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Luke xvii. 5. — And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. This prayer of the apostles for an increase of faith, stands in immediate connexion with a lesson which the Saviour had addressed to them, on the duty of forgiving injuries. It would seem as if his doctrine on this subject had made a deep impression, and that the idea of forgiving those who trespass against us, indefinitely and without end, was quite in advance of their present attainments. Without, however, questioning the obligation of the duty, they confess their insufficiency for its performance. It required more grace than they yet possessed, to forgive an offender seven times in a day. It needed faith to do what they had already done, in leaving all to follow Christ, but here is something more difficult. To our unholy natures revenge is sweet, and when prudence or principle restrains us from inflicting evil on those who injure us, the temptation is strong, to cherish in the heart feelings of resentment, and, at least to punish men with our indignation and contempt. The natural man yields to this temptation, and it is one of the noblest triumphs of grace in a regenerate soul, to forgive men their
XI v.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 221 trespasses even as we hope for and need the forgiveness of God. If the divine hfe within us is feeble and languid, we shall be in the same measure, vindictive and unforgiving, and any who will not from his heart forgive an offending fellow-mortal proves himself to be under the condemnation of (xod. And while this request of the apostles confesses their un preparedness for so arduous a duty, it shows a just appreciation of the true source of
a Christian's strength. Persons less instructed in the nature of experimental and practical religion, and looking superficially at the subject, might have prayed for an increase of meekness, or patience, or humility, that when offences came, they might be met with a calm and unruffled temper. These are excellent graces, of which we have immediate need when exposed to provocation or injury ; but they are dependent upon and nurtured by a more radical principle of the Christian character. Faith underlies, precedes, produces them. Praying for the increase of faith, is in effect to pray for their increase; and thus tends to keep down unholy resentments. And more than this, faith itself operates directly and powerfully on the duty and act of forgiving injuries. In fact, there is nothing but faith in God as the Judge of men, at whose bar we all must stand, and on whose pardoning mercy we depend for salvation, that can subdue the vindictive spirit which delights to do to others as they have done to us. Forgive one another, as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you : this is the irresistible argument, and it is faith alone that brings it down and makes it influential as a motive amidst the temptations and duties of every-day life. The light which the connexion thus throws upon the text, is that an increase of faith is the grand preparation for performing the most difficult duties, and meeting successfully the trials to which 19*
222 TRUTH I LOVE. LSer. we are all exposed. The subject is in the highest degree practical, and of universal application. Let us give it earnest heed. It is the increase of faith : and nothing would just now be more in place, than for us to breathe the prayer of the apostles : "Lord, increase our faith:" and inasmuch as faith cometh by hearing, let us meditate devoutly on what the Scriptures teach concerning this important subject.
That for the increase of which we pray is faith : and it is natural, and not unnecessary to begin with some consideration of ITS ATURE. How often the word occurs in Scripture, and how large a place is held, and how vital an office is performed by faith in the salvation of the soul, you need not be informed. In a sense not true of any other act of the soul, or of any other grace of the Spirit, we are saved by faith. We are justified by faith ; we stand by faith ; we walk by faith : and the life we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God. So radical is it in religious character, and so pervading in the acts and life of the Christian, that he is named therefrom a heliever. What, then, is faith? In one aspect it is very simple. As an exercise of the soul, it is only to believe : and there is nothing more mysterious in the faith which saves us, than in the belief and trust we repose in men in the social and commercial intercourse of life. Kit be considered with respect to the objects on which it rests, and the fruits which it yields, and the circumstances under which it is exercised, it presents an almost endless variety of phases, and is linked with every doctrine of the gospel, every form of Christian experience, and every condition of life. A careful study of the Scriptures will bring us, I think, to the conclusion that the two great characteristics of Christian and saving faith regard the grounds on which it rests, and the
XIV.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 223 objects at which it looks. It is unlike all merely human faith, in that it rests on the authority of Grod, testifying to men in the Scriptures in reference to what they could not otherwise know. This appears to be the sense of the apostle where he says — " we walk by faith, not by sight," and in that other and notable text which defines faith as being " the substance of things hoped
