The letters of the apostle Paul are especially interesting because of their many personal references. Paul had an intimate knowledge of those to whom he was writing. Notice this personal note to Timothy:
"When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also" (2 Tim. 1:5).
Here was a family with whom the writer was well acquainted. But that which particularly impressed him was their faith. It was an unfeigned faith. Grandmother Lois, who perhaps first accepted the gospel, had it. Then the daughter Eunice, married to a Greek and probably an unbeliever, also had it. And now it was found in Timothy.
This type of faith bears intimate acquaintance. Whenever Paul called it to remembrance it brought joy and comfort to his heart. We do not read that any of these three suffered martyrdom, as many of that day did. Nor do we anywhere read of any single outstanding act of faith that set them apart from the rest. But there was something about each of them that made them unforgettable. They probably were unconscious of their possession. But it was a living, actual thing in their lives. It stretched out over the years and stood the acid test of time. The daily trying experiences, whether in the home or elsewhere, were all met with sincere faith. When Paul recalled the lives of these dear ones it gave him a spiritual lift. What a wonderful thing to so live that people, remembering us, are encouraged! How true are these words:
"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime."
It is how men act under strain that reveals what they are. Take Abraham Lincoln as an example. Once when it was reported to him that his secretary of war in an explosion of anger had called him a fool, he calmly remarked, "Well, then, it must be true, for Stanton is usually right." It would be impossible to argue with a man as bighearted as that.
In a certain field where I once labored, an ordained minister had to be dropped from the work. As sometimes happens in such cases, he became bitter and critical. In his wife's presence he discussed worker after worker with whom he was acquainted and with whom he had labored. First one, then another, was referred to, and always with the same criticism—they were not really sincere but were just in the work for the money they could get or for the position they occupied. "But," interrupted his pained wife, "that is not true of Brother_____ , nor of _________ " mentioning them by name. "No," he admitted thoughtfully, "they are different." It was good that God had a few men there whose consistent living could compel even a cynic to testify of their unfeigned faith. More than we realize, the stability of God's cause depends upon men and women of genuine, unassuming faith.
The Influence of Genuine Lives
We can all recall men and women who have had strong influence over us. I recall one in particular—a teacher. I greatly admired him. I still do. Some of his ideas and attitudes were rather extreme and in some ways impractical. But there is one thing I have never questioned—the genuineness of his faith. There was absolutely nothing of pretense about him. And then I think of a certain missionary. And whenever I call him to mind, my respect increases. He is that kind of man whom the longer you know, the greater becomes your confidence in him. No, he is not a great preacher, he does not have an unusual personality. But there is something about him that is inescapable. It is his unfeigned faith.
As we read this fragment of Paul's letter to Timothy, it seems to imply that such faith can be passed on from parent to child, that it is something that can be retained in the family to bless succeeding generations. We are not told that Grandmother Lois passed on to her daughter Eunice any property, but she did pass on her faith. And whether Mother Eunice passed on any of this world's goods to her son, we cannot say. But we can say with certainty that the faith that dwelt in the hearts of these two devoted women lived on in Timothy's heart. What they passed on to him was something intangible, but yet tremendously real. It was a way of life that affected everything he did and said. It marked his profession of religion as genuine.
When Paul spoke of Timothy's faith, he qualified it. It was not just faith, but "unfeigned" faith. Even back there in the early church there was a difference. Many had a sort of general, average faith. But this was something different, something above average. His sincerity, the genuineness of his profession, his unassuming way of living, marked him off from others. There was nothing about him that was merely for show. There is an unfortunate aspect in much of present-day Christianity. There seems to be so much of mere profession, and so little of godly living.
Glancing over the statistics of the various Christian groups in the United States, we see a great deal to encourage us. Church membership in the United States now totals 97.5 million, or more than 60 per cent of the total population. A century ago, in the supposedly pious Victorian age, only 16 per cent of Americans were enrolled as church members.
Now that looks good. Church membership and church attendance are evidently growing. But real Christianity is more than church attendance. We recall the words of our Lord: "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Had He said, "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find a large church attendance?" that would be different. But He was talking about faith—yes, unfeigned faith. And His question implies that such faith will be found in negligible quantity. There is plenty of make-believe faith in the world, as there was in the apostle's day. Judas doubtless had that kind of faith, and had it in abundance. But it soon became evident that he had little of the real thing. He had joined the movement for ulterior motives. People were doubtless impressed by his ability and his personality. His was a very practical type of mind. His observations were not altogether out of place. Yes, he went through the motions of faith, used words of faith, but never experienced real faith. He never fully committed himself to the cause.
Now by contrast let us notice Peter. Good old rugged, lovable Peter! He was a sincere man. He made mistakes, and big ones too. But there was a sincerity about him. In other words, he was genuine. There was no make-believe about him.
