NOW that the time has come for me to address you, my beloved brethren, may God Himself speak through me to you!
The subject which I have selected for this address is FAITH. As believers in Jesus, we are all of us of the pedigree of faith. Two lines of descent claim the covenant heritage. There is the line of nature, human efforts, and works, headed by Ishmael, the son of Hagar. We own no kindred there. We know that the highest position to which the child of the flesh can attain will only end in the command, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." We, brethren, are children of the promise, born not after the flesh, nor according to the energy of nature, but by the power of God. We trace our new birth not to blood, nor to the will of the flesh, nor to the will of man, but to God alone. We owe our conversion neither to the reasoning of the logician nor to the eloquence of the orator, neither to our natural betterness nor to our personal efforts; we are, as Isaac was, the children of God's power according to the promise.
Now, to us the covenant belongs, for it has been decided–and the apostle has declared the decision in the name of God,–that "to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. . . . And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."–Galatians 3:16, 29. We are altogether saved by faith. The brightest day that ever dawned upon us was the day in which we first "looked unto Him, and were lightened." It was all dark till faith beheld the Sun of Righteousness. The dawn of faith was to us the morning of life; by faith only we began to live. We have since then walked by faith. Whenever we have been tempted to step aside from the path of faith, we have been like the foolish Galatians, and we have smarted for our folly. I trust we have not "suffered so many things in vain."–Galatians 3:4. We began in the Spirit, and if we have sought to be made perfect in the flesh, we have soon discovered ourselves to be sailing upon the wrong tack, and nearing sunken rocks. "The just shall live by faith," is a truth which has worked itself out in our experience, for often and often have we felt that, in any other course, death stares us in the face; and, therefore, "we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith."–Galatians 5:5.
Now, brethren, as our pedigree is of faith, and our claim to the privileges of the covenant is of faith, and our life in its beginning and continuance is all of faith, so may I boldly say that our ministry is of faith, too. We are heralds to the sons of men, not of the law of Sinai, but of the love of Calvary. We come to them, not with the command, "This do, and thou shalt live," but with the message, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Ours is the ministry of gracious faith, and is not after man, nor according to the law of a carnal commandment. We preach not man's merit, but Christ crucified.
The object of our preaching, as well as its doctrine, is faith; for we reckon that we have done nothing for sinners until, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we bring them to faith; and we only reckon that our preaching is useful to saints as we see them increase in faith. As faith is in our hand the power with which we sow, and as the seed we sow is received by us by faith, and steeped in faith, so the harvest for which we look is to see faith springing up in the furrows of men's hearts to the praise and glory of God.
Interwoven, therefore, with our entire spiritual life, and with all our ministerial work, is the doctrine and grace of faith; and, therefore, we must be very clear upon it,–that is a small business; we must be very strong in it,–that is the great matter. On that topic I will speak to you, praying earnestly that we may every one of us be, like Abraham, "strong in faith, giving glory to God," and, like Stephen, "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost."
Our work especially requires faith. If we fail in faith, we had better not have undertaken it; and unless we obtain faith commensurate with the service, we shall soon grow weary of it. It is proven by all observation that success in the Lord's service is very generally in proportion to faith. It certainly is not in proportion to ability, nor does it always run parallel with a display of zeal; but it is invariably according to the measure of faith, for this is a law of the Kingdom without exception, "According to your faith be it unto you." It is essential, then, that we should have faith if we are to be useful, and that we should have great faith if we are to be greatly useful. For many other reasons besides usefulness,–namely, even for our being able to hold our own against the enemies of the truth, and for ability to stand against the temptations which surround our office,–it is imperative upon us that we should have abundant confidence in the living God. We, above all men, need the mountain-moving faith, by which, in the old time, men of God "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."
One of the brethren observed, at last night's meeting, that I confirmed you in the habit of saying, firstly, secondly, and thirdly. I must plead guilty to the charge, and follow the same method still; for I judge it to be no fault, but a practice helpful to the speaker in the arrangement and recollection of his thoughts, and profitable to the hearer in the remembrance of the sermon. We may risk being formal when to be formal is to be useful. Though not to be slavishly followed, the custom of announcing divisions in a discourse may be generally maintained, and we will maintain it, at any rate, today.
I. I mean first to speak, concerning faith, under the head of this question,–WHEREIN AND UPON WHAT MATTERS HAVE WE, AS MINISTERS, FAITH, OR GREAT NEED OF IT?
First, we have faith in God. We believe "that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." We do not believe in the powers of nature operating of themselves apart from constant emanations of power from the Great and Mighty One, who is the Sustainer as well as the Creator of all things. Far be it from us to banish God from His own universe. Neither do we believe in a merely nominal deity, as those do who make all things to be God, for we conceive pantheism to be only another form of atheism. We know the Lord as a distinct personal existence, a real God, infinitely more real than the things which are seen and handled, more real even than ourselves, for we are but shadows, He alone is the I AM, abiding the same for ever and ever.
