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Christ to cleanse us from all sin—from worldliness, then, in all its frightful forms, and in its innermost spirit and essence. thank God!
Now, faith honours God; but God has not constrained our confidence any more than our volition. Belief can only be compelled by the laws of evidence ; but, perverse in heart, we may close our eyes to all evidence, if we think proper. And, as the second element of faith, we have trust, or reliance; but a man may, if he will, refuse to trust in, or rely upon the atonement of Christ. So, also, in relation to the doctrines of Christianity. For all of these there is abundant, may, overwhelming proof; but if he have any motive for so doing. whether he recognize the motive or not, a man may refuse to consider the evidence, and so remain unconvinced. And, seeing there is in man a tendency to unbelief, as well as a temptation from without, faith has first of all, this battle to fight before it can become itself the condition of other victories; and the difficulty of the struggle is increased by the fact that there are some questions that can never be answered in this world. The Bible, as a revelation of God, is, indeed, a marvellous light, and it illumines a very large circle of thought and life ; but beyond that circle the old darkness continues; and often out of that darkness spectral fornis of doubt glide into the light, and seem the more fearful by their contrast with the light. We are troubled with questions, which the Bible was never intended to answer, concerning the origin and continuance of evil; we are assaulted with assertions that the Word of God and the works of God do not teach the same lessons, that very often they teach contradictory lessons; and within the bounds of Christian doctrine almost every distinct element in our faith has been distinctly denied. The incarnation, the life of Jesus, the atonement, the resurrection, and the ascension--human depravity, impotence, and guilt, justification through faith in Christ, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and final reception into heaven-all these have been proclaimed as so many religious deceptions, or as the frenzied thoughts of feeble brains; but the patient Christian thinker will soon see his way to answer the objectors, if not the objections. It is enough that a man has convincing proof of the truth of what he believes ; he is in nowise bound to find a reply to every possible objection that may be urged against his faith; and to the believer, perhaps, nothing can be more convincing of this than the condition of the unbeliever. He who rejects what is, after all, the only really rational light—that which streams from the Bible—he who proudly and falsely depends on his own intellectual strength, and is wilfully deaf to reason's own cry of weakness, will soon find himself hurried into a very whirlpool of doubt, wherein and whereby he is perpetually tossed hither and thither, finding no rest, but much and fearful torture ; but he who is so little deafened by pride and passion, as to be willing to hear reason's own confession that, if not enlightened by God, it is but a blind guide of the blind-he, therefore, who lifts the eyes and voice of trust, appealing to a merciful God in the name of the chosen Mediator—will soon be able to testify that there is “salvation in Israel” still. Then, lifted from the horrible pit, washed from the miry clay, and standing on the rock of Divine truth, he will, with
new heart and voice, sing the new song of salvatior—"O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."
Noro, if it be true that faith honours God, it is no less true that Goul honours faith. He that by faith dwells “in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The Lord will honour them that honour him. Indeed, the Bible is a continuous illustration of this most precious promise. If Abel bowed bis heart to God in the very dawn of human history, and offered, in obedience to the inward light of the Holy Spirit, a prophetic sacrifice, pointing to the Lamb of God that should be slain for the sin of the world, while Cain, cold and proud of heart, presented only the deist's offering, the “fruit of the ground,” then to Abel belongs this immortal honour, that while he himself is numbered with the saints in glory everlasting, he has spoken to all ages, and“ being dead, yet speaketh,” even to us in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, is the first martyr of the Christian faith ; while the name of his mbelieving brother has become infamous for ever as the first murderer, and will be handed down to all ages as the most awful illustration of the results of proud and rebellious unbelief. If Enoch, samnning every path of wickedness, and in the clear light of a most blessed trust, "walked with God,” acknowledging him in all his ways, then, as an illustration and a proof to all nations and times how precious faith is in his sight, God exempted Enoch from the common destiny of man, translating him, without death, from the life of earth to the life of heaven, "for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” If Noah listened with the ear of faith to the warning of God, and saw with the eye of faith things not otherwise seen as yet, and, notwithstanding the long delay, steadfastly believed the word of God, and thereby condemned the world, then to him God gave the honour of becoming the second father of the world, the progenitor of the post-diluvian race, and one of the greatest " servants of the Lord” throughout all time. If “by faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went;” if" by faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise ;” if by faith “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," then to him was given this glory, that he should be the founder of the greatest nation of ancient history, and not only this, but the immeasurably greater glory still, that in direct descent from him should be born the Messiah of the world ; and that through the Messiah he should be the father of the faithful “ as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand of the sea-shore innumerable ;” and that be should, with the Saviour and the saved in that city for which he Jooked, dwell for ever and ever. The Bible is the story of faith. Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau concerning things to come ; Jacob, when he was dying, blessing both the sons of Joseph, leaning upon the top of his staff and worshipping; Joseph, when he also was dying, making mention of the departing of the children of Israel, and Calmly giving commandment concerning his bones ; Moses refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer
affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, having respect unto the recompence of reward; by faith forsaking Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, enduring as seeing him who is invisible; and leading his people through the Red Sea as by dry land : these, and Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and David, and Samuel, and the prophets, all furnish in the Old Dispensation a far-reaching portrait gallery, in which every separate painting needs to be studied apart, but all of which present faith in almost every possible light of personal triumph and victory. Once more we cry, “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee !"
In the Nero Testament we have, if possible, yet more glorious illestrations of the truth that God honours faith. But to understand these illustrations rightly, we must remember the difference of the two dispensations; or rather, we must observe and bear in mind the peculiar unselfishness of Christianity. The old principle of personal faith personally honoured continues still, and will continue while the world endures. But in addition to this, we have another and yet higher principle-Faith exercised for Christ's sake, and honoured by increased glory to Christ. No doubt this principle lived in the hearts of the men of God in all ages; but it finds its most glorious manifestation in the Christian era Thus, Paul's wonderful climax runs out of the Old Dispensation into the New, and in oneness of faith connects both : Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens; women received their dead raised to life again; and others were tortured not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonments; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” And in all this
, their motive was not to gain a reward in heaven, but to glorify Christ. That his name should be honoured, that his commande ments should be kept, that his kingdom should spread, was glory enough for them. And assuredly God honoured their faith, for there is no greater wonder in all history than the marvellous rise and spread of Christianity. And this is the faith we need the faith that overcomes the world by the conversion of the world. How mighty was the faith of Christ's apostles after the descent of Christ's Spirit! And the same Spirit is with us now. We only need to open our hearts to him, and follow his guidance, and surely the glory of the former time will be ours.
It is the joy of Christ to overcome the world. And we are the instruments with which he works. How wholly, with what entire consecration and faithfulness we should give ourselves up to him we all know; for, considering how much opposition
Christ has to encounter in the world, it would
be very unjust to him if he had to meet with difficulty in the Church, in the very instruments of his work. And yet, may it not be that we have been hindering Christ? It is an awful thought ! One to make us cast ourselves in the dust with saddest sighs and tears. And yet, if it has been so, or if there is danger of its being so again, we ought to know it at whatever cost of sorrow or shame.
Let us remember, then, that it is through us, through our lives, our persuasions, and our prayers, that Christ reaches the hearts of his enemies. Supposing our lives to illustrate our doctrine, then, in proportion as we believe for saving influence, that influence comes doron from on high; and in proportion as our faith decreases that influence decreases also. Oh, how often has the cloud of Divine mercy descended almost upon the Church, ready to break in showers of blessing when the people have begun to be weary in well-doing, and lo! after a few drops have fallen, the cloud slowly rises into the heavens, and passes out of sight! Not without reason is faith honoured in the Bible! Not without reason has the cry for faith risen from the
Church for ages ! But oh, let us remember that faith works, while it et prays and expects! Would to God we had more longing and
working for individual cases in our churches ! We want great things
from the Lord, and all the while we forget that the great shower is ) but a large number of little drops. We oppose no special work where FEEspecial work is needed; but no special service can be a substitute for
the continuous duty of the Church. How many there are in our tim congregations that are seriously inclined ! How many sick, how De many afflicted, how many disappointed and sad at heart, how many
secretly longing for some better thing, and scarce knowing where to find it! Can we not find these out, asking God to guide us to them, and speak to them, and urge them to immediate decision for God ? Can we not pray for them individually, and individually exercise our faith, our power with God, on their behalf ? Surely we can ! And oh, why do we not lift up our hearts in prayer while the minister is preaching, that his words may have power to break through the fortress of hardness and pride with which the sinner is compassed, and thus reach his inmost heart? Why not, every time the Gospel is preached, importunately urge our prayer that some souls may then obtain saving grace-then, while the preacher is speaking? We have no right to concentrate all our efforts on the prayer-meeting, as though sinners could be saved nowhere else. We ought to expect them to be saved while the Word is being preached, and we should expect them, if we prayed for them as we ought.
