The Substance of Things Hoped For
by William Jackson on 2002-10-13
[This is the transcript of a talk I gave in church on Sunday, 13 October 2002, in Plymouth, England. An audio recording of my remarks is also available.]
Next time I wonʼt sit in the back, I promise.
Itʼs been my privilege on several occasions on my mission to speak in sacrament meeting in my different areas. It usually goes like this: I move into a new area, and they ask me to introduce myself and bear my testimony in the first or second week Iʼm here. Then Iʼm back up here in the third or fourth week, probably because I said something wrong the first time, and I have to fix it. But I think I did all right.
Iʼm talking today on faith, and when I am presented with a subject, I like to ask questions and find the answers. Thatʼs how I like to give talks or give lessons. So Iʼve come up with a few questions that I will be answering today. The first of them is, “Faith, what is it?”; second, “What does faith do?”; third, “Why is faith important?”; and fourth, “How do we get faith?”
So Iʼll begin with the definition of faith, what it is.
In Hebrews, chapter 11, Paul gives a definition. He says,
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
When I first read that, I thought, what in the world does that mean? I found that when he speaks of substance he means a confidence or an assurance. When we hope for something and we have faith itʼs the assurance that what we hope for, we will receive.
And evidence, of course, is a proof or demonstration of something that we have not seen. Thatʼs our faith.
Now the predominating sense in which the term faith is used throughout the scriptures is that of full confidence and trust in the being, the purposes, and the words of God.
Examples of faith are full in the scripture. One of them, Nephi: his brothers always beat up on him. He had to remind them so many times what great things the Lord had done for them. He reminds them, he says,
… the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him …
Then he follows up with that plea, he says,
… Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.
And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise;
Nephi had the faith that the Lord would keep his promises and lead them to the promised land.
Now, thereʼs another definition in the scriptures. Itʼs given by two Book of Mormon prophets: one Alma, one Moroni. They define faith as a
… hope for things which are not seen … (Alma 32:21; see also Ether 12:6)
If we saw something, we would have a perfect knowledge that it was there and we would need faith no more. But faith is our trial. Faith is the hope for the things that God has promised but we may not have seen yet.
So that takes care of our first question: “What is faith?”
Secondly: “What does faith do?”
In general, faith drives and motivates our spiritual growth. When we exercise our faith we are showing God that we believe in Him and that we are worthy of certain gifts and blessings He wants to give us.
These blessings cover a wide range, including having the companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide us and comfort us. Also in many instances in the scriptures, people are healed of their physical infirmities because of their faith.
Nephi prayed this way:
… O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren … (1 Nephi 7:17)
He had to pray that a number of times.
There was a woman of Canaan, as she was described, who came to Jesus at one point in His ministry, to plead on behalf of her daughter, who she said was
… vexed with a devil. (Matthew 15:22)
At first Jesus ignored her because she was not of the house of Israel, and the Christ was
… not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 15:24)
But after continual pleading Jesus consented, and he said,
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28)
So we see just from these two examples that faith is a marvelous power that we can have. In Ether, chapter 12, Moroni lists many marvels that were done by faith, and he says,
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith. (Ether 12:12)
We have a way of making God powerless in our lives. If we refuse to have faith in Him, we will not see the miracles that he is willing to perform on our behalf. However, the Savior has promised us, that,
… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed …
… and that is very small,
… nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matthew 17:20)
Faith unlocks the power of God in our lives. Thatʼs what it does.
Moving on to our third question: why is this all important? Why is faith important? Whatʼs it for? Why is it important?
In Paulʼs epistle to the Hebrews he recounts some great acts that the prophets and the patriarchs of the Old Testament performed. He talks of Abel, the son ofAdam. Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord by faith. Enoch and his city were translated and brought into the presence of God by their great faith. Noah built the ark due to his faith in the warnings of the Lord. Abrahamʼs faith in the promises of God sustained him as he wandered in strange countries. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, received strength to bear a son, Isaac, because of her faith.
Abrahamʼs faith was further tried when he received the commandment to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord. Previously, Abraham had been promised by God that his children would number as the sands of the sea. Isaac was his only son. It is possible that Abraham very quickly came to the logical conclusion: “If I sacrifice my only son, how will I have any posterity?”
But Abrahamʼs faith was powerful enough to break through the walls of human doubt. He considered the power of God, having faith that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, if need be.
Paul sums up why faith is important in one verse. He says,
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
We cannot please God unless we first have faith in his existence and his words.
In The Book of Mormon King Benjamin also explains why faith is essential to our salvation. We all want to be saved, right? Say, “Yes.” Okay. Just making sure.
After prophesying of the Christ and his mission, he says,
And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children ofmen even through faith on his name;
And he also states,
For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Itʼs through our faith in the atoning and saving power of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, that salvation comes to us.
We know what faith is, we know what it can do, we know why itʼs important, and this is the good question, I think. How do we get it? How do we get this faith? Or, if we already have it, how do we increase it? How do we strengthen it?
The prophet Alma, in The Book of Mormon, gives an illustration. He compares the word of God to a seed that is planted in our hearts. And through this illustration he explains how our faith increases. He says,
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
And so a desire is all we really need to begin. And if we do experiment on the words of the Lord, then our faith can be increased due to the results of that experiment. Alma says it will “enlarge [our] soul”, “enlighten [our]understanding”, and “be delicious to [us].”
Jacob, the son of Lehi and the brother of Nephi explained how his faith developed. He said,
Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
We, too, have many revelations. They are the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. We, too, have the spirit of prophecy. His name is Gordon B. Hinckley. And with these witnesses, our faith may too become unshaken, just as Jacobʼs did.
My brothers and sisters, I know that faith is important in our lives because I have not seen the Christ. I was not in Bethlehem when Mary
… brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; (Luke 2:7)
I was not in Galilee when the woman with an issue of blood was healed and told, “thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Matthew 9:22)
I was not in the little ship when Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” before calming the tempest. (Matthew 8:26)
I was not in Gethsemane when the Savior prayed, “not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
I was not at Calvary when the crucifiers drove nails through his hands and feet. And I was not at the garden tomb to witness his triumphal resurrection.
It is my faith in the testimonies of the prophets ancient and modern, and the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost that causes me to have faith in the Christ.
Ammon taught this. He said,
he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God;
That we may all have the faith to know the mysteries of God for ourselves is my humble prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.