We believe in a God of purposes and plans, who has not left a blind fate to tyrannize over the world, much less an aimless chance to rock it to and fro. We are not fatalists, neither are we doubters of providence and predestination. We are believers in a God "who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." We do not conceive of the Lord as having gone away from the world, and left it and the inhabitants thereof to themselves; we believe in Him as continually presiding in all the affairs of life. We, by faith, perceive the hand of the Lord giving to every blade of grass its own drop of dew, and to every young raven its meat. We see the present power of God in the flight of every sparrow, and hear His goodness in the song of every lark. We believe that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof;" and we go forth into it, not as into the domains of Satan where light comes not, nor into a chaos where rule is unknown, nor into a boiling sea where fate's resistless billows shipwreck mortals at their will; but we walk boldly on, having God within us and around us, living and moving and having our being in Him, and so, by faith, we dwell in a temple of providence and grace wherein everything doth speak of His glory. We believe in a present God wherever we may be, and a working and operating God accomplishing His own purposes steadfastly and surely in all matters, places, and times; working out His designs as much in what seemeth evil as in that which is manifestly good; in all things driving on in His eternal chariot towards the goal which infinite wisdom has chosen, never slackening His pace nor drawing the rein, but for ever, according to the eternal strength that is in Him, speeding forward without pause. We believe in this God as being faithful to everything that He has spoken, a God who can neither lie nor change. The God of Abraham is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is our God this day. We do not believe in the ever-shifting views of the Divine Being which differing philosophies are adopting; the God of the Hebrews is our God,–Jehovah, Jah, the Mighty One, the covenant-keeping God,–"this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our Guide even unto death."
Whether we be fools or not thus to believe in God, the world shall know one day; and whether it be more reasonable to believe in nature, or in powers that operate of themselves, or to believe in nothing, than it is to believe in a self-existent Being, we shall leave eternity to decide. Meanwhile, to us, faith in God is not only a necessity of reason, but the fruit of a child-like instinct which tarries not to justify itself by arguments, being born in us with our regenerate nature itself.
Next to this, our faith most earnestly and intensely fixes itself upon the Christ of God. We trust in Jesus; we believe all that inspired history says concerning Him; not making a myth of Him, or His life, but taking it as a matter of fact that God dwelt in very deed among men in human flesh, and that an atonement was really and truly offered by the Incarnate God upon the cross of Calvary. Yet, to us, the Lord Jesus Christ is not alone a Savior of the past. We believe that "He ascended up on high," and "led captivity captive," and that "He ever liveth to make intercession for them that come unto God by Him." I saw, in the cathedral at Turin, a very remarkable sight, namely, the pretended graveclothes of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are devoutly worshipped by crowds of Romanists. I could not help observing, as I gazed upon these relics, that the ensigns of the death of Christ were all of Him that the Romish Church possessed. They may well show the true cross, for they crucify Him afresh; they may well pray in His sepulchre, for He is not there, or in their Church; and they may well claim His graveclothes, for they know only a dead Christ. But, beloved brethren, our Christ is not dead, neither has He fallen asleep; He still walks among the golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in His right hand.
Our faith in Jesus is most real. We believe in those dear wounds of His as we believe in nothing else; there is no fact so sure to us as that He was slain, and He has redeemed us to God by His blood. We believe in the brightness of His glory; for nothing seems to us so necessarily true as that He who was obedient unto death should, as His due reward, be crowned with glory and honor. For this reason, also, we believe in a real Christ yet to come, a second time, in like manner as He went up into Heaven; and, though we may not enquire minutely into times and seasons, yet we are" looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God," at which time we expect the manifestation of the sons of God, and the rising of their bodies from the tomb. Christ Jesus is no fiction to us; and, with Dr. Watts, we sing,–
Jews on their own law rely,
And Greeks of wisdom boast,
We love th' incarnate mystery,
And there we fix our trust."
We have an equal confidence, beloved brethren, in the Holy Spirit. We unfeignedly believe in His Deity and personality. We speak of His influences, because He has influences, but we do not forget that He is a Person from whom those influences stream; we believe in His offices, for He has offices, but we rejoice in the Person who fills them, and makes them effectual for our good. Devoutly would each one of us say, "I believe in the Holy Ghost." Yet, my brethren, do you believe in the Holy Ghost? "Yes," you say unanimously, spontaneously, and emphatically. "Yes," say I also; but be not grieved if I ask you yet again if you verily and indeed believe in Him; for there is a believing and a believing. There is a believing which I have concerning a man, for which I may have but slender grounds, and upon which I would not risk a single penny of my substance; but it is another form of believing in a man when I feel that I could trust my very life with him, being assured that he would be true to me, and prove both an able and a willing helper. Have we such a reliance upon the Holy Ghost? Do we believe that, at this moment, He can clothe us with power, even as He did the apostles at Pentecost? Do we believe that, under our preaching, by His energy a thousand might be born in a day? If we all so believe, we are happy to be in such an assembly, for the majority of Christians, if under one sermon even a dozen persons were to cry out, "What must we do to be saved?" would exclaim exactly as the unbelieving Jews did, "These men are full of new wine." They would condemn the whole transaction as the result of dangerous excitement; they would never imagine it to be of the Lord. For this reason, I mournfully conclude that there is not, in the Church, such a belief in the Holy Ghost as there ought to be; and yet, as certainly as we hear the voice which saith, "Power belongeth unto God;" as surely as we hear the Divine voice of the Son, saying, "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me;" so truly does the third Person of the blessed Trinity claim our loving confidence, and woe be unto us if we vex Him by our unbelief! When we have a full faith in the Triune God, then shall we be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."