for, and the evidence of things not seen." These passages assert what the religious history of men demonstrates, that certain and accurate knowledge of the spiritual and eternal world is obtained only by revelation from Grod. either sense nor reason can pierce the veil that hides the awful and grand realities which are about and beyond us ; the wisest and purest of the ancient sages attained to nothing better than plausible conjectures and uncertain hopes. The "hidden wisdom which none of the princes of this world knew," is made known in Scripture : "as it is written. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which Grod hath prepared for them that love him : but Grod hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. ' ' Faith is the firm belief of these Divine revelations : it rests on the testimony of Grod ; it believes the Scriptures " for the authority of God speaking therein," and is thus a supernatural and divine principle, believing on the ground of God's veracity, and is wrought in the soul by his power. It does not, therefore, "stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God," who first reveals the truth in the Scriptures, and then discloses it to the heart by the inward teaching of his Spirit. This, then, is the first element of faith : it receives and relies on Divine testimony in regard to things otherwise unknown and unknowable. Its second great characteristic regards the objects to which it looks. The testimony of God reveals truths, and discovers objects : and faith embraces the truth, and looks
224 TRUTH I LOVE. [Ser. at the things which this testimony discovers. An illustration from nature may render this distinction clear. The spiritual world, the Scriptures, and faith, have their several types in the material universe, the light of the sun, and the human eye. The earth, without the light of the sun, is wrapt in darkness ; and when the light shines, there is no perception of the form and beauty of the world without the eye; as, "in the beginning," Grod first made the earth, then the light, and, last of all, brought man upon the scene to behold and admire his workmanr-
ship. Thus, also, in things divine and supernatural. There is the spiritual world, but hidden from mortal sight till God pours upon it the light of revelation ; and even after this is done, there is no discernment of the grand and glorious objects with which, it is filled, till the eyes of the understanding are opened, and the new organ of faith is exercised. The efi'ect of this on the soul resembles that of the sun on our bodily senses and actions. It imparts knowledge, awakens feeling," and determines conduct. Opening our eyes upon the natural world, we see in one direction a beautiful landscape, to be admired ; in another, a frightful danger to be avoided ; here a ti-easure to be secured, there a labour to be performed, and in yet another direction, a path to be trodden. So, when a man is translated from the darkness of unbelief into the marvellous light of faith in the revelations of the gospel, "old things pass away," like shadows of the night and chimeras of a disordered fancy, and all things become new. ew ideas, new emotions, new pleasures, "newness of life," and a " new creature," is the certain and happy result. Every truth of the gospel and all the things of the spiritual world, are included in the object of faith, and just so far as they are known and present to the view of the mind, they produce an efiect suitable to their nature.
XIY.l I CREASE OUR FAITH. 225 Faith in the promises of Grod imparts peace and joy ; faith in his threatenings, awakens godly fear ; faith in the doctrine of immortahty and the retributions of a future state, moves us to earnest preparation for death and eternity ; and our daily life is governed by the "powers of the world to come." If we believe in Grod ; even that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek him ; if we believe in the attributes of his glorious nature ; in the strictness of his law, the power of his providence, the freeness of his gospel, and the infinite love he reveals and exercises towards men ; through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ ; it is evident that a faith like this must penetrate our inmost being, must rule in the heart, must mould the character,
must shape the life ; that it must stir profounder emotions and maintain a grasp on the soul as much more firm than anything else, as its objects are more glorious, great, and enduring than all the things which address themselves to reason and sense. Thus we see the nature and power of faith. It is the soul's living contact with and sensibility to the truths and facts of revelation. Its every single act is, as it were, a glance of the eye at these impressive and solemn verities ; and as it grows in strength and steadiness, it becomes the habit of ' ' looking not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at those which are unseen and are eternal." Such, in its nature, is that " precious faith" which all the children of Grod have "obtained:" but while, in its nature, it is alike in all the disciples of Christ, it difi*ers greatly in its degree, and is susceptible of increase ; and this brings us more exactly to the point of our text, and the subject of our discourse : the increase of faith. It may be very weak even where it is true and saving : and there are times in the experience of strong believers, when their faith is feeble, and they greatly feel the need of its increase.
