of those whom our Lord compares to the seed which fell upon stony ground, and hastily sprang up, but soon withered away. It has no root; it does not proceed from a mind enlightened, and a heart renewed by the spirit; and hence, when it is exposed to a severe trial, it fails. "When tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the truth, by and by they are offended."* On this account it is called temporary faith, although in some instances it may last long, and, like the hope of the hypocrite, perish only at death, because, during the course of life, no cause occurred of sufficient force to extinguish it. The third kind of faith is called the faith of miracles; by which is meant, a persuasion supernaturally wrought in the mind of the person, that God would perform some miracle by him, or for him. Of the former persuasion our Lord speaks, when he says to his disciples, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." To the latter persuasion he refers, when he said to two blind men, who besought him to have mercy on them, "Believe ye that I am able to do this ?" and it was found in the cripple at Lystra, of whom it is related, that Paul "perceived that he had faith to be healed." It is evident that this kind of faith was confined to particular persons, and a particular period of the church, and consequently is not a subject of general interest. The last kind of faith is called saving faith, because by it the salvation offered in the Gospel is received and enjoyed. It is the design of this lecture to explain it,-first, in general, as it respects the whole of divine revelation; and, secondly, in particular, as it respects the offer of pardon and eternal life through the Saviour. In this view, it is commonly called justifying faith.

In speaking of faith in general, I shall direct your attention to the definition of it, which is given by Paul in the first verse of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith, whether human or divine, is the belief of a testimony. The faith which we are now considering, is the belief of the testimony of God. How it operates in reference to the subjects of this testimony, whether they be considered simply as invisible, or as both invisible and future, the apostle explains in the words which we have quoted. Of things hoped for, or future good, it is the substance. Concerning the import of the original term-To-translated substance, there has been a good deal of discussion, and it has been understood to signify confidence or subsistence. Faith is the confidence of things hoped for; because it assures us not only that there are such things, but that, through the power and faithfulness of God, we shall enjoy them. It is the substance of things hoped for; because it gives them, although future, a present subsistence in the minds of believers, so that they are influenced by them as if they were actually present. Thus the word was understood by some of the Greek commentators, who were the most competent judges of its meaning. "Since things which we hope for," says Chrysostom, "seem not to subsist, faith gives them subsistence, or rather it does not give it, but is itself their substance. Thus, the resurrection of the dead is not past, nor does it subsist, but faith gives it subsistence in our souls." "Faith," says another, "gives subsistence to the resurrection of the dead, and places it before our eyes.' In human hopes there is a mixture of uncertainty; and reason itself will, in many cases, justify anxiety; but the foundation of Christian hope being the word and promise of God, the doubts which may arise in our minds are the consequences of the weakness of our faith; for, if our faith corresponded with the nature of the testimony, we should be as fully assured of what is future, as we are of what is present or past.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The objects of faith are not only future good, but invisible things, both good and evil, which are made known by divine revelation; and of these it is the evidence, xs, the demonstration or conviction. By our senses we become acquainted with the material world; by consciousness we are assured of the existence of our souls and their various faculties; and by reasoning we deduce one truth from another. But, besides these sources of information, a great part of our knowledge is derived from testimony. Thus, we know that there are cities and countries which we never saw; that events have happened at which we were not present; that certain persons lived in former ages, and performed certain actions; and that there are persons now alive who have not come within the sphere of our observation. Although there is a difference between the evidence of demonstration and the evidence of testimony, yet, in particular circumstances, there is no difference in the conviction produced; for no person in his senses entertains any more doubt that there is such a country as Greece or Italy, although he has not travelled from home, than he does of a proposition in mathematics which he fully comprehends. We depend upon testimony in matters of commerce and science, in all our ordinary transactions, and even in the important concerns of life and death. "If then we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater."* In the latter case, there is no possibility of mistake or deception. Besides, his testimony relates to many things of the utmost importance, with respect to which man could give us no information,-things which eye had not seen, ear had not heard, and it had not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Of these, faith is the evidence or demonstration. Being past, and future, and invisible on account of their distance from us, or the spirituality of their nature, they cannot be discovered by our senses; but the conviction of their reality is as strong in the mind of a believer, as if they were placed before his eyes.

This is a general account of faith, according to the definition of Paul; but, with a view to illustrate its nature more fully and distinctly, I request your attention to the following observations.