And not only so, but the expecting prayers of the Church should rise to God all through the week, that men might be converted while bending over their work, or resting in their homes. Oh, that we might remember that it is our daily business to save! We ought to expect that, in answer to our prayers, God would instil some soul with saving grace every day. How often God has begun his work in hearts around us, and we have not expected it—have not looked out for such cases ; and in how many souls has the wistful, eager desire for salvation died away for want of some fostering words from us ! If we believe and pray we can overcome the world. Men's hearts are hard enough, God knows, but they can be melted, and they will be,
if we keep in earnest long enough to honour God's promise. Can they always resist the united power of conscience and Calvary, when the influence of the Holy Spirit is upon their hearts, and when that influence may be made as mighty as desire by the power of believing prayer? Oh, for more faith!
There is one lesson we greatly need to learn from the examples set before us in God's Word, i.e., to trust God, and be faithful in suffering and sorrow. We must, in fact, stand to our work by the rising temple of our life with the sword in one hand while we build with the other. For it is not enough that we work for God, we must also fight; and not enongh that we fight for him, we must also work. And it will often, very often, happen, that while we are doing the one we must do the other also. To neglect any duty, because we are suffering heavy affliction, is to cease at once to work and fight. But to hold bravely on to our duty, even while we suffer most, is noble. And herein we shall often be tried. Suffering is sent by God as a blessing. But with the tribulation sent by God comes a temptation sent by the devil. That God afflicts us is proof, according to the Bible, of Divine mercy coming to us in the form of fatherly discipline; but, according to the devil
, it is proof that God has forsaken and ceased to care for us, and is sufficient reason for evil and bitter thoughts. Thus we have to fight with the temptation while we endure the trial. And at the same time we are met with the necessity of work on the one side, and on the other with the inducements to rest. Work while it is day is the duty ; take rest from your toil is the invitation. And then it seems so natural to yield to what has been not inaptly called the " luxury of grief”-so natural to sit down and nurse our sorrow, and feel as if it invested us with a certain dignity, that the temptation to neglect duty while we suffer is often “exceeding strong;” but still it is very ignoble, and unworthy of Christian life. Calvin's great work was done in the midst of perpetual suffering and affliction; so also was Baxter's; and, indeed, it is a question whether, in the world's history, they have not worked the hardest, and have done their work the best, who have also suffered most. And, indeed, to work bravely and calmly for God through all affliction and tribulation, until death comes to make the sacrifice complete, is to live a life very beautiful and holy, but is no more than the loving heart willingly offers to its Saviour. And to be victorious at the last we must so work. Suffering is no excuse for idleness. It is no less our duty to make headway in a rough sea than in a smooth one. If it please God to guide us through driving tempests, or even through storms of flame, that, after all, is his concern rather than ours. It is for him to direct, for us to obey. If he wills it, we shall be glad and happy as the sunshine; if he choose otherwise, we are content to be subdued as the deepest shade. We will not-indeed, we cannot-choose our own emotions or life. Sorrow or joy, just as he gives it, in what proportions the cup shall be mixed, we leave wholly to him. But the profound satisfaction—the deep, heart-filling peace of rest in God, in his truth, his love, his power, his will—is always ours. That is the peace “which passeth all understanding," " which the world can neither give nor take away.” Then, when we are tempted to cowardice, let us remember the calm courage of him who counted not