"To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (1 Cor. 9:22)
I have spoken to you much lately upon the subject of little faith; and I attempted to make it clear to you that the smallest portion of faith is sufficient for all God's purposes. I trust the subject was blessed to some of you. I would now take up this subject again through another text, and call your attention to the great Paul's example in dealing with his weak brethren. We are not to suppose that Paul was a latitudinarian in doctrine from what he states about himself in this chapter. If we did not know from other writings of the apostle that he was a stern dogmatist upon the Gospel of the grace of God, we might infer from my text and its context that Paul suited himself to his company and was a free-willer with a free-willer, and a free-grace man with a free-grace man; that he was a Jew with the Jews, and a Christian with the Christians: in short, that he was as some preachers are of the present day, Calvinists with the Calvinists, and Arminians with the Arminians. But this cannot for a moment be entertained; independent of the gross immorality that such conduct would involve any man in, we have Paul's own words to prove that this is not what he meant, when he declared he was "all things to all men." The man who could invoke a solemn curse upon an angel from heaven who would dare preach any other Gospel than what he preached, we may be sure could be no latitudinarian in doctrine. (Gal. 1:8) The idea cannot be entertained for a moment. What, then, did Paul mean by "being all things to all men?" Manifestly, in nonessentials, in things indifferent. Yes, he could thus adapt himself to his company. He would not insist upon the power and authority he had to do this or that as a Christian minister, but would forego his right, wherever insisting upon them would cause offense. This is the true spirit of a Christian minister, and I think we may assume that as Paul became weak to them that were weak in nonessentials, he made great allowances for those whose faith was weak in comparison to that of others. He must have met with many who were thus tempted, and, doubtless, he, whose practice was to follow His blessed Master's would be as a little child in the company of weak believers. This again is the true character of a Christian minister.
I. Brethren, there are many weak believers, many who believe in God's plan of salvation, but who have ever to cry out, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." Many who believe in God's plan of salvation, who have not strength of faith to appropriate it to themselves. Now I want to encourage such; thus I would become weak to those who are weak. Now let me tell you,
First. Your case is not uncommon. There are more weak believers than strong ones. As I was suggesting to you the other Sunday, it is in grace as it is in nature; the weak are the many, the strong are the few. You enter a garden of flowers, some are very small and some are very large, yet they are all beautiful in their kind; you enter an orchard, there are many trees and all of various degrees of fruitfulness, yet they are all fruit-trees and good of their kind. So is it with believers, they are of different measures of faith or grace, but they are all believers and all lovely in the sight of God.
Secondly. You must bear in mind that faith is perfect in none; it is sincere and real in all, but perfect in none. It is imperfect in knowledge; it is imperfect in power. In fact, the most privileged of us all sees but through a glass darkly. Job's faith was shaken when he cursed the day of his birth; Moses' faith quailed at the rock; Abraham's faith was shaken by long delays; Elijah's faith shrank at the threats of Jezebel. So, dear weak brethren, though you mourn over the weakness of your faith, you have no reason to be cast down; more privileged saints than you have felt their infirmity. I often think of those who boast of their strength of faith, that, if they were tried as some dear children of God are tried, they would see they had none to spare. Oh, how strange and mysterious are God's ways with His people! How soon some are answered in prayer, and how long a time are others kept waiting. How little have some to try their faith, and how much others! How little some are tempted, and how terribly are others! Brethren, we cannot account for these things; let us remember that they are all the doings and permittings of an all-wise God.
Thirdly. You must bear in mind that the very weakest faith saves. Oh, what precious news! Yea, the weakest faith obtains its request as well as the strongest. Did not the poor father in the Lord's day who could only falter out, "I believe, help Thou mine unbelief," (Mark 9:24) obtain what he wanted, as well as the mother whose strong faith astonished Jesus? Yes, yes, so it will be with you, dear weak ones; you will get all that is needful for you in due time. But here some one asks me, "Have I even weak faith?" 1. The Object of faith is Christ; 2. the seat of faith is the heart. If you are thoroughly persuaded that nothing short of the power and merit of Christ can save you, if you love that Christ and confess Him, and call upon Him from your heart, you may be certain you have true faith; it may be weak, but it is genuine. Look up, then, and cheer up, my weak ones! Sometimes my own faith is as weak as yours; so that I readily can become weak with those that are weak.
