O Ye of Little Faith by Martyn Lloyd Jones
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.
‘O ye of little faith’(Matthew 6:30). We have here our Lord’s final argument concerning the problem of anxious care. Or, perhaps, we can describe it as being our Lord’s summing up of the warning not to ‘take thought’ about our lives as to what we shall eat or drink, or about our bodies in the matter of dress. It is the conclusion of the detailed argument which He has worked out in terms of birds and flowers. In effect, He seems to say: This is what it all amounts to. The real cause of the trouble is your failure to draw obvious deductions from the birds and the flowers. But, coupled with that, there is an obvious lack of faith. ‘0 ye of little faith.’ That is the ultimate cause of the trouble.
The question that obviously arises is this: What does our Lord mean by ‘little faith’? What is its exact connotation? He does not say, you notice, that they have no faith; He charges them with ‘little’ faith. It is not the absence of faith on their part that concerns Him; it is the inadequacy of that faith, the fact that they do not have sufficient faith. It is therefore a very striking phrase and our immediate reaction should be to thank God for it. What exactly does it mean? The right way to answer that question is to pay careful attention to the entire context. Who are the people whom He is describing here and against whom this charge is preferred? Once more we must remind ourselves that they are Christian people, and only Christian people. Our Lord is not speaking about everybody in the world. The Christian message really has no comfort and consolation to give to people who are not Christian. Words like these are not addressed to everybody; they are addressed only to those of whom the Beatitudes are true. They are, therefore, addressed to those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn because of their sense of guilt and of sin, those who have seen themselves as truly lost and helpless in the sight of God, those who are meek and therefore hungering and thirsting after righteousness, realizing that it is only to be obtained in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have faith; the others have no faith at all. So it is spoken of such people only.
Further, it is spoken of people with respect to whom He can use the term ‘your heavenly Father’. God is Father only to those who are in Jesus Christ. He is the Maker and the Creator of all men; we are all His offspring in that sense. But, as the apostle John puts it, it is only those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who have the right and the authority to become the Sons of God (see John 1:12). Our Lord, in addressing the Pharisees, spoke of ‘my Father’ and ‘your father’, and said ‘you are of your father the devil’. So here, He is not teaching some vague general doctrine about the ‘universal fatherhood of God’ and the ‘universal brotherhood of man’. No; the gospel divides people into two groups, those who are Christian and those who are not. We must assert, and more than ever at a time like this, that the gospel of Jesus Christ has only one thing to say to the non-Christian world, namely . . . that it can expect nothing in this world but misery and unhappiness, war and rumours of war, and that it will never know any true peace. Put positively, the Christian gospel tells the world that it must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ if it desires to be blessed of God. There is no hope for the world as such; there is only hope for those who are Christian. This is a message only for the people of whom the Beatitudes are true, those who can truly and rightly say that they are the children of God in Jesus Christ. Indeed, in the very next phrase which we shall be considering, He contrasts these people with the Gentiles—‘all these things do the Gentiles seek’. There we see the division, ‘the Gentiles’ and those who are ‘in Christ’, those who are outside and those who are inside, God’s people and those who are not God’s people.
That, then, is the way in which we must understand this phrase. These people have faith, but it is insufficient faith. Surely, therefore, we are entitled to put it like this. Our Lord is speaking here about Christian people who have only saving faith, and who tend to stop at that. Those are the people about whom He is concerned, and His desire is that they should be led, as the result of listening to Him, to a larger and deeper faith. The first reason for this is that people who have saving faith only, and who go no further, rob themselves of so much in this life. And not only that. Because of their lack of a larger faith, they are obviously more prone to the worry and anxiety and to this killing care which attacks us all in this life. Our Lord, indeed, goes so far as to say that worry in a Christian is always due ultimately to a lack of faith, or to little faith. Worry and anxiety, being cast down and defeated, being mastered by life and its attendant circumstances, are always due, in a Christian, to lack of faith.
The thing we must aim at, therefore, is greater faith. The first step in obtaining this is to realize what is meant by ‘little faith’. We shall see that this is our Lord’s method in the next little section which begins at verse 31: ‘Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ Our Lord gives us positive instruction as to how to increase our faith; but before He does that, He wants us to see exactly what is meant by little faith. You start with the negative, then go on to the positive.
