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The Trial and Tests of Faith
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NKJV)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
WE come now to some final considerations about the picture which is contained in verses 24—27 above and also about the two previous pictures which we have already studied. We remind ourselves that the teaching in general is designed to warn us against the terrible and subtle danger of self-deception. It is astonishing to note how much space is given in the New Testament to warnings. How slow we are to observe that and to heed it. There are constant warnings against a light and superficial belief, against the tendency just to say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do no more, warnings against the danger of trusting to works and to our own activities. We have been reminded of that very forcibly in the second picture. It is something that is to be found throughout the New Testament Scriptures; it is seen frequently in the teaching of our Lord Himself, and in the teaching of the apostles afterwards.
But it includes at the same time the danger of trusting to feelings, especially to false feelings. There is nothing that is so surprising to the natural mind as the New Testament expositions on the subject of love. For some reason or other we tend to think of love as being a mere matter of sentiment and feeling; we tend to regard it as simply an emotion. And we tend to carry this over into our thinking concerning the New Testament’s great gospel of love, and the announcement of the love of God to offending sinners. Yet think for a moment of John’s Gospel and his first Epistle in which so much is said about love, and also of 1 Corinthians 13. You will see that their whole emphasis is upon the fact that love is something which is very practical. How often does our Lord say in various ways, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.’
That is the precise teaching at this point. All this warning at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is simply designed to emphasize the one thing, that ‘not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father’. The recurring emphasis on this point is designed to save us from deluding ourselves into thinking that all is well with us because of some vague, general feeling which we may possess. Our Lord says that it is useless to talk about loving Him unless we keep His commandments. ‘He that loves Me truly’, He seems to say, ‘does what I tell him to do’. Nothing is so fallacious as to substitute feelings and sensibilities for definite obedience. That is something that is stressed very emphatically in this great final word of warning, and that is why we have considered in detail what is meant by doing the will of our Father which is in heaven. The wise man is the man who, having heard these sayings, does them.
But we still have to consider why our Lord put His teaching in this particular form. There is in each one of these pictures, as you observe, a note of warning. We have been making casual reference to that as we have been considering each one. But, clearly, we cannot complete this series of considerations without taking up the question of judgment which He announces in every one of the pictures from verse 53. You remember that it is in the verse where He speaks of entering in at the strait gate that He begins to apply the message of the entire Sermon and to enforce its doctrine; and from there onwards the note of judgment comes in. ‘Enter ye in’, He says, ‘at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction’. There is the note of warning at once. It is to be found again in exactly the same way in connection with the second picture, when He likens the true Christian to the good tree and the false Christian to the corrupt tree. He tells us that ‘every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire’. In the next picture we get it in the words: ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not done these various things in thy name. Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ And here it is, strikingly, in the last picture of the two houses and the two men, because He tells us that a day came when the houses were tested and that one of them fell, and ‘great was the fall of it’. So we are forced to consider this great question of judgment. Indeed, we have seen that not only is it the prominent note in these pictures at the end of the Sermon, it has been the dominant note right through this chapter, beginning with ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.. .’, in verse 1. The note that runs right through this final exhortation is the tremendous note of judgment.
In a sense the message can be put thus: apart from any other consideration, false religion is useless. It is wrong, of course, just as anything that is false is always wrong; but apart from its being wrong, it is in the last analysis of no value at all. It leads in the end to nothing. It may give temporary satisfaction; but it fails to stand the real tests. That is the thing that is emphasized here. That broad way seems safe enough; that corrupt and evil tree in general looks healthy, and you even imagine its fruit to be good until you examine it and find that it is not. In the same way the house that the foolish man built upon the sand appear to be perfect; it looks sound and durable. But the fact is that in the end none of these things are of any value at all; they fail to stand up to the test. That is surely something about which there can be no disagreement. The real thing we need to know about any view of life, or any situation in life that we may hold, is whether it will stand the test. Is it going to help us and be of value to us in the hour of our greatest need? There is little value in a house, however luxurious and comfortable it may be, if when the storms come and the floods begin to beat upon it, it suddenly collapses. That is what we call living in ‘a fool’s paradise’. It seemed so wonderful when the sun was shining, and when, in a sense, we had no need of its protection and might have been quite satisfied with a tent. But we need a house that can stand up to the storms and the hurricanes. A house built upon the sand cannot do so and is obviously of no value at all.
