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He could not get on in prayer, and he finished up on a sudden by saying, "Lord, I cannot pray to-night as I should wish; I cannot put the words together; Lord, take the meaning, take the meaning,” and sat down. That is just what David said once, “Lo, all my desire is before thee "—not my words, but my desire, and God could read it. We should say, “ Our Father,” because that is a reason why God should hear what we have to say.
But there is another argument. “ Our Father.” “Lord, give me what I want." If I come to a stranger, I have no right to expect he will give it me. He may out of his charity; but if I come to a father, I have a claim, a sacred claim. My Father, I shall have no need to use arguments to move thy bosom; I shall not hare to speak to thee as the beggar who crieth in the street: for because thou art my Father thou knowest my wants, and thou art willing to relieve me. It is thy business to relieve me; I can come confidently to thee, knowing thou wilt give me all I want. If we ask our Father for anything when we are little children, we are under an obligation certainly; but it is an obligation we never feel. If you were hungry and your father fed you, would you feel an obligation like you would if you .went into the house of a stranger? You go into a stranger's house trembling, and you tell him you are hungry. Will he feed you? He says yes, he will give you somewhat; but if you go to your father's table, almost without asking, you sit down as a matter of course, and feast to your full, and you rise and go, and feel you are indebted to him; but there is not a grievous sense of obligation. Now, we are all deeply under obligation to God, but it is a child's obligation—an obligation which impels us to gratitude, but which does not constrain us to feel that we have been demeaned by it. Oh! if he were not my Father, how could I expect that he would relieve my wants? But since he is my Father, he will, he must hear my prayers, and answer the voice of my crying, and supply all my needs out of the riches of his fulness in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Has your father treated you badly lately? I have this word to you, then; your father loves you quite as much when he treats you roughly as when he treats you kindly. There is often more love in an angry father's heart than there is in the heart of a father who is too kind. I will suppose a case. Suppose there were two fathers, and their two sons went away to some remote part of the earth where idolatry is still practised. Suppose these two sons were decoyed and deluded into idolatry. The news comes to England, and the first father is very angry. His son, his own son, has forsaken the religion of Christ and become an idolater. The second father says, “Well, if it will help him in trade I don't care; if he gets on the better by it, all well and good." Now, which loves most, the angry father, or the father who treats the matter with complacency? Why, the angry father is the best. He loves his son; therefore he cannot give away his son's soul for gold. Give me a father that is angry with my sins, and that seeks to bring me back, even though it be by chastisement. Thank God you have got a father that can be angry, but that loves you as much when he is angry as when he smiles upon you.
Go away with that upon your mind, and rejoice. But if you love not God and fear him not, go home, I beseech you, to confess your sins, and to seek mercy through the blood of Christ; and may this sermon be made useful in bringing you into the family of Christ, though you have strayed from him long; and though his love has followed you long in vain, may it now find you, and bring you to his house rejoicing!
The Preacher .
WHY FAITH OBTAINS A GOOD REPORT.
BY THE REV. HENRY MELVILL, B.D.,
IN THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST. PAUL, LONDON.
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise."Hebrews xi. 39.
The point in these words on which we wish to fasten is, that it was through faith that the worthies of whom St. Paul speaks obtained “a good report." There is here a distinct assertion that faith, and nothing but faith, gained for the most distinguished saints their high pre-eminence; that if they enjoyed a larger than the ordinary share of Divine favour, it was in consequence of their believing with a more than common steadfastness. Neither does our text stand alone in furnishing such a representation. Throughout Scripture, faith is represented as most acceptable to God, and as securing to man the highest privileges and recompences. And it is on this very account that the gospel is so distasteful to numbers; that numbers would reject it, and devise a better theology for themselves. The adversaries of our religion have always professed to count it equally strange and unwarrantable that faith should be so highly dignified ; that such extraordinary prevalence and worth should be as. cribed to a principle, which, on their calculation, possesses no moral excellence whatsoever; but after all-thus it is they argue-faith is no voluntary thing, depending on man's will; it cannot be withheld where there is sufficiency of evidence, and it ought not to be given where there is not. If there be suffi. cient evidence, the mind indeed yields, but what virtue can there be in its yielding? It only does that, about which it had no option, and why should it then “obtain a good report?" If there be not sufficient evidence, not sufficient, at least with reference to the infirmity of the understanding, faith will assuredly be nothing but credulity; and shall a man, under such circumstances, be condemned for not believing? Shall he not rather be applauded for his right use of reason, and his refusal to believe on inadequate authority?
