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CONTEST BETWEEN FAITH AND SIGHT.
Preached May 27, 1832.
1 John v. 4.
“ This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
The danger to which Christians are exposed from the influence of the visible course of things, or the world, (as it is called in Scripture,) is a principal subject of St. John's general Epistle. He seems to speak of the world as some False Prophet, promising what it cannot fulfil, and gaining credit by its confident tone. Viewing it as resisting Christianity, he calls it the “ spirit of anti-Christ,” the parent of a numerous progeny of evil, false spirits like itself, the teachers of all lying doctrines, by which the multitude of men are led captive. The antagonist of this great tempter is the spirit of Truth, which is a greater than he that is in the world;" its victorious antagonist, as gifted with those piercing eyes of Faith, which are
able to scan the world's shallowness, and to see through the mists of error into the glorious kingdom of God beyond them. “This is the victory that overcometh the world,” says the text, “ even our Faith.” And if we inquire what are the sights which our faith sees, the Apostle answers by telling us of “ the spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is Truth.” The world witnesses to an untruth, which which will one day be exposed; and Christ, our Lord and Master, is “ the Amen, the faithful and true witness," who came into the world“ by water and blood,” to “ bear witness unto the Truth ;” that, as the many voices of error bear down and overpower the inquirer by their tumult and importunity, so, on the other hand, Truth might have its living and visible representative, no longer cast, like the bread, at random on the waters, or painfully gained froin the schools and traditions of men, but committed to One “ come in the flesh,” to One who has an earthly name and habitation, who, in one sense, is one of the powers of this world, who has His train and retinue, His court and kingdom, His ministering servants, bound together by the tie of brotherly love among themselves, and of zeal against the Prophets of error. “ Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God ?" St. John then compares together the force of the world's testimony, and of that which the Gospel provides. “ If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has
testified of His Son;" as if “ the spirit, the water, and the blood,” spoke for God more loudly than the world speaks for the Evil one. In the very opening of the Epistle, he had set before us in another form the same gracious truth, viz., that the Gospel, by affording us, in the Person and history of Christ, a witness of the invisible world, addresses itself to our senses and imagination, after the very manner in which the false doctrines of the world assail us. “That which was from the beginning, .. .. which we have looked upon,.... that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you."
Now, here we have incidentally suggested to us an important truth, which, obvious as it is, may give rise to some profitable reflections; viz., that the world overcomes us, not merely by appealing to our reason, or exciting our passions, but by imposing on our imagination. So much do the systems of men swerve from the Truth as set forth in Scripture, that their very presence becomes a standing fact against Scripture, even wben our reason condemns them, by their persevering assertions, and they gradually overcome those who set out by contradicting them. In all cases, what is often and unhesitatingly asserted, at length finds credit with the mass of mankind; and so it happens, in this instance, that admitting, as we do, from the first, that the world is one of our three chief enemies, maintaining rather than merely granting that the outward face of things speaks a different language from the word of God; yet, when
we come to act in the world, we find this very thing a trial, not merely of our obedience, but even of our faith, that is, the mere fact, that the world turns out to be what we began by confessing concerning it.
Let us now direct our attention to this subject, in order to see what it means, and how it is exemplified in the ordinary course of the world.
And let us commence with the age when men are first exposed, in any great degree, to the temptation of trusting the world's assertions, when they enter into life, as it is called. Hitherto they have learned revealed truths only as a creed or system; they are instructed and acquiesce in the great Christian doctrines; and having virtuous feelings, and desiring to do their duty, they think themselves really and practically religious. They read in Scripture of the course of the world, but they have little notion what it really is; they believe it to be sinful, but how it acts in seducing from the Truth, and making evil seem good and good evil, is beyond them. Scripture, indeed, says much about the world; but they cannot learn practically what it is from Scripture ; for, not to mention other reasons, Scripture being written by inspiration, represents things such as they really are in God's sight, such as they will seem to us in proportion as we learn to judge of them rightly, not as they appear to those “ whose senses are” not yet “ exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Under these circumstances, men are brought to their trial. The simple and comparatively retired
life which they have hitherto enjoyed is changed for the varied and attractive scenes of mixed society. Its numberless circles and pursuits open upon them, the diversities and contrarieties of opinion and conduct, and of the subjects on which thought and exertion are expended. This is what is called seeing the world. Here, then, all at once they lose their reckoning, and let slip the lessons which they thought they had so accurately learned. They are unable to apply in practice what they have received by word of inouth; and, perplexed at witnessing the multiplicity of characters and fortunes which human nature assumes, and the range and intricacy of the social scheme, they are gradually impressed with the belief that the religious system which they have hitherto received is an inadequate solution of the world's mysteries, and a rule of conduct too simple for its complicated transactions. All men, perhaps, are, in their measure, subjected to this temptation. Even their ordinary and most innocent intercourse with others, their temporal callings, their allowable recreations, captivate their imaginations, and, on entering into this new scene, they look forward with interest towards the future, and form schemes of action, and indulge dreams of happiness, such as this life has never fulfilled. Now, is it not plain, that, after thus realizing to themselves the promises of the world, when they look back to the Bible and their former lessons, these will seem not only uninteresting and dull, but a theory too ?-dull, colourless, indeed, as a sober landscape, after we have