« PreviousContinue »
With the eye of faith elevated to the Eternal's throne, we look for affiftance in and wait for his bleffing, upon our undertaking. We propose,
I. To confider the nature of faith, and inveftigate wherein its effential acts confift.
II. As faith is a neceffary requifite, in approaching the table of the Lord, fo we fhall urge the natural man to the use of all those means, which, if accompanied with a blessing from on high, will tend to make him a partaker of that divine principle.
III. We fhall point out the grounds on which a child of God may be affured of his being in the faith, and the obligation he is under to seek, to cherish, and preferve this Christian grace.
That we may speak with accuracy on the first propofed fubject, it must be previously remarked,
1. That to believe is not to be of the opinion, or, to be in doubt, whether a thing be fo or not, as the phrafe is daily mifapplied when converfing on nàtural things. It is not uncommon for a person to fay, this or that I believe, whenever on the one hand reasons are offered for thus judging, and on the other fome reafon exifts why he fhould doubt the fact. But this is not believing, it is rather to be confidered as doubting, and in its nature is wholly different from the fubject of this lecture.
2. To believe is not fimply to have a persuasion or a knowledge of the existence of a thing: for a perfon may have this perfuafion, and his mind yield no affent, yea, feel an averfion from it. In refpe&t to natural objects, it may have place, but not in regard to thofe which are fpiritual. For when things fpiritual are the objects of our faith, it is always accompanied both with the full affent of the judgment, and the moft cordial approbation of the will.
Throughout Scripture, where the term faith, and the phrafe to believe, occur, both thefe ideas are included. And,
Therefore, faving faith implies, "A cordial recep"tion of the teftimony of God, and a total and unre"ferved furrender of the foul and all its affections, to God and Chrift."
Hence faith is a term which no man can fully underftand, unless he hath received and be exercifed by it.
In the word of God, two particular phrafes are employed to exprefs this act.
The first is recorded Pfalm ii. 12, and fignifies in the original, to take refuge.
"Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” A fimilar expreffion presents itself, Pfalm xxxvi. 8. "How excellent is thy loving kindness, O God, "therefore the children of men put their truft under "the fhadow of thy wings."
The fame word is found in other paffages of Scripture, and always expreffes the effential though weaker act of faith, to which falvation is attached.
The fecond phrafe which fcripture employs, fignifies to lean, to rest upon, or to fuffer ourselves to be borne by another, as a child, who feels itself perfectly fecure, in the arms of its mother or nurfe. Agrecably to this we read, Songs viii. 5.
"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, "leaning upon her beloved?"
See alfo Pfalm lxxxiv. 12. "O Lord of hofts, "bleffed is the man that trufteth in thee."
Such and fimilar expreffions reprefent that more advanced degree of faith, which confifts in the exercise of confidence.
In the New-Teftament, to believe is fometimes ufed
to convey to the mind the object of faith; thus, Gal. i. 23, the apostle declares, that " he now preach"eth the faith, which once he destroyed." But at other times it imports the act of the mind which is exercised with refpect to that object, John iii. 36. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;" i. e. everlasting life is the portion of that perfon whose mind is fo exercised with respect to the Son, as God here demands.
Of that faith we now speak, which actually unites the foul to Jefus; and that we may exprefs ourselves, on a subject of fuch importance, with the perfpicuity it merits, it will be proper to enquire,
I. What precedes faith.
II. Wherein the true essence of faith consists. III. What follows as a confequence of faith. 1. If a person favingly believe, there muft precede,
A. KNOWLEDGE. This is a requifite fo neceffary, that faith itself is thus termed, Ifaiah liii. 11. By his knowledge fhall my righteous fervant juftify many. Unless a truth be known, we cannot affent to it, embrace it, or be fuitably exercised with refpect to it.
There are therefore certain truths propofed as the objects of knowledge: they are in general the whole teftimony of God, and in particular those which have an immediate regard to our eternal falvation. Hence we must attain to a knowledge of ourfelves, and become acquainted with the Great Mediator of the covenant, with the means by which we become interested in him, and with the obligation we are under to become holy in heart, and in all manner of conversation.
Now as these truths must be known, in a greater or lefs degree, by every true believer, fo we cannot
but remark, that every fpecies of knowledge is not fufficient. A knowledge which is merely fpeculative is not faving. There exifts a vaft difference between the knowledge which the natural man has of the truths of religion, and that which he poffeffes, whofe foul hath been illuminated by the holy Spirit. The knowledge of the former is fuperficial and external ; it skims along the surface, but dives not deep, to obtain the pith and marrow of truth: that of the latter is penetrating; it extends not barely to the words, but to the matter. The natural man may be enlightened as to the head, but divine truths affect not his heart. Is he taught that he is miferable, he feels not diftrefs, forrow, nor fhame, at the awful difcovery.Are the glories of the Mediator brought to his view in the facred oracles, he experiences no defires after him, at least not fuch as attracts him to Christ. For he hath never yet experimentally known his need of him. But the man who really believes, has his heart fo affected with the truths of God, that the fight of fin and misery makes his foul to feel forrow and the keenest anguish; whilft a view of Chrift, as the only way of falvation, creates within him holy and ardent defires to have Jefus for his eternal portion.
B. The ASSENT of the mind to the truths of revelation neceffarily precedes the effential act of faith.But let it be remarked, that barely to affent to divine truths, as to the letter, is not all that is required: for fuch an affent cannot but be given to them by every ingenuous mind, fince they perfectly accord with right reason, are in every respect worthy of God, in their nature tend to advance the happiness of man, and against them the infidel, bold in fin, raises his fubtil but feeble objections in vain. If thus all within the pale of the reformed church muft yield an
affent to revelation, and the glorious truths which it inculcates, it must be here obferved, that the affent which the believer gives to them, far tranfcends that which is granted by external profeffors: because нE has felt, and daily more or lefs experiences, the power of the truths of God upon his heart; he yields a twofold affent; his language is, "I believe them, not only because God hath made them known in his "word, and because they are ftamped with his authority, but because I experience their energy in my own foul; and thus it is, that the Spirit, abiding "in the heart, teftifies that the Spirit which speaks "in the facred volume is truth."
2. If this knowledge and this affent to divine truths always precede faith, the next enquiry is, "In "what does the effential act of faith confift?" We anfwer; in running and fleeing with all poffible swiftnefs from one's felf, and in taking refuge beneath the wings of Jefus, and his all-fufficient atonement.
We may then conceive the effential act of faith to be produced in the following manner: the holy Spirit, who alone must be confidered as the author of it, imparts to the finner a twofold view, both with refpect to himfelf, and to the Lord Chrift; yes,
A. He fees himself, by nature, to be miferable, wretched, undone; full in his view all his fins appear, accompanied with all their aggravated circumstances: for it is the province of the Holy Ghoft to reprove fin, or rather to strike the finner dumb, so that he can bring in nothing in extenuation of his crimes, or in vindication of his conduct, John xvi. 8. This difcovery of fin and mifery being made, he becomes contrite, affected at the dreadful profpect which now prefents itself, and is brought low before God. The pride of his heart falls, and fo great is his abasement,