Beside this, dear brethren, you and I believe in the doctrines of the gospel. We have received the certainties of revealed truth. These are things which are verily believed among us. We do not bow down before men's theories of truth, nor do we admit that theology consists in "views" and "opinions." We declare that there are certain verities,–essential, abiding, eternal,–from which it is ruinous to swerve. I am deeply grieved to hear so many ministers talk as if the truth of God were a variable quantity, a matter of daily formation, a nose of wax to be constantly reshaped, a cloud driven by the wind. So do not I believe! I have been charged with being a mere echo of the Puritans, but I had rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of falsehood. It may be want of intellect which prevents our departing from the good old way; but even this is better than want of grace, which lies at the bottom of men's perpetual chopping and changing of their beliefs. Rest assured that there is nothing new in theology except that which is false; and that the facts of theology are today what they were eighteen hundred years ago.
But, in these days, the self-styled "men of progress", who commenced with preaching the gospel, degenerate as they advance, and their divinity, like the snail, melts as it proceeds. I hope it will never be so with any of us. I have likened the career of certain divines to the journey of a Roman wine-cask from the vineyard to the city. It starts from the winepress as the pure juice of the grape; but, at the first halting-place, the drivers of the cart must needs quench their thirst; and when they come to a fountain, they substitute water for the wine which they have drunk. In the next village, there are numbers of lovers of wine who beg or buy a little, and the discreet carrier dilutes it again. The watering is again and again repeated, till, on its entrance into Rome, the fluid is remarkably different from that which originally started from the vineyard. There is a way of "doctoring" the gospel in much the same manner. A little truth is given up, and then a little more, and men fill up the vacuum with opinions, inferences, speculations, and dreams, till their wine is mixed with water, and the water none of the best. Many preachers–and I speak it with sorrow,–have built a tower of theological speculations, upon which they sit, like Nero, fiddling the tune of their own philosophy while the world is burning with sin and misery. They are playing with the toys of speculation while men's souls are being lost.
Much of human wisdom is a mere coverlet for the absence of vital godliness. I went into railway carriages, of the first class in Italy, which were lined with very pretty crochet-work, and I thought the voyagers were highly honored, since no doubt some delicate fingers had sumptuously furnished the cars for them; but I soon discovered that the crochet-work was simply put on to cover the grease and dirt of the cloth. A great deal of very pretty sentimentalism and religiousness that is now preached is a mere crochet-work covering for detestable heresies long since disproved, which dared not appear again without a disguise for their hideousness. With words of human wisdom, and speculations of their own invention, men disguise falsehood, and deceive many. Be it ours to give to the people what God gives to us. Be ye each of you as Micaiah, who declared, "As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak." If it be folly to keep to what we find in Scripture, and if it be madness to believe in verbal inspiration, we purpose to remain fools to the end of the chapter, and hope to be among the foolish things of the world which God hath chosen to confound the wise, "that no flesh should glory in His presence."
Brethren, our faith also, resting upon the doctrines of the gospel and upon the God of the gospel, embraces the power of prayer. We believe in the prevalence of supplication. I am afraid that this belief is going out of fashion in the so-called Christian world. The theory of some is, that prayer is useful to ourselves, but that it cannot be operative upon God; and much is said about the impossibility of the Divine purposes being changed, and the utter unlikelihood of a finite being affecting God by his cries. We also hold that the purposes of God are not changed; but what if prayer be a part of His purpose, and what if He ordains that His people should pray when He intends to give them blessings? Prayer is one of the necessary wheels of the machinery of providence. The offering of prayer is as operative in the affairs of the world, and the production of events, as the rise of dynasties or the fall of nations. We believe that God in very truth hearkens to the voices of men.
For my own part, if anyone should say to me now, "God does not hear prayer; such a notion is a piece of superstition;" I should reply to him, "Nay, sir, but with you I have no argument at all. The whole question is a personal one which concerns my own character,–am I an honest man or no? If I am a truth-speaking person, my testimony is worth receiving; and I solemnly declare that the Lord has heard and answered my prayers scores and hundreds of times, and that the answers have come so often and so singularly that they could not have been mere coincidences." I should not argue beyond this point, "Unless you are prepared to make me out to be a liar, you are as much bound to believe facts which I affirm that I have witnessed as I am to believe anything which you solemnly assert to be true."
