“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas was with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29).
Faith and feelings are two powerful forces in the Christian life.
Feelings are frequently treated with disparagement in preaching and print. This may be proper enough if the meaning is that feelings can become too prominent in the Christian life. However, if we are to understand it thus that a Christian’s life with God does not involve his feelings, it is utterly absurd.
He who pictures a Christian life as one in which feelings are useless and superfluous denies one of the greatest realities of life.
* * *
Feelings are present in every human life; if feelings die, life dies also. Every Christian knows that the feelings are affected when the new life with God begins to pulsate in his bosom. One can feel it when God graciously cleanses, sanctifies, and renews the inner man, and when He brings comfort and grace to the discouraged heart.
It is a great spiritual art to live in such a way that these two factors, faith and feelings, are not set at variance with each other. If these two strive against each other, the one will destroy what the other seeks to build up. But if each performs its functions the two will complement each other, and there will be a quiet and steady growth in grace.
Though it is true that these two forces belong particularly to the Christian life, we still have to admit that they are at work before a person receives the assurance of salvation. One of the greatest reasons why it takes many people so long to receive assurance of salvation is that they want to experience fellowship with God before they will believe. They want to exchange the feeling of sinfulness for peace with God. They do not want to believe that they are saved until their heart has been renewed.
If the above is a description of your trouble, will you kindly pay close attention to this: You do not doubt what Christ has done and is doing for you. You believe that He is your full and complete Savior. What He has done is sufficient for you. You do not have any difficulty on that score. But you have slid into the rut of finding it impossible to believe that this is true for you as you now are; you want to experience salvation first and believe afterwards.
You are placing feelings before faith. As long as you do that you will never advance beyond the point of longing and waiting for peace.
How many are the souls that are deceived today,
Who think that they can of grace be worthy;
Who first want to feel, then believe what God doth say,
When comes the time that they are really ready.
They first would cleanse themselves, be holy, good, and pious,
Be strong in love and hope, and over sin victorious.
Only then will they believe they are God’s children.
No, this is not the way that leads to peace with God.
To believe that we are saved for Jesus’ sake, that is the way.
In childlike fashion you may cling to what Jesus has done; that is sufficient for you. In spite of evidence to the contrary, believe that you are saved; in spite of what the inclinations of your heart may be, yield yourself to God. Then you will have peace and oy in your heart. Then good feelings will result because you believe.
Though I be wicked, and hard. and cold as ice,
The love of the Father in Christ will suffice;
Though logic and reason condemn me forever,
In Christ I’m assured of God’s grace and His favor.
“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe.”
* * *
This is the straight road which God has made for us from death to life. It is the usual and normal way of salvation. In His great concern for souls God may at times deviate from it a little. His dealing with Thomas was an example of such a deviation. Thomas had been a believer. Perhaps as few others he had placed all his confidence in Jesus. Suddenly he was plunged into a hopeless night. He had not only seen Jesus crucified, but had seen Him buried as well. Then the foundations crumbled beneath him. His unbelief was established as firmly as his faith had been before. When his friends came with the news that Jesus was alive, that they had met him and talked with him, Thomas refused to be moved. He spoke with a firm conviction and a somber voice; “At one time I believed and placed all my confidence in Jesus. But I have followed Him to the cross and the grave. I have seen Him so completely dead as He formerly was alive. Now I will not believe before I see Him; not only that, I must also place my hand and my finger in the wounds I know He received before He died. Now I want to feel before I believe.”
Thomas was permitted both to see and feel.
Jesus showed Himself to Thomas so that he could not doubt. The same man with the same voice turned to Thomas with these remarkable words, “Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” Now it was impossible for Thomas to doubt any longer. With his whole soul he cried out, “My Lord and my God.” But in the midst of this 5oy Jesus turned to Thomas with these mild reproving words, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
It is as though Jesus said, “You ought to have believed my words, and the words of your brethren before you saw and felt. You would have honored me more in that way, and you yourself would have been happier than you are now.”
To believe because facts compel one to believe, that is also a kind of faith all right; but to believe without seeing, that is God-pleasing faith.
There are many people today who are like Thomas. It seems so impossible for them to believe before they have seen and felt. One may quote passage after passage from Scripture to them to no avail; as the cat always lands on its feet, so they always turn to their own hearts to look for the Savior there; they will not turn away before Jesus has shown them that He is not there.
Many of these are genuinely sincere; therefore Christ will meet them as He did Thomas. But let no one forget that this is not as it ought to be. Even if it is true that the love of God is so boundless that He departs from His usual way in order to help us, it pains Him that we do not believe His very words.
