Give Christ a Faith Like That

From “Nevertheless,” The Strong Name, 122-124 (1941)

Those disciples were expert fishermen, and knew all the science of their craft. What could Jesus be meaning? “Master we’ve toiled all the night, and have taken nothing!”

So many of us, unlike Peter, never get beyond that. “Look at the world – we have toiled all night to reconstruct the world on a basis of brotherhood and freedom, and international honor and straight dealing, and safety for our children; and after all, that, iron age of blood and barbarism returns. Look at the Church — we have toiled all night for a revival of religion as in the day of Pentecost, toiled for the hope of the fire of the Gospel running irresistibly through the earth and burning up all our hampering divisions, our pitiable formalities, our secondhand loyalties, in a great flame of fellowship in Christ; but oh, how the vision tarries, how remote the glory of the dream!

Look at our own hearts – we have toiled all night to drive our own life straight and true through the tangles of this tempting world, to build a character that would be secure and resolute and strong, to take from life the comfort and assurance of having achieved something solid and enduring and substantial; and what have we to show for it? The same old disappointing mediocrity, the same weak yielding before the hectoring voices of besetting sin, the same monotony of defeat. “We have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing!” So many of us never get beyond that.

But hark to Peter! “Master we have toiled all night and taken nothing, nevertheless” — and the man, as I see him, was on his feet, and his voice was ringing, and his eyes shining — “nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net!” It did not matter that the advice seemed totally unreasonable, it did not matter that all his fishermen lore was dead against it; it was the word of Jesus, and nothing else counted compared with that.

“Nevertheless at thy word! Can we look into the eyes of Christ, and say the same? Can we say it when his commands to us appear unreasonable, all against our natural instinct, interfering even with our cherished ambition and plans for our career? Why does Christ sometimes make things so dreadfully difficult for his servants? Why should Schweitzer have to cut his career to, go to Central Africa? Why should the human heart be expected to “contend for the shade of a word and a thing not seen with the eyes,” instead of settling down and relaxing and being comfortable, and leaving things to take their course? Why should a man have to keep aiming at the ideal of the Sermon on the Mount, when it has been proved to him by repeated defeats that he cannot hope to reach it? What is the good of getting back into the old boat, at the old place, with the old net, when you have toiled so long in vain?

That is the natural language of the heart. But the man of faith is the man who can cancel all that out one ring in decisive “Nevertheless!” — the man who, encountering the most stubborn, recalcitrant facts, can achieve that paradox of faith, can stand there before his God and cry “Let the world say this or that, let all human wisdom mass its argument and reasons; nevertheless at thy word!”  Give Christ a faith like that, and anything — any undreamt, stupendous miracle — might happen even now.

James S. Stewart (1896-1990) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and professor, who taught New Testament for many years at the University of Edinburgh, and was moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1963. He was considered one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century and wrote several book on the subject. The Strong Name was the first collection of his sermons to be published, the fruit of his work at Edinburgh’s North Morningside Parish Church.

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