By John Angell James, 1846


"We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor. 5:7

My Dear Friends,
The subject on which I now address you, is of vital importance to your safety as sinners, and to your comfort as Christians; I mean the Life of Faith. It is a subject constantly recurring in your conversation and prayers, yet I fear too little understood—still less felt—and, in some cases, mischievously perverted.

I shall begin by removing a gross and grievous misconception, which some have taken up on this momentous topic. To live and walk by faith means, with such people, nothing more than living in an habitual persuasion that they are Christians. This view rests, of course, upon the notion, that faith is a confidence of their own personal interest in Christ. It is common, therefore, for them to speak of a life of faith, as opposed to a life of frames and feelings. Those times in which we have the most spiritual discernment of God's glory, sensible communion with him, and feel our love most ardently drawn out to him, are thought by them to have the least exercise of faith. "There is no need," say they, "for faith then; at such times we live by sense—but that when all our graces seem dead, and we can see no evidence whence to draw the favorable conclusion, that we are the children of God—then is the time to walk by faith." Their meaning is, "then is the time to believe all is well, and so rest easy, whether we have the evidence that it is so or not." It is not infrequently, that the language of the prophet is brought forward to support this false view of the subject, "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God." Isaiah 50:10. The darkness here, however, does not mean that which is spiritual, or a lack of discernment of our being a child of God—but providential darkness, or a lack of external prosperity—in which season it is our duty, of course, to trust in God.

There cannot be a more pernicious or unscriptural notion; one that is more dangerous to the individual who entertains it, nor more discreditable to religion, than to resolve the life of faith into a going forward with the persuasion that we are justified in the sight of God, and advancing to glory, notwithstanding the coldness and carnality of our hearts, and the absence of all right frames and feelings toward God and eternal things. That some people live upon frames and feelings, and put this in place of the life of faith is very true. If, instead of keeping the eye of the mind fixed on Christ, it is always turned inward upon the mind itself, pleased with beholding some supposed excellencies there; if our consolation is derived from the good we see in ourselves, rather than from the fullness there is in the Savior; if we imagine that the purposes and dispositions of the divine mind toward us, are as variable as our own emotions; or if, while we profess to place all our dependence on Christ, our religious peace and consolation are regulated more by the amount of actual emotion, than by our perception of the work of the Redeemer—this is living upon frames and feelings, and is of course opposed to the life of faith.

There are two passages of the apostle in reference to the subject now before us, which deserve attention; the first is this, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Gal. 2:20. The other is this, "We walk by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor. 5:7. Between the life of faith, and the walk of faith, there is no other difference than what lies between a principle and its operations. This is pointed out in another passage, where the apostle says, "If we live in the spirit let us also walk in the spirit." Gal. 5:25. The life of faith refers to the principle; the walk, to its acts and exercises. Both taken together mean, our being habitually influenced in the state of our minds and conduct, not by visible but invisible objects; the objects which are revealed in the word of God; and of the nature and reality of which we have no evidence but this divine testimony. Faith is a cordial and practical belief of this testimony, and to live and walk by it, must of course mean our being habitually influenced by those objects which that testimony reveals. It is opposed to physical sight, to the discoveries of mere reason, and to the ultimate vision of Christ in glory.

The life of faith may be considered in reference to the various OBJECTS which the Scripture reveals.

1. To GOD. "Without faith it is impossible to please God. He who comes to God, must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of all those who diligently seek him." Heb. 11:6. It is said of Moses, "He persevered because he saw him who is invisible." This is the life and walk of faith with respect to God; a realizing sense of his invisible presence—such a persuasion, derived from the word of God, of his existence, and of his natural and moral perfections, as leads us to all that conduct which he requires. Perhaps this acting of faith toward God, could not be more appropriately described, than by the word used in reference to Enoch, and Noah, where it is said they "walked with God." Gen. 5:24; 6:9. The expression is striking, and signifies such a habitual sense of the presence of God, and such a reference to him, as a man has of the friend who is walking at his side. This then is the life of faith, to believe that we are ever surrounded by an all-seeing, holy, and merciful God, and to conduct ourselves toward him accordingly.

2. See the life of faith in reference to CHRIST. "I live by faith in the son of God," said the apostle. Christ is the great object of justifying, saving faith. Look unto me, believe in me, come to me, is the reiterated, constant invitation and command of Christ as speaking to us in the Gospel. His person, as God-man, Mediator; his offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King; his perfect atonement, justifying righteousness, and prevailing intercession; his spotless example, holy commands, and gracious promises; his government and kingdom, as revealed in the New Testament, are the glorious objects of our contemplation and belief.

