“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” – John 6:47
This passage is one among many in the Scriptures which teach the importance of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. In some of the others the doctrine is stated with far greater emphasis than it is here, for they affirm that faith in the Lord is not only a means, but that it is an absolutely essential means of attaining eternal happiness. For example: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” We cannot pass by such sayings as being of no consequence to us or as not applying to us. Perhaps at this very moment we are refusing to believe in the Lord, when we might do so if we would.
The key to the whole matter is to be found in a true definition of faith. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” What are we to understand by believing on Him who spoke these words? A simple and obvious answer is that to believe on the Lord is to trust Him, to have confidence in Him and in His teachings, to put oneself under His guidance, to walk – or at least to endeavor to walk – in the ways which He points out. All these things are essential to genuine belief. If any one of them is wanting, the faith which we profess is mere pretence and mockery.
In other words, belief in the Lord is something more than the intellectual acceptance of a certain form of doctrine concerning Him. Even though the doctrine is true, to believe in it in this way is a very different thing from believing in the Lord as a living, ever-present Savior. This difference is as great as that between knowing a person himself and knowing certain facts about him while the person himself is unknown. Though all knowledge concerning the Lord has a value which should not be underestimated, the mere assenting to it is not the faith described in our text and in other similar passages of Scripture. There is a significance in the expression “He that believeth on me” as distinguished from “He that believeth what is said concerning me.”
This significance is heightened by the connection in which the text occurs. The Lord has been speaking of Himself as the meat and drink of human souls. He has told them, “The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” The verses immediately following our text are these: “I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.” When, therefore, in the midst of these sayings he exclaims, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life,” the necessary inference is that He refers solely to that kind of belief which looks to Him and would live by Him as the very bread from heaven.
From this general view of the subject several conclusions follow. One is that the genuineness of a man’s faith depends far more upon the state of his life than on his professed belief. The soul’s attitude toward the Lord, and not any mere outward circumstances and associations, is the vital and essential thing. That attitude is determined by the degree in which one loves what is good and is inclined toward the truth, for the Lord in His essence is goodness itself and truth itself. The fact that one may be so situated in this world as to be deprived of all the teachings of true Christianity does not prove that he does not have in himself the germs of a living faith. As soon as these teachings are presented to him in an intelligible manner he may embrace them with all his heart, thereby showing that he did in reality believe in the Lord, though he had never heard His name. Everlasting life is his portion. We need not, therefore, fear as many have done that the heathen and others who have not had the same instruction as ourselves are on that account doomed to eternal perdition. The God of our worship is not one who can bring human beings into the world subject to any such terrible conditions. None are born under conditions where there is not some light, feeble though it may be, to guide them – if they will but follow it – to their desired haven. Our Lord said to the Jews, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.” Why should we doubt that these words are as true today as they were at the time when they were spoken? Why should we doubt that those who call themselves Christians and yet disregard and violate the plain teachings of their religion are farther off from heaven than the ignorant and simple-minded Gentiles who do the best they know how? Hereafter, if not here, this latter class, with all natural hindrances removed, will bid a joyful welcome to truth. The burden of its thankful utterance will be, when the glory of the Lord is revealed, “Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord: we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
In certain religious circles it is taught that there may be a period of probation after death for those who have been seemingly deprived of Christian teachings and influence. Well intended as this theory is, it has no basis in Scripture. Here on this earth is where human character is formed and human destiny determined. But if it is understood that the essence of true faith is the desire to lead a good life, according to the opportunities that are given, then it may also be seen that the work of preparing for heaven is really done in this world, and that what is needed is not a longer term of probation, but instruction – light sufficient to make known to those who have dwelt in the darkness of ignorance their own states of love and belief. “There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”
Another way of stating this truth is that faith separate from a life of charity is dead. Unless a man strives to live according to the teachings of his religion, it is with him exactly as if he had no religion. To talk about the Lord, and not to be willing to deny oneself for His sake is practical infidelity. The public official who, entering the service of his country for the ostensible purpose of discharging certain duties, uses his office merely as the means of promoting his own personal ends is not faithful but faithless. So too the faithful Christian – he who truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and has everlasting life thereby – is not the one who makes the loudest professions, but he who on week-days and Sundays through good report and evil report tries humbly and sincerely to shun evil and to do good in obedience to the will of his Divine Master.
Thus genuine faith is always conjoined with charity or, what is the same, with a spirit of love and kindness. But faith in itself is a thing of the intellect and has direct relation to truth. It occupies a place on the intellectual side of man’s nature. Swedenborg writes: “Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that a thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true and therefore I believe it.’ For faith is of truth, and truth is of faith. If such a person does not see the truth of a thing, he says, ‘I do not know whether this is true; and therefore as yet I do not believe it. How can I believe what I do not intellectually comprehend? Perhaps it is false.'” From this point our author goes on to show how mistaken is the opinion of those who say that faith is blind, and that what is dogmatically affirmed must be believed without being understood.
We are endowed with the faculty of physical sight in order that we may see natural objects. Also we have the faculty to apprehend spiritual verities. Whether or not we will use this faculty depends upon ourselves. With many it lies unused. The only thing that will quicken it into activity is the desire and intention to lead a good life. This desire and intention produce a longing for the truth, a deep spiritual affection for that which will reveal to a man the path of upward progress. He who has this affection and seeks the truth for its own sake cannot forever be disappointed in his search. Sooner or later, in the other world if not in this, it will be made gloriously visible.
Great beyond the power of human description is the blessing of belief, that one may have a deep inward assurance that the Lord is near, that His wise and loving providence is over every event and circumstance of life, that the Sacred Scriptures are His own Divine truth, whereby He seeks to teach and lead us, and that in all things temporal He is ever looking forward to the eternal. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” The blessings of belief are within the reach of every human being, and if he avails himself of the opportunities given him, his heart is of necessity inclined toward the truth and toward Him who is the source of truth. So we need not walk blindly, but, walking in the light, may become children of light.