Chapter 7 The Gaze of the Soul

Hebrews 12:2, Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Let us think of our intelligent, plain man mentioned in chapter 6 coming for the first time to the reading of the Scriptures. He approaches the Bible without any previous knowledge of what it contains. He is wholly without prejudice; he has nothing to prove and nothing to defend. Such a man will not have read long before his mind begins to observe certain truths standing out from the page. They are the spiritual principles behind the record of God’s dealings with men and woven into the writings of holy men as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. As he reads on, he might want to number these truths as they become clear to him and make a brief summary under each number. These summaries will be the tenets of his Biblical creed. Further reading will not affect these points except to enlarge and strengthen them. Our man is finding out what the Bible actually teaches. High up on the list of things that the Bible teaches will be the doctrine of faith. The place of weighty importance which the Bible gives to faith will be too plain for him to miss. He will very likely conclude: Faith is of utmost importance. Heb11:6, Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Faith will get me anything, take me anywhere in the kingdom of God; but without faith, there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all. By the time our friend has reached the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the eloquent expression of high praise which is there pronounced upon faith will not seem strange to him. He will have read Paul’s powerful defence of faith in his Roman and Galatian epistles. Later, if he goes on to study church history, he will understand the amazing power in the teachings of the Reformers as they showed the central place of faith in the Christian religion. Now if faith is so vitally important, if it is an indispensable must in our pursuit of God, it is perfectly natural that we should be deeply concerned over whether or not we possess this most precious gift. And our minds being what they are, it is inevitable that sooner or later we should get around to inquiring after the nature of faith. The question, What is faith? would lie close to the question, Do I have faith? and would demand an answer if it were anywhere to be found. Almost all who preach or write on the subject of faith have much the same things to say concerning it. They tell us that it is believing a promise, that it is taking God at His word, that it is reckoning the Bible to be true and stepping out upon it. The rest of the book or sermon is usually taken up with stories of people who have had their prayers answered as a result of their faith. These answers are mostly direct gifts of a practical and temporal nature such as health, money, physical protection, or success in business. Surely there must be something better than this. In the Scriptures, there is practically no effort made to define faith. Outside of a brief fifteen-word definition in Hebrews 11:1, I know of no Biblical definition, and even there, faith is defined functionally, not philosophically; that is, it is a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence. It assumes the presence of faith and shows what it results in, rather than what it is. We will be wise to go just that far and attempt to go no further. We are told from whence it comes and by what means: Faith . . . is the gift of God, and Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. This much is clear “I had rather exercise faith than know the definition thereof.” From here on, when the words “faith is” or their equivalent occur in this chapter, I ask that they be understood to refer to what faith is in operation as exercised by a believing man. Right here we drop the notion of definition and think about faith as it may be experienced in action. The complexion of our thoughts will be practical, not theoretical. In a dramatic story in the book of Numbers, faith is seen in action. Israel became discouraged and spoke against God, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. Then Moses sought the Lord for them and He heard and gave them a remedy against the bite of the serpents. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all the people, it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live. Moses obeyed, and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived (Numbers 21:4-9). In the New Testament, this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear, He refers to this incident in the book of Numbers. John 3:14-15, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. Our plain man in reading this would make an important discovery. He would notice that “look” and “believe” were synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ; that is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God. When he had seen this, he would remember passages he had read before, and their meaning would come flooding over him. Psalm 34:5, They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. Psalm 123:1-2, To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us. Here the man seeking mercy looks straight at the God of mercy and never takes his eyes away from Him until mercy is granted. And our Lord Himself looked always at God. Matthew 14:19, Looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples. Indeed, Jesus taught that He wrought His works by always keeping His inward eyes upon His Father. His power lay in His continuous look at God. John 5:19-21, Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does, and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. In full accord with the few texts, we have quoted is the whole tenor of the inspired Word. It is summed up for us in the Hebrew epistle when we are instructed to run life’s race-fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. From all this, we learn that faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the triune God. Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to behold the Lamb of God, and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first, this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous Person, quietly and without strain. Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him, the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window. I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act that establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world. He knows that we have set the direction of our hearts toward Jesus, and we can know it too, and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that a habit of the soul is forming which will become after a while a sort of spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part. Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God, we do not see ourselves – blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do. Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be, and is perilously close to the sin of Lucifer who said, I will raise my throne above the stars of God. Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line. All this may seem too simple. But we have no apology to make. To those who would seek to climb into heaven after help or descend into hell, God says, Rom 10:8, But what does it say? “The word is near you”, . . . that is, the word of faith,” in your mouth and in your heart” The word induces us to lift up our eyes unto the Lord and the blessed work of faith begins. When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God, we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that, 2 Chron 16:9, For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. The sweet language of experience is “You are the God that sees me.” Gen 16:13, Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You Are the God Who Sees, for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”.