First, The objects of religion are invisible and future, and hence arises the indispensable necessity of faith. The objects with which worldly men are conversant, are present, or are considered not very distant; they are, or are expected soon to come, under the cognizance of their senses. Nothing seems to them to be important, which may not be seen, and felt, and enjoyed, in this sublunary state. If there be any thing which does not fall under this description, any thing which cannot be made subservient to the purposes of the present life, they regard it as a nonentity, or as a matter with which they have nothing to do. Christians are deemed enthusiasts or fools, who neglect the substance, and grasp at a shadow, dreaming of another world, which no man ever saw, instead of labouring to make themselves comfortable in this. In a certain sense, indeed, the things of this world are the objects of religion, because it regulates our conduct and affections in reference to them; but the motives by which it influences our minds, are derived from the invisible state, and the reward, to which it teaches us to aspire, lies beyond the narrow boundary of time and sense. A Christian is a citizen of the Jerusalem above; his conversation is in heaven; he looks at the things which are not seen, and eternal; he declares plainly, that he is seeking a country, even a heavenly one; he obeys the exhortation, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth; for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."†

In the second place, Of those objects with which religion is conversant, we can have no knowledge but by Divine revelation. It is on this account that they are objects of faith. We believe that they exist, upon the testimony of God.

[blocks in formation]

It may be supposed that this statement of the source of religious knowledge is not strictly true, for that some parts of it, at least, are discoverable by reason. By reason, we demonstrate the existence of God and infer a future state, in which men will be rewarded according to their works; but, without inquiring how far unassisted reason would advance in its researches, it is certain that, with respect even to these fundamental truths, it is to revelation alone that we are indebted for those views of them, which are the proper objects of religion. It is from revelation that we have derived the knowledge of that character of God, with which we, as sinners, are concerned. It is revelation which informs us that he is love; that he is merciful, and ready to forgive; that he has given his only-begotten Son for the salvation of the world; and that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. On these important subjects nature is silent; reason says nothing, because it is profoundly ignorant: they were so far from being suggested by meditations of the human mind, or according with its natural conceptions, that when they were first proposed, they were derided as folly. With respect to a future state, although the heathens entertained some obscure notions of it, for which, however, it is probable they were indebted more to tradition than to reasoning, it does not admit of a doubt that, without revelation, we should not have had the faintest idea of the heaven of Christianity, and should have known nothing concerning the means by which admission into it is obtained. It is the unrivalled glory of Jesus Christ, that "he hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel."* Our religion is a free gift of God to our sinful race. It originated in the purpose which he purposed in himself before the beginning of time, and into which no man or angel could have pried; it is delivered to us in the Scriptures, which were not written by the will of man, but at the suggestion, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit; and like some other gifts of God, it has not yet been imparted to all men, but, in the exercise of his sovereignty, has been granted to one nation, and withheld from another.

In the third place, Faith is an assent to the revelation which God has made of the truths of religion. We assent to a testimony, when we are persuaded of the veracity of the testifier, into which our faith is resolved. But, while this is a general definition of faith, it varies its aspect, if I may speak so, according to the subject of the testimony. When the testimony relates to a matter of indifference, a fact in which we take no interest, the assent is very slight, and may be called simple belief. But if the subject come home to our business and bosoms, a stronger impression is made. When a person, for example, is in distress or danger, and the testimony informs him of some generous friend, who is both able and willing to deliver him, and is exerting his power for his relief, the act of the mind rises higher than simple belief, and is properly denominated trust or confidence. If we are looking forward with desire to an object, the possession of which will make us happy, and the testimony assures us that we shall obtain it, expectation is added to desire, and both united constitute hope. When we attend to the nature of the Christian religion, and consider that the subjects of which it treats are of infinite importance, that it exhibits the character of God in its grandest and most interesting features, displays all the miracles and blessings of redemption, and directs our views to the realities of eternity, we perceive that the faith which it demands must be very different from a cold naked assent. It being admitted, that a faith corresponding to the nature of the things revealed, implies the concurrence of the heart, as well as the conviction of the understanding, it will be easily conceded that its existence is rare. There are many who profess to believe the Gospel, and who do

* 2 Tim. i.

believe it in this sense, that they entertain a vague and confused notion of its truth; but their faith is merely a careless passive assent. They have been told that it is true, and perhaps have given attention to the evidences by which its truth is established, and they feel no disposition to call it in question. There is no particular reason why they should controvert the evidence, because they regarded the subject as a mere speculation, which they are under no necessity of reducing to practice; there are several reasons which incline them to yield to it, as the prejudices of education, the wishes of their friends, a regard to character and to their worldly interests. They do not enter into a close examination of the subject, nor institute an inquiry whether their assent be sincere and cordial. They are not infidels in the common acceptation of the word, and therefore they are believers. But their faith is totally different from a practical conviction. It has no influence upon their hearts; and were they tried by the standard of Scripture, or even by the laws of reason and common sense, it would be found that they do not really believe those truths, of which they probably think that they never entertained a doubt.

