Unstaggering Faith

By WILLIAM G. COLTMAN
(Now deceased)

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Rom. 4:20,21

Longfellow wrote:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Certainly Abraham left footprints on the sands of time deep, clear; lasting footprints.

Footprints, that perhaps another
Sailing o'er life's solemn main;
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother
Seeing may take heart again.

Think of the thousands of men and women who have been strengthened, stabilized and inspired by this faithful soul of the long ago. Surely "he being dead yet speaketh."

It is always helpful and heartening, when our faith is tested and tried, to come into contest with other lives that have faced the same problems and through unwavering faith have come out victorious. To see another person who under similar circumstances to our own overcomes by faith in God, braces and strengthens us in the conflict.

What a mighty stimulus the faith of Abraham has been to the children of God in all centuries and climes! He staggered not in the face of the seeming impossible, and today he stands out as an object lesson of the immortality of true faith. We are going back to this unstaggering patriarch to hear what God has to say to us through him.

I. WHAT IS IT TO STAGGER?

This is a picturesque word. It suggests to us the man who is intoxicated, reeling and staggering in a zigzag line down the street. He is staggering first to one side and then to the other; one is never sure just which way he will go. Instead of maintaining a straight course, he wobbles about like a rudderless ship in a storm-tossed sea.

Or we see a man receive a blow upon the head which staggers him and renders him unable to maintain his equilibrium.

In other words, staggering is a lack of control, a condition of uncertainty and confusion.

The illustrations just given are of a physical nature, while the words of our text have to do with an inner condition of life. It is a state of heart and mind that is referred to in our Scripture.

Thus to stagger is to vacillate between two ideas, opinions or objectives. It is struggling between two alternatives, one moment in the grip of one, the next moment in the grip of the other. It is thus an attitude of inner conflict, confusion and bewilderment.

Godet says:

The verb here signifies TO BE PARTED or to be divided into two men, one affirming, the other denying; one hoping and giving himself up, the other waiting to see: but in regard to the promise there was no division in him.

James gives us almost a perfect illustration of a staggering faith in the first chapter of his letter, verses 6-8:

"But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

"For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."

Here two things are said about the staggerer. He is like the "wave of the sea," and he is double minded."

The first expression, "wave of the sea," brings before us the picture of the sea as it is driven by the wind and tossed. Under the action of the wind, the water rises to a peak and the next moment descends into the trough of the sea. One moment it is lifted up as if exultant; the next it is fallen as if downcast and overcome - one moment on the heights, the next in the depths. The doubting, staggering man is like that, vacillating between the upward pull of faith and the downward drag of unbelief.

In the words "double minded we have the same fact from a different angle. The double minded man is not a deceitful man, but a man with two minds upon one subject. One moment he is of one mind regarding the matter in question; the following moment he is of another mind. He is undecided, uncertain - a staggerer.

This attitude of mind and heart is often precipitated by the presence of the unusual, the baffling circumstance. Men and women are not so prone to stagger under the ordinary things that come up in life. It is when we are face-to-face with stubborn and serious facts and when grave issues confront us that staggering begins.

Romans 4:19 is the background of our text. Abraham was facing an impossible situation, humanly speaking. The promise of a son and heir in the home, according to human reasoning, seemed not only improbable but absurd. Abraham's body was as good as dead, and the same was true of Sarah's. Nature had played out and was at the end of its resources. How could life come out of death? How could exhausted nature produce? Yet God had promised it, and Abraham accounted that the God who promised was able to perform. In the face of a natural impossibility, the staggered note II. WHY DO WE SOME TIMES STAGGER?

Our text suggests one cause and one alone. At first thought we may feel inclined to dispute this, but more thorough consideration will corroborate the divine record. It is undoubtedly true that often there seem to be many causes for staggering, but according to God's Word there is but one. There are secondary forces which seem to be the cause of much doubt and perplexity, but they are only the apparent and not the real cause.

Why do folks stagger? Because of the sinfulness of men and women; because of their lack of vision; because of stubborn circumstances; because of human selfishness that puts the law of self-preservation before the law of the cross and hinders the progress of the kingdom of God; because of the lack of human response; because of the bigness of God's program.