When the eyes of the soul looking out to meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.

“When all my endeavour is turned towards You because all Your endeavour is turned towards me; when I look towards You alone with all my attention, never turning away the eyes of my mind, because You have enfolded me with Your constant regard; when I direct my love toward You alone, because You, who is Love has turned Yourself towards me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Your delightsome sweetness does so lovingly enfold me?” Nicholas of Cusa – four hundred years ago.

I should like to say more about this old man of God. He is not much known today anywhere among Christian believers, and among current Fundamentalists, he is known not at all. I feel that we could gain much from a little acquaintance with men of his spiritual flavour and the school of Christian thought which they represent. Christian literature, to be accepted and approved by the evangelical leaders of our times, must follow very closely the same train of thought, a kind of “party line” from which it is scarcely safe to depart. A half-century of this in America has made us smug and content. We imitate each other with slavish devotion and our most strenuous efforts are put forth to try to say the same thing that everyone around us is saying – and yet to find an excuse for saying it, some little safe variation on the approved theme or, if no more, at least a new illustration. Nicholas was a true follower of Christ, a lover of the Lord, radiant and shining in his devotion to the person of Jesus. His theology was orthodox but fragrant and sweet as everything about Jesus might properly be expected to be. His conception of eternal life, for instance, is beautiful in itself, and, if I mistake not, is nearer in spirit to John 17:3 than that which is current among us today. Life eternal, says Nicholas, is “nought other than that blessed regard wherewith You never cease to behold me, yes, even the secret places of my soul. With You, to behold is to give life; ‘it’s unceasingly to impart the sweetest love of You; ‘it’s to inflame me to love You by love’s imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearning, and by kindling to make me drink of the dew of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure.” Now, if faith is the gaze of the heart at God, and if this gaze is but the raising of the inward eyes to meet the all-seeing eyes of God, then it follows that it is one of the easiest things possible to do. It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us. Several conclusions may fairly be drawn from all this. The simplicity of it, for instance, is one. Since believing is looking, it can be done without special equipment or religious paraphernalia. God has seen to it that the one life-and-death essential can never be subject to the caprice of accident. Equipment can break down or get lost, water can leak away, records can be destroyed by fire, the minister can be delayed, or the church burns down. All these are external to the soul and are subject to accident or mechanical failure, but looking is of the heart and can be done successfully by any man standing up or kneeling down or lying in his last agony a thousand miles from any church. Since believing is looking, it can be done at any time. No season is superior to another season for this sweetest of all acts. God never made salvation dependent upon new moons or holy days or Sabbaths. A man is not nearer to Christ on Easter Sunday than he is, say, on Saturday, August 3, or Monday, October 4. As long as Christ sits on the mediatorial throne, every day is a good day and all days are days of salvation. Neither does place matter in this blessed work of believing God. Lift your heart and let it rest upon Jesus and you are instantly in a sanctuary, though it be a bed or a factory or a kitchen. You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him. Now, someone may ask, “Is not this of which you speak for special people such as monks or ministers who have by the nature of their calling more time to devote to quiet meditation? I am a busy worker and have little time to spend alone.” I am happy to say that the life I describe is for every one of God’s children, regardless of calling. It is, in fact, happily practised every day by many hardworking people and is beyond the reach of none. Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practise this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs, there is within them a secret communion always going on. Let their attention but be released for a moment from necessary business and it flies at once to God again. Private prayer should be practised by every Christian. Long periods of Bible meditation will purify our gaze and direct it. Church attendance will enlarge our outlook and increase our love for others. Service and work and activity – all are good and should be engaged in by every Christian. But the foundation of all these things, giving meaning to them, will be the inward habit of beholding God. A new set of eyes (so to speak) will develop within us, enabling us to be looking at God while our outward eyes are seeing the scenes of this passing world. Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So, one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity- conscious” and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life. All of the foregoing presupposes true repentance and a full commitment of the life to God. It is hardly necessary to mention this, for only individuals who have made such a commitment will have read this far. When the habit of inwardly gazing Godward becomes fixed within us, we shall be ushered onto a new level of spiritual life more in keeping with the promises of God and the mood of the New Testament. The triune God will be our dwelling place even while our feet walk the low road of simple duty here among men. We will have found life’s summum bonum (the highest good) indeed. “There is the source of all delights that can be desired; not only can nought better be thought out by men and angels, but nought better can exist in the mode of being! For it is the absolute maximum of every rational desire, than which a greater cannot be.”

O Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to thee and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision until I see thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in thine own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold thee in full splendour in the day when thou shalt appear to be glorified in thy saints and admired in all them that believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Chapter 8