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2. The reason of faith is very strong and forcible, the testimony of God. We are often greatly and justly influenced by the testimony of credible men : but if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, infinitely greater, 1 John v: 9. All men, who believe a God, agree in this principle, that what he says must be true, because he is a God that cannot lie. And if there is sufficient and satisfactory evidence, indeed all that can reasonably be desired, that the scriptures are the word of God; a persuasion so founded will bring the truths of the gospel with full power upon conscience. Some of the objects of faith, as the everlasting recompences of another life, are of that vast moment to us ; that if there were no more than a probability, or even a possibility of their truth, they ought in reason to determine our course on the safest side: but what force and weight are they fit to have, when considered as made certain by revelation ? When we look upon eternal life, as the promise which God hath promised us; And the wrath of God, as revealed from heaven against all sin and unrighteousness of men.' What a means of establishment may it be in an hour of temptation, to be able immediately to turn our thoughts to an it is written, that such a practice is undoubtedly sinful, that it will exclude from the kingdom of heaven! This is a weapon at hand in the greatest exigence, in the most sudden assault, - when a man hath not time or inclination for a long and laboured train of thoughts.
3. The institution of faith to be the main principle of the divine life, makes it especially successful for that purpose. What hath been hitherto said, shews its aptitude in its own nature; that the wisdom of God, in this, as in other cases, usually chooses proper means to serve the end he intends by them. But his blessing is necessary to success ; and accordingly we have the encouragement of his appointment in this case.
Не hath prescribed faith as the principle of vital religion ; as the means of “purifying our hearts,” Acts xv. 9. of “resisting the devil,” i Pet. v. 9. and of “overcoming the world,” 1 John v. 4. As the foundation, upon which every other grace and virtue are to be built : they are to be “added to it,” 2 Pet. i. 5. By this we abide in Christ, and derive grace out of his fulness for our constant supply: and in the exercise of it may expect the continued influences of the Spirit according to all the occasions of the Christian life. For these two stand connected together in God's saving design, 2 Thess. ii. 13. “ He hath chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.' It is God's constitution, that “the just shall live by faith,” Heb. x. 38. that the beginning and progress of his spiritual life shall be under the sway of this principle ; and that all, which is to be expected from God to maintain and cultivate it, is to be obtained in the way of believing
The Application I would make of this subject, shall be in three general exhortations from it.
1. We should be concerned to see, that we are possessed of such a faith, as is fit to be an effectual principle of the Christian temper and life., All faith will not be so.
Let us be very careful, that what we believe hath a foundation in the word of God. That we take not up with the mere imaginations of our own minds, or the mere dictates of men, for objects of faith. Erroneous persuasions, as far as they are entertained, and by how much the firmer the sion is, are the more likely to have a bad influence upon the spiritual life. Or if men should be preserved in a good measure from their bad practical tendency ; yet if afterwards the falsehood of them comes to be discerned, this too often proves an occasion of shaking men's faith in truths which are better grounded. Which shews of what counsequence it is, that we search the scriptures diligently, and bring our sentiments to the test by them, that we may be able to see our foundation there.
Let it be our endeavour to extend our faith in what God hath revealed, as far as we can. That our faith take as wide a compass as may be, and that we gain more clear and distinct apprehensions of divine truths. All the discoveries made in the word of God, are one way or other subservient to practice ; either for direction, or encouragement, or admonition ; though all are not cqually useful; and in some or other circumstance of life, we shall find the serviceableness of every object of faith. Therefore we should carefully study the rule of faith ; and by that means, joined with prayer to God, pur
sue the same aim for ourselves, which the apostle had so much at heart for the “ Thessalonians, to perfect that which is lacking in our faith,” i Thess. ii. 10.
Let it be our daily concern and prayer, to have a more full and lively persuasion of those truths, with which we are acquainted. Though we should be concerned to grow in the extent of our faith, because nothing, which God hath seen fit to reveal, is without its use one way or another, at one time or another, in the Christian life: yet I take it to be of more consequence of the two, to have our faith to grow intensively, though it should not take so wide a compass. He is the better scholar, and like to make more profitable use of his learning, who hath carefully and well digested a few books in comparison ;, than he, that hath cursorily run over a far greater number : so a Christian, of smaller attainments in knowledge, if he hath but a firm and lively faith in the fewer principles of religion with which his mind is furnished, will far exceed a more knowing Christian, who gives but a weak assent to his larger store of divine truths. Above all things, therefore, labour to have an assurance of faith, as far as you go: to.“receive the word with much assurance, then it will be, in power,” 1 Thess. i. 5.