The Bible makes much of this. It has some very alarming pictures of the apparent success and affluence of the ungodly, spreading himself ‘like a green bay tree’, when everything is going well. But it always shows that in the time of trouble, when all his prosperity has gone, he has nothing to fall back upon. The Bible is at pains to show the utter folly of the man who is not a Christian. Apart from anything else, what a foolish man he is, living for, and trusting to things that cannot help him in the hour of his greatest need. Think of our Lord’s picture of that rich fool who had his barns bursting with goods and who was thinking of building greater ones, when God suddenly said to him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be?’ The Bible is full of that kind of teaching.
But this teaching that what is false is worthless is not confined to the Bible; human experience through the centuries confirms and establishes this. We can study that in the light of this particular picture. Our Lord says that everything we build in this world, everything that we are relying upon, every preparation that we make, our whole view of life, is going to be subjected to tests. He pictures the tests in the form of the rain descending and the floods coming and the winds blowing. It is something universal; it is something that is going to happen to the wise and to the foolish alike. Nowhere does the Bible tell us that immediately you become a Christian all your troubles end, and that the remainder of the story is that ‘all lived happily ever after’. Nothing of the kind. ‘The rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew’ on the one house, just as they did upon the other. The whole of humanity is subjected to these tests.
The question as to what our Lord meant exactly by the details in this picture is full of interest. Some teach that they refer only to the day of judgment; but that is a totally inadequate understanding of the picture. It certainly includes the day of judgment; but what our Lord says here applies to life in this world as well as to what will happen to us after death and beyond the grave.
It is a dangerous thing, of course, to press the details of any picture too far, and yet, surely, our Lord did not take the trouble to differentiate between the rain and the flood and the wind to no purpose. Obviously He was anxious to convey certain definite ideas, and we can discover something of what is represented by these pictures. Think of the rain, for instance. This rain that He speaks of is something that is going to meet us all. We are all in one of two positions; we are either like the wise man or the foolish one; we are either, as we saw earlier, doing our utmost to put into practice the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, or else we are not; either we are Christians, or we are deluding ourselves into thinking that we are Christians, and picking and choosing the things that please us out of the gospel, and saying, ‘This is quite enough. You need not take these things too seriously; you must not become narrow. All is well as long as you believe things in general.’ But our Lord teaches here that if we are in the wrong position our supposed belief will not help us at all; indeed, it will let us down completely when we need it most. What does He mean by the rain? I think He means things like illness, loss or disappointment, something going wrong in your life; something on which you were banking suddenly collapsing before your eyes; perhaps being let down by somebody else, or experiencing some grievous disappointment, a sudden change for the worse in your circumstances, or overwhelming grief and bereavement. These are the things that, at some time or another, come to all of us. There are certain things in life which are unavoidable; try as we may to evade them, we have to face them in the end. It is very difficult for those who are young and bounding with health and vigour to think of themselves as old people, finding it difficult to move from one room to another, or even from one chair to another. But that is the sort of thing that does happen. Age advances, health and vigour go, illness comes. These things, as our Lord shows here, are inevitable, and when they come they test us. It is no small trial to spend weeks and months in the same room; it tests one to the very foundations. The rain, then, covers things of that kind, and includes these tests that search and try us to the very depths.