What then is this condition which is described by our Lord as being ‘little faith’? What sort of faith is it, and what is wrong with it? First of all, let us consider a general definition. We can say of this type of faith in general that it is one which is confined to one sphere of life only. It is faith that is confined solely to the question of the salvation of our souls, and it does not go beyond that. It does not extend to the whole of life and to everything in life. This is a common complaint among us as Christian people. On the question of the salvation of our souls we are perfectly clear. We have been awakened by the work of the Holy Spirit to see our lost estate. We have been convicted of sin. We have seen how utterly helpless we are to put ourselves right in the sight of God, and that the only way of deliverance is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen that He came into the world, and died for our sins, and thereby reconciled us to God. And we believe on Him, and have that saving faith with regard to the present and to all eternity. That is saving faith, the thing that makes us Christians, and without which we are not Christian at all. Yes; but Christian people often stop at that, and they seem to think that faith is something that applies only to that question of salvation. The result is, of course, that in their daily lives they are often defeated; in their ordinary daily lives there is very little difference to be seen between them and people who are not Christian. They become worried and anxious, and they conform to the world in so many respects. Their faith is something that is reserved only for their ultimate salvation, and they do not seem to have any faith with regard to the every-day affairs of life and living in this world. Our Lord is concerned about that very thing. These people have come to know God as their heavenly Father, and yet they are worried about food and drink and clothing. Their faith is confined; it is a little faith in that way; its scope is so curtailed and limited.
We must start with that. You cannot read the Bible without seeing that true faith is a faith that extends to the whole of life. You see it in our Lord Himself, you see it in the great heroes of the faith we read of in Hebrews 11. We can put it like this. A little faith is a faith which does not lay hold of all the promises of God. It is interested only in some of them, and it concentrates on these. Look at it in this way. Go through the Bible and make a list of the various promises of God. You will find that there are a great number, indeed an astonishing number. Peter talked about the ‘acceding great and precious promises’. It is amazing and astounding. There is no aspect of life that is not covered by these extraordinary promises of God. How guilty we all are in the light of this! We select certain of these promises and concentrate upon them, and somehow or other we never look at the others. We never lay hold of the others, and the result is that, while we triumph in certain respects, we fail so miserably in others. That is ‘little faith’. It is faith, which is confined in its relationship to the promises, and does not realize that it is meant to be something that should link up with them all, and appropriate every one of them.
Let us look at it again from a slightly different angle. I once heard a man use a phrase which affected me very deeply at the time, and still does. I am not sure it is not one of the most searching statements I have ever heard. He said that the trouble with many of us Christians is that we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but that we do not believe Him. He meant that we believe on Him for the salvation of our souls, but we do not believe Him when He says a thing like this to us, that God is going to look after our food and drink, and even our clothing. He makes such statements as ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’, and yet we keep our problems and worries to ourselves, and we are borne down by them and defeated by them, and get anxious about things. He has told us to come to Him when we are like that; He has told us that if we are thirsting in any respect we can go to Him, and He has assured us that whosoever comes to Him will never thirst, and that he that eats of the bread that He shall give shall never hunger. He has promised to give us ‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ so that we shall never thirst. But, we do not believe Him. Take all these statements He made when He was here on earth, the words He addressed to the people around Him; they are all meant for us. They are meant for us today as definitely as when He first uttered them, and so also are all the astounding statements in the Epistles. The trouble is that we do not believe Him. That is the ultimate trouble. ‘Little faith’ does not really take the Scripture as it is and believe it and live by it and apply it.
So far we have been looking at ‘little faith’ in general. Let us come now to the details and look at it in a more analytical manner. We must do this in order that we may be essentially practical, for after all this subject is a vital and practical one. There is no greater fallacy than to regard the gospel of Jesus Christ as just something that you think of when you are in church or when you are spending a certain amount of time in meditation. No, it applies to the whole of life. Let us look at it like this. To be ‘of little faith’ means, first of all, that we are mastered by our circumstances instead of mastering them. That is an obvious statement. The picture given in this entire section is of people who are being governed by life. There they are, as it were, sitting helplessly under a great cloud of concern about food and drink and clothing and many other things. These things are bearing down upon them and they are the victims of them. That is the picture which He gives, and we know how true it is. Things happen to us, and immediately, as we put it, we are ‘bowled over’, we are mastered by them. That is something which, according to Scripture, should never happen to a Christian. The picture given of him everywhere in the Bible is of one who is above his circumstances. He can even ‘rejoice in tribulation’, not just stand up to it with a stoical kind of fortitude. He does not give way or whimper; he is not simply, to use the common phrase, ‘grinning and bearing it’. No; he rejoices in the midst of tribulation. Only one who has true faith can look down upon life in that way, and can ever rise to such a height: but that, according to the Bible, is possible to the Christian.
