« السابقةمتابعة »
“ And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is charity.”—It is evident, that he meant to sum up, in these three radical graces, the grand essentials of vital Christianity, to which all other holy affections may be referred. But as the word charity is now used for one peculiar expression of love, which is equivocal, and may be counterfeit: it will render our discussion more perspicuous to sub. stitute love in the place of it; it being well known that the original word is generally thus translated. I shall endeavour, therefore,
I. To consider separately, the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love.
II. To shew in what respects love is the greatest of the three; and how this agrees with the doctrines of salvation by grace, and justifica
cation by faith alone. The subject before us, my brethren, is of the greatest importance, and often fatally misunderstood. Let me then beg a peculiar measure of your attention; and let us lift up our hearts to God, beseeching him to
open our understandings, that we may understand the scriptures,” and be guided into the knowledge of his holy truth.
I. Let us consider separately the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love.
We begin with faith. That peculiar act of the un. derstanding, by which we avail ourselves of information, in those things which fall not under our own observation, and which do not admit of proof in a way of reasoning, is called faith or believing. If we credit
testimony without sufficient grounds, we are unreasonably credulous: if we refuse to believe testimony, which has sufficient grounds of credibility, we are unreasonably incredulous. It is therefore extremely absurd to oppose reason and faith, as if contrary to each other; when in fact, faith is the use of reason in a certain way, and in cases which confine us to that peculiar exercise of our rational powers. Believing may be distinguished from reasoning, and in some cases opposed to it: but in opposing faith and reason, the friends of Christianity have given its enemies an advantage, to which they are by no means entitled.
It is evident to all observing men, that the compli. cated machine of human society is moved, almost exelusively, by that very principle, which numbers oppose and deride in speaking on religion. Testimony received and credited, directs the determinations of princes and councils, of senates and military commanders, of tribunals and commercial companies, in their most important deliberations: and did they refuse to act, without self-evidence, demonstration, or personal knowledge; all their grand affairs must stag. nate. But human testimony, though often fallacious, is deemed credible: they believe, decide, and carry their decisions into execution. In the common concerns of life too, we believe a guide, a physician, a lawyer, and even those who provide our food; and the incredulous sceptick in such cases must be ruined, or starved, or perish by disease.
But “if the testimony of man be great, the testimony of God is greater.” “ The scripture is the sure
“ testimony of God; making wise the simple."'* It relates facts, which God hath attested; states doctrines which he hath immediately revealed; promises and as: surances concerning the future, which he hath engag. ed to accomplish; and commands and ordinances, which he hath thus enforced with clearness and authority. All these things are intimately connected with our duty, safety, and felicity; they are made known for our warning, encouragement, and instruction: faith receives the information, and this excites and di. rects the believer's activity. We may reason soberly and humbly concerning the evidences of revelation, and the meaning of scripture: but when these points have been ascertained, our reasonings are at end; for either faith receives the testimony of God, or unbelief makes him a liar.
Faith strictly speaking is,' the belief of the truth;' with the application of it to ourselves, and a perception of its importance, holiness, excellency, and suitableness to our characters and circumstances. It is the gift and operation of God: for many of the truths, re. vealed in scripture, are so contrary to our pride, prejudices, and worldly lusts, that no evidence is sufficient to induce our cordial belief of them; till our minds have been prepared by preventing grace.
" The na. “ tural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of “ God; for they are foolishness to him: neither can he “ know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”+ True faith should therefore be sought by earnest pray.
2 Tim. üi. 15-17.
f 1 Cor. ii, 14.
re; and lively gratitude is due to God from those that do believe.
Faith appropriates the declarations of scripture respecting things past, present, and future; whether they appear dreadful or desirable. The believer credits the testimony of God, concerning his own essential nature and perfections, and the righteousness of his law and government. In the same manner, he obtains information respecting the creation of the world, the entrance of sin and misery, the fall of man, the evil and desert of sin, the deceitfulness and wickedness of the human heart, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the future judgment, and an eternal state of happiness or misery. Men may conjecture and dispute on these subjects: but faith, receiving the testimony of God with the teachableness of a child, satisfies the mind and influences the conduct, as if we saw the things believed. It is therefore impossible, thus to credit these doctrines, and not take warning to “ flee from the wrath to come.” Faith must, in this case, produce fear of threatened punishment: and as it is always accompanied with some feeble discoveries of mercy; it will also in some degree soften and hum: ble the heart to repentance, and excite earnest enquiries after salvation.
But we are especially called upon to believe the tes. timony of God concerning his Son. “ This is the re“cord, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this “ life is in his Son: he that hath the Son hath life, and “ he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” The numerous and decisive declarations of scripture on this subject have induced some persons to speak of Vol. I.
faith, as exclusively meaning a reception of Christ for salvation: and no doubt this is the grand exercise and use of it. Yet in fact, unless we believe many other revealed truths with true humiliation of heart; we never can believe in the Son of God in a saving manner. We may assent to the doctrines of grace, and abuse them; but we cannot understand their nature, glory, and suitableness to our case and circumstances.
True faith simply credits the divine record concerning the person of Emmanuel; his essential and eternal Deity, and his voluntary incarnation that he might be our Brother and Surety, “God manifest in the flesh:” his obedience of infinite value, and the atoning sacrifice of his death upon the cross; his resurrection, ascension, and intercession in the presence of God for us; his several offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; and all the various particulars, concerning his power, truth, love, fulness of grace, mediatorial authority, and future coming to judgment. This belief cannot be separated from a cordial compliance with his invitations, a thankful reception of him in all his characters and offices, an habitual dependence on him for salvation, and a constant application for all the blessings procur. ed for us, by his sufferings and death. Thus we spi. ritually “eat his flesh and drink his blood;” which are 56 meat indeed and drink indeed:” and thus ' we feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.' To you
that believe he is precious.” In proportion to our faith, Christ becomes to us, “ the Pearl of
great price;” and we grow more and more solici. tous, lest we should come short of him and his salva