Brethren, we ought not always to profess our ability to prove Scriptural truths to ungodly men, for many of those truths lie outside the region of their understanding. I should not try to prove to a blind man that the grass is green and the sky is blue, because he can have no idea of the proposition which I am proving. Argument in such a case is folly on both sides. To us, at any rate, prayer is no vain thing. We go to our chambers alone, believing that we are transacting high and real business when we pray. We do not bow the knee merely because it is a duty, and a commendable spiritual exercise; but because we believe that, into the ear of the eternal God, we speak our wants, and that His ear is linked with a heart feeling for us, and a hand working on our behalf. To us, true prayer is true power.
One other point, which I believe is essential to a minister's faith, is that we believe in our own commission to preach the gospel. If any brother here is not assured of his call to the ministry, let him wait till he is sure of it. He who doubts as to whether he is sent of God, goes hesitatingly; but he who is certain of his call from above demands and commands an audience; he does not apologize for his existence, or for his utterances; but he quits himself like a man, and boldly speaks God's truth in the Name of the Lord. He has a message to deliver which he must deliver, for woe is unto him unless he preaches the gospel! In the face of the Ritualists, who boast that they alone have the apostolical succession, we declare that ours is the true commission, and that their claim is false. We are not afraid to submit our claims to the test which the Lord Himself has appointed, "By their fruits ye shall know them." We believe that God has anointed us to preach the gospel, and we do preach it; but who will testify that these "priests" even so much as know the gospel? Under our word, the Spirit of God regenerates men, but He does not so work through these pretenders. They do not even comprehend what regeneration is, but confound it with a ceremonial aspersion. Our gospel satisfies the heart, renews the nature, comforts the soul; but can these pretenders do so with their enchantments? If they be apostles, let them show us their signs. We claim to be the Lord's ministers, and our epistles of commendation are written upon many hearts.
Now, having detailed the great points of our faith, let me say, brethren, we believe, hence, on account of all this, that, notwithstanding the slenderness of our stores, the Great Shepherd of the sheep will grant us an all-sufficiency with which to feed His people. Believing in God All-sufficient, we expect to see our loaves and fishes multiplied; consequently, we do not lay by in store, but deal out at this present all that we have. I saw in Rome a fountain, which represented a man holding a barrel, out of which a copious stream of water was perpetually running. There never was much at any one time in that marble barrel, and yet it has continued to yield a stream for four or five hundred years. So let us pour forth from our very soul all that the Lord imparts to us. For twenty years and more, I have told out all I know, and have run dry every time, and yet my heart still bubbles up with a good matter. I know some brethren in the ministry who are comparable to the great tun of Heidelberg for capacity, and yet the people do not receive so much gospel truth from them as from preachers of very inferior capacity who have formed the habit of giving out all they have. We believe that the Spirit of God will be in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and we act according to that conviction. We do not expect to have much goods laid up for many years; but, as we live by daily bread, so upon continually new supplies do we feed our people. Away with the musty, worm-breeding stores of old manna, and let us look up day by day for a fresh supply!
Brethren, our faith discerns upon our side unseen agency. While we are at work, God also is at work. We do not reckon that the forces engaged upon our side are confined to the pulpit; we know that, all the week long, God is, by care, and affliction, and trouble, and sometimes by joy and consolation, making the people ready to receive what He has charged us to teach them. We look upon our congregations, and perhaps are ready to cry in our unbelief, "Master, what shall we do?" but our eyes are opened, and we see horses of fire and chariots of fire round about the prophet of the Lord; mysterious agencies are cooperating with the ministry of grace. When the Mont Cenis Tunnel was being made, a party of engineers worked from the Italian side for six years, and expected at the end of that period to see an open roadway through the mountain. They knew that the work would take, at the rate they were going, twelve years at least, and yet they knew it would be completed in six years, because there was another party, on the French side, working to meet them; and, accordingly, in due time they met to an inch. I cannot understand these miracles of engineering, and do not know how two tunnelling parties manage to meet each other in the heart of an Alp; neither do I know how the Lord's work in men's consciences will fit in with mine, but I am quite sure it will, and, therefore, in faith, I go on working with all my might.
