by J. Gresham Machen
Editor's Note: J. Gresham Machen was a stalwart defender of the faith during the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, standing firm against the tide of liberalism then assaulting the church in America. Because the struggle goes on, the following excerpt from his 1925 book What Is Faith? is as much to the point today as it was in the days of our fathers.
True faith, strictly speaking, does not do anything; it does not give, but receives. So when one says that we do something by faith that is just another way of saying that we do nothing-at least that we do nothing of ourselves. It is of the very nature of faith, strictly speaking, to do nothing. So when it is said that faith works through love, that means that through faith, instead of doing something for ourselves we allow some one else to help us. That force which enters our life at the beginning through faith, before we could do anything at all to please God, and which then strengthens and supports us in the battle that it has enabled us to begin, is the power of the Spirit of God.
So in the midst of a practical world, the Christian exhibits a practical life of love-a busy life of helpfulness, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the prisoners. And all that accomplished not by his own unaided efforts, not even merely by his own faith, but by the great object of his faith, the all-powerful God.
The Christian preacher, then, comes before the world with a great alternative. Shall we continue to depend upon our own efforts, or shall we receive by faith the power of God? Shall we content ourselves with the materials which this world affords, seeking by endlessly new combinations to produce a building that shall endure; or shall we build with the materials that have no flaw? Shall we give men new motives, or ask God to give them a new power? Shall we improve the world, or pray God to create a new world?
The former alternatives have been tried and found wanting: the best of architects can produce no enduring building when the materials are faulty; good motives are powerless when the heart is evil. Struggle as we may, we remain just a part of this evil world until, by faith, we cry: "Not by might, nor by power, but by Thy Spirit, O Lord of Hosts."
emailed by John T. Dyck