To have a realizing, presentiating faith of the unseen things which God reveals : that though it be a distinct way of perception both from sight. and knowledge, yet it may come as near as may be in its proper province, to the strength of persuasion which they give in theirs. Hence strong faith is sometimes expressed by sight. “Moses saw him that is invisible,” Heb. xi. 27. “ Abraham saw Christ's day,” John viii. 56. “ We behold the glory of the Lord,” 2 Cor. iïi. 18. And at other times“ by knowledge,” John vi. 69. “We believe, and are sure, or know, that thou art the Christ," 2 Cor. v. 1. “ We know that if our earthly house were dissolved, we have a building of God,” &c. 1 John üi. 2. “We know that when he shall
appear, we shall be like him," that is, we firmly believe these things. We should be solicitous, that our faith may thus “grow exceedingly,” 2 Thess. i. 3. And to that end along with a continued search into the grounds of our faith nothing is more necessary than earnest prayer ; “ I believe, Lord, help mine unbelief,”. Mark ix. 24. Such a strong faith is fit to live by, and fit to die by.
2. Hereupon let it be our constant care to walk by faith. That is,
That faith be the prevailing principle, which discriminates and governs our tempers and lives. Let us shew the world by proper fruits, that we are not mainly swayed by the same things by which they are governed, neither by the impulse of appetite, nor by prevailing custom, nor by the authority of men, nor by worldly prospects, either of hope or fear : but that God's authority in his word is allowed principally to give law to us ; that we live by rule, as under God's eye now, and in view of a life to come.
That we reduce every object of our faith one way or other to practice. Every truth we entertain is useless, if it be not thus employed; and therefore we should not content ourselves with the bare speculation of any of them, but consider what influence each of them hath upon practice; either for the immediate direction and regulation of it, or to dispose us to the performance of it; either as a motive to ingenuity, or a pattern for imitation, or as representing the danger of neglecting our duty, or of acting contrary to it, or as a foundation of hope of assistance or acceptance in our course of obedience. A right apprehension of the practical tendency of particular truths, will be a good preparation for the actual use of them, as there shall be occasion. And that is the next thing I would press, as included in this exhortation.
That in the various particular occasions of the Christian life, we actually make use of the several objects of faith to their proper purposes, as a word in season. For instance,
1. Every known precept of God should be carefully reduced to practice, as occasions offer to make one or another our present duty. That is to walk by our belief of his commands.
2. The perfections of God should severally be called to mind and considered by us, as each of them may be most suitable to our present case, to promote our conscientious and comfortable walking with God. In an hour of temptation from secrecy, we should especially recollect his all-seeing eye. “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Gen. xxxix. 9. In great distresses and troubles, it is peculiarly seasonable to think of his almighty power to support or
to deliver us; and of his infinite goodness and compassion, which assures us, that he doth not willingly afflict, that he hath gracious ends in his corrections, and that, if we trust in him and keep his way, he will not suffer them to be insupportable either in degree or continuance. When we are injuriously treated by men, we should turn our thoughts to his justice : that he righteously punishes us, how much soever men may be blame-worthy, as David reflected in the case of Shimei ; and that he will right us in his own time, as far as is necessary : and to his goodness ; how much“ better it is to fall into the hands of God than of men;" 2 Sam. xxiv. 14. Are we in pressing dangers ? His power and wisdom should be our relief, as they were Jehoshaphat's, 2 Chron. xx. 6. .“ In thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” And ver. 12. “ We know not what to do, but our eyes are up unto thee.”
Under the penitent sense of sin, his infinite mercy is our refuge.
“ With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption,” Psal. cxxx. 7. Ay, and his justice and faithfulness in Christ, 1 John i. 9. “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”
3. His providence should be eyed and owned according to our circumstances from time to time. Praise and thanksgiving should be kept alive by the believing view of his gracious hand in all our mercies : and every one of them should be represented to our minds, as an engagement to cheerful obedience ; that as they are new every morning, and fresh every moment, there should ever be a new and fresh zeal and feryour in our grateful returns. Our afflictions and exercises should not be past over, as if they arose out of the dust; but God's hand should be acknowledged, and his end attended to in them, and faithfully answered in them, as far as it can be discovered. His sovereign pleasure is patiently to be submitted to. In
In any desires and hopes we entertain of present good things, there should be mixed with them a resignation to his holy will; if the Lord will. And in every difficulty and distress of life, our trust should be in his all-sufficiency, and our cares cast
him. This is walking by faith in God's providence. - 4. His promises should be suitably applied for our encouragement through our course. These should have a preyail