FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS.
BY JAMES GALLOWAY COWA
St. John, xx., 29. Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. "P^OES our Lord mean to say that there was no blessedness in the sight which he then presented ? — that it was not a precious privilege actually to see Him, to hear Him, to be perceptibly with Him ? Would He, too, withdraw and reverse the blessing He had formerly pronounced — " Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see" ? Would He tell us that the kings and prophets, who saw the promises only afar off, who fancied and conjectured, and died in hope, were more blessed than the hearers of the Sermon of the Mount, the spectators of the Transfiguration, the companions of that three years' ministry, the guests at Emmaus, the disciple that reclined on His bosom ? o, surely !
FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS. 67 The blessedness of the Apostles, in certainly seeing, and being with Christ in the flesh, is, in its peace and joy, a blessedness which stands preeminent and alone, and must do till again He is seen in Heaven. But peace and joy are not the greatest blessings. That which calms, that which gladdens, is nothing in comparison with that which sanctifies and elevates; and there is a blessedness which does this ; and which, therefore, is greater. It is the blessedness which faith
produces. *^ Blessed (i.^., more blessed) are they that have not seen, 2i,nd yet have believed." Belief, faith — what is it ? It may be, described as the assent of the understanding, to that which is not proved to any of our senses, but which appears credible because of the testimony given to it. We all have this faith, in human affairs. We all of us accept as true — are convinced of their truth, and act upon the conviction — things which are not proved to us, but are supported by reliable statement. If you serve for wages, or sell goods on credit, or become surety for another, or go out to seek a new home in a distant land, you do it in faith. You cannot see into the heart, and be sure of the honesty of your employer, your customer, your friend ; but what appears, from what you are told by others of him, you rely on him. AxA'^'Ci
68 SERMO V. again, you do not actually know that there Is €uch a land as you propose to seek, but you believe it, because of all that travellers have said of it, of the goods you have seen, the letters you have read, which are stated to have come from it. Of course, as the testimony varies in its credibiKty, this faith is of different degrees. You have such faith in your well-tried friend, in his integrity and his wisdom, that you know, you say, that he will not deceive you, and that he cannot be deceived himself. Others, of whom you know less, you believe more slowly. Some, you think, are not qualified to give testimony; they have the thing second-hand, or they were not competent to judge of what they saw, and heard, and felt; or they are not truthful, and may wilfully misrepresent: and even, in the best cases, faith is sometimes misplaced. Therefore, your faith in
human things, has always, perhaps (and should have) a trace of doubt in it — sometimes is weak, sometimes fails altogether. It would be wrong and injurious to have equal faith in all ; but, on the other hand, to be always doubting, to refuse to believe without seeing, would be misery, and folly, and mockery of self. Divine faith is different: the accepting (that is) of what is recommended to us by the testimony of God, by
FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS. 69 well-proved miracles^ by prophecies since fulfilled, by any other of God's witnesses. This is perfect. It admits of no doubts and qualifications. It is as sure of what it believes, as if it handled, and heard, and saw it : yea, surer, for its own judgment might be deceived; but God knows all things and judges rightly, and God cannot deceive. Therefore, when God reveals, we may not question the plausibility of what is shown ; we have no room for doubt as to His opportunities of knowing. His truthfulness in communicating what is narrated. All we may do, is to ask — Has God spoken, are these things His testimony ? And this we ought to do ; for there is no blessing pronounced by the text on the credulous, who take everything as from God, without examination. Thomas surely would have erred, if, simply because some one told him of Christ's resurrection, he had straightway believed it. We are exhorted not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God. We have to examine miracles, to see whether they are real or pretended, and prophecies, to see that they were not written after the professed fulfilments, and all revelations, lest they should be spurious. Failing to do this, we might have followed Theudas, who came to nought,
or Joan of Arc : we might become Mohamme-
70 SERMO V. dans or Mormonites. We have to guard against this ; not to be credulous ; to be sure that it is God that speaks : but then, being sure, whatever He describes, however incomprehensible or improbable, whatever He commands, no matter how apparently unreasonable, whatever He promises, against experience, against opinion, against hope, to accept all, and rely on all, and lead the life of reliance. Yes, brethren, this is the believing which alone is blessed ; the believing which leads to doing. Faith is the evidence by which we see things naturally unseen ; it is the substance, the very handled reality, of things naturally only hoped for ; and which, by its revelations of beauty and bliss, by its sanctions and persuasions, and by all that it shows us of the present, and promises or threatens in the future, makes us fly to God, and cling to Him, and depend on Him, and live for Him, and look for Him. Less than this — mere assent of the understanding, without heartembracing, and life-demonstrating, and exercising — is not the belief that is blessed. Faith without works is dead, being alone. If then, brethren, you would be partakers of the blessedness promised in the text, you must have fully received, and be acting upon the form of religion which God has given you. You must have implicit
FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS, 71 trust in Him for help and support and peace and blessing. You must know that whatever He has
