(A) Introduction

The NIV puts it like this: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I believe in this instance that the more enigmatic words of the AV are better: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.

Faith gives substance, solidity or reality to things hoped for. The prodigal son in Jesus famous parable wasted his substance in riotous living. He was wasting his assets. So faith turns the things hoped for into real assets. He was wasting his life. Faith brings to life the things hoped for.

Faith takes the place of evidence of things not seen. We sometimes talk of seeing with the eye of faith. It brings into view what can be seen in no other way. It keeps us focused upon the promises of God.

I want to illustrate what faith is and what faith does by likening the Christian life to a train journey Home. If we want to arrive Home we have to catch the Gospel Train. It doesn't matter so much about the carriage we travel in - so long as it is part of the Gospel Train.

(B) Wistfulness and nostalgia are not the same as faith.

When I was a student I lived in the London suburb of Richmond with my grandmother. Her house was not far from Richmond station. As I sat working late on a summer's evening with the window open I could hear the trains pulling out of the station. I visualised the village green in my home village of Brockley in Suffolk where my brothers would be playing cricket or fishing for roach in the pond and I thought wistfully, "Perhaps that train would take me home". I felt nostalgic about the lazy end to our games of cricket - the slow, dusky, walk back along the leafy lane with the bats flitting over head - and supper with mother before bed. But I continued with my work - another interminable essay on the erosion surfaces of Wales.

Many people are like that about Christianity. They hear a hymn at a funeral or a wedding or attend a carol service and childhood memories are brought flooding back. There is nostalgia for the certainties of youth. Perhaps they even think wistfully of joining the Gospel Train - but they do nothing. It is a long time ago now but when I was on teaching practice at Chiswick Grammar School the elderly senior master told me with some pride, "I always watch Songs of Praise on Sunday evenings". It was his link with the past. It was something he could do sitting in his armchair at home. He never found a seat on the Gospel Train.

(C) Faith is not irrational

Imagine a man dashing into a station late for his train. He is flustered, sweating profusely - almost in a state of panic. He jumps on to first train he sees. Now there is nothing rational about this behaviour. The man hasn't found anything out about the train - he hopes for the best and throws himself on board. That is what people do in desperation - turn to mysticism, spiritualism or one of the cults. They will do anything to feel better. The man who has boarded the wrong train may well feel better. He is on a train and it could be taking him home. He is travelling with many others. The train may well be full and this gives him a false sense of security.

Here is another passenger. Now he has a strange idea. He thinks that any train will do because all are going to end up at the same destination. They all look very much alike, function in the same sort of way and start from the same place. It is not even especially easy to tell the passengers of different trains apart. They are all convinced that they are on the right train and prove sincere and helpful to late arrivals. Unfortunately the essential difference between the various trains standing at their individual platforms is their destinations.

A third traveller is not sure which train he wants - there are so many to chose from. So he decides to follow the crowd and gets on the most popular train. There is a lot to be said for this. There is plenty of company. A lot of the passengers are undoubtedly enjoying their journey. In some of the carriages it just seems to be one never-ending party. No one seems clear how the train got the name, 'The Broadway Express' and few heed the rumour that its destination is 'Destruction'.

The rational man finds the platform with the narrow gate. He has inquired about the line called the 'Narrow Way' and is intent on catching the only train that will take him home.

(D) Faith gets you on the right train.

Faith is rational but not inactive. The sensible traveller makes enquiries. He asks about the trains at the ticket office. He will look at the timetable and the information about arrivals and departures. This very rational person might even check out the Gospel Train with those getting on it, with the porter, the guard, the driver... but never gets on the train himself. Why is this?

    (a) He is so busy checking the train out and so concerned to be on the right train and even the right carriage that he misses it. The opportunity to alight passes. Faith is not over cautious.

    (b) Common sense suggest that more people should be travelling on a train going somewhere as important as 'Home'. Men and women should be queuing up to get on it. Most people show no hurry to climb aboard the Gospel Train. This is very perplexing and our would be traveller decides he will find a more popular route.

    (c) Another young fellow who has found his way onto the platform is having second thoughts. Perhaps after all he is happier where he is. Does he really want to go Home. He has heard that it is a long and a difficult journey. Some of those carriages look distinctly uninviting!

    (d) An elderly woman is dithering by the Narrow Gate. She has heard that a severe weather warning has been issued. She is assailed by imaginary fears. The train will get blown off the rails. The track will be flooded. They will all end up buried in snow-drifts. There is no guarantee that they will arrive Home safely. Some travel hopefully never to actually arrive.

Faith gets you on the train. It gives reality to your hope - the hope of arriving home, of getting to the Celestial City.

There's a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar,
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.

That's it! By faith we can see it afar. By faith we can see ourselves arriving at our Father's house - home at last - safe and sound. We can anticipate the welcome, the warmth and the wonder. It is faith alone that is going to realise our hopes. We won't get Home if we don't get on the train.

(E) Faith keeps you on the train

There are all sorts of reasons why people leave the Gospel train before it safely delivers them Home:

    (a) There are, perhaps, some strange folk in their carriage. They may be in with a happy clappy squad. It is a bit like travelling with a lot of hyperactive football supporters! On the other hand they could be really unlucky and share a carriage with very unfriendly, silent, types with their noses buried in some deep theological tome. A young woman is shut in with a group of very elderly rather faded ladies who seem more dead than alive. She doesn't anticipate a very lively journey. So lets try changing carriages. The more often people change carriages the more dissatisfied they get with the train. They finally tumble out.

    (b) People leave the train all the time and this tests the faith of those that remain. Home is at the end of the line - so why then are passengers getting off. Some of the stations are very appealing. Quite a number of youngsters alight at Romantico, Pleasureton and Sportwich - brightly lit, bustling stations. The middle-aged favour Hobbiton, Workham, Jobham and Ambisham. There is nothing frivolous about these stations - solid, respectable and worthy places. The train moves on and on. Sadly a few elderly travellers get slowly to their feet snatch up their luggage and complete their journey at Dissalusion and Realwold. There is nothing very cheerful or appealing about these destinations but some still seem to prefer them to Home. A few leave the train whom you would never expect to quit and this is peculiarly disturbing and unsettling.

    (c) The journey is not always comfortable. The lights fail and the passengers sit in the dark. The heating fails and it is cold. The carriages rock from side to side. It seems the train might be shaken right off the rails. There are long stops when no progress is made at all. No information is provided. Nothing is explained. Nobody seems to know anything. We are just advised to stop on the train!

It is faith that keeps the traveller on the train. I like to think that the pulling power, the locomotive, and the guiding principle, the rails, represent God's Grace. The driver of the Gospel Train is Jesus and the guard is the Holy Spirit. The carriages are the church. Some of the rolling stock is old, shabby and dilapidated but other coaches are modern, smart and luxurious. The strange thing is that the state of the carriages has very little to do with who leaves prematurely or who stays the course. Travellers reach Home in all kinds of rolling stock.

No one could make the journey without the train, the rails, the driver, the gaurd or the carriages. We rely on God's grace to make it to the end. We also depend upon God's church. It is good that we do not travel alone and that during those long, dark, cold delays we can reach out and find a comforting hand to hold. When the train lurches from side to side it helps to see the cheerful, calm, assurance of a fellow passenger.

But no one would make the journey without faith.

Salvation is by Grace but through faith.

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