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but, when we are not constrained by the former, it is well to be restrained by the latter.
4. Faith, in that case, must be unsupported by evidence. God's word affords us no warrant to conclude ourselves interested in his promises, and so in a state of safety, unless we bear the characters to which the promises are made. We have no right, for instance to apply to ourselves that promise, Fear thou not, for I am with thee : be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee, yea I will help thee, yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness, unless we bear the character of the party there addressed. This is expressed in the foregoing verse,
, But thou Israel art my SERVANT, &c. If, from the real desire of our hearts, we yield not ourselves servants to God, no impression of this passage upon our minds can warrant us to conclude, that God is indeed our God, or that we shall be strengthened, helped, or upholden by him. So also no man has any right to conclude himself interested in that promise, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee, unless he be so drawn from the love of sin, self, and the world, as to love God better than any of them. But, if we are to hold fast the confidence of our safety, whatever be the con, dition of our mind, or the evils in our conduct, then we are, in that instance, to believe without evidence. If the work of sanctification be the only spiritual evidence of our interest in Christ, then, in proportion to that work increasing or declining, our evidence must be strong or weak. When we degenerate into carnality and indifference, it must, of course, diminish. To say, then, that those are the times in which we exercise most faith is the same as to say we exercise most faith when we have least evidence ; and consequently, it must be a kind of faith, if it be faith at all, that is unsupported by evidence.*
* All true faith must have TRUTH for its foundation. That faith to which the scriptures promise salvation, is founded upon evidence; and that evidence is the TESTIMONY of God. Hence it is, with great propriety by the Apostle, defined, the belief of the truth. This definition includes more than many seem to apprehend. To believe the truth in reality, is cordially to credit the account which God has given of himself, of us, of sin, of Christ, of earth, of heaven, &c. Whoever thus realizes divine truth must, of necesu sity, feel its influence. The same Apostle tells us, that those who receive the
There are but two cases, that I recollect in the whole system of true Christian experience, which so much as seems to resemble this notion ; and these are in fact, essentially different from it. One is, that of the most eminent Christians having a general and
word as it is, find it effeotually to work in them. Hence we are said to be sanctified through the truth, to know the truth, and to be made free by it. I cannot believe God to be that amiable and gracious being which his word represents him to be, without loving him. I cannot believe myself to be that vile and worthless being that God represents me to be, without abhorring myself in dust and ashes. If I really credit what God bath said of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, it is impossible but that I should hate it, and perveive its dreadful demerit, and plainly see myself righteously condemned for being a subject of it. If I really believe the record that God has given of his son, that is the same thing as to think of his excellencies, in measure as God thinks of them ; and, in that case, I cannot but embrace him with all my heart, and venture my everlasting all upon his atonement. If from my heart, I believe what God hath said of the vanity of this world, and the substantial bliss of that to come ; if I realize the emptiness of all the enjoyments of the former, and the eternal weight of glory pertaining to the latter ; I shall necessarily labour, not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life.
If this be a just notion of faith, then it will follow, 1. That all unconverted men are truly, and in the most literal and proper sense of the word UNBELIEVERS. Whatever they may pretend, they do not realize what God has revealed of his character or their own, of the nature of sin and its dreadful demerit, of the excellence of Christ, of the vanity of this world, and the solid bliss of the next. Nor can this their unbelief be removed but by their becoming entirely new creatures, by a work of the Almighty spirit of God. 2. That a mere cold assent to things, commonly called believing the doctrines of the gospel, unaccompanied with love to them, or a dependence on Christ for salvation, is very far from being true saving faith. Let but the doctrines of the gospel be really and heartily believed, as God has revealed them, and as before said, it will be impossible but that we should feel a determination to venture upon Christ alone for salvation, with all the proper effects of living faith. But persons may profess to believe those doctrines when they do not, or may believe them partially, but not as God has revealed them. Yea, a person may think these his professions to be true, and these his notions to be just, and yet be an infidel at heart. The Jews professed to believe Moses, and, no doubt, verily thought they did ; but our Lord told them, Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. We are under a necessity, therefore of concluding, that, where these effects are not produced, the faith of such persons is, in a great degree, pretended, and not real: and in that degree in which it is real, it is very superficial ; it reaches only to the shell of truth
well-grounded persuasion of their interest in Christ, even at such times wherein they may not experience those evident and sensible exercises of grace which they do at other times. But then it is to be observed, grace has more ways than one of being in exercise : the grace of love for instance; sometimes, it is exercised in the most tender and affectionate feelings of the heart towards Christ, longing to be with him, and to enjoy him in the world to come ; at other times, it works more in a way of serving him, and promoting his interest in the present world. This latter may not so sensibly strike the person bimself, as being an exercise of love ; but, perhaps, other people may consider it superior evidence.