II. Now let me point out to you some symptoms of weakness of faith.
First. Fainting in the day of adversity. Oh, how ready we are to cry out, "All is lost" when the world frowns upon us, or our enemies triumph over us; down we go, floundering in the mire, and yet you know the Lord told us of all these things when He enlisted us.
Secondly. Another sign of weakness of faith is dwelling more upon our discouragements than upon our encouragements; for instance, we are too apt to dwell upon our sins more than upon the Saviour; upon our misery more than our mercy; upon the cross more than upon the crown; upon those who are against us more than on those that are for us. I know I often find myself in this condition; when an unexpected blow has been dealt me; when a unlooked-for trial has come upon me; when an unthought-of temptation has crossed my path; I have found myself pondering upon it, and all but forgetting the remedy and the refuge, even the Sympathizer with His people's sufferings.
Thirdly. Another sign of weakness is making sense and feeling the test of our spiritual state. For instance, if no word has been applied to our souls throughout the day, if the sermon does not suit our case, if the minister speaks not our experience, we are for cutting ourselves off from hope. Remember, dear weak ones, it is one thing to be the Lord's, and another thing to know that we are the Lord's. You will find John's first epistle very strengthening under such circumstances.
Fourthly. Another sign of weakness is being more taken with the love-tokens we have from Christ than with Christ Himself; for instance, our comforts, our enlargements, our meltings, so occupy our attention sometimes, that we forget Christ's person. I grant you those comforts are sweet; but let us not make Christ's of them. The streams of grace are sweet, but the fountain of grace is sweeter; the beams of the sun are glorious, but the sun itself is more glorious.
Fifthly. Another symptom of weakness of faith is being over anxious about this life. Poor Martha of Bethany was a type of this sort. The apostles themselves were all weak in faith to begin with; how they argued and wrangled with one another as to who should be greatest! I believe there are many Martha's, many more than Marie's. Ah, but I am sure the dear Lord loved Martha and her brother Lazarus as well as He loved Mary. Blessed be God, He loves the weak ones as well as the strong! Cheer up, then, poor weak ones. Oh, if you were to know the quailings of my poor soul sometimes, you would no longer wonder at your own weakness. But the Lord has been gracious to me--ay, and He will be gracious.
III. A few reflections:--
First. As the weakly child is as much the child of his parents as the healthy and the strong one, so are the weak saints as much united to Christ, justified by Christ, pardoned by Christ, and reconciled by Christ, as the strongest.
Secondly. God looks with an eye of love upon the least good that is in His child, or the least good that is done by his child. Ay, there is not a desire after good or after God in our souls, but God notices it. Weak saints are full of desires, many can point to nothing but desires. There is many a child of God that never has any other evidence of interest in Christ than desires after righteousness.
Thirdly. The Lord will never extinguish a spark of grace that He has put into the soul. "A bruised reed will He not break, and smoking flax will He not quench." (Isa. 42:3)
Fourthly. Where there is but weak grace, God will not expect great doings. It is the willing mind that God is pleased with. (2 Cor. 8:12) He does not gather where He has not strewed. If He has not given you great faith, He will not look for great works.
Fifthly. Where faith is strong, temptation is strong; and, where faith is weak, temptation is weak. I deem this a most important fact, so that weak believers are the gainers in some instances. You may rely upon it, where there is great grace there is strong temptation. Look, at Abraham; could you or I stand what he stood? Moses was given great grace, but he had the most rebellious people to deal with. Job was the most patient of men, but he had the most terrible afflictions to contend against. Paul had the most glorious revelations, but he was buffeted more than all the apostles.
Lastly. All the saints, weak as well as strong, stand not before God in their own righteousness, but in the perfect, spotless, matchless righteousness of the Lord Jesus. "Ye are complete in Him," (Col. 2:10) whether weak or strong. Here is the stand-point for all Christians. Let them look not upon their weakness or their strength, but upon their completeness in Jesus Christ, who is their wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)