But not only did the rain descend; our Lord tells us that the floods came and beat upon the house. I always think that this represents, in general, the world, using that term in its biblical sense, as meaning the worldly outlook, the worldly type of life. Whether we like it or not, and whether we are true believers or false, the world comes beating against this house of ours, hurling itself in its full flood-tide against us. We all have great trouble with the world---‘the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’. As surely as we put up our building in this world, as indeed we are all doing, the world itself will come and test it and try it. Worldliness in its subtlety seeps in everywhere. It comes sometimes with mighty power; at other times it will do equal damage by flooding in silently, unobserved and unsuspected. There is literally no end to the forms it may assume. We all know something of this. Sometimes it comes as an enticement, something that draws us and appeals to us and pleads with us; it paints a glowing picture to attract us. At another time it will come as persecution. The world does not care ultimately what method it uses as long as it attains its object. If it can entice us from Christ and the Church it will do so, but if enticement fails, it will show its teeth and try persecution. Both ways test us, and one is quite as subtle as the other---‘the floods came. . . and beat upon that house’.
We all know something of what it is to feel the house almost rocking at times. It is not so much that the Christian wants to forsake his faith, but the power of the world can be so great that he wonders at times whether his foundation is going to hold. He has a wonderful belief in Christ when he is young, but sooner or later, perhaps in middle life, he begins to think of his future, and his career, and his whole position in life; and he begins to hesitate and to wonder. The slowing down process of age comes in, and a kind of slackness enters---that is the world beating against your house, trying and testing it.
Then there is the wind---‘the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew’. What does He mean by this---‘and the wind blew’? I tend to agree with those who would interpret the wind as being definite Satanic attacks. The devil has many different ways of dealing with us. According to the Word of God, he can transform himself into an angel of light and quote Scripture. He can tempt us through the world. But sometimes he attacks us directly; he may hurl doubts and denials at us. He will bombard us with foul, evil and blasphemous thoughts. Read the lives of godly men of old, and you will find that they have been subjected to this kind of thing. The devil makes violent attacks, trying to blow the house over, as it were, and the saints throughout the centuries have suffered from the power of this form of attack. You may have known good men who have been subject to this, fine Christians, who have lived godly lives; then, somewhere before the end, perhaps on their deathbed, they go through a period of darkness, and the devil attacks them violently. Indeed, ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers,.. . against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ In Ephesians 6 the apostle Paul says that the only way to stand is to put on the whole armour of God. And here our Lord says in the same way that nothing but the solid foundation He advocates will enable our house to stand.
These things come to us all. But, finally, of course, certain and inevitable, comes death itself. Some have to endure the rain, others the flood, and others the wind and the hurricane; but we all have to meet and to face the fact of death. It will come to each of us in some shape or form, and will test to the very foundation all we have ever built. What a tremendous thing death is! We have not been through it, so we know nothing about it, although we may sometimes have watched others dying and heard them speak of it. Whether it comes suddenly or gradually, we have to meet it. I say it must be a tremendous thing to pass through that moment when you realize you are going out of this world, and leaving all you have always known, and crossing into that land beyond the veil. There is nothing that so profoundly tests a man as to his foundations as the mighty fact and moment of death.
The real question is, how do we stand up to these things? In many ways the prime business of the preaching of the gospel is to prepare men to stand up to these things. It matters not what your view of life may be, nor what your feelings; if you cannot stand up to those tests which I have enumerated you are an utter failure. Whatever a man’s gifts or calling may be, and however noble and good his character, if his view and philosophy of life have not catered for these certainties, he is a fool, and all he has will fail him and collapse beneath his feet just when he most needs help. We have already experienced some of these tests. Here are the questions we must ask ourselves. Do we always find God when we need Him most of all? When these tests come and we turn to Him, do we know He is there? Are we agitated and alarmed? Do we dread His presence, or do we turn as a child to his father, and always know He is there, and always find Him? Are we conscious of His nearness and presence at these critical points, and moments? Have we a deep unshakeable confidence in Him, and an assurance that He will never leave us nor forsake us? Are we able to rejoice in Him at all times, even in tribulation? What is our view of the world at this moment, what is our attitude towards the world? Are we in any hesitancy or doubt as to which of these lives we want to live? Have we any uncertainty? Have we not found the utter uselessness of that worldly life that does not put God and His Christ in the centre? What is death to us? Are we horrified at the thought of it; are we so afraid of it that we are always doing our best to banish it out of our thoughts?