Why does the man of little faith allow things to master him and to get him down? The answer to that question is that, in a sense, the real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think. In other words, we have to be right in our whole conception of faith. Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life. Life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated. The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvellous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.
The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not think. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask, What is going to happen to me? What can I do? That is the absence of thought; it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord, here, is urging us to think, and to think in Christian manner. That is the very essence of faith. Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. If you lie awake at night for hours I can tell you what you have been doing; you have been going round in circles. You just go over the same old miserable details about some person or some thing. That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think. That means that something else is controlling your thought and governing it, and it leads to that wretched, unhappy state called worry. So we are entitled to define ‘little faith’ in the second place as being a failure to think, or of allowing life to master our thought instead of thinking clearly about it, instead of ‘seeing life steadily and seeing it whole’.
Little faith, if you like, can also be described as a failure to take scriptural statements at their face value and to believe them utterly. Here is a man who has suddenly found himself in trouble and tried by circumstances. What should he do? He should turn to the Bible, and then say to himself: ‘I must take the statements of that Book exactly as they are’. Everything that is in us by nature, and the devil outside us, will do their utmost to prevent our doing this. They tell us that those statements were meant only for the disciples, and that they are not meant for us. Some people, as we have seen, would even relegate the whole of the Sermon on the Mount to the disciples, and to people who are going to live in some future kingdom. Others say that it was all right for the first Christians who had just passed through Pentecost but that now the world has changed. Those are the suggestions that come to us. But I reject all that. We are to read the Scriptures, and we are to say to ourselves, ‘Everything I am going to read here is spoken to me; everything our Lord said to the Pharisees He says to me; and if there is anything corresponding to what He said of them in me it means that I am a Pharisee. All these promises likewise are meant for me. God does not change; He is exactly as He was two thousand years ago, and all these things are absolute and eternal.’ So I must come to the Bible and remind myself of that. It means that I take it and its teaching as it is, in its context, and know that it is speaking to me. I must not dismiss it in any way. I have to learn to take Scripture at its face value. ‘Little faith’ means a failure to do that as we ought.
We must go on, however, to something which is still more practical. ‘Little faith’ really means a failure to realize the implications of salvation, and the position resulting from salvation. That is clearly our Lord’s argument and reasoning here. Half our trouble is due to the fact that we do not realize to the full the implications of the doctrine of salvation which we believe. That is the argument of every New Testament Epistle. The first part consists of a doctrinal statement, which is designed to remind us of what we are and who we are as Christians. Then comes a practical second part, which is always a deduction from the first. That is why it generally starts with the word ‘therefore’. That is exactly what our Lord is doing here. Here we are, worrying about food and drink and clothing! The trouble with us is that we do not realize that we are children of our heavenly Father. If only we realized that, we should never worry again. If only we had some dim, vague conception of the purposes of God with respect to us, worry would be impossible. Take, for instance, Paul’s great prayer for the Ephesians. He tells them that he was praying that ‘the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened’—note the word ‘understanding’. To what end and for what purpose? ‘That ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe’ (Ephesians 1:18, 19). That, according to Paul, is what they needed to know and understand. Read every Pauline Epistle and you will find that kind of statement somewhere.
The trouble with us Christian people is that we do not realize what we are as children of God, we do not see God’s gracious purposes with respect to us. We saw that earlier, in passing, when we considered how He contrasted us as children with the grass of the field. The grass is here today in the field, but tomorrow it will be thrown as fuel into the oven to bake bread. But God’s children are destined for glory. All the purposes and the promises of God are meant for us and designed with respect to us; and the one thing we have to do, in a sense, is just to realize what God has told us about ourselves as His children. The moment we truly grasp that, worry becomes impossible. A man then begins to apply the logic which argues: ‘If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10). That is it. Whatever happens to us, ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ The mighty argument continues in Romans 8: ‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?’… (Romans 8:32 ff.). We may have to face problems and distresses and sorrow, but ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’. The vital thing is to see ourselves as His children. The argument follows of necessity. If God so clothe the grass how much more shall He clothe you? Your heavenly Father, who sees the birds, feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? We have to realize what we are as God’s children.
Or, to put it the other way round, we have to realize what God is as our heavenly Father. Here, again, is something which Christian people are so slow to learn. We believe in God; but how slow we are to believe and to realize that He is what He says He is, our heavenly Father. Christ talked about going ‘to my Father, and your Father’. He has become our Father in Christ. And what are we to learn about Him? Here are some headings for your consideration.