To live and walk by faith, is to come daily to Jesus in the exercise of fresh dependence, fresh expectations, and fresh devotedness; it is still to renounce all and everything but Christ as the basis of our hope; it is to see more of his glory and grace continually, and to rejoice with more joy in his unsearchable riches, and inexhaustible fullness. To live and walk by faith, is to confess that as time rolls on, and eternity advances, he is all our righteousness and strength; it is to feel that as knowledge increases, and grace grows, still we have nothing but Christ, as a ground of confidence. To live and walk by faith, is in all our conflicts, sins, fears, weaknesses, and woes—to resort afresh to him, and just as we came at first, with a full persuasion that we are welcome, and thus ever to derive strength and courage from him. This is a life of faith in Christ—to be assured and to feel that as the branch has no life apart from the vine, nor the members from the head, so we have no spiritual life, but as we abide in him.

3. See the life of faith in reference to PROVIDENTIAL DISPENSATIONS. Christ has told us once for all, that "all power in heaven and earth is in his hands." Matthew 28:18. The apostle has repeated the declaration, "And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the church." Ephes. 1:22. So minute is the superintendence of his care over his people, that "the very hairs of their head are all numbered." Again and again we are assured, that "those who fear the Lord shall not lack any good thing." Psalm 34, 37. That "he who spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, shall with him also freely give us all things." Rom. 8:32. "That all things shall work together for good to those who love God, and who are the called according to his purpose." Rom. 8:28. "That our light afflictions which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 2 Cor. 4:17.

These are the true and comfortable words of Holy Scripture, and the life of faith consists in believing they are true, and in applying them to all the varying events and occurrences and circumstances of our own individual and humble history. Faith believes that in what ever straits and difficulties we may be found God will never abandon us. It says, amid seeming destitution, "God is my shepherd, I shall not be in need." It replies when all things appear against us, "it is well." It believes that love is at the bottom of all dispensations, however confounding to our wisdom, or disappointing to our hopes. It hushes the murmur, wipes the tear, and suppresses the complaint, by the persuasion that all will end well. It sings, as did good Habakkuk, "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" Habakkuk 3:17-18

4. See the life of faith in reference to THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST. "You turned to God from dumb idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven." 1 Thess. 1:9, 10. Such was the apostle's description of the habitual frame of the mind of believers in his day. A similar representation we find in another place, "while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Titus 2:13. As if it were the one great object of their expectation, to wait for the second advent of the Savior.

If the Millenarians run into one extreme in the prominence they give to this great event in their meditations and discourses, so as to make it predominate even over the first coming of Christ; the great bulk of professing Christians run into the opposite extreme of leaving the second coming out too much. Oh, what are all the future events of time; what are the changes that are to take place in the history of our country, or the world, compared with the advent of Christ, when he shall come a second time—not as a sin-offering, but unto salvation? What should be so interesting to our hopes as "the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, with his mighty angels, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all those who believe." 2 Thess. 1:7-10. Illustrious day! Glorious scene! Here is the life of faith, in contemplating these, and giving rise to the most lively and animated hopes; and setting the Christian in the attitude of expectation, and the work of preparation.

5. Contemplate the life of faith in reference to ETERNITY, and the glory of HEAVEN. How concisely, yet how beautifully is this expressed by the apostle, "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." 2 Cor. 4:18. Oh, what simplicity, and yet what sublimity of language! It was as if he had said, "Eternity is so clearly revealed to us in all its wonders and glories, and is so vast and magnificent a scene, and also so near, that we scarcely seem to see the things of time, and have no inclination to turn away from the boundless prospect of immortality, to look after earthly trifles. In all our estimates, our feelings, and our pursuits, we are guided and controlled by a regard to things eternal." This is the acting of faith, to believe in glory, honor, and immortality; and the life of faith is to let eternity give the stamp and form of our character. It is to treat heaven as a reality, and to let it mold our very spirit and disposition. If this divine principle is in our souls, we shall enter into the apostle's beautiful language and say, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor. 5:1-7

This, my dear friends, is the new, and spiritual, and heavenly life you are called by your profession to lead—this is in fact the Christian life. It is to this the apostle refers when he says, "You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear—then shall you also appear with him in glory!" Col. 3:3, 4. How different to all this is the way of the multitude, "who are walking according to the course of this world." "They mind earthly things." Their whole frame and disposition of mind is expressed in the inquiry, "Who will show us any good?" This present world is their region, and they never rise out of it. Their only converse is with the visible world. Beyond this they have no objects, either of hope or fear; no springs of happiness; no sources of interest.