Well, this is worth looking into : we ust see whether faith be a sufficient warrant for “a good report;" we must see whether the faith demanded of us in Scripture, be indeed only what our adversaries represent-whether there be any fairness in the aspersions cast upon the gospel, as if it ascribed excel. lence to a principle which is really of no worth, and made the attainments of its blessings, contingent on an act of the mind which may be said to be involuntary where there is evidence enough, and credulity where there is not. Follow us carefully into the inquiry. We hope to show you that the faith of which such lofty things are said, and to which such recompenses are assigned, in the pages of Holy Writ might well be expected to obtain the commendations and ensure the advantages.
We hope to do this in two ways: considering, in the first place, what there is to be overcome ere a man can have the faith required by the gospel; and in the next place, what there is to be done when a man is possessed of that faith. And we trust, when we shall have carefully examined what may be termed the preliminaries and the consequences of faith, you will be prepared to allow that there is nothing strange in an apostle speaking of the most eminent men as “having obtained a good report through faith."
Now, it is very easy, but very unfair, to speak of faith as an act of the mind, which only follows where there is testimony enough, and over which therefore a man has little or no control, and which, consequently, ought not to be made the test or criterion of any moral qualities. We call this unfair, because it takes no account of the influence which the affections exert over the understanding, in consequence of which a man will readily believe some things and positively disbelieve others, though there shall be no difference in the two cases in the amount of furnished testimony. Just think for yourselves : if I bring you intelligence of a matter in which you have no personal concern, which you have no interest whatever in either proving or disproving, the mind is likely to be fairly impartial, and to give its decision on a just estimate of the evidence which I adduce. But suppose the intelligence to be of an ob. noxious and troublesome character, suppose that if proved true it will compel you to exercises or sacrifices which you shrink from being called upon to make. Here is a widely different case. The strongest feelings of man will be at once up in arms, and we shall find it needful to make assurance doubly sure before we can gain credit for the unpalatable truth. Apply this to the matter of revealed religion. Why, it is hardly possible for you to imagine a book containing more than the Bible contains of truths against which there is a strong repugnance in the human mind. Let then the Bible with all its credentials, with all that mighty garniture of evidence which has been gathered to it from the spoils of many centuries, be submitted for the first time to a man whose reason is in full vigour for investigating truth; is he likely to feel any pleasure in the doctrines of the Bible? Are they such as he can be supposed to feel any wish to find and prove true? No; these doctrines present him with a portrait of himself, whose accuracy he must undoubtedly be unwilling to admit. If he receive them as true, he must forth with regard himself a depraved and miserable being, void of all goodness, exposed to utter ruin, possessing no ability whatever of propitiating the being whose wrath he has provoked. Heretofore he may have cherished high notions of himself, imagining that he was endowed with powers and exercised virtues which would suffce to secure him the favour of his Maker; but henceforward, if indeed he admit the truth of the document now under debate, there must be an end of all these towering thoughts; he must be content to sit in the dust and clothe himself with sackcloth, and acknowledge his will to be inclined only to evil, and his heart to be “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” And though, indeed, the Bible, not content with exposing to him his condition, offers him a remedy, nevertheless this remedy itself is offensive to his pride, for salvation through the death and righteousness of one executed as a malefactor is no inviting proffer to a man puffed up with thoughts of his own excellence. Moreover, he cannot fail to perceive, that if he give his belief to the document in question, he at once pledges himself to a life of hardship and self-denial, to a mortification of the flesh, a renunciation of the things he best loves, and an expectation of others of whose realities he can gain no sensible evidence. Now tell me, is it fair to say of a man who receives as true a document thus humbling to himself, thus imposing duties from which nature shrinks—is it fair to say of him that he merely yields to a certain amount of testimony, an amount which left him no choice, but which, making faith involuntary, prevented the possibility of its being in any degree commendable : Nay, this is altogether wrong; even the evidences of the Christian religion are not such as leave no option to the student; they are such as will be sure to prove convincing where there is diligent and candid in. quiry, where there is a wish to ascertain truth, and a determination to obey it when once ascertained ; but it is not such a testimony as is sure to prevail even in the absence of all such qualifications ; it is not a task addressing itself to the senses, graven on the earth, or glaring from the firmament, and forcing conviction alike on the careless and the diligent. It is, on the contrary, a testimony which may be overlooked by indolence, and overcome