« PreviousContinue »
primitive Christians with boldness and courage in the face of danger; sufficient to make them willing to leave the body, that they might arrive at the higher dispensation of sight. So that the greatest heights of Christianity in this world are set out here as flowing from faith.
I have therefore chosen this passage to shew the eminent place, which faith holds in forming and animating the whole Christian temper and life. "We walk by faith, and not by sight." We Christians conduct ourselves by faith, as the best principle of action we have, till we arrive at sight, and as esteeming it our wisdom to walk under the influence of it through our passage state.
In the prosecution of this subject, I shall,
I. Endeavour to give you some account of faith, the Christian's principle. And,
II. Shew the fitness of it to have a most powerful and commanding influence upon the whole of the Christian temper and
Which will make way for some serious exhortations.
I. The nature of faith is to be explained, which is eminently the Christian principle.
When we find it distinguished from sight, this at once points us, both to the special objects about which it is conversant, and to that kind of persuasion which is implied in the term, faith.
1. The special objects, about which faith is conversant, are things not seen. This is intimated, when it is opposed to sight. And so they are expressly called more than once in the New Testament, 2 Cor. iv. 18. "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.' And Heb. xi. 1. "Faith is the evidence of things not seen.' By this representation of the things which the Christian believes,
1st, They are plainly distinguished from the concerns and interests of this visible world. The generality of people have their main regard to seen things, that is to present things, which come within the notice of sense; they govern themselves chiefly by a respect to these; and have their hopes and fears, which are the immediate principles of action, principally raised
by the apprehension of outward good and evil. Bodily ease and pleasure, external advantages and interests, honour and reputation among men, are the chief things they desire and hope for and the contrary to these are what they principally fear. They "walk in the sight of their eyes," as is said of sensual youth, Eccl. xi. 9. But the thoughts of a true Christian have another turn; he hath obtained the notice of other things, beyond the reach of sense, and which relate to interests beyond this seen world; and these appear to him of such reality and weight, as to command his principal attention. Present sensible things, have in themselves no farther reference than to our well or ill-being in the present life; but the things of which a Christian is persuaded, and by the belief of which he walks, are either the eternal state itself, or such things as in their tendency and consequence have an aspect on his everlasting well or ill-being. "The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,” 2 Cor. iv. 18.
2dly, They are justly described in their true and proper nature by this character, that they are things not seen. There is scarce a more comprehensive account to be given of them in a few words, than this character contains.
Many of them are in themselves of a spiritual nature, and so not capable of being objects of sense. God himself is so: no man hath seen him at any time, with his bodily eyes; and yet Moses is said by faith, to have "seen him that is invisible," Heb. xi. 27. And it is the concern of a good man to "set the Lord always before him," Psal xvi. 8. that is, to consider him as a near and constant spectator of his actions, and therefore to live and act as in his presence.
The providence of God is out of sight, while outward events themselves are obvious to sense; and therefore most people have little regard to the one, while they have their heads and hearts full of the other: but a saint principally attends to the invisible hand of providence in all events, whether prosperous or afflictive. The blessings which are of principal account with a Christian, come not within the verge of sense; such as, an interest in the favour of God, the privilege of being admitted among his children, the pardon of sin, the graces and comforts of the Holy Spirit. And his most formidable enemies are invisible too: indwelling corruption,
and the power and policy of the evil spirits; yet these are objects of faith, which excite his daily vigilance.
Several things which the Christian believes, are above his comprehension; not only not to be perceived by sense, but not to be seen through with the closest application of the eye of the mind; which are attended with many difficulties he cannot solve, as to the manner of their being, and yet he firmly believes them. This is the case of many of the divine perfections, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; and the distinction of the blessed three, Father, Son, and Spirit, which plainly runs through the economy of our salvation.
Some of the objects of faith, are things past and gone.. Though they were once seen by some, yet they are only offered to the faith of after generations, and yet of the utmost importance to be believed. Such are the creation of the world, the dispensations of providence in former ages: and above all, the Son of God manifested in flesh, his life and death and resurrection and ascension into heaven; and the divine testimonies borne to the gospel-revelation. Only a few in one age and part of the world, had opportunity to see these things; they are matters of faith to such as come after them.
