« ZurückWeiter »
that Abraham, our Father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found ? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture ? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now, to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness :" Rom. iii, 28–30; iv, 1- 5.
When we calmly reflect on the evidences afforded to all mankind of the existence and moral government of God, and when we consider that the reception of these evidences in the mind is anterior to that of revelation, it is impossible for us not to allow that, without the aid of the knowledge of revealed truth, man is capable of faith in the Supreme Being. And wherever, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, this faith “ worketh by love"--wherever it includes the reliance of the heart as well as the conviction of the understanding-wherever it is productive of the fear of the Lord, and of the fruits of righteousness, there, undoubtedly, it obtains for man the favour of his Creator, for “God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him :" Acts x, 34, 35: comp. Gen. iv, 7.
All the exhortations of Scripture, however, on the subject of faith, are especially addressed to that proportion of the family of man, whom God has been pleased to bless with the light of an outward revelation. That light was bestowed upon our first parents—was imparted by successive communications to a chosen line of their descendants and was at length more generally diffused among mankind, through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Now, I consider it to be a position at once consistent with reason, and agreeable to Scripture, that, among all those persons to whom the truths of revealed religion are made known, a belief in those truths forms an essential part, or rather a necessary consequence, of an acceptable faith in God. If the trust of our souls is really placed on an all-wise and omnipotent Being ; if we are convinced that he is a God of holiness, justice, and truth; and if, in accordance with such a conviction, we love and revere him as we ought to do, it necessarily follows that we shall believe his word—that we shall heartily accept his law, and steadily rely on his promises. Accordingly, this belief in the word of the Lord this ready acceptance of his revealed truth is often represented by the sacred writers as a duty positively required of us
by our Heavenly Father, and as an indispensable link in that chain which is to terminate in our eternal salvation. “Believe in the Lord your God,” said king Jehosaphat to the assembly of his people, “ so shall ye be established ; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper :" 2 Chron. xx, 20. The “ word preached” did not profit the Israelites, because it was not 6 mixed with faith in them that heard it ;” and it was in consequence of their unbelief in that word, that they were forbidden to enter into the promised land—their “ carcasses fell in the wilderness ;" Heb. iii, 17; iv, 1, 2. And so it is with that part of mankind to whom is revealed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it is not mixed with faith in those who hear and read it, it cannot possibly profit them; and the fatal consequence is declared to be, that they fall or perish ; (Heb. iv, 11 ;) that they are precluded from the privileges of Christians in this world, and from a blessed entrance into the mansions of rest and glory, in the world to come. “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel," was the cry uttered, at the very commencement of his ministry, by the greatest of preachers; (Mark i, 15 ;) and nothing surely can be more explicit-nothing more awfully instructive-than the declaration with which the ministry of Jesus was concluded ; “ Go ye,” said he to his disciples, “ into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ; but he that believeth not shall be condemned :" Mark xvi, 15, 16.
In the evidences which God has graciously afforded us of his own existence, omnipotence, goodness, and moral government, he has manifested to the reason of every unbiassed mind, a satisfactory ground for his commandment, that in him we should put our trust. I have already remarked that, in this respect, he has dealt with us as with reasonable creatures. Now, a similar observation applies with equal precision to the present point of our subject. He who has, in infinite wisdom, ordained, that our happiness should depend on the belief of his word, has mercifully provided us with ample evidences, that it is his word. The three great signs, by means of which, he has been pleased to impress the stamp of authenticity on his own extraordinary communications with mankind, are, first, miracles; secondly, prophecy connected with its fulfilment; and, thirdly, the moral efficacy of that which is revealed; and the last of these signs may be regarded as the sure confirmation-as the unquestionable guarantee-of the two former.
There are many passages of Scripture, in which miracles are adverted to, as a safe and sufficient ground for a belief in the word of the Lord--as an appointed sign of the divine origin of professed revelation. Thus, we read, that when Moses was sent with a divine commission to the children of Israel in their Egyptian bondage, he was commanded and enabled of the Lord to work two signal miracles, that so his brethren might believe, that the Lord God of their fathers had appeared to him; (Exod. iv, 1–5;) and that which is afterwards described as exciting the indignation of God, was the obstinacy of the people, who, notwithstanding the sign of miracles, refused to believe in his word : “How long will this people pro-voke me ?”' said the Lord to Moses," and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” Num. xiv, 11. How forcible, also, was the appeal which our Saviour made, on the same subject, to the unbelieving Jews by whom he was himself surrounded ! IFI do not the works of my Father," said he, “believe me not, But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works : that ve may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him :" John x, 37, 38. So, again, the sign of prophecy is not unusually adduced in Scripture, as a sure evidence of the truth. Our Lord frequently made mention of the things written concerning him by Moses and the prophets, and fulfilled in his own life and character, as of so many testimonies to the reality of his divine mission; and, on one occasion, we find him exercising the prophetic power respecting an event then about to happen, for the express purpose of convincing his disciples that he was indeed the Christ--that the account which he gave of himself was the true one. After prophecying that Judas would betray him, he said, “ Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he :") John xiii, 19: comp. Isa. xliii, 8-11, &c.
