to know Him, to come unto Him. “For he that cometh unto God must believe that He is” [Hebrews 11:6]. All of this we understand through faith.
And God asks no other thing of you than what you give to the common causes of the world. I believe in the bank, I believe in the insurance company, I believe in the pharmaceutical product, I believe in the doctor. “I believe, I believe, I believe” and all of life is lived in that faith. I also believe in that upper, and spiritual, and better life in heaven. I believe in God, I believe in the Book, I believe in Jesus. I believe in the holy congregation. I believe in the destiny and purpose of God’s people in the earth. I believe that He loves me. I believe that He knows my name. I believe that He can speak to my heart and that I can answer Him. By faith, we understand [Hebrews 11:3].
And in that persuasion and in that conviction—in this balcony round or on the lower floor—if you give your heart in trust to God; in Christ [Romans 10:8-13], would you come? Would you make it now? Or into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], however the Lord shall open the door and lead the way, would you make it this morning? While we stand and while we sing.