These are a few of the many reasons people give for staggering, but not one of these, nor all of them put together, is the real cause of staggering. We must go deeper to find the real cause of staggering. We must go deeper to find the real trouble. God says there is but one cause and that is unbelief. Let me illustrate this from the Word of God:

1. In Luke 24:20-25, we have a record of the conversation of the risen Lord with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They say, "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel."

What pathos there is in the words "we trusted"! It reflected their attitude before the crucifixion. They had had some confidence in Him, but now it's past and gone, a dead thing. What was the trouble? They said the crucifixion. The very thing that is our glory was their stumbling block.

But what did Jesus say? "O fools, and slow of heart to believe" (vs. 25). You see, it was not the tragic circumstance that shattered their hope, but the presence of unbelief.

2. In Matthew 14:25-31, we have the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter starting out from the boat to meet his Lord. And we read, "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid"; and he began to sink.

Now if shortly after this you could have asked him, "Why were you fearful, and why did you sink?" Peter would have likely said, "Because of the strong and boisterous windit was the windhad it not been for the wind I would have gotten along fine."

But what did the Master say? He never said a word about the wind, but He did say, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" The sinking of Peter was not because of the wind but because of unbelief.

3. In Matthew 8:23-27, the disciples are on the Sea of Galilee in a boat and are overtaken by a sudden and terrifying squall. The waves sweep over the tiny craft, threatening to engulf it.

These fearful men rush to the hinder part of the boat where Master lies sleeping, crying, "Lord, save us: we perish." If we pause to ask why this cry of baffling fear, the answer might be given, "Why, the storm, of course, the storm is reason enough."

But what did Jesus say? Never a word about the storm. He did say, ''Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"

4. In Isaiah, chapter 7, we are told of a confederacy composed of the king of Syria and the king of Israel going up to Jerusalem to war against it. And in verse 2 we are told that the heart of the Jerusalemites trembled as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind. But God said, Stake heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faintheartedly (vs. 4).

If we could have asked the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "Why this trembling?" they would have surely answered, because of the stout and formidable armies of the confederacy that are drawn up outside our gates." And it seemed so.

But what did God say in verse 9? "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." Faith was the real secret of their strength and establishment.

5. In Hebrews 3:19, we are told why the Israelites, when they came to Kadesh-barnea, the border of the Promised Land, failed to enter into their God-given inheritance. Had we been one of them we would probably have given this as the reason why we did not enter in: "There are walled cities, giants, mighty men, formidable armies," just as they said.

But what does God say about it? There was just one reason, and it was not the giants or the walled cities, but "they could not enter in because of unbelief."

Why the anxiety so prevalent in our world today? Why so much consuming worry? We are told it is because of ill health, constraining circumstances, bad investments, the uncertainties of tomorrow, the deception of friends, the failure of men and women to keep their word, the rainy day ahead. These are the popular reasons given for much inner staggering of heart.

In Matthew 6:31-33 the Lord gives us the real reason. We do not put God first. We put the kingdom of bread and butter before the kingdom of God. That was what the Gentiles did in verse 32. That is what Christ counsels His own not to do. If God is not central, life is eccentric, and there are friction and perplexity and staggering. Our lives always suffer when God is pushed out on the circumference, out of His rightful place.

So then, the cause of staggering is not in the things commonly supposed: not in the baffling circumstance, not in the storms and boisterous winds, not because of our formidable opponents, not because of giants or walled cities in the way, not because of one hundred and one things ordinarily given as the reason, but just one thing unbelief!

Abraham staggered not through unbelief. It is unbelief that causes staggering in any life. God deliver us from this subtle and treacherous attitude!

III. THE SECRET OF UNSTAGGERING FAITH

Abraham looked unto the promise of God. He kept the promise and the Promiser in view. He might have looked elsewhere. In fact, to look elsewhere would have been the natural thing to do. Abraham did not dare to look at himself or at Sarah; he did not dare fasten his eyes upon nature, for from this quarter there was nothing to hope for. To look there was to stagger, but being a man of faith, he looked unto the promise of God. He knew God's promise included every other fact. If God promised, He was able to perform.