described is real, whatever He has promised or threatened will surely be fulfilled, on the conditions He has laid down ; and you must testify and act upon your knowledge by a corresponding life. I do not say that all this is demanded of you in perfection; that the hope of blessing is gone, if you fail of aught of it : but I do say that, if in anything you distrust GoD, if you question or demand further proof of, or are indifferent to anything He has revealed, and deliberately do not live by it, then you cannot claim the benediction of the text. But it occurs to you to ask, perhaps, how it is that God selects believing, rather than seeing, on any other way of reception for special blessing. ow, it is not necessary that God should account to us for what He does or wills. Creatures of His hand, we are made for Him ; dependents on His bounty, we must thankfully receive it in any way and form of bestowal. But still there are reasons which may be briefly suggested for the selection of faith. First, then, faith embodies the entire trustful devotion to God, which, above any assent to what is proved, any following of what is seen, or
72 SERMO V. heard^ magnifies the honour of God, and so sets forth His glory. It owns His truth, His providence. His love, and prompts to a free-will, spiritual, glorifying service of Him. Secondly, unless there are to be perpetual miracles, faith alone can be permanently and universally influential. If we are to be guided by sight, or
hearing, or touching, then the revelations to one generation would have to be repeated to each following generation, and those of one country performed again in every other. Thus Christ would have had to continue on earth, to have visited every land, and been crucified and raised from the dead in every land, or to have gathered all nations into Judea to witness what was done ; and this would have had to be repeated over and over again to our fathers, to us, to our children, or else some would have been without the necessary influence to serve, and love, and depend on Him. And more than this, since ihe sights we see and the sounds we hear, are soon over, and leave but a faint remembrance behind, we should be imperfectly influenced by them, when Christ ceased to speak ; or when He passed into another place we should be without our object of worship, our instructor or hope. And even if these objections can be met, still the perpetuity of Christ's
FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS. 73 visible presence, the beholding of His miracles, and hearing of His words, would necessarily put a stop to all worldly occupations; would make probation little more thaii a name ; would constrain men by natural influences to a carnal or slavish adherence to Him, or would drive them into reckless rebellion, and instant and irrevocable condemnation. But again, faith is more blessed because it has greater privileges — because it reveals more clearly, brings nearer, than any sense could do. If you only hear a loved one, do you not desire to see him ? If you see him, are you not unblessed unless you embrace him? And then, is there not an
influence, a way of communicating, that surpasses this — a purer, a more spiritual influence, one which brings you together, and keeps you together, and makes you one — love, which surpasses, which is independent of, or only uses as accessaries, the bodily senses ? We are too apt, brethren, to talk of seeing as believing ; to count sense above feeling ; to exalt what belongs to the body, above what belongs to the mind or spirit. Doubtless, the error arises from the way in which we speak of faith giving way to sight in heaven, as though the eyes of the body only, and not the mind and spirit, were to behold Chbist then ; as though
74 SERMO V. mental and spiritual perception were not better than bodily ; as though there were no assurance that faith is an abiding gift, and that, therefore, while in heaven there will be much to gratify the eye of the body, there will still be much more which faith alone can realise. My brethren, the greatest eternal blessedness will be vouchsafed to faith, and the greatest blessedness of this state belongs to faith, because it is the exercise of man's noblest and best, and most reliable faculties, far superior in excellence, far more certain in ascertaining the truth, than ears, or eyes, or hands. Once more, faith is blessed above seeing, because it grasps a set of truths, and enjoys a class of pleasures which are different from those of the senses, and which the senses cannot touch. God the Father invisible for ever, God the Holy Ghost, blowing like the wind where it listeth, so that you cannot see whence it cometh and whither it goes, ministering angels, spiritual influences,
and consolations, and helps — what can ear, or eye, or hand know of these ? But faith knows them, hears them, sees them, handles them, and joys in them. And this, brethren, exhibits the nature of faith's blessedness; that to it is revealed the whole spiritual world ; that the evidence which it
FAITH A D ITS BLESSED ESS, 75 needs^ the object of its worship, its Saviour, its LOBD, its hopes and fears, and encouragements and promises are never absent, and never missed, (but by its own dimness or voluntary blindness) whatever may become of the outward signs and boding presences. Picture to yourselves, brethren, the scene of that chamber where the raised Christ stood manifest, in the posture of blessing, before His adoring disciples. Imagine what Thomas had before felt, and what he now felt. Then hear Christ say — The bliss of this moment might have been yours before, if you had sought to attain it by faith, and not by sight ; and what you now see may be yours for ever, for in spirit I shall ever be with you, and by faith you may ever behold Me ! Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed "; and that blessing, brethren, was for us, if we will have it. If we believe, then we are thus blessed. If we are not blessed, we may be. O let us lay hold on this truth, let us cultivate faith, let us pray to God for an increase of it, and let us perpetually exercise it in beholding Him Who is ever with us, to pardon our faithless sins, to restore us to His company, to breathe upon us peace and blessing.
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