Faith leads us to believe in difficulties being overruled to promote success. Because we believe in God, and in His Holy Spirit, we believe that difficulties will be greatly sanctified to us, and that they are only placed before us as stepping-stones to grander results. We believe in defeats, my brethren; we believe in going back with the banner trailed in the mire, persuaded that this may be the surest way to lasting triumph. We believe in waiting, weeping, and agonizing; we believe in a non-success which prepares us for doing greater and higher work, for which we should not have been fitted unless anguish had sharpened our soul. We believe in our infirmities, and even glory in them; we thank God that we are not so eloquent as we could wish to be, and have not all the abilities we might desire, because now we know that "the excellency of the power" shall "be of God, and not of us." Faith enables us so to rejoice in the Lord that our infirmities become platforms for the display of His grace. Brethren, we believe that even our enemies shall, in God's hands, subserve our highest interests; they are yoked to the car of God. Perhaps, of all the powers which effect the Divine purposes in the world, no one does more than the devil himself. He is but a scullion in the Eternal's kitchen; he unwillingly performs much work to which the Lord would not put His own children, work which is just as needful as that which seraphim perform. Believe not that evil is a rival power of equal potency with the good God. No, sin and death are, like the Gibeonites, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Divine purposes; and, though they know it not, when the Lord's enemies rave and rage most, they fulfil His eternal purposes to the praise of the glory of His wisdom and grace.
Further, brethren, we believe in the gospel as God's power to save. We know that, for every case of spiritual sickness, we have an infallible cure; we need not say to any man, "We have no good news from God for you." We believe that there is a way of getting at all hearts. There is a joint in every sinner's harness, though he be an Ahab, and we may draw the bow hopefully, praying the Lord to direct the arrow through it. If we believe in God, nothing can be too hard or too heavy for us. If I believe only in myself, I feel that a hardened sinner may refuse to listen to my reasoning, and may not be moved by my affectionate address; but if I believe in the Holy Ghost, I feel that He can win a hearing, and carry conviction to the conscience. We believe, brethren, in the power of truth. We do not expect truth to be loved by all mankind; we do not expect the gospel to become popular amongst the great and the learned, for we remember that word of the apostle, "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" but we do not believe that the gospel has become decrepit through old age. When the foolish wise men of this age sneer at the old gospel, they render an unconscious homage to its power. We do not believe that our grand castle and defence has tottered and fallen to the ground, because men say it is so. We recollect Rab-shakeh, and how he reviled the Lord, and how, nevertheless, it happened to the king of Assyria even as the Lord said, "He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return." We have seen enough philosophies go back "to the vile dust from whence they sprang," to know that the whole species of them is of the order of Jonah's gourd. We, therefore, in confidence wait, and in patience bide our time. We are sure of victory ere long.
If our gospel be true, it will yet come to the front, and God will work for us; therefore are we "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." If we do not see souls saved today or tomorrow, we will still work on. Ours is not the unrequited toil of Sisyphus rolling uphill a stone which will rebound upon us, nor that of the daughters of Danaus who sought to fill a bottomless vessel. Our work may no more quickly appear than the islands which the coral insects are building below the blue waves of the Southern sea; but the reef is rising, far down the foundation of the massive structure is laid, and its walls are climbing to the surface. We are laboring for eternity, and we count not our work by each day's advance, as men measure theirs; it is God's work, and must be measured by His standard. Be ye well assured that, when time, and things created, and all that oppose themselves to the Lord's truth, shall be gone, every earnest sermon preached, and every importunate prayer offered, and every form of Christian service honestly rendered, shall remain embedded in the mighty structure which God from all eternity has resolved to raise to His own honor.
II. Now, brethren, our second question will be, WHAT DOES OUR FAITH WORK IN US?
It works in us, first, a glorious independence of man. We are glad of earnest helpers, but we can do without them. We are grateful for our good deacons, but we dare not make flesh our arm. We are very glad if God raises up brethren in other churches who will fraternize with us, but we do not lean upon them. The man who believes in God, and believes in Christ, and believes in the Holy Ghost, will stay himself upon the Lord alone. He does not wish to be solitary, or to be singular, yet can he by himself contend for his Master; and when he has most human helps, he sedulously endeavors still to wait only upon God. If you lean upon your helpers when you have them, it may be that you will realize the terrible meaning of that ancient word, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm." As the apostle saith, "It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;" so may we say that it remaineth, that we who have zealous helpers be as though we had none, and to let our confidence in God be as simple, and our own selves be as free of all carnal confidence, as if we stood like Athanasius against the world, and had no one to speak a good word for us, or to bear a portion of our burden. God alone suffices to bear up yon unpillared firmament. He alone balances the clouds, and upbears them in the heavens. He kindles the lamps of night, and gives the sun his flames of fire. God alone is sufficient for us, and in His might we shall achieve the purpose of our being.