And even among those who make a profession of religion, how little is this subject understood and felt. How low is this heavenly life, how feeble is the pulse of faith. Do not the great bulk of those who call themselves Christians appear to be living far too much by sight—and not by faith in eternal realities? Not indeed that they are immersed in vice or amusing gaieties; but how deeply sunk in worldly care, how taken up with worldly comforts! No matter how pure, and how innocent the things may be in themselves, if they hide scriptural objects from the eye of faith—they are unlawful, as to their influence, when they do this. Our profession implies a disposition, and a habit of seeking our highest objects of interest and delight in things unseen and eternal; a daily converse of the soul with God and Christ; with heaven and eternity. He who is thus walking will not allow himself to be long out of sight of the cross; will not wander far from God in quest of happiness. He will not shut himself up amid terrestrial scenes, however rational or innocent. He has a new principle in his nature, beside sense and reason—for he has faith. And faith is an active, powerful, and craving principle, which aspires after something higher, and better, and more enduring—than anything he can see, or touch, or taste!

He is the subject of wants and woes, which only faith can relieve and mitigate. Neither sense nor reason can assist him to throw off his load of guilt, or give satisfaction to desires, which the world is too poor to gratify. Here, therefore, on this terrestrial globe, he finds himself a prisoner, sighing for escape from the dark and limited region which he inhabits—and it is only faith that can open for him the doors, and make way for his excursion into the invisible realities of eternity!

Alas! how small are our attainments in this divine life of faith—how much are we occupied and engrossed by things of time and sense. It is well worth while to ask, what do you know of this? You are all living by faith or sight; either upon heavenly things, or earthly things. On what is your soul living? What is it that supplies your comfort? Where does your spirit go daily to quench her thirst after happiness—to the breaking cisterns of 'earthly good', or to the fountains of living waters? Sooner or later, the fullest store of the joys of earthly delights will be exhausted. All the dear delights of earth are but the offspring of time—an offspring that will soon take to themselves wings, and, with him who cherished them, fly away.

Oh my friends, it is but too common for many to suppose that those who live by faith in the enjoyments of the world to come, live upon mere imaginations. But are they not mistaken? It is their worldly enjoyments, and not those of believers, which are imaginary. Pleasures, profits, honors, what are they? The whole form only a kind of imaginary world, a sort of splendid show, like that in a dream, which when you awake—all is gone! To grasp it, is to grasp a shadow; and to feed upon it, is to feed upon the wind. Christ and his salvation—heaven and eternity—are the only substantial realities! And these are the objects for which faith lives, and toward which it is perpetually walking.

Receive then, dear friends, the word of exhortation, and seek to possess more and more of this divine life of faith. Understand clearly the nature and operation of that great principle of faith, which is the root of all true piety. It is not only as sinners, and for the purpose of justification, that you need faith, but as Christians also for sanctification, consolation, and perseverance. Every act of the spiritual life is an act of faith; every step in the spiritual walk is a step of faith. The Christian's course is not one of doing merely, but of believing. His prayers are the breathings of faith; his works are the actings of faith; his penitence is the tear of faith; his joy is the smile of faith; his hopes are the anticipations of faith; his fears are the tremblings of faith; his strength is the confidence of faith; his submission is the acquiescence of faith.

Faith is the eye that looks at Christ; the foot that moves to him; the hand that receives him; the mouth that feeds upon him. It is not only by the activity of obedience, but by the silent and passive power of dependence, that the Christian is strong and victorious. Here is the reason why so many professors are so worldly and so weak; why they make such little progress, and such small attainments; some of them are so much under the dominion of sense, are so almost wholly given up to a life of sight, that they have neither time nor inclination to look at the things that are unseen and eternal. While others, though far more solicitous and laborious about spiritual things, fix their attention, and exhaust their energies, upon toilsome self-sustained struggles, to the neglect of faith. There is in them no habitual looking to Christ, no abiding in him, no vivid consciousness that all their springs are in him, and that it is from his fullness they are to receive and grace for grace. Theirs is a life of working, but not of believing; they are lamentably ignorant of the astonishing mightiness, yes, the all-mightiness, there is in the simple act of believing; for what is this, but to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might?

Do not forget that it is not possible to carry on the growth of the Christian life unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, apart from a life of faith. "It is only when that life is firmly-rooted and grounded in faith, that the straight stem of righteousness will rise up, and branch out into the manifold ramifications of duty, and that it will be crowned with the brightness and sweetness of the amaranthine blossoms of love. When moral rectitude is disjoined from faith—it may stiffen into pharisaical formality, or calcify into stoical severity; or it may be withered by the blights and cankerworm of expediency; or it may tumble into the stye of Epicureanism and rot there. When Christian service is disjoined from faith—caprice may throw it to the winds; chance may nip it in the bud; pride may blast it; vanity may eat away its core; prosperity may parch it; distress may freeze it; lust may taint and poison it; the slights and neglects which it experiences at times, in a world of frailty and mutability—will assuredly sour and embitter it. Indeed, according to the true idea of Christian love, and of righteousness, neither the one nor the other can exist at all, except as springing out of faith. Whereas, when faith is genuine and strong, in proportion to its genuineness and strength, will it infallibly produce righteousness and love; a righteousness and love which, having a living seed within them, will be abiding."