Unbelief always looks at the wrong spot. It magnifies and broods over the impossibilities, the difficulties, the unlikelihood of matters and soon is staggering in the way. Unbelief looks first at the obstacle, the impediment, the Hindrance. To it God is always secondary and of minor consequence in the solution of the problem.

Some time ago I entered a home where there was sickness. As I sat down beside the bed of the sufferer I discovered a life that was being tossed about like "a wave of the sea," perplexed and staggering in the midst of suffering and uncertainty.

As I talked with the sick one I soon discovered the reason for her sad plight. She wanted assurance, deliverance and faith, and she had prayed very earnestly to this end, but all the while she was looking in the wrong direction. She spoke of her weakness, her unfaithfulness, her feelings, her sickness, her future; these were the things that were constantly before her eyes. As she looked at them, no wonder she staggerred. It would, make any soul stagger.

At length, however, she was persuaded to look at the promise and fix her eyes on the divine Promiser. As she looked to Jesus, the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever, she found relief. Even her countenance Wore a new expression. She took on a new face.

When do we stagger? I'll tell you. We stagger when we look at our ills, our aches, our disappointments, our weaknesses, our prospects, our failings, our sins, our trials, our difficulties. But God knows, and we slowly discover, that these are not the things to fix our gaze upon and that they only lead to bitterness of heart and blackness of despair. Hear the word of the Lord:

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame."Heb. 12:2.

"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: far I am God, and there is none else."Isa. 45:22.

"They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed "Ps. 34:5.

"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God "Rom. 4:20.

"Neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee."II Chron. 20:12.

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." II Cor. 3:18.

"We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." II Cor.4:18.

Looking away from my sin and my shame,
Looking away from my sorrow and pain,
Looking to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain -
That's faith.

Looking away from my knowledge and pace,
Looking to Jesus, my Shepherd and Guide,
Looking to Jesus, and Him crucified
That's faith.

Looking away from my pin or my loss,
Looking away from the world and its dross,
Looking to Jesus on Calvary's cross
That's faith.

Looking away from my faith or its lack,
Looking to Jesus whose word is not slack,
Looking to Jesus, and turning not back
That's faith.

May God give us the grace to follow in the path of Abraham's unstaggering faith.

Or John McNeil, the well known Scotch preacher, was once pastor of a church very heavily in debt, and working under a staggering burden. He began to make this matter a subject of prayer.

One day soon after a stranger called and told Dr. McNeil he had heard of the debt and also of the fine work he had been doing, and said that he wanted to help. Then laying down a blank check he said, "Fill this in with the amount you require, and I will return later and sign it," and he was gone.

Dr. McNeil said, "As I sat looking over the desk at the blank check I thought to myself, He surely doesn't realize that our debt runs into thousands of pounds. He told me to write out a check for the full amount, but I'll not do that: I'll fill it in for half the amount. Maybe he'll not even sign for that.

At length the man returned and, hardly glancing at the check he signed his name, and left.

As the preacher looked at the check, he recognized the name of a well-known philanthropist who could easily have wiped out the entire debt. And as he sat there he exclaimed, "O man of little faith, I will never doubt again!"

He staggered not; but marched right on,
That ancient hero, Abraham.
He trusted in the Eternal One;
He heart had heard God say, I AM."

He staggered not, though unbelief
Sought everywhere to bar his way.
The promise gripped his eager soul,
And nothing could his progress stay.

He staggerred not, but strong in faith,
Believing God with all his soul,
By faith o'ercarne his every foe;
The promise led him to his goal.

He staggered not, but glory gave
To God, whose promise he believed,
Sure that in God's own good time
The promised heir should be received.

So let me live my life each day
And stagger not, but still believe
That in my father's own good way,
All that is best I shall receive.


This Sword of the Lord Publishers Article was used here by permission of Dr. Shelton Smith, publisher of the Sword of the Lord Newspaper. For more information on Sword of the Lord, contact them directly at: Sword of the Lord Publishers PO Box 1099 Murfreesboro, Tn 37133