Further, true faith gives us courage under all circumstances. When young Nelson came home from a birds'-nesting expedition, his aunt chided him for being out so far into the night, and remarked, "I wonder fear did not make you come home." "Fear?" said Nelson, "I don't know him." That is a fitting speech for a believer when working for God. "Fear? I do not know it; what does it mean?" The Lord is on our side; whom shall we fear? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" A minister stands trembling in the presence of a learned schoolmaster, who, with his twenty scholars, makes an important item in a village congregation; but is that a consistent condition of heart for a prophet of the Lord? A preacher is all on a quiver because a person with a white cravat, under the gallery, looks like a minister, and probably is a London divine who is staying in the neighborhood for his health; is that trembling preacher a man? I say, a man! I will not ask, is he a man of God? If you have something of your own to say, my dear friend, do not try to say it when those learned people are present who can speak so much better than you can; but if God has something to say through you, He knows which trumpet is most fit for Him to use; and what matters it to you who may or may not be listening? Dare you play the coward in the presence of God? No. The conviction that you have a commission from God, and that the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, will make you very bold. Faith in God will cause us to honor our calling so much that we shall not dare to disgrace it by cowardice.
True faith in God will also make us abundant in good works. The eleventh of Hebrews is a chapter dedicated to the glorification of faith; but if I assert that it records the good works of the saints, can anybody contradict me? Is it not as much a record of works as of faith? Ay, verily, because where there is much faith, there shall surely ere long be abundant good works. I have no notion of that faith which does not produce good works, especially in the preacher. I question whether, as channels for damnation, Satan has upon earth more apt instruments for breeding infidelity, and for causing men to regard the gospel with contempt, than those who profess to believe it, and then act as though the belief were a matter of no consequence whatsoever.
Those philanthropists who are always telling us what ought to be done, and yet who do nothing,–what is their faith, and what is their philanthropy? To what shall I liken it? It reminds me of a shipwreck, off the Tuscan coast, some years ago. The Tuscan coastguard reported to his government that there had been a lamentable shipwreck on the coast, and he said, "Notwithstanding that I lent to the crew on board the ship every assistance possible by means of my speaking-trumpet, I regret to say that a number of bodies were washed upon the shore next morning, dead." Very wonderful, was it not? And yet this is the kind of assistance which many, who profess to have faith, have lent to the people. They have yielded them the assistance of rhetoric, flowers of speech, and poetical quotations, and yet men have persisted in impenitence. There has been no real care for souls. The sermon was preached, but the people were not prayed for in secret, they were not hunted for as men search for precious things. They were not wept over; they were not in very deed cared about. After all, it was the speaking-trumpet's help, and nothing else.
But our faith makes us abundant in good works. May I say to you, if you are doing all you possibly can for Christ, endeavor to do yet more? I believe a Christian man is generally right when he is doing more than he can; and when he goes still further beyond that point, he will be even more nearly right. There are scarcely any bounds to the possibilities of our service. Many a man, who now is doing little, might, with the same exertion, do twice as much by wise arrangement and courageous enterprise. For instance, in our country towns, a sermon delivered on the village green would, in all probability, be worth twenty sermons preached in the chapel; and, in London, a sermon delivered to a crowd in a public hall or theatre may accomplish ten times as much good as if it had fallen on the accustomed ears of our regular auditors. We need, like the apostles, to launch out into the deep, or our nets will never enclose a great multitude of fishes. If we had but the pluck to come out of our hiding-places, and face the foe, we should soon achieve immense success. We need far more faith in the Holy Ghost. He will bless us if we cast ourselves entirely upon Him.
Faith in God enables many of you, I know right well, to bear much hardship, and exercise much self-denial, and yet to persevere in your ministry. My heart rejoices over the many brethren here whom God has made to be winners of souls; and I may add that I am firmly persuaded, concerning many here present, that the privations they have undergone, and the zeal they have shown in the service of their Lord, though unrewarded by any outward success, are a sweet savor unto God. True faith makes a man feel that it is sweet to be a living sacrifice unto God. Only faith could keep us in the ministry, for ours is not a vocation which brings with it golden pay; it is not a calling which men would follow who desire honor and rank. We have all kinds of evils to endure, evils as numerous as those which Paul included in his famous catalogue of trials; and, I may add, we have one peril which he does not mention, namely, the perils of church-meetings, which are probably worse than perils of robbers. Underpaid and undervalued, without books and without congenial associates, many a rural preacher of the gospel would die of a broken heart, did not his faith gird him with strength from on high.
Well, brethren, to sum up a great many things in one, faith is to us a great enlargement of our souls. Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed,–a creed which they can put together, and form into a square, like a Chinese puzzle,–are very apt to narrow their souls. Fancying that all truth can be comprehended in half-a-dozen formulae, they reject as worthless every doctrinal statement which cannot be so comprehended. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of Divine revelation; they are, without knowing it, following the lead of the Rationalists. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all. That process of theory-making is an expensive folly, the invention of middle terms is a waste of ingenuity; it were far better to believe the truths, and leave the Lord to show their consistency.
Those who believe firmly are, moreover, the men who are strong for service. Have you ever seen the famous statue of the boy sitting down and picking a thorn out of his foot? I saw him twenty years ago, and I saw him again only the other day, and he was still extracting the little tormentor. I have known brethren of the same order in the ministry, they are always picking thorns out of their feet; they have a doubt about this, and a scruple about that; but the man who says, "I know whom I have believed, I know what I have experienced," he is the man who can run upon the Lord's errands.