In the third place, the holiness of the law, and the sancti. fying, redeeming, efficacy of the doctrines imparted to us by revelation, are frequently insisted on in Scripture, as a reason for our willingly accepting them, and virtually, therefore, as an evidence that the only true God is indeed their author. The Psalmist, for example, declares that the “ law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul”—that “ the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”--that “ the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether;" and thus is he brought to the conclusion, that they are “ more to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold :" xix, 7–10. And the prophet Isaiah, after asserting his own inspiration, and the diyine authority of the messages which he delivered, speaks in the name of the Lord, as follows : 6 Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel ; I am the Lord thy
God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments ! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea ;" xlviii, 17, 18. It was the complaint of Jesus against the Jews, that although John the Baptist came unto them in the way of righteousness," yet they “ believed him not :” Matt. xxi, 32. Lastly, the apostle Paul was “ not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" -(that is, I conceive, was bold to assert it as unquestionably true)-because “it is the power of God unto salvation"'-because it is proved, by experience, to be the efficacious means of delivering mankind from sin in this world, and, therefore, from eternal punishment in the world to come : comp. Rom. v. 5.
Now, it is of importance to remember, that these appointed signs of the authority of revealed truth are bestowed upon us in the present day, as well as upon those to whom Christianity was originally preached; for, although the miracles of Je. sus and his apostles were not wrought in our presence, we are in possession of ample evidences, that the records of those miracles are both genuine and authentic. With respeet to the accomplishment of prophecy, this is a sign of the truth of revelation, which is so far from being diminished or weakened, that it is both enlarged and confirmed, by the progress of time; and the internal evidences of Christianity are, in every age, of equal strength, for those who deliberately observe its moral and saving efficacy in others, or who come under its power, and experience its emancipating virtue, for themselves. If, then, we turn away from the truth as it is in Jesus, and refuse to believe the word of the Lord, as it is handed down to us in the Sacred Volume, we are left, like the Jews of old, without excuse, and lose, by our own fault, the incomparable benefits so freely offered to us in the Gospel.
Having thus endeavoured to show the reasonableness of our being required, in the first place, to believe in the existence, and to rely on the attributes, of God; and, in the second place, to give credence to those various truths respecting which he has been pleased to bestow upon us an especial revelation, I shall endeavour (ere I pass on to the ulterior branches of our subject) briefly to define the respective offices of reason and faith, in matters of religion. Reason demonstrates that God exists: it marks the sure indications of his moral government, of his power, wisdom, goodness, and mercy : it ascertains the divine origin of the professed revelation of his will ; and it is rightly employed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, in the
sound and well-principled interpretation of that which is revealed. Faith draws near unto that God whom reason has discovered, and relies with humble confidence on his unchangeable attributes ; it quietly accepts, as undoubtedly true, whatsoever he reveals to us, although in various respects deeply mysterious, and above the powers of our natural comprehension: it admits with equal readiness, the laws, the doctrines, and the promises, of Scripture ; and working by love applies them all to their genuine practical purposes. Faith and reason, in religion, obviously interfere with one another, when we believe in some propositions which have no foundation in reason, or when we reason upon others which are the proper subjects only of faith; but as long as these noble and useful faculties of the human mind are kept respectively in their right province, and are brought to bear upon religion, each within its own prescribed limitations, so long will they be found to strengthen and adorn one another, and, in an admirable manner, to cooperate in the mighty work of man's salvation.
The extent of religious belief required in men must always be proportioned to the extent of light communicated to them; for it is plain, that the more largely divine truth is revealed to us, the more numerous are the subjects respecting which it becomes our duty to exercise the principle of faith. But, where the extent of religious knowledge and belief is, through the operation of providential circumstances, comparatively limited, faith may, nevertheless, be lively and strong, and may fix itself, with an acceptable energy, on its almighty and unchangeable object-Jehovah. It cannot be supposed that the patriarchs, either before or after the flood, or the judges, kings, and prophets, of the Israelitish church, possessed so comprehensive a knowledge of divine truth as is now enjoyed, under a superior dispensation, by the disciples of Jesus Christ; yet, probably, faith has never been known to operate with greater strength and efficacy even in Christians, than it did in many of those ancient worshippers of the only true God. The description given in the Epistle to the Hebrews, of the practical operation of that blessed principle, by which Abel offered a “better sacrifice” than Cain-by which Enoch walked with God-by which Noah built an ark for the saving of his house --by which Abraham journeyed into a strange land, and offered up his only son upon the altar-by which Moses refused to become the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt by which the valiant of the Lord's people, in various ages of