The Bible shows clearly what we should be like in all these respects if we are truly Christian. Psalm 37:37 says: ‘Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace’. There is nothing so wonderful in this world as the death of a good man, the Christian man. ‘Mark him’, says Scripture. The psalmist was an old man when he wrote that---‘I have been young, and now am old’, he says---and this is his experience, this is his advice to young people: ‘Mark the perfect man . . . for the end of that man is peace’. Many a man seems to have a good time in this world, but his end is not very peaceful. Poor creature! he has not prepared for it, he is not aware that he is going, he is clutching at anything, and he does not die peacefully. Or listen to this extract from Psalm 112:7 ‘He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord’. He is not afraid of pestilences, he is not afraid if wan should arise, he is not afraid of evil tidings. He does not say: ‘What are we going to do tomorrow morning?’ Not a bit---‘his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord’. Again, take this magnificent word in Isaiah 28:16, ‘He that believeth shall not make haste’ or, if you prefer it, ‘He that believeth shall not be confounded’, he that believeth shall not be ‘taken unawares’. Why? Because he has been paying heed, he has been preparing, so that whatever comes to meet him he has a foundation. He is not in a hurry, he never makes haste. Our Lord Himself has taught it perfectly in the parable of the sower. He tells us that the false believer ‘had no root in himself’. He endured for a while, but when persecution came he was finished, ‘He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.’ The teaching of Scripture is endless on this theme.
This is something that is taught positively in Scripture and is confirmed by Christian experience. Read again the account of those first Christians who, when they were being persecuted, even being put to death, thanked God that He had counted them worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. We have those great stories of the first martyrs and confessors, who though thrown to the lions in the arena, yet praised God. Far from complaining, Paul, as he writes to the Philippians from prison, gives thanks to God for his imprisonment, because it gives him an opportunity to preach the gospel. He could even endure the treachery of false friends. He was perfectly happy, and quite serene through it all, and could even look into the face of death and say that it was kind, because it meant going ‘to be with Christ; which is far better’. He tells the Corinthians that ‘our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’. Read 2 Corinthians 4; read the list of his trials and tribulations; despite it all he can say that. And then listen to him, in his old age, facing death again, knowing it was coming; ‘For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ What a way to die! It has been the same throughout the centuries ever since the days when Paul wrote these words. Christian men have been repeating these experiences in their lives. Read the stories of the saints, read the stories of the martyrs and the confessors, read about those men who advanced to the stake smiling, preaching from the stake as the flames were encircling them. It is the most glorious story in the whole of history. Read again the stories of the Covenanters, of the great Puritans and many others.
The teaching, therefore, comes to this; it is only the men who have done these things of which our Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount who have these experiences. The pseudo-Christian finds that when he needs help, what he regarded as his faith does not help. It forsakes him when he needs it most. There is no question about this. The one common factor in the lives of all those who have been able to face the trials of life triumphantly and gloriously, is that they have always been men who have given themselves to living the Sermon on the Mount. That is the secret of the ‘perfect’ man, the ‘righteous’ man, the ‘good’ man, the ‘Christian’ man. So if you want to be able to face these things as Paul faced them, you must try to live as Paul lived. There is no other way for it; they all conformed to the same pattern.