Faith is also our refreshment. Our faith in God relieves us of our weariness. Even natural fatigue is sometimes overcome by faith. Certainly, faintness of spirit needs no better restorative than reliance upon God. Close to the Colosseum there stands the ruin of an ancient fountain and bath called the Meta Sudans. Here came the. gladiators who escaped with life from the struggles of the amphitheatre; covered with blood, and begrimed with sweat and dust from the arena, they plunged into the bath, and felt delicious refreshment. Faith in God is just such a laver to our hearts.
III. My concluding question shall be, WHAT DOES OUR FAITH SAY TO US THIS MORNING?
First, it claims to be well-founded. I put it to you, brethren, in very simple words. Is the living God worth trusting? Does Omnipotence deserve that you should lean upon it? Does Omniscience warrant you in believing it? Does Immutability justify you in depending upon it? Why, if I were to bring here the best man of woman born whose name should be to you the synonym for virtue, and if I were to advise that you should trust him with your lives, I must speak with bated breath, for who shall trust in man? Ay, and if there stood here Gabriel, the angelic messenger of God, and he should tell us that he would zealously defend us, I might hesitate ere I said to you, "O sons of men, rest in angelic strength, and rely on seraphic zeal!" But when I speak of the Father, the Incarnate Son, the ever-blessed Spirit, who shall venture to hint a limit to our trust in God? What logician shall accuse us of folly in confiding in the Divine Trinity?
The older I grow, (and Mr. Rogers, who is much older, will agree with me, I am sure,) I feel more and more sure of the things which I believe, not merely (as some would insinuate) because I get into the habit of saying them, and therefore think I believe them, but because they tally with my soul's best experience. I read, occasionally, some of those productions of genius which are associated with the frothy religion of modern thought; but when my body is sick, or I am depressed in spirit, nothing suits my case but the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which was to our fathers the very truth of God; and I believe that the doctrine which a man's innermost experience confirms to him in the day of trial, and in the day when he is nearest to God, is to him, at any rate, the very truth itself, and worthy of his credence.
I never feel, when I meet with intellectual men, who look down upon me as a mere preacher of platitudes, that they have any right to do so. To them I give place by subjection, no, not for an hour. I have rather to check a propensity to look down on them than to subdue any feeling of inferiority. To us, the truths of the gospel are absolute certainties for which we do not crave tolerance, but to which we demand submission. If any shall brand us with epithets, such as "bigot", "vulgar dogmatist", or "mere echo of departed Puritanism," (and all these have been used,) we will only reply, "You may apply to us what opprobrious titles you please, but we know that, if we were to express the truth about you, there is no adjective of contempt which you do not deserve; and, therefore, because we know of no language sufficiently strong to set forth our abhorrence of your false doctrine, we will let you pass in silence."
My brethren, when you hear that a learned man has made a new discovery which contradicts the Scriptures, do not: feel alarmed. Do not imagine that he is really a great man, but believe that he is just an educated idiot, or a self-conceited fool. If you find time to read the works of learned sceptics, you will soon see that their statements of fact are not reliable, their deductions are not logical, their inferences are monstrous, and their speculations are insane. I remember reading some statements of the great German, Oken, which to me sounded singularly like the babblings of Bethlehem Hospital. They reminded me of an incident which occurred when a prize was offered for verses of poetry, which were to be quite free from meaning. Two of the competitors were nearly equal, but in the poem of one of them there was the faintest glimmering of an idea, while the other had not even a trace of sense, and therefore gained the prize. I vote for the supremacy of the Neologians in that department, in sonorous nonsense, they excel. If I am thought to express myself too strongly, it must be so, for I believe I speak what God Himself would endorse; He applies no soft terms to boastful unbelievers. When He takes any notice of them at all, He calls them fools. You shall find that to be the expression which the Lord constantly uses concerning unbelievers in the Old Testament, and in the New, too: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." And, brethren, when I hear my Heavenly Father say that a man is a fool, I dare not think him wise. Do not let us think otherwise than God does.
Though we may be confounded in argument, we cannot be confounded in experience, or driven from that which we have tasted and handled of the good Word of God. Neither are we confounded in our faith. We know that our faith is well-founded, and, therefore, we hear it say, "Do not treat me as if I were a dream. Do not deliver your message with bated breath. Tell it out boldly, for he who contradicts it is a liar!" If it be of God, it must be true. We are not adherents of an infallible church which founds its faith on its own authority, or of an infallible Pope who fancies himself to be the image of truth; if such were our boast, the world might well laugh us down; but, having learned God's truth by Divine revelation, we defy the 'world's sneer, and we do not even say, "By your leave, gentlemen." No, but with or without your leave, we will speak what God has revealed to us.
