FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH PART 2
(I Timothy 6:12)- Part 2
By: J. C. Ryle
Extract from ‘A Call to Holiness’, chapter 4 ‘The Fight’
(Part 1 reminded us that true Christianity is ‘a fight’ against the flesh, the world and the Devil. Part 2 shows how Christians are to fight.)
True Christianity is the fight of faith
In this respect, the Christian warfare is utterly unlike the conflicts of this world.It does not depend on the strong arm, the quick eye, or the swift foot. It is not waged with carnal weapons, but with spiritual. Faith is the hinge on which victory turns. Success depends entirely on believing.
A general faith in the truth of God’s written Word is the primary
foundation of the Christian soldier’s character. He is what he is, does what he does, thinks as he thinks, acts as he acts, hopes as he hopes, behaves as he behaves, for one simple reason – he believes certain propositions revealed and laid down in Holy Scripture. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
A religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first; it looks very pretty at a distance; but the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something. Even those who profess to hold the miserable and uncomfortable views of the Deists are obliged to confess that they believe something. With all their bitter sneers against dogmatic theology and Christian credulity, as they call it, they themselves have a kind of faith.
As for true Christians, faith is the very backbone of their spiritual existence. No-one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the Devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes. What they are he may hardly know, and may certainly not be able to define or write down; but there they are and, consciously or unconsciously, they form the roots of his religion. Wherever you see a man, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, wrestling manfully with sin and trying to overcome it, you will be sure there are certain great principles which that man believes. The poet who wrote the famous lines
“For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight,
He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right”
was a clever man, but a poor divine. There is no such thing as right living without faith and believing.
A special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work and office is the life, heart and mainspring of the Christian soldier’s character.
He sees by faith an unseen Saviour, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him and appears in Heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. He sees Jesus and clings to Him. Seeing this Saviour and trusting in Him, he feels peace and hope and willingly does battle against the foes of his soul.
He sees his own many sins – his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy Devil; and if he looked only at them he might well despair; but he sees also a mighty Saviour, an interceding Saviour, a sympathising Saviour – His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood – and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him he cheerfully fights on with a full confidence that he will prove “more than conqueror through Him that loved him” (Rom. 8:37).
Habitual lively faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help is the secret of the Christian soldier fighting successfully.
It must never be forgotten that faith admits of degrees. All men do not believe alike and even the same person has his ebbs and flows of faith and believes more heartily at one time than another. According to the degree of his faith the Christian fights well or ill, wins victories, or suffers occasional repulses, comes off triumphant or loses a battle. He that has most faith will always be the happiest and most comfortable soldier. Nothing makes the anxieties of warfare sit so lightly on a man as the assurance of Christ’s love and continual protection. Nothing enables him to bear the fatigue of watching, struggling and wrestling against sin, like the indwelling confidence that Christ is on his side and success is sure. It is the “shield of faith” which quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one. It is the man who can say “I kn ow whom I have believed” – who can say in time of suffering, “I am not ashamed.” He who wrote those glowing words “we faint not” – “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” – was the man who wrote with the same pen “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” It is the man who said, “I live by the faith of the Son of God,” who said in the same Epistle, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” It is the man who said, “to me to live is Christ” who said, in the same Epistle, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” “I can do all things through Christ.” The more faith the more victory! The more faith the more inward peace! (Eph. 6:16; 2 Tim.1:12; 2 Cor. 4:17,18; Gal 2:20; 6:14; Phil. 1:21; 4:11,13)
I think it impossible to over-rate the value and importance of faith. Well may the Apostle Peter call it “precious” (2 Pet. 1:1). Time would fail me if I tried to recount a hundredth part of the victories which by faith Christian soldiers have obtained.
Let us take down our Bibles and read with attention the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let us mark the long list of worthies whose names are thus recorded, from Abel down to Moses, even before Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and brought life and immortality into the full light of the Gospel. Let us note well what battles they won against the world, the flesh and the Devil – and then let us remember that believing did it all. These men looked forward to the promised Messiah. They saw Him that is invisible. “By faith the elders obtained a good report” (Heb. 11:2-27).
Let us turn to the pages of early Church history. Let us see how the primitive Christians held fast their religion even unto death and were not shaken by the fiercest persecutions of heathen Emperors. For centuries, there were never wanting men like Polycarp and Ignatius, who were ready to die rather than deny Christ. Fines and prisons and torture and fire and sword were unable to crush the spirit of the noble army of martyrs. The whole power of imperial Rome, the mistress of the world, proved unable to stamp out the religion which began with a few fishermen and publicans in Palestine! And let us remember that believing in an unseen Jesus was the Church’s strength. They won their victory by faith.
Let us examine the story of the Protestant Reformation. Let us study the lives of its leading champions – Wycliffe, and Huss, and Luther, and Ridley, and Latimer, and Hooper. Let us mark how these gallant soldiers of Christ stood firm against a host of adversaries and were ready to die for their principles. What battles they fought! What controversies they maintained! What contradiction they endured! What tenacity of purpose they exhibited against a world in arms! And then let us remember that believing in an unseen Jesus was the secret of their strength. They overcame by faith.
Let us consider the men who have made the greatest marks in Church history in the last hundred years. Let us observe how men like Wesley, and Whitfield, and Venn, and Romaine, stood alone in their day and generation and revived English religion in the face of opposition from men high in office and in the face of slander, ridicule and persecution from nine-tenths of professing Christians in our land. Let us observe how men like William Wilberforce, and Havelock, and Hedley Vicars, have witnessed for Christ in the most difficult positions and displayed a banner for Christ even at the regimental mess-table, or on the floor of the House of Commons. Let us mark how these noble witnesses never flinched to the end and won the respect even of their worst adversaries; and then let us remember that believing in an unseen Christ is the key to all their characters. By faith they lived and walked and stood and overcame.
Would anyone live the life of a Christian soldier? Let him pray for faith. It is the gift of God; and a gift which those who ask shall never ask for in vain. You must believe before you do. If men do nothing in religion, it is because they do not believe. Faith is the first step toward Heaven.
Would anyone fight the fight of a Christian soldier successfully and prosperously? Let him pray for a continual increase of faith. Let him abide in Christ, get closer to Christ, tighten his hold on Christ every day that he lives. Let his daily prayer be that of the disciples – “Lord increase my faith” (Luke 17:5). Watch jealously over your faith, if you have any. It is the citadel of the Christian character, on which the safety of the whole fortress depends. It is the point which Satan loves to assail. All lies at his mercy if faith is overthrown. Here, if we love life, we must especially stand on our guard.