I received a fascinating book a while back. It is called Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons from Isaiah 53. That is 72 sermons (totaling almost 700 oversized pages) on 12 verses of Scripture. These sermons were preached by 17th century Presbyterian pastor James Durham – who died when he was 36 years old but had, in ten years of preaching ministry, also preached/written extensively on Revelation, Song of Songs, Job, and the Ten Commandments. That is enough to make us all feel lazy!
In his fourth sermon on Isaiah 53, Durham was unfolding the idea of faith in the opening verse of Isaiah 53, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In trying to assist his congregation in their understanding of saving faith, Durham looked through the rest of Scripture to find word pictures (“expressions and similitudes” he calls them) that provide fresh avenues of thought around a very familiar term. In this Easter season, as we continue to reflect on our risen Lord and what we mean when we say we “believe” in Him, Durham can help us as well.
What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”? In summarizing Durham’s list, using his language, faith means at least these 10 things:
1. Come to Christ. Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Many people think faith to be a guessing. They think they may have believed but are not sure how they could ever actually know. But faith is a real thing. It is a moving from our own righteousness to his, from resting on our works to resting on his grace. To believe in Jesus is to come to Him.
2. Receive Christ. To as many as received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12). The gospel, in offering Christ to us, presupposes that we are without him. It comes to us and says, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? Come and receive a Savior!” The act of faith is latching on to that offer, and embracing it. To believe in Jesus is to receive Him.
3. Lay Hold of Christ. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own (Philippians 3:12; Hebrews 6:18; Isaiah 56:3). Christ is held out in the gospel as a city of refuge, a shelter from that which we are in hazard of (namely, the wrath of God). The exercise of faith is to run from that hazard to him, as a child flees from an unknown pursuer into his mother’s arms. To believe in Jesus is to run to Him.
4. Cast Yourself on Christ. Cast your burden on the Lord; Commit your way to the Lord (Psalm 55:22; 37:5). The gospel lays Christ, as it were, at folks’ feet, and faith rolls them over on him. It is the soul finding itself, by the Spirit, unable to stand under the burden and rolling itself onto Christ. This is an emphatic, significant, active expression of faith – quitting your own feet and laying himself over on Christ. To believe in Jesus is to cast yourself onto Him.
5. Submit to Christ. Durham draws here on Romans 11:2 – I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. He describes this submission as surrendering to the terms of the gospel – agreeing with the way it describes us, and what we need, and then receiving what it offers. In a word, faith carves not to God the way to salvation, but sweetly submits to the way He has carved out.
6. Hide yourself in Christ. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it, and are saved (Proverbs 18:10). This is what the apostle says in Philippians 3:9, “that I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” So, if you ask “What is faith?” it is a man betaking himself to Christ so that when he shall be called for, it may be answered, “Lord, I am in Christ.” By this faith the sinner holds and hides himself in Christ till (so to speak) not a bit of the man can be seen.
7. Yield to Christ. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:8). In the original it is “give your hand to the Lord,” even as two men who have been at odds come to renew the friendship by shaking hands. Now, God has stretched out His hands to you (Isaiah 65:2). Therefore, come and close with Him, yield to Him, give him your hand and make the engagement secure for the time to come.
8. Open to Christ. Open to me, my dove (Song of Solomon 5:2). Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20). The Lord opened the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14). Christ comes by His Word. Faith discerns his voice and gives his entry. It is the letting of the Word sink, the making of him welcome. It is not only crediting the Word as true, but receiving him who the word offers, for the end for which he is offered.
9. Marry Christ. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to come into the wedding feast (Matthew 22:2). This highlights the fact that faith is not a mental act merely, but it is also a cherishing, a treasuring, a response to Jesus from our heart. To believe in Jesus is to pledge ourselves to Him, or to receive His betrothal, out of love for the One who first loved us.
10. Buy! Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, but and eat! (Isaiah 55:1). Buy from me gold refined by fire…and white garments…and salve to anoint your eyes (Revelation 3:18). God in the gospel sets forth to sinners, as in a market, rich and rare wares at very low or easy rates, beckoning us to “buy without price.” Faith is seeing what is offered as exceedingly valuable and buying up what God is offering.
Durham then goes on to include cleaving, hearing or inclining the ear, choosing, committing our way to Him, trusting, and placing weight in what God says in valuable but the world says is worthless. The Bible is full of images that invite us into the joy of believing in Jesus.
This, then, is what we are called to do when we are called to believe in Jesus. As I read this list, I am struck with how varied it is! Every one of these descriptions comes at the duty of faith from a slightly different angle. I could be a believer for a long time and still have places my faith can deepen! I am struck by how good it is of God to call us to believe! If faith is a response to who Jesus is and what He has done, then the variations here are really different glimpses we get into the magnificence of Christ.
I am also struck by our great need for the help of the Holy Spirit if we are to be able to respond in these ways. The promise of Philippians 2 sounds all the more precious in the light of all we gain when we believe in Christ: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”