Out in China some of the brethren gave me some paper money called hell notes, used in connection with funerals. They are all burned at the funeral service as a sort of placating offering to the gods and to ensure ample material possessions for the deceased in the next life. Sometimes they make large paper and cardboard automobiles and ships, so that the deceased will have means of transportation. And these too are burned. This is all pretense. There is nothing genuine about it. But how different is the Christian message. There can be no pretense about our service for God.
Up in Samaria the apostle Peter sternly rebuked Simon the sorcerer with the words, "Thy heart is not right." The trouble with Simon was that, though he professed conversion, he was still a sorcerer at heart. He had been practicing magic, endeavoring to demonstrate his superiority over others, and even his supposed ability to make God and the forces of nature do as he desired. When Peter came along, it seemed to this man that he had met a greater sorcerer than himself. And he wanted the power that Peter had. But he wanted it for himself. Like Simon, there are always people who think that they can use religion for their own selfish ends. They profess conversion, they conform to a type of religion, but the faith they have is only feigned and formal.
How different was the jailer at Philippi. When the earthquake shook the prison and the doors flew open, the jailer was mightily moved. He came trembling and knelt in awe before the apostles. His request was not, "Give me this power that I may shake things," but rather, "What must I do to be saved?" He may well have been a religionist of some kind. But now something gripped his heart. He sensed a need and cried out for salvation. And Paul was ready with an answer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus; place your confidence in Him; take self out of your own hands and place yourself in His hands; trust yourself fully to His keeping and direction." And the jailer's response was immediate. He partook of that unfeigned faith of the apostle.
Our Times Demand Unfeigned Faith
The times in which we live demand the same kind of faith; nothing else will answer. Brother Torrey and I have just returned from what are probably the two hardest division fields of the world. We could not help noting the trend among the nations. This old world is breaking up into many little nationalistic and explosive segments. Rallying cries that appeal to natural passions are being raised by selfish and unscrupulous men. Old superstitions are reviving. And in some places religious prejudices are becoming more bitter. All this affects our work. Mission work was never easy, but today we are facing unparalleled conditions. In more than one place our churches have been closed and our people forbidden to meet. Our missionaries have even been deported at times, and in some fields they are being refused entrance. Others are being watched as though they were spies. Troubles and hindrances are increasing, and the prosecution of our work is becoming more and more difficult. These conditions call for unfeigned faith such as Timothy had.
From one of our divisions comes this word:
"Things have taken a turn for the worse in __________ . Our representative has just returned from there, and talked with me quite a while over the telephone. . . . Our denomination has committed the almost unpardonable sin of converting large numbers of people in this country to the faith. Previously our soldiers had liberty in the Army to keep the Sabbath. We had some deviation from the religious tax that is levied upon churches. Our children had liberty to keep the Sabbath and were not compelled to attend classes on that day. But in a few months now everything has changed. Government officials who had been very friendly and cooperative have turned to be the very reverse. The Army withdrew its permission for Seventh-day Adventists to have Sabbaths free, and one of our soldiers was just recently sentenced to two and a half years in prison for insisting on keeping the Sabbath. One of our brethren was fined a month's salary for the first Sabbath his child stayed away from school and was told that there would be a similar fine for each succeeding Sabbath that the child was absent."
A report like this grieves us, but does not surprise us. For have we not been told that troubles will increase until our Lord's return?
Recently one of our workers was able to return to his home country in an area where liberty is being curtailed. He told of experiences there through which many of our workers are passing. A number have been sentenced to long prison terms. But he reported that our younger workers, in addition to carrying on their government-assigned work, are holding true and keeping in touch with the churches. In his letter he says: "It was my privilege to talk to some of these consecrated young workers, and I understand once more that the cause of God can never falter as long as it is being carried by such strong hands." We thank the Lord for the unfeigned faith that lives in the hearts of such fellow workers as these.
During World War II a convoy was making its way across the Atlantic. A few scattered destroyers were there to protect the convoy. Suddenly the captain of a large transport saw a white streak in the ocean betraying the approach of a torpedo. There seemed to be no way of avoiding it, so through the loud speaker he shouted, "Boys, this is it." The captain of a little destroyer also saw the white streak. Without a moment's hesitation he ordered "Full speed ahead!"—directly into the path of the torpedo. He took it amidship. His little ship was blown apart and all on the vessel were lost. It was a heroic, self-sacrificing deed on the part of one who was dedicated to the protection of the convoy.
The brave captain and his crew are gone. All that is left is the memory of their courage. They died to save the lives of others. Theirs was no make-believe service. It was self-sacrificing. The unfeigned devotion of that noble captain and his men to the cause to which they were committed is a lesson for us. God's cause surely demands no less a dedication.
Here is a truth worth pondering:
"No person ever really lives until he has found something worth dying for. You can never really possess the kingdom of God until the cause of God becomes more important than your own life."
As leaders in God's cause, as shepherds of God's flock, there must be no drift toward carelessness, no division of our dedication, no lukewarmness in our devotion. Ours must be, by the grace of God, an unfeigned faith. Nothing else will hold us steady and constant and bring us through the trials that are just ahead. We need a faith unfeigned, untainted, and immovable.