What Is It To Live By Faith?

Just read this today. This is from a sermon entitled Of Living By Faith by the Puritan David Clarkson. The text he uses, as you may have guessed already, is Hebrews 10:38, ‘Now the just shall live by faith.’ The emphasis is mine and as a substitute for the Old Testament Hebrew vocabulary Clarkson cites, we have used this: […] This is an excellent and insightful treatment of this text. Clarkson was truly a gifted preacher of the Word of God.

One more thing. As you read this, let me encourage you to keep in mind the contrast between the Law and faith. If we live by faith, then we die apart from it. And that if we are not holding fast to faith, then we are exposed to the Law, which condemns us to death. Though Clarkson does not specifically mention the Law here, his exposition on living by faith has helped me to understand the way we are to consider and respect the Law, but not to find our hope in it. We should fear and tremble at what the Law teaches us about God, that He is holy and righteous and just. But our hope is not in the Law, but in faith in Jesus Christ, which is, and who is life.

What is it to live by faith?

Ans. This living by faith is not a single and transient act, but something habitual and permanent.

And we may thus describe it: living by faith is constant dependence on God, as one without whom we cannot live.

Three things concur to its constitution.

(1.) A sense and acknowledgment that we cannot live without God. This is presupposed. Our life depends on him; and it is our life to depend, life in its latitude; life and all that pertains to it; life and livelihood; life of body and soul; in its being and well-being; in its being and actings, and all that maintain it in both. God is that to the soul, which the soul is to the body, enlivens it and acts it; so Christ quickens and acts the soul. The body cannot live, or move, or act, or grow, it cannot hear, or see, or smell, or touch, without the soul. No more the soul without Christ. Christ is the life of the soul, and faith is the bond, the copula which unites the soul to Christ. And so by means of faith we live, faith uniting us with the principle of life. Both these are remarkably holden forth, Gal. ii. 20, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I live is by faith in the Son of God.’ Even as we may say, the body lives; yet not the body, but the soul lives in it; and the life that it lives, is by means of its union with the soul. So in a spiritual sense, the soul lives; yet not the soul, but Christ lives in it; and the life that it lives, is by faith in Christ uniting Christ to it.

(2.) There is a relying on God for all these, for continuance of what we have, and supply of what we want; rolling ourselves, and the burden of our affairs, on God. This is the formal act of faith. And because it is above us, and few are acquainted with it, I will draw it down to your capacities, and offer it to your senses in a simile or two, which the words, whereby the Hebrews express it, afford us. The first is,[…], to lean, to stay upon, to rely. It is used 2 Sam. i. 6, where it is said of Saul, ‘he leaned upon his spear,’ […], the same word: Pov. iii. 5, ‘Lean not to thine own understanding,’ i.e., as some render it, ‘trust not.’ For these are used as synonyms: Isa. 1., ‘Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God;’ [… and …] are of the same force. For to trust God, is to stay ourselves on him. Even as one standing upon a high precipice, and perceiving himself ready to fall, takes hold of some bough, and stays himself by it, and hangs there, he is said to live by staying himself there, because it saves him from death, so we live by faith, because by this we stay ourselves on God, and so escape falling into hell, sin, and eternal death, though we stand continually on a precipice. We live by faith, because, were it not for faith, we should die ; but for this stay, Satan would push us into hell, and our hearts into a gulf of sin, wherein we might sink and perish ; but that faith, laying hold on Christ, leaning upon him, is held above water, and so lives by faith, as a drowning man lives by means of that which stays him from sinking.

(3.) Constancy, frequency. It is a continued thing; a life of faith, not one act of believing; a whole life of acts. Since we always stand upon the brink of sin and death, and have no security from falling, but God s maintaining, and our apprehending of him, we should continually depend and hang upon God, never let go our hold; for then we fall without recovery. If we live by faith, when we neglect faith, we die. Our whole life should be a continued act of dependence on God when we eat, or drink, or sleep, or work, or pray, &c.; apply ourselves as often to God by faith,…. We should exercise faith more frequently than we use bread; for we live more by it than by bread. ‘Man lives not by bread, but by every word,’ &c. If we believe, God can command other things to nourish in the want of bread.

The Works of David Clarkson; volume 1, pages 175-176; Banner of Truth edition, 1988


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