A living faith, and living works must, and do, always go together. They cannot live but in union with each other; cut them asunder, and they both die. To think of growing in grace, increasing in love, and abounding in the fruits of righteousness, in any other way than by faith, and strong faith too—is as irrational as to cut off the branch from the vine, and to expect it, in that state, to bear the rich, full clusters of the parent-tree.

It is by "the life of faith," you will bring glory to God. Confidence in the kindness, veracity, and ability of a fellow-creature, affords a pleasure to his own mind, and does him honor before others. We please God, and magnify him before the world, when we confide in him. For this purpose we are placed where we are, and as we are, where we can see nothing, hear nothing, touch nothing—but must believe everything—and all this that we might glorify him as a God who is faithful and cannot lie. We see not God, nor Christ, nor heaven, and know nothing about them, but by the testimony of Scripture. How then is God honored, when upon the credit of his simple word alone—we prefer the invisible realities of eternity, to the visible things of time; and amid all that is dazzling to sense, gratifying to appetite, and dear to passion—spend a life of self-denial, mortification, and separation from the world; and in some instances die the martyr's death.

Prove yourselves, then, the children of faithful Abraham, and stagger not at the promises of God, through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Believer, if you are brought into dark and difficult circumstances, instead of allowing yourself to think you may stand excused for the indulgence of murmuring and unbelief, consider it rather as an opportunity and a call for the exercise of faith, and for thus glorifying God. The thicker the darkness through which he calls you to pass—and the more entirely destitute you are of all help from every other quarter—the greater is the opportunity for honoring him by trusting him with all your concerns!

How blessed to its possessor is the life of faith. "Believing in Christ, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." "Because you have seen me," said Christ to Thomas, "you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed." How sweetly does confidence even in an earthly friend, relieve the mind from distressing fears and apprehensions; and this relief is in exact proportion to the ability and willingness of this friend to assist us, and the benefits we expect from his generosity. What then must be the relief afforded to the agitated mind of the Christian—by confidence in God, reliance on Christ, and the hope of glory.

"Great and wonderful is the consolation such a life affords. In all the vicissitudes of life and horrors of death, nothing can cheer and fortify the mind like this. By faith in Christ, and the unseen world, we can endure—injuries without revenge, afflictions without fainting, and losses without despair! Let the nations of the earth clash like potsherds one against another; yes, let nature herself approach toward her final dissolution; let her groan as being ready to expire, and sink into her primitive nothing—still the believer lives! His all is not on board that vessel! His chief inheritance lies in another soil."

"His hand the godly man fastens on the skies,
And bids earth roll, nor feels her idle whirl."

How obvious is this to the most superficial thinker! Faith, when the report believed is a joyful one—must be productive of delight. Who can believe glad tidings and not be made glad? Hence the reasonableness of those exhortations which call upon us to rejoice in the Lord. There is more real happiness in the believer's mind, when in the very midst of poverty and trouble, he exercises a lively confidence in God—than the richest worldling on earth enjoys, when surrounded by all his untold wealth, and incalculable possessions. To feel our own poverty, emptiness, nothingness, and yet at the same time to feel in all the confidence of faith, our fullness in Christ and our title to that priceless inheritance, which God has reserved for his children, which is kept in heaven for them—pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay—is one of the most felicitous states of mind we can attain to in this world! It unites the deepest humility—with the most exalted and triumphant anticipations!

The life of faith will not last always—but will give way to a life of eternal vision! We are walking by faith to see Jesus as he is, and to be like him. "Your word," said the Psalmist, "is a light unto my feet, a lamp unto my path," and faith is the hand that holds it, as we pass through the darkness of this our earthly sojourn, and the deeper shadows of the grave. But when our spirits emerge into the regions of glory and the realms of immortality—we shall need the lamp no longer, for "there is no night there!" Oh, what a moment will that be when the 'lamp of faith' will be suddenly extinguished, not amid the darkness of eternal night, but amid the splendors of everlasting day and the prospects of the heavenly world—and its tiny spark shall be lost amid the blaze of glory pouring from the throne of God! How will the soul endure the scene which shall then burst upon her view?

Be this then your prayer, my dear friends, your sincere and earnest prayer, "Lord, increase our faith!" Be willing to have the world displaced from your soul, to make room for the objects of faith; and be ever ready to come from the dazzling glare of earthly scenes, to feel the steady illumination, and dwell in the calm and holy light that shines from heaven on your path. Study as well as read the Scriptures, and meditate much upon their contents. Frequent and devout converse with the objects of faith, is the best way to have it increased. Watch diligently against the influence of those objects which have a fatal tendency to eclipse faith's light, to obstruct its operation, and enfeeble its life—namely, sensual pleasure; eager pursuit of the world; and a too intimate converse with those who mind earthly things!