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In the exercise of that kind of faith to which I now refer, a man believes, without regard to his character, that Christ died for him in particular, and has forgiven, or certainly will forgive his sins. Now true faith always looks to the divine testimony, and is conformed to it. In this case, then, the proper question is, what is the testimony of God respecting those who are pardoned, and to whom the blessings of Christ's death are promised? The answer is at hand. "Repent and believe, that your sins may be blotted out." "He that believeth on the Son, hath life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." But under the influence of that sort of faith, which I would now expose, a man believes, without any evidence of piety, that God has forgiven his sins, and made him an heir of heaven. He has not repented; has not been born again; is without holiness. Still he believes that his sins are forgiven, and his name written in heaven. But in believing this, he disbelieves the divine testimony. The Scripture declares, that no man of such a character is pardoned. He believes that he is pardoned, because he does not believe the word of God.
We have here, then, a general test of faith. It is not our business to inquire, whether any man's faith is agreeable to this or that system of opinions, to such a deduction of reason, or to such a dream of fancy. Our simple inquiry is, whether it is agreeable to the word of God; whether, as to apprehension and feeling, it is an exact counterpart to the divine testimony.
2. It is easy to see what influence Christian faith must have in forming our religious opinions. A man of faith regulates his opinions by the only rule of fah, the word of God. Whatever may be the subject of investigation, he seeks to know what God the Lord will say. Whether the doctrines of Scripture are agreeable to his previous views, or not; whether comprehensible, or incomprehensible, is not his question at all. When he finds what God says, his inquiry is ended; his opinions are fixed. man wanting in Christian faith is not satisfied with this. He may indeed perceive what God says; but he must look further. One says; how can this be? It is so in
consistent with reason, so different from every thing which nature and philosophy teach, that I must regard it as utterly incredible. Another asks, whether the doctrine in question would be agreeable to his particular party. The object of inquiry with a third is, whether the doctrine proposed would require him to deny any of his inclinations, or to forego any of his honors or pleasures. In despite of the clearest evidence from the word of God, they govern their opinions by just such considerations as these. And all this, because they have not the principle of faith. What wonder is it then, that men, destitute of faith, should be carried about with every wind of doctrine, and embrace opinions as distant as possible from the decisions of holy writ.
We see also, that Christians are likely to agree in their religious opinions, in proportion to the activity and strength of their faith. The testimony of God is one. The rule of their opinions is one. If their faith is active in search ing after the testimony of God, and strong to receive it whatever it may be, they are surely in the way to union.
3. Faith exalts and glorifies God. The Apostle says, Romans iv. 20, 21, that "Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what he had promised, he was able also to perform." The promise, as you will recollect, was one which seemed impossible to be performed. But Abraham readily believed it, and anticipated the performance of it as a certainty. He was as fully persuaded of it, as though it had already taken place. All this he believed, purely because God had promised it. Now this persuasion of Abraham's mind was highly honorable to God. Whenever we believe any thing on the authority of God's word, we honor him, as a God of truth. This is eminently the case when the accomplishment of God's word is attended with peculiar difficulties, so that our believing it can arise from no cause, but our confidence in the divine veracity and power. Again; Abraham saw the land of Canaan in the possession of a ferocious and powerful people. Yet because he had confidence in God, he believed that the land would be given to his children for an inheritance. Isaac and Jacob believed the same,
though to human reason nothing could appear more improbable. The faith of Christians honors God in the same way. They know the greatness of their guilt, the penalty of the law, the justice of God. And yet they believe, purely on the authority of God's word, that they may be pardoned. They know the deceit, the hardness, the obstinacy of their hearts; and yet they have such confidence in God, that they are persuaded he can heal these spiritual maladies, and make them holy. They have such an apprehension of the love, the power, and the faithfulness of God, that they confidently believe, because he hath said it, that all nations, how deplorable soever their present condition, shall be given to Christ for an inheritance; that idolatry, and superstition, and every form of sin and misery shall be banished from the world; that kings, and rulers, and all people shall bow to the King of Zion, and the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth. However difficult the work which God promises to perform; however diverse from any thing they ever knew in other cases; they have such honorable apprehensions of God, that they believe it will certainly be accomplished. Thus, in the exercise of faith, they show their high estimation of the glorious character of God; and this most of all, when they themselves are in straits; when they can see nothing but darkness and danger, and when, so far as human power can go, their case is hopeless. To repose trust in God in such circumstances; to look to him for support, direction and deliverance, when all other help fails, shows what exalted thoughts they entertain of his infinite perfections.