In the fourth place, Faith conveys to the mind a full conviction of the truths of religion. It is the substance, or confident expectation of things hoped for, the evidence or demonstration of things not seen. The ground of this conviction of the existence, and nature, and importance of its objects, is the infallible testimony on which it depends. What God has attested must be true, because, being omniscient, he cannot be mistaken, and being holy, he will not deceive. It may be objected, that this assurance, which is said to belong to faith, is not always found in believers, and that they are sometimes disturbed with doubts. The fact cannot be denied; but it is not at variance with the definition formerly given, which merely describes what faith is in itself, and what it ought to be in our experience. We should reflect that, like other graces, it subsists in imperfect beings, and has to contend with difficulties, by which its full exercise is impeded. Consciousness of personal demerit, and of the remains of sin in the heart, the appearances of Providence which seem to be opposed to the declarations and promises of Scripture, the temptations of Satan, and the suspension of Divine influences for the sins into which they have fallen, may involve Christians in mental distress, and lead them to call in question truths to which, in their happier hours, they yielded an unwavering assent. "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt ?"* When these obstacles are removed, and the believer fixes his undivided attention upon the faithfulness of God, he feels the same assurance of the truths of religion, however myterious, and however contrary to the natural suggestions of the mind, which he does of his own existence, or of that of the material world. No conviction could be stronger than that of Abraham, when, without hesitation, he offered up Isaac, upon whose life the promises depended, and yet continued to hope for the blessings exhibited in them; and when he confidently expected a son, although he himself was old, and his wife was barren, and the time of child-bearing was past. This was faith in its highest state. It is proposed for our imitation; and as it is implied, that the same trust in God is attainable by others, so there is no reason to doubt that many have trodden, and are still treading in the steps of that illustrious man, and are glorifying God by an unqualified dependence on his word.

Lastly, Through faith, the truths of religion exert influence upon the mind, as if they were perceived by the senses. It considers them as realities, and is suitably affected by them. It has been said that, if the solemn and awful scenes which revelation describes were actually disclosed to view, the sight would overwhelm us, and all worldly affairs would be suspended as too in

• Matt. xvi. 31.

VOL. II.-23

significant to engage our attention. This may be true; and it may have been for this reason the will of God, that, in this sublunary state, we should walk by faith and not by sight. Yet such is the assurance of the existence and magnitude of invisible things which faith produces, that they not only excite powerful emotions in the hearts of believers, and give a new direction to their conduct, but they often make a stronger impression upon them than is made by the things which are visible and present. Hence, they renounce the pleasures of sin for the happiness promised by religion; and abandon the world as their portion, in the expectation of the heavenly inheritance. The sacrifices which a Christian has often made, of his will, his ease, his honour, his wealth, his friends, and even of his life, are proofs of the mighty power of faith. These are the trophies which adorn its triumphs. "This is the victory that over

cometh the world, even our faith."*

Thus far I have given you an account of faith in general, as it respects the whole revelation contained in the Scriptures, and makes all the doctrines and facts recorded in them bear upon the mind, so as to promote our conformity to the will of God, and our final salvation. Being founded upon his testimony, it respects every thing which he has attested, and improves it for the purpose which it was intended to serve. It is conversant with things past as well as with things to come, with things awful and alarming, as well as with those which are calculated to impart peace and consolation to the soul. By faith, we are assured of the threatenings of the law, as well as of the promises of the Gospel; we are moved with fear, as well as animated with hope. It is of great utility and indispensable necessity to the Christian, in the present life; it excites him to the performance of his duty, and supports him in adversity, and fortifies his mind against temptation. "The people that know their God, are strong, and do exploits." They resist the assaults of Satan whether violent or insidious, overcome the allurements and terrors of the world, and persevere to the end in a course of holy obedience.

I now proceed to speak of justifying faith, or the faith by which a sinner obtains an interest in Jesus Christ, and the blessings of salvation. Let it be observed, that it is not different in its nature from the faith already described, for it is the same grace which operates in the believer, whatever is the object upon which it is fixed. It is called justifying faith, on account of the design to which it is subservient; and, in this view, its exclusive object is that part of revelation which relates to the Saviour, or the Gospel, strictly so called.


The first remark which I make is, that the object of justifying faith is Jesus Christ, and redemption through his blood. Paul said to the jailor of Philippi, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The person addressed was a sinner, convinced and alarmed, dreading the vengeance of his Maker, and anxiously inquiring how he might be delivered from it. The words are an answer to his question, and must, therefore, point out the object which alone could dispel his fears, and inspire him with hope. This design can be accomplished only by the revelation of a Saviour, or by the Gospel as distinguished from the Law. The faith of the law an awakened sinner already possesses, for his fears proceed from his belief that it is holy and just, and that its threatenings will be executed upon those who have transgressed it, unless they find out some method of escaping its penalty. Nothing will relieve the mind of a criminal condemned to die, but authentic information that his sovereign is willing to pardon him; and nothing will set free the convinced sinner from the terror which he feels, but the knowledge of the mercy of God, through the mediation of his Son. The object, then, of justifying faith is Christ crucified,-Christ lifted up on the cross, like the brazen serpent in the

• 1 John v. 4.

† Dan. xi. 32.

+ Acts xvi. 31.

« VorigeDoorgaan »