Other things are at a distance from us, beyond our world, too far for us to have any immediate perception of them. Of this kind is the present state of the invisible world, the happiness of holy angels, and of departed saints with Christ in paradise, and the misery and torments of those dead in sin.
And lastly, many of them are future. They are now only to be discerned by faith, but hereafter will be seen. Such are the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and the rewards and punishments which will ensue upon it. "Every eye shall see the Redeemer, when he comes in the glory of his Father, even those who must wail because of him." And the great transactions, for which he comes, shall be managed upon the public stage in the view of But now we see them only through a glass, darkly and at a distance.
2. The kind of persuasion, which a Christian hath concerning these things, is expressed by faith, in opposition to sight. Now,
1. In a larger sense, this may signify a persuasion upon
other ground beside the evidence of sense so as to take in reason and testimony too. So it is sometimes taken in scripture. Some of the instances of faith given by the apostle, Heb. xi. are to be known by reason as well as revelation. Thus the creation of the world may be demonstrated by reason, and yet we are said to "understand it by faith," ver. 3. God's being and bounty are capable of the same proof, and yet the apostle mentions them as objects of faith, ver. 6. "Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." The perfections of God may be proved from the nature and reason of things, Rom. i. 20. "The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things, that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." Indeed if these could not be known antecedent to faith, there could be no foundation of faith, no means of proving the credibility and authority of revelation.
Now a Christian, in many articles of his persuasion, walks by faith in this larger meaning of the word, in distinction from sense. He is far from renouncing the evidence of reason, as far as that will go. For truths within its province, he is glad of all the assistance and light that he can have this way: and for truths, which he finds in scripture, he endeavours to strengthen his faith by arguments from reason, as far as that can help him. But,
2. More strictly and eminently, faith in scripture signifies a persuasion founded upon the testimony of God; upon a conviction that "the testimony of the Lord is sure," Psal. xix. 7. That God's declaring a thing to be true or good, is a sufficient proof of its being so, separate from any other argument. Now for those truths, of which reason can make some discovery, a Christian believes them also in the proper sense, if he finds them in the word of God. Yea, he mainly walks by faith for most of these because he finds them set in a fuller and more satisfying light in scripture, than they could be by bare unassisted reason. And other truths, of which he could know nothing but by scripture, he believes upon the sole testimony of God, as far as he hath made them known as well as those truths, to which reason gives concurring evidence. Upon this foundation, spiritual objects appear real and
substantial, though they come not within the notice of sense; an assent is given to the most sublime and mysterious doctrines, as far as he can discern God's testimony, though reason cannot account for them; past transactions which God hath recorded for our use, are made present to the mind, and influential according to their nature and end; the most distant objects are brought down to the heart and affections; and the things which are to be hereafter, are confidently expected. "Faith is the substance, or the confident expectation of things hoped for," Heb. xi. 1.
II. I am to shew the fitness of faith to have a most powerful and commanding influence upon the whole of the Christian temper and life: to be the principle of our walk.
1. The objects of faith are admirably suited to have the most 'universal influence: as they are things of the greatest importance and suitableness to us. Every part of divine revelation tends one way or other to promote practical godliness. All the discoveries made therein of God himself, either point out to us a subject of direct imitation, or some correspondent temper or duty, which is truly perfective of our natures. The precepts it contains are holy, just and good; and taken together, are exceeding broad, sufficient for our direction in every relation and circumstance of life. The motives it proposes are of the largest extent; fit to strike upon all the springs of human action, to move gratitude, to animate hope, to awaken fear, to impress a sense of duty. And these motives in every kind are of the greatest weight and moment in themselves. The highest and most undoubted authority prescribes our duty, the one supreme law-giver. The most endearing engagements are proposed to our gratitude: we are persuaded by the infinite and innumerable mercies of God, in creation, providence and redemption. The most exceeding great and precious promises, are set in our view for both worlds, to encourage our obedience: while the ways of sin are fenced up with the most awful and terrible threatenings. it may very justly be apprehended, that "if men hear not Moses and the prophets," Christ and his apostles, "neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead, Luke xvi. 31.