Think first of the immutable purposes of God with regard to His children, and I would emphasize that word ‘immutable’. The children of God have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world. There is nothing contingent about this. It was ‘before the foundation of the world’ that we were elected. His purposes are immutable and changeless, and they envisage our eternal destiny and nothing less. This is constantly expressed in various ways in the Scriptures. ‘Elect according to the foreknowledge of God’, ‘separated unto Christ Jesus’, ‘sanctified, set apart by the Spirit’, and so on. When people believe things like that they are able to face life in this world in a very different way. That was the secret, once more, of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. They understood something of the immutable purposes of God, and, therefore, whether it was Abraham or Joseph or Moses, they all smiled at calamities. They just went on because God had told them to do so, because they knew that His purposes must surely come to pass. Abraham was put to the supreme test of being asked to sacrifice Isaac. He could not understand it but he said: I will do it because I know God’s purposes are sure, and though I have to slay Isaac, I know that God can raise him from the dead. The immutable purposes of God! God never contradicts Himself, and we must remember that He is always behind, beneath and everywhere round about us. ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms.’
Then think of His great love. The tragedy of our position is that we do not know the love of God as we should. Paul prayed again for the Ephesians that they might know the love of God. We do not know His love to us. In a sense the whole of the first Epistle of John was written in order that we might know that. If only we knew the love of God to us, and rested in it (1 John 4:16) our whole lives would be different. How easy it is to prove the greatness of that love in the light of what He has already done in Christ. We have already looked at those mighty arguments from the Epistle to the Romans. If while we were yet enemies He has done the greatest thing, how much more, we say it with reverence, is He bound to do the lesser things. The love of God to us!
Then we must meditate upon His concern for us. That is what our Lord is emphasizing here. If He is concerned about the birds, how much more for us? He tells us in another place that even ‘the hairs of our head are all numbered’. Yet we worry about things. If only we realized God’s loving concern for us, that He knows everything about us, and is concerned about the smallest detail of our lives! The man who believes that can no longer worry.
Then think about His power and His ability. ‘Our God’, ‘my God’. Who is my God who takes such a personal interest in me? He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is the Sustainer of everything that is. Read again Psalm 46 to remind yourself of this: ‘He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder’. He controls everything. He can smash the heathen and every enemy; His power is illimitable. And as we contemplate all that, we must agree with the deduction of the Psalmist when, addressing the heathen, he said: ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. We must not interpret that ‘Be still’ in a sentimental manner. Some regard it as a kind of exhortation to us to be silent; but it is nothing of the sort. It means, ‘Give up (or ‘Give in’) and admit that I am God’. God is addressing people who are opposed to Him and He says: This is My power; therefore give up and give in, keep silent and know that I am God.
We must remember that this power is working for us. We have seen it in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: ‘The acceding greatness of his power’ (1:19). He ‘that is able to do acceding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us’ (3:20). In the light of such statement, is not worry ridiculous? Is it not utterly foolish? It just means that we do not think; we do not read our Scriptures, or, if we do, we do so in a perfunctory manner, or are so controlled by prejudices that we do not take them at their face value. We must face these things and draw out our mighty deductions.
A last thought. This ‘little faith’, is ultimately due to a failure to apply what we know, and claim to believe, to the circumstances and details of life. I can put that in a phrase. Do you remember that famous incident in our Lord’s earthly life and ministry when He was sleeping in the stern of the ship and the water began to come in? The sea had become boisterous, and the disciples became worried and anxious and said, ‘Master, carest thou not that we perish?’ His reply to them summarizes perfectly all we have said in this chapter. He said: ‘Where, where is your faith?’ (see Luke 8:23—25). Where is it? You have it, but where is it? Or, if you like, He said: Why don’t you apply your faith to this? You see it is not enough to say we have faith; we must apply our faith, we must relate it, we must see that it is where it ought to be at any given moment. It is a poor type of Christianity that has this wonderful faith with respect to salvation and then whimpers and cries when confronted by the daily trials of life. We must apply our faith. ‘Little faith’ does not do this.
I trust that, after looking at this mighty argument of our blessed Lord, we shall not only feel convicted, but shall also see that to be worried is an utter contradiction of our position as children of God. There is no circumstance or condition in this life which should lead a Christian to worry. He has no right to worry; and if he does he is not only condemning himself as being a man of little faith, he is also dishonouring his God and being disloyal to his blessed Saviour. ‘Take no thought’; exercise faith; understand the truth and apply it to every detail of your life. (441-450)