The person who insists upon continuing in this way will never become a healthy and strong Christian. The new spiritual life is not permitted to develop as it ought to; it cannot stand solid food. As soon as the pleasant feeling departs from the heart and only evil seems to remain, that person does not know which way to turn; he is at his wits’ end. But if a ray of light should appear he rejoices to high heaven as long as the good feeling lasts. This is to live by feelings rather than by faith. It is for this reason that such Christians so often are sad at heart. Life is more than we can endure if we are to live by and upon feelings.
And if all your sins were as sand by the sea—
The Scriptures so truly declare —
For your cleansing Christ died on Calvary’s tree,
Your sins on the cross he did bear.
You must know that the sins which for you He bore,
He will never throw back upon you any more.
No, they are gone forever!
That you must believe!
* * *
The temptations to place feeling before faith also besets others than those are given to looking into their hearts and living by their feelings. There is another and more subtle byway, though no less dangerous, into which most Christians so easily stray.
It is difficult to find words to express adequately these thoughts, but I shall try.
When we have been Christians for a shorter or longer period of time, and think of ourselves that we both have had experiences with God and have learned something in the school of the Spirit, we do not care to appear before God as novices; we do not think that it is necessary for us to believe as we did the first time. We are so prone to seek something in ourselves that we can add to faith for our salvation. We fasten upon something in our piety or something that we have experienced. We are loathe to live by faith alone; we like so very much to derive some comfort from what we have in our hearts.
If we fall for this temptation we rejoice every time we think we are tolerably good Christians. Especially do we rejoice when we discover that we love to read the Bible, pray, and be kind to others. At such times we can testify cheerfully about our spiritual experiences and salvation in Christ.
Someone will surely ask: Is it wrong to rejoice when we discover these good things in our hearts, and when we find that we have a desire to do good?
No, it is not wrong. It is right to rejoice over all that is good. However, there is a great “but” here. There are times in life, even for the best Christians, when it is more painful than pleasant to be alive. The saint who wrote:
Jesus for Thee and Thy blessed communion,
Show me more clearly my hopeless condition;
Show me the depth of corruption in me.
If a Christian looks into the “depth of corruption” in his life he will not have any good feelings in his heart; smarting pain will be there instead. Good seems to have departed, and evil slithers into every crevice of the heart.
How is it then?
Many Christians are completely bewildered. They lose their joy, their conscience begins to pain them, and the soul trembles in fear. Grief and doubt resides in the heart where formerly there had been peace and joy. We inquire into the reason for all this, but we do not realize that we have been building more upon what Christ has given us than we have been building upon the Savior Himself.
At such times we are on the road that leads from Golgotha to Sinai. We have enthroned feelings where faith should reign supreme. Was it not by faith alone we first found peace with God?
As we received Christ, so ought we also to walk in Him; this is true apostolic counsel. If we depart from that principle we shall suffer the fate of him who sang:
On fruits of faith within me,
My hopes I sought to base;
But sin soon made me dreary,
And peace it did erase.
Quite satisfied I ever
Was when my heart was moved;
Did feelings stir me never,
My peace was soon removed.
This Christian came to have another view later, and then he wrote:
Life’s changes oft alarm me,
And fill my heart with fear;
At times the Scriptures warm me,
At times I’m cold and sere.
But I have learned the lesson
There is no change in Him.
I now pay no attention
To every flitting whim.
Might we as Christians learn more and more this great lesson. If we disregard the fluctuations of our emotions we should discover that joy and peace have their basis in what we believe and not in what we feel. Then faith and feelings would be properly adjusted in our lives; each of them would contribute to the increase of true evangelical joy in us. This is life’s greatest blessedness.
* * *
That which more than anything else will lead us into bypaths here is the false idea that a Christian is to have nothing but pleasant feelings. We forget that life is affected by everything that it meets. And if it is true that we are merely sinners and imperfect Christians, it is also true that we cannot escape that which causes us pain. Even Paul had this to say of himself:
“But I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.” (Rom. 7:23).
“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart.” (Rom. 9:1-2).
The law of sin in his body was contrary to his inmost desire. Concern for his brethren after the flesh produced sorrow in his heart. These were not pleasant feelings, but they were nevertheless such as had been created by faith.
A Christian is pained by everything in life that is sinful and imperfect. This pain drives him to his knees before God in intercessory prayer. In this manner the feeling of pain will help a Christian to look away from himself and to Christ. Godly sorrow creates a desire for help, and is thus a useful servant. Without this compelling desire we would soon become self-sufficient and would depart from the Savior.
When we take all our pains and burdens to the Lord and leave them there, then our spirit rises jubilantly on the wings of the Spirit toward God. This should be the normal Christian experience.
One day we shall live without faith, for we shall see Him as He is. Then we shall feel nothing but that which is good. Then we have reached the goal of our faith.
How good ‘twill be to anchor
Our bark by heaven’s shore;
Our song with woe encumber
We shall then nevermore.
Copyright 2018 Hauge Lutheran Innermission Federation. All Rights Reserved.