Is faith a work?

"To him that worketh not, but believeth" (Romans 4:5)


"So long as you think you have some strength, you will be trying to
use that strength in doing something--and specially in performing, to your
own and Satan's satisfaction, that great act or exercise of soul called 'faith'.
But when you find out that you have no strength left, you will,
in despair, cease to work--and (before you are aware)--believe!
For, if believing be not a ceasing from work,
it is at least the necessary and immediate result of it."

~Horatius Bonar~


"Look at Him [Jesus] as Israel looked at the serpent of brass:
forget everything about yourself;
your faith, your feelings, your repentance, your prayers;
and look at Him."

"It is in Him,
and not in your poor act of faith,
that salvation lies.
It is in Him and in His boundless love
that you are to find your resting-place.
It is out of Him,
not out of your exercise of soul concerning Him,
that peace is to come."

~Horatius Bonar~


"Cease from Working"

     The office of faith is not to work, but to cease from working. The gospel message to the unconverted is to cease from every effort, and look away to Christ; in essence, - "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exodus 14:13). Israel's looking to the brazen serpent was a ceasing from all remedies, and letting health pour itself into the body by the eye. When we look upon an object, we're not giving at all, but simply receiving the image in view. The eye of faith is not a giver, but a receiver; it receives Christ and all His saving benefits. To Him alone belongs all the glory; we have done nothing. Faith is but the instrument, the medium; Christ alone is the satisfaction and the merit. Our first business does not have to do with faith, but with Christ; otherwise, we've turned faith into some great thing that we do, that is, into a work. Salvation comes not by doing, but by receiving - receiving a work already done, a work effected and finished two thousand years ago by Him who "was made sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

     Look not at your believing. You say, 'I feel I cannot believe.' You will never believe if you look first at your believing. We are not inviting people to faith, but to Christ. What's the difference? If you say that you would 'like to believe a thing' - you never will. The first thing that we are to do is ask: 'What is this thing I am to believe?' Then will faith come as the result of that search. Fix your eyes upon Him who "suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). See Him, who upon that cursed tree, "redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal 3:13). Look unto Him "who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Gaze for awhile at that One who "made peace through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:20). Take your place at the foot of the Cross looking for a Substitute. That's where salvation is. Make your way to Mt. Calvary, and camp out right there under the Cross, till you can say:

"I stand amazed in the presence, of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean.

Alas, and did my Saviour bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!"

     When Moses lifted up the serpent of brass on that pole, those Israelites were to cease completely from doing anything; their eyes were to be totally directed away from themselves. The promise was, "Every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live" (Num 21:8). That was their sole instruction: just look! Nothing else. They were not to calculate the size of the serpent to determine the extent of the venom. They were not to lance the wound, and go about sucking out the poison. They were not to take any anti-venom, or antibiotics of any kind; they were not to apply a tourniquet, not to dress it, or to wrap it; they were not to watch the swelling, apply an ice pack, or consider the discoloration of their flesh; they were not to call for help from their kinsmen, the doctor, or the priest; they were not even so much as to cast another glance at the wound - there was nothing for them to do but just to Believe God, and cease from all their doing, and all their efforts, and all their anxieties, and Look Away! "If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld...he lived." He lived! "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14,15). True faith is not a giver, but a receiver. It's not an actor, but an onlooker. It's not a builder, but a beholder.

Abstract from the booklet "Without Money and Without Price" by Daniel Shanks


The Belgic Confession
Article 22:
Of Faith in Jesus Christ.

     We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery (see Article 23: Of the satisfaction of Christ, our only High Priest, for us), the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore, for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy: for hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean, that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.





Quotes from Chapter 8: BELIEVE AND BE SAVED.

        Faith then is the link, the one link, between the sinner and the Sinbearer. It is not faith, as a work or exercise of our minds, which must be properly performed in order to qualify or fit us for pardon. It is not faith, as a religious duty, which must be gone through according to certain rules, in order to induce Christ to give us the benefits of his work. It is faith, simply as a receiver of the divine record concerning the Son of God.

        Nor is salvation given as a reward for believing and knowing. The things believed and known are our salvation. Nor are we saved or comforted by thinking about our act of believing and ascertaining that it possesses all the proper ingredients and qualities which would induce God to approve of it, and of us because of it. This would be making faith a meritorious, or, at least, a qualifying work; and then grace would be no more grace.

        To do some great thing called faith, in order to win God's favour, the sinner has no objection; nay, it is just what he wants, for it gives him the opportunity of working for his salvation. But he rejects the idea of taking his stand upon a work already done, and so ceasing to exercise his soul in order to effect a reconciliation, for which all that is needed was accomplished eighteen hundred years ago, upon the cross of Him who "was made sin for us, though he knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," (2 Cor. v. 21).


Quotes from Chapter 9: BELIEVE JUST NOW.

        The great manifestation of self-righteousness, is this struggle to believe. Believing is not a work, but a ceasing from work; and this struggle to believe, is just the sinner's attempt to make a work out of that which is no work at all, to make a labour out of that which is a resting from labour. Sinners will not let go their hold of their former confidences and drop into Christ's arms. Why? Because they still trust these confidences, and do not trust him who speaks to them in the gospel. Instead, therefore, of encouraging you to embrace more and more earnestly these preliminary efforts, I tell you they are all the sad indications of self-righteousness. They take for granted that Christ has not done his work sufficiently, and that God is not willing to give you faith till you have plied him with the arguments and importunities of months or years. God is at this moment willing to bless you; and these struggles of yours are not, as you fancy, humble attempts on your part to take the blessing, but proud attempts either to put it from you, or to get hold of it in some way of your own. You cannot, with all your struggles, make the Holy Spirit more willing to give you faith than he is at this moment. But your self-righteousness rejects this blessed truth; and if I were to encourage you in these "efforts," I should be fostering your self-righteousness and your rejection of this grace of the Spirit.


Quotes from Chapter 10: THE WANT OF POWER TO BELIEVE.

        Your puzzling yourself with this "cannot," shows that you are proceeding in a wrong direction. You are still labouring under the idea that this believing is a work to be done by you, and not the simple acknowledgment of a work done by another. You would fain do something in order to get peace, and you think that if you could only do this great thing called faith, God would reward you with peace, In this view, faith is a price as well as a work; whereas it is neither; but a ceasing from work and from attempting to pay for salvation. Faith is not a climbing of the mountain; but a ceasing to attempt it, and allowing Christ to carry you up in his arms.

        You seem to think that it is your own act of faith that is to save you; whereas it is the object of your faith, without which your own act of faith, however well performed, is nothing. Supposing that this believing is a mighty work, you ask, "How am I to get it properly performed?" But your peace is not to come from any such performance, but entirely from Him to whom the Father is pointing, "Behold my servant whom I have chosen."

        Your inability, then, does not lie in the impossibility of your performing aright this great act of believing, but of ceasing from all such self-righteous attempts to perform any act, or do anything whatever, in order to your being saved. So that the real truth is, that you have not yet seen such a sufficiency in the one great work of the Son of God upon the cross, as to lead you utterly to discontinue your wretched efforts to work out something of your own. As soon as the Holy Spirit shows you the entire sufficiency of the great propitiation, for the sinner, just as he is, you cease your attempts to act or work, and take, instead of all such exercises of yours, that which Christ has done. The Spirit's work is not to enable a man to do something which will save him or help to save him, but so to detach him from all his own exertions and performances, whether good, bad, or indifferent, that he should be content with the salvation which the Saviour of the lost has finished.


The quotes and paragraphs by Horatius Bonar on this page came from the book, "God's Way of Peace".

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by Horatius Bonar





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