The industrious peasant, sitting in his evening chair, sees his children gathering around him, and courting his affections by an hundred little winning ways. He looks, and smiles, and loves. The next day he returns to his labour, and cheerfully bears the burden of the day, in order to provide for these his little ones, and promote their interest. During his day's labour, he may not feel his love operate in such sensible emotions as he did the evening before. Nay, he may be so attentive to other things, as not immediately to have them in his thoughts. What then? he loves his children : indeed, he gives proof of it, by cheerfully enduring the toils of labour, and willingly denying himself of many a comfort that they might share their part ; and were he to hear of their heing injured or afflicted, he would quickly feel the returns of
at farthest. The essence and glory of the gospel is by them, neither discerned nor believed. 3. That all that confidence which is unsupported by evidence, held fast by so many, is not faith ; but presumption, or delusion. If faith is the belief of the truth, then whatever I believe ou to be a truth, and a truth supported by evidence, prior to, and independently of, my believing it. This is certainly the case respecting the excellency and all-sufficiency of Christ.. He is what he is, whether I believe it, or not. However I may disallow him, he is chosen of God, and precious. Whatever real excellence I at any time, discern or believe to be in him, I only believe the truth, and what would have been the truth if I had never believed it. Faith, therefore, draws aside the vail, and discovers things, in some moasure, as they are. So, if that persuasion which I may have of my interest in Christ have any right to the name of faith, it must be a truth, and a truth capable of being proved by scripture evidence at the time.
glowing affection, in as strong, and perhaps stronger, emotions than
Thus the believer may have real love to God in exercise, exciting bim to a cheerful and habitual discharge of duty, and a careful watch against evil, and yet feel little, or none, of that desirable tenderness of heart which, at other times, he experiences. He has grace in exercise, only it does not work in the same way as it does at some other times; and he in general enjoys a conscious satisface tion, that the more he knows of God, bis holy law, and glorious gospel, the more he loves them. During this, he may have an abiding satisfaction that things are right with bim. But this is a very different thing from a person, at all events, maintaining the safety of his state ; yea, and reckoning himself, in so doing, to be strong in faith, giving glory to God, while carnality governs his spirit, and folly debases his conversation.
The other case is, when, on a failure of evidence, from a reflection on past experiences, the believer has recourse to an immediate application to the Lord Jesus Christ, casting himself directly on his mercy, and relying on his word ; seeing he has said, Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out, This case, no doubt, often occurs. The believer, through the prevalence of carnality, with some other causes, too often finds his evidences for glory so obscured, that past experiences will afford but small consolation. At such a time, his mind is either easy, and carnally disposed ; in that case, a few painful fears will do him no barm : or else his heart is depressed with perplexity and gloom ; in that case, nothing is better than immediately to go to Christ, as a poor sinner, for salvation. This is the shortest, and it is commonly the surest way. It is not best, in such a state of mind, to stand disputing, whether we have believed, or not : be that as it may, the door of still open,
and the Redeemer still says, Him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out. It is best, therefore, to make a fresh venture of our souls upon him ; that, if we bave never before trusted in him, we may now.
This is no more than he has a warrant, at any time, to do, let things be as they may with him : for, though internal qualifications are necessary to our concluding ourselves interested in Christ, yet
it is not so in respect of application to him. The perplexed soul need not stay, before he ventures, to inquire whether he be fit to come to Christ. It is not required that he should prove his saintship before he applies for mercy, though it is, before he claims an interest in gospel-blessings. All that is necessary here is, that he be sensible of his being a vile and lost sinner: and that is not to be considered as a qualification, giving him a right to come, but as a state of mind essential to the act itself of coming.
Many a Christian bas found sweet rest to his soul by such a direct application to Christ; and surely it would be much better for Christians who go almost all their life in painful perplexity, lest they should be mistaken at last, if, instead of perpetually poring on past experiences, they were to practice more in this way. This would furnish them with present evidence, which is much the best and what God best approves; for he loves to have us continue to exercise our graces, and not barely to remember that we have exercised them sometime or other, beretofore. This, in some sort, may be called walking by faith, and not by sight; and, in this case, faith may, in some sense, be opposed to spiritual sight. It is opposed to that discernment which we sometimes have of being true Christians, from a review of past experiences. But, then, this is ever attended with present spiritual discernment of Christ's excellence, and a longing desire after interest in him ; and, herein, essentially differs from what we have been opposing. Confidence, in the one case, is nothing else but carnal security, tending to make men easy without God : confidence, in the other, is an actual venture of the soul afresh on the Lord Jesus, encouraged by his gracious testimony. The subject of the one considers himself as an established saint ; the other, as a poor, lost sinner, and deals with Christ for salvation, just as he did when he first applied to him. To the one we say, Be not high-minded, but fear : to the other, Fear not, thou shalt not be ashamed; none ever trusted in him, and was confounded.
In what sense, then, do we walk by faith, and not by sight? I answer, in general, Walking by faith is a GOING FORWARD IN THE WAYS OF GODLINESS, AS INFLUENCEN, NOT BY SENSIBLE, BUT BY INVISIBLE OBJECTS ; OBJECTS, OF THE REALITY OF WHICH WE HAVE