4. It is obvious that all the defects of our character and conduct are owing to the want or the weakness of faith.
Without faith in the general sense, man has in fact no motives to a holy life; because all the motives to holiness are found in those invisible things which are the objects of faith, and which are brought by faith to have an influence on the mind. Were there no God, no moral government, no law with divine sanctions, no eternal retribution, there would be no motives to holiness. And if a man does not cordially believe in a moral law and government, and a future retribution, it will be to him just as
though there were none. In other words, there will be nothing, there can be nothing, which will have any influence upon him, as a motive to holy action. It is clear then that faith, in this view, is indispensable to the exercise of holiness. But not to dwell upon this general notion of faith; we know that the Scriptures in various places represent the want or weakness of Christian faith, as the cause of what is faulty in the character and conduct of
Suffer me then, Christian brethren, to use freedom of speech on this subject, and to ask whether a worldly spirit is not one of the prominent faults of our character. Do we not set our affections on earthly friends, relations, riches, honors, and enjoyments? Does not a regard to these govern our conduct? Do not the zeal and diligence we show in our pursuits spring chiefly from this source? See here the consequence of the want of faith. "This is the victory which overcometh the world," says an Apostle, even our faith." If we had faith; that is, if we cordially and steadily believed what the Scriptures teach; if we had an abiding, lively sense of the glory of God, the excellence of his law and government, our guilty, and wretched state, the beauty and all-sufficiency of Christ, the endless joys of heaven and the endless sufferings of hell; if these objects were continually present to our view, and our understandings and hearts were filled with them; the things of this dying world would all sink into nothing. No earthly pleasures could allure us. None of the honors or riches of the world could excite our desire. Upon them all we should see the broad stamp of vanity and insignificance, and a worldly spirit would die away.
Are we not conscious of a lamentable degree of insensibility and sloth in the concerns of religion? And how is this to be accounted for? Are not the eternal objects made known by the word of God, of sufficient importance to rouse our attention? Is not the favor of him who made us, and of him who died for us, and the enjoyment of his everlasting kingdom, worthy of being sought with diligence? Is not an eternity of insupportable suffering dreadful enough to excite our most watchful care to avoid it ? Yes, brethren. But our unbelief makes all these
appear distant and uncertain. It takes away from things eternal their power to interest the heart, and to produce emotion and effort, and leaves us as supine and dormant, as though the glorious objects of religion had no exist
'Tis unbelief also, that renders us so indifferent to the salvation of sinners, and the prosperity of the church. Did we see eternal things in the light of divine truth, and apprehend, in any suitable measure, their importance, their certainty, and their nearness; what a lively sensibility should we have to the interests of our connections, and friends, and all our fellow men! What concern for immortal souls, ready to perish! What strong desire for their redemption from sin and death! How alive should we be to every thing which stands connected with the prosperity of the church, and the interests of eternity!
It is the want of a lively faith in the great things of the unseen world, that renders us so superficial and heartless in our devotions. If in our seasons of secret and social worship, we should have faith; if we should look into eternity; should see just before us the resurrection of the dead, the judgment seat, and all the generations of men assembled to receive their irreversible doom; could we be dull and wandering in our prayers? If we knew that all these things were shortly to burst upon our view; would earthly trifles be suffered to break in upon our devotions? Would not all the ardor of our souls be kindled up in our addresses to our God and our Judge ?
To this same source we may trace all the follies and sins apparent in our lives. If the eye of our faith were always open, and always fixed on the certain, tremendous, glorious things of another world; if, wherever we went, and whatever we did, these eternal objects were present to our view, and had full possession of our feelings; every irregular passion would lose its power, and we should become circumspect and holy in all our conduct.
And is it indeed so, that our earthly mindedness, our insensibility and sloth in religion, our indifference in regard to the prosperity of the church and the salvation of sinners, our dull and heartless devotions, and all the irregularities of our temper and conduct are owing to the want of a steady, strong, lively faith? Of what vast