In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan recalled a time in his life when he sought to test whether or not he had true faith. He stood in front of a puddle to see whether or not he could perform a miracle and make the puddle dry up. As he stood there, he thought to himself that he should pray prior to attempting this miracle. He then reasoned that if he prayed and attempted this miracle and it did not occur then it would mean that he did not have true faith. In the end, Bunyan stood there staring at the puddle. This story captures so well the many wrong views that we often have when considering the teaching of our Lord about the nature of true and saving faith.
After coming down from the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus found some of his disciples frustrated on account of the fact that they could not cast a demon out of a boy (Matt. 17:14-20). The father of the boy was frustrated with the inability of Jesus’ disciples to help. Jesus took the opportunity to teach an important lesson about the nature of faith. He said, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Jesus was teaching his disciples the inestimably valuable lesson it is not the amount of faith that empowers us—it is the object of our faith. Geerhardus Vos captured so well this truth when he wrote, “Faith like a grain of mustard seed will accomplish the greatest conceivable results, because, small though it be, it nevertheless, provided it be genuine faith, connects man with the exhaustless reservoir of divine omnipotence.”1
The inability of the disciples to minister effectively stemmed from the fact that they had taken their eyes off Jesus and put them on themselves. They began to conceive of faith in introspective terms—as a power equivalent to their ability to desire or conceive. The whole point of the Transfiguration on the mount was to teach the disciples about the divine glory that Jesus possessed by virtue of the fact that he is the eternal Son of God. The Divine glory had, for a moment, broken through the humanity of Christ by which it was veiled. When Peter, James and John heard the Divine pronouncement from the Father on the mount, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well please. Listen to him” they lifted their eyes and “saw no one by Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8). The lesson was simple: The faith of the disciples was to fixed on Jesus as the sole object of that trust.
When we begin to sense our weakness and the weakness of our faith, we must listen to the words of Christ, “If you have faith as a mustard seed…” Sinclair Ferguson sums all of this up when he writes, “The weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as the strongest faith.” It is not the amount of faith but the object of faith that saves us and gives us power to live the Christian life in the service of others.
1. Geerhardus Vos The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God (American Tract Society, 1903) p. 181