by prejudice. It will not ordinarily commend itself to the man who sits down to its investigation with hostile feelings, and bitter prepossessions, hoping to to be able to reject it as defective. Therefore you cannot say of the man who yields to this evidences that he only submits to what could not be withstood He might have resisted, he would have resisted, had he not brought to the inquiry a teachable spirit, a sincere wish to discover truth, and a fixed resolve to conform to its dictates. But go beyond the evidence, to the truths which revelation unfolds ; and you will see still more clearly that believing presupposes the possession, or requires the exercise of dispositions which are confessedly excellent. There must be humility in him who believes, for from the heart he confesses himself unclean and undone. There must be the submission of the understanding to God; for much has to be received which cannot be explained. There must be a willingness to suffer, for Christianity summons to tribulation. There must be a willingness to labour, for Chris. tianity sets a man about the most arduous duties. What then? Is faith nothing more than our adversaries represent? Is it an involuntary act depending simply on the quantity of evidence, and, therefore, wholly unworthy of being exalted into a condition for the bestowment of blessing? Is it nothing that in him who believes there must be candour, freedom from prejudice, sincerity of purpose, an abandonment of all good opinion of himself, an entire resignation of his judgment to God, a willingness to submit to insult, a determination to enter into combat with the world, the flesh, and the devil? Are we to be told that though there must indeed be this great confirmation in every man who cordially believes in this revelation, it is, nevertheless, a surprising thing that faith should be so dignified in the Bible, that it should be used as a test for admission into the privileges of the Gospel ? For our own part, when we consider what faith presupposes, what obstacles there are in the very constitution of man to the belief of Christian truths, we can only feel that if God's Spirit did not work in the human heart, the whole world would be infidel. We are amazed when we consider steadfastly what violence is done to the strongest inclinations, what restraints put on the most vehement passions, what contempt there must be of reproach, what self-abasement, what reverence of God, what resolution to love all who receive from the heart the Bible as divine. We do not know any achievement so remarkable, so little to have been expected from a proud, prejudiced, and depraved creature such as man naturally is, as the believing in a record so humiliating, so condemnatory of lust, so rigid in enjoining difficulties as is the gospel of Jesus Christ. You might tell us of great exploits, of splendid deeds which had earned for those who wrought them surpassing renown. But we should not fear that any of the heroes had done á nobler or a more admirable thing than is effected by any one who exercises the faith of which my text speaks. Let philosophy give us its catalogue of men who have been great by intellectual research and scientific discovery; let history cause to pass before our view the champions of freedom and the ornaments of chivalry; we are searching for moral greatness, for the tokens of a genuine love of truth, of a fine openness to conviction, of a mastery won over the fiercest enemies, even the passions and prejudices of a depraved nature; and nowhere do we find these in any. thing of a like strength as in the belief of a revelation such as the Bible contains, nowhere do we find such evidence of a submissiveness yet intrepidity of spirit, of an unbiassed judgment, of a lofty courage, of a generous devotedness, of a stedfast fortitude; and, therefore, while the world may prescribe other paths of renown, and give other cause why this or that man should be held in remembrance, we can feel it to be quite worthy of God that he has exalted belief in his Word into the condition of his favour, and made it a passport to the richest honours which he has to bestow. Yes, give place, ye great ones of the earth, who have drawn the homage of your fellow-men by penetrating the secrets of nature, improving the arts, advancing the commerce, strengthening the institutions, or subduing the enemies of your country-we would bow before a lowlier and nevertheless a more illustrious throng; we would find a higher title to respect; and we see that throng, and we acknowledge that title in those of whom an apostle could say—"These all obtained a good report through faith."
Let us advance a step further : let us proceed from the preliminaries, as they may be called, to the consequences of faith, and we shall find other warrant for that good report of which our text speaks ; for faith, you observe, cannot be a barren or an uninfluential principle. It is not so with regard to inferior truths ; much less can it be so in regard to the truths of the Bible. We must fairly conclude that there is no genuine belief in the doctrines of Scripture when the professed believer is only just what he might have been had no such doctrines been revealed. They are confessedly doctrines in which, if their truth be once admitted, man has the strongest possible interest, and we must therefore be justified in concluding, as we would do in a matter of common and every day life, that all real faith is wanting where they do not influence the conduct. Excluding, then, the great mass of mere nominal be. lievers, we speak of genuine faith, and the effects which it has a natural tendency to produce. Let us fasten on certain of the doctrines which God