Next, our faith asks us this question, "Have I ever deceived any one of you?" I shall pass that enquiry round. God put to His ancient people this question, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel?" And I may ask you, Has the Lord ever failed you? Has He turned His back upon you in the day of trouble; and, when you have leaned upon His arm, has it proved insufficient? If God has failed you, if His truth has been a lie to any one of you, speak out now, and say so; but if you could not, would not, must not, accuse the Lord of unfaithfulness, but would loathe such a thought because your experience would deny it, then, brethren, go on to believe, and to believe more steadfastly; rest more implicitly on your ever-faithful God.
And so faith says, in the third place, "Give me a wider range. Trust your God far more." We have only waded ankle-deep in faith as yet. We thought the water very cold and chill when we timorously ventured in; but having tried it up to the ankles, we have found it good and pleasant. Let us advance until we are breast-deep, yea, and deeper. Blessed is that man who gets his feet off the bottom, and swims in the stream where he has no hope but his God, and no confidence and no helper but the Invisible One who sustaineth all things. Faith cries, "Trust me, my son, to make you preach better. Have more enterprise. Be more daring. Do not fight your own battle in the church-meeting, leave it to your God; trust all with Him. Do not be afraid to go and speak to that foul-mouthed man; I will give you the right word to say to him. Trust me, and go with prudence but with zeal into the darkest haunts of vice. Find out the worst of men, and seek their salvation. There is nothing you cannot do if you will but trust in God." Brother, your failure, if you fail, will begin in your faith. The air says to the eagle, "Trust me; spread thy broad wings; I will bear thee up to the sun. Only trust me. Take thy foot from off yon rock which thou canst feel beneath thee. Get away from it, and be buoyed up by the unseen element." My brethren, eaglets of Heaven, mount aloft, for God invites you. Mount! You have but to trust Him. An unknown glory rests upon Him, and the radiance thereof shall come upon you if you only know how to trust Him.
And then faith says, (and with that I shall close,) "Feed me! Feed me!" Faith has been everything to you; feed her upon the Bread of Heaven. Faith feeds on Christ. The other day, I saw a group of lovely ferns in a grotto from the roof of which continually distilled a cool, clear, crystal rain; those ferns were perpetually fresh and beautiful, because their leaves were constantly bathed in the refreshing drops. Although it was at a season when verdure was scant, those ferns were as verdant as possible. I observed to the friend who was with me that I would wish to live in the everlasting drip of grace, perpetually laved, and bathed, and baptized in the overflowing of Divine fellowship. This makes a man full of faith. You do not wonder if Moses had faith, for he had been forty days upon the mount with God; and if we have communed with God, it shall be a marvel if we doubt, and not that we believe. Feed faith with the truth of God, but especially with Him who is the Truth.
I pray the Lord to endow this College with faith. May we be both established and endowed,–established on a rock, and endowed with the blessings of the covenant of grace! Remember, brethren, that you and I are committed to faith now; it is too late for us to retire. We are in the condition of Bunyan's pilgrim; we must go forward. There are many perils before us, the Valley of the Shadow of Death lies on ahead; arrows will fly very thickly around us as we traverse its, shades. 'Tis hard going on, but we cannot retrace our steps, for we have no armor for our backs. Suppose we should take to reasoning, suppose we should give up the fundamentals of our faith, what would remain to us? For my part, I should have nothing beneath the sun to do but to take the rope of Judas, and to end a miserable life, for only my faith makes it worth my while to live. If faith were gone, I would entreat permission to expire; to be extinct, were better than to live if these things be but a delusion after all. It must be onward with us, for in the case of brethren of this College, the most unsafe thing for us is to think of turning back. One or two of our former comrades have gone aside from us; I cannot judge their hearts, but I fear they have also gone aside from God. I will not say more of them than this,–they are the last men you would envy if you knew their whole history. If any men bear upon them, even in this life, the evident mark of God's disapprobation, it must be those who have known the truth, and defended it, and yet, for lucre's sake, or ambition's sake, have turned aside from it. If it were fitting, I could write narratives of apostate experiences which would harrow up your feelings, and they would relate to men into whose faces I have looked as I now look into yours, and who were familiar with me, but with whose names, once well-beloved, I am ashamed now to be associated. God have mercy upon them! It is all that I could say if I had to write their epitaphs, "God have mercy upon them!"
Well, brethren, you and I are committed to the onward course, we cannot go back; neither can we turn to the right hand or to the left. What shall we do, then? Shall we lie down, and fret? Shall we stand still, and be dismayed? No! In the Name of the Lord, let us again set up our banner, the royal standard of Jesus the Crucified. Let us sound the trumpets joyously, and let us march on, not with the trembling footsteps of those who know that they are bent upon an enterprise of evil, but with the gallant bearing of men whose cause is Divine, whose warfare is a crusade. Courage, my brethren; behold, the angels of God fly in our front, and, lo, the eternal God Himself leads our van. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." "Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." Blessed faith! God grant us more of it, for Christ's sake! Amen.
—An All-Round Ministry