But beyond all these things which we meet in this life, there is the certain approach of the day of final judgment. This is a constant theme in the teaching of the Bible. Here it is: ‘Many will say to me in that day’. The Bible has a great deal to say about ‘that day’. There were people who disagreed with Paul as to how the gospel should be preached, and as to how the Church should be built up. ‘All right’, says Paul in effect, ‘I am not going to argue with you; the day will declare it.’ ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.’ It is mentioned everywhere in the Bible. Read in Matthew 25 about the ten virgins, and the talents, and the nations. All things come before Him in the final judgment. But remember that 1 Peter 4:17 teaches that ‘judgment must begin at the house of God’. What is the book of Revelation but a great announcement of this judgment that is coming, when the books will be opened, and all shall be judged everywhere. All will come to judgment. The Bible is full of this, and it tells us that the day of judgment is certain. It tells us that it will be searching, that it will be inward. Everything is known to Him. These men said, ‘Have we not done this and that?’ And He said, ‘I never knew you’. The whole time He has His eye upon them. They do not belong to Him, and He always knew it. Everything is known to Him. ‘All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do’. He ‘is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’. Nothing can be hid from His sight. Above all we are told that this judgment is final. There is no teaching in Scripture about a second chance, about a further opportunity. Try to produce the evidence, if you can. It is not there. You can perhaps produce two or three highly debatable statements of whose exposition no-one can be certain. But are you going to bank on that while the weight of Scripture everywhere is on the other side? It is final judgment; there is no going back.How then can we make certain of these things? How am I to live my life here on earth with peace and certainty and assurance? How can I make certain that I am building my house upon the rock? How do I really put these things into practice? It is the greatest question in this world. Nothing is more vital than that we should daily remind ourselves of these things. At the risk of being misunderstood, let me put it like this. I sometimes think that there is nothing more dangerous in the Christian life than a mechanical devotional life. I hear people talking glibly about ‘having their Q.T.’ in the morning. They do not even say ‘Quiet Time’, they say ‘Q.T.’ That attitude, as I understand these things, is absolutely fatal. It means that this person has been taught that it is a good thing for a Christian first thing in the morning to read a certain amount of Scripture and then to offer a prayer, before going to his daily work. You observe your ‘quiet time’ and off you go. Of course, it is a good thing to do; but it can be most dangerous to one’s spiritual life if it becomes purely mechanical. I suggest, therefore, that what we should do is this. Certainly read your Scripture, and certainly pray; but not in any mechanical sense, not because you have been told to do it, not because it is ‘the done thing’. Do it because the Bible is God’s Word, and because He is speaking to you through it. But having read and prayed, stop and meditate, and in your meditation remind yourself of the actual teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Ask yourself if you are living the Sermon on the Mount, or really trying to do so. We do not talk to ourselves sufficiently; that is our trouble. We talk too much to other people and not enough to ourselves. We must talk to ourselves, and say ‘Our Lord said, in effect, I preach this Sermon to you, but it will be of no value to you if you do not do what I say.’ Test yourself by the Sermon on the Mount. Remember these pictures at the end of the Sermon. Say to yourself: ‘Yes, I am here now; I am young. But I have to die sometime, and am I ready for it?’ What would happen to you if you suddenly lost your health, or lost your good looks, or your money or your possessions? What would happen to you if you became disfigured by some disease? Where are you, what are you going to rest upon? Have you faced the inevitability of judgment beyond death? That is the only safe way. It is not really enough just to be reading the Bible and praying; we have to apply what we learn; we have to face ourselves with it, and hold it before us. Do not rely upon activities. Do not say: ‘I am so active in Christian work, I must he all right’ Our Lord said that you may not be all right, though you think you are doing it for Him. Just face these things one after another, and test your life by them; and then make certain that you are really keeping this teaching in the forefront and at the very centre of your life. Make quite sure that you are able to say honestly that your supreme desire is to know Him better, to keep His commandments, to live for His glory. However enticing the world may be, say, ‘No; I know that I, as a living soul, have to go to meet Him face to face. At all costs that must come first; everything else must fall into the background.’ It seems to me that that is the whole purpose of our Lord’s picture at the end of this mighty Sermon, namely, that we should be warned against and made aware of the subtle danger of self-delusion, and that we should avoid it by thus examining ourselves daily in His presence, in the light of His teaching. May He grant us grace so to do. (631-641)
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