Wanted: A Venture of Faith
In the February issue of Moody Monthly there appeared an article entitled “The State of the Church,” written by A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham, J.O. Percy, David Otis Fuller and one or two others. The comments of these men in regard to this subject were very significant, especially Dr. Graham’s, where he asks, “Can the church recapture the faith, courage, enthusiasm, joy, love, unity, discipline, and cross-bearing that so characterized the early followers of Christ? Many doubt it—many think we have gone too far and that our minds are becoming darkened, our conscience hardened and our will paralyzed.”
In Mark 9:14-29 there is recorded a familiar incident which has a significant application to the condition of the church today as described by these men. It not only portrays something of the very problem of which they speak, but it also gives the answer to that problem and, I believe, the only answer. I find this to have application not only to the condition of the church in general, but also in particular to our own lives and our own situation as well.
Notice first, “The Description of the Problem” (v. 14-18)
While Jesus was away with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be cured of epilepsy. The disciples were unable to effect a cure and a multitude, including some of the scribes, gathered to question them. Undoubtedly the disciples were humiliated by the taunts and criticisms of the people and the scribes. It was at this moment of their utter defeat that Jesus Christ came upon the scene. Our Lord’s question to the scribes (v. 16) “What question ye with them” brought forth this description of the problem from the father of the boy, as recorded in these verses. It is true that this boy had epilepsy—but he had more—he was possessed by an evil spirit which had produced the physical symptoms.
Now there are two basic things which we observe from these verses about this evil spirit.
First, the “character” of this evil spirit…
- 17—a dumb spirit, that is causing dumbness
- 25—a deaf spirit, that is causing deafness
- 25—a foul spirit, that is impure, unclean
This is the character of the spirit possessing this boy.
Second, the “conduct” of this evil spirit.
He exercised absolute control over the boy—v. 18 “he taketh him.”
He sought the destruction of the boy’s body—v. 18 “he teareth him.”
He rendered the boy helpless—v. 18 “he pineth away.”
This unclean, deaf and dumb spirit had completely mastered this boy and was attempting his destruction. There is part of the description of the problem—but it is not all. Note the last part of verse 18, “and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.” That is not a very pleasant problem and it’s not a very pleasant description. The evil spirit was accomplishing his wicked intention in the life of this boy and the disciples were helpless to do anything about it.
Now I have said that I believe that this description of the problem has some application to our present day situation. The spirit which possessed this boy is abroad today. The things that were characteristic of this boy are characteristic of this age. As Dr. Graham has said, “our minds are becoming darkened, our conscience hardened and our wills paralyzed.” As Mr. Percy wrote: “young people by the thousands hear and accept the gospel but a handful respond to the invitation to leave all, take up His cross and follow Him. Discipleship has been divorced from salvation, thus one can believe and not serve.”
What is the problem? It is, I believe, that there is an evil spirit abroad today that is a deaf spirit—it prevents people from hearing the Word in any way, is this not so? People hear words and sentences, but the implications of the Word of God do not get through to the heart. There is a deaf spirit abroad today which is preventing people from hearing the truth of God.
One of the deep concerns we have as we gather each Lord’s Day and as we sing, read, pray and listen, is that we, all of us, might hear God speak in our hearts and that there will be a response to Him. But how often we do not hear.
Not only is this the spirit of deafness, but also dumbness. As Mr. Percy said, thousands hear, accept, but so few respond to serve. Oh, we are articulate on many things but dumb when it comes to speaking about the Lord. I don’t want to labor this point unnecessarily. You can certainly follow the analogy yourself. But it is certainly true that a spirit has taken hold of this generation which holds people in its control which has numbed peoples’ wills, which has rendered people helpless and speechless and in the end is bent on their destruction. And this is true not only of the outside world but also of the church in general. And to make things worse, we, like the disciples, appear helpless to do anything about it.
Observe now in the second place, “The Diagnosis of the Problem” (v. 19-24)
Our Lord recognized these things as the symptoms of the problem but in His diagnosis He saw that the problem was not only with the boy but with the father, with the people, and with the disciples. Here is an apparently hopeless situation—no one able to do anything about it. Our Lord turns to them and puts the blame first upon them all, verse 19, “O faithless generation,” or as Matthew 17:17, “O faithless and perverse generation.” There was the true essence of the problem. They were perverse—turned away from God. They were without faith—they were not trusting in Him. Compare Mark 6:5-6 where it records our Lord’s visit to His own part of the country, “and He could there do no mighty work and He marveled because of their unbelief.” So it was in the case of this boy. The people as a whole were without faith. Here at least is one reason why nothing could be done to help this boy in his appalling condition.
Then the Lord turns to the father of the boy. In their conversation and in the father’s desperation he had said, “if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” But the Lord answered, It’s not a question of “if I can do” but rather a question of “if thou canst believe.” All things are possible to him that believeth. That shaft went right to his heart. He recognized his own need saying, “Lord I believe help thou mine unbelief.” So on the part of the father too, there was unbelief. Here was a second reason why there was no deliverance.
Oh, but the diagnosis is not yet complete. When it was all over, the disciples asked, “Why could not we cast him out?” In Matthew 17:20 we have the answer, “Because of your unbelief.” There was the problem—they were all guilty. The crowd, the father, the disciples, and not one had faith to believe for this boy’s recovery. Unbelief was the root cause of the inability to help this son.
Is not this diagnosis exactly the answer to the problems in our churches. There is unbelief everywhere. There is no expectation of faith on the part of the multitude or on the part of the individual or again on the part of the disciples, the servants of the Lord. This situation pertains to a time when we most need the spirit and venture of faith to launch out upon God—and to believe Him for a mighty working of His grace and power in our midst.
But that’s not the end of the diagnosis. Note verse 29, “This kind can come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting.” What does this mean? Does it mean that simply by going through the acts of praying and fasting that we are going to cast out the deaf and dumb spirit that prevails amongst us? Not at all. But as the praying and fasting (self-discipline) are exercises of faith, then God will work to cast out the evil spirit of this age. Remember that just somewhat prior to this incident our Lord sent forth the twelve and gave them authority over all devils. Also He told them to take neither bread nor money. They were to go forth in faith. Did they fail somewhere along the road? Was this a gentle reminder that somewhere their faith had failed in prayer and fasting, hence the reason for their impotence? We may keep on going through the motions of praying and fasting but unless they are related to faith they will be of no avail. Before God is going to work through us or before He is going to intervene on our behalf, He wants the prayer of faith and the proof of faith (fasting, discipline, etc.). Then and only then can He deal with this problem which has invaded the church today.
Consider finally “The Dissolution of the Problem” (v. 25-27)
Our Lord’s response to the request of faith was to command this foul, dumb, deaf spirit to come out and enter no more into the boy. So in response to our faith there will be the word of authority, the command of Christ—there will be the casting out of that spirit which has deadened our senses and paralyzed our wills. There will be a breaking through of the Word of God into many hearts. Men and women, boys and girls will be set free and in immediate response to the commands of Christ will be raised to newness of life in Him.