226 TRUTH I LOVE. [Ser. In common, Peter was not specially deficient in this vital principle of the Christian character, but when walking on the water to go to Jesus, he saw the wind boisterous, and was afraid, he began to sink, and received along with the timely succour of Jesus Christ, the gentle rebuke, — " thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" And in that night of preternatural darkness and temptation when Satan desired to have him that he might sift him as wheat, though his gracious Lord prayed for him that his faith might not fail, it is certain that little more than the slenderest thread could have remained to unite him to the Saviour whom he denied. Thomas, more than the rest, it would seem, was staggered by the death of his Divine Master, and was so fixed in unbelief as to discredit the testimony of those who had seen their risen Lord, and was only recovered when the evidence which he had unreasonably required, was granted :
but along with the condescending grace of Jesus, there was given a pointed rebuke — "Be not faithless, but believing." These diversities which appeared among the immediate disciples of Christ are found among all Christians. In some of them, faith is very weak ; in others, strong ; in all it is capable of increase. It may increase — it ought to increase. We are as much commanded to believe with a strong faith as we are to believe at all. The warrant for faith is the veracity of God, and if he who believeth not God, hath made him a liar, and is guilty of a heinous crime, is there not an element of this sin, in the weakness of our faith, which begets doubts whether God will do as he has said, and which fears that he may not? Our reason for believing in God and his revelations at all, is a reason for the most absolute and unquestioning faith. And while the ground of faith — ^which, as we have seen, is the Divine testimony — not only warrants, but requires perfect and implicit confidence, and
XIV.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 227 brings guilt not only on those who have no faith at all, but on those whose faith is weak ; the same thing appears from considering the immediate and actual causes of this weakness of faith. One of them is ignorance of, and inattention to the word of God. The Scriptures are God's testimony : and how can we believe, any farther than we know and consider it? It is the word of God which begets, and supports, and nourishes faith : and in order to this, it must be devoutly read and listened to. eglect of the Scriptures and ignorance of their contents are the food of unbelief; and a man who is mighty in the Scriptures is certain to be "strong in faith." The doubt and distress into which the disciples were thrown by the crucifixion of Christ, was the direct and obvious result of unacquaintance with the word of God. They trusted that Jesus was the Messiah, till he was i)ut to death ; and when that happened, they knew not what to think ; whereas, if they had known the Scriptures and the power of God, they would have seen in his death the fulfilment of prophecy, and so would have found a fresh support of
their faith. Their ignorance was culpable, and of course the unbelief which sprang from it was equally so : and while the risen Redeemer condescended to remove it, he pointed out and rebuked its guilty cause: — "0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken — and beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" — and while he spake, their hearts burned within them, their eyes were opened'to know him, and faith grew up to a strength and stature which it had never reached before. If the unbelief which rejects Christ and salvation is condemned and jjunished as an aggravated sin, certainly the unbelief which lingers in the heart of a believer, and which might be expelled by a better knowledge and a more
228 TRUTH I LOVE. [Ser. devout study of the Scriptures, is not innocent. It dishonours God, and paralj'zes our own strength. Another and special impediment to faith, is the want of a good conscience. The apostle exhorts to "hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience : " in nothing else can it be held. Guilt is the natural extinguisher of faith, as much so as water is of fire. A guilty conscience — a conscience which is ever unquiet by reason of neglected duties and doubtful practices — is wholly incompatible with ' ' confidence toward God, ' ' and ' ' boldness' ' at the throne of grace. Destroying faith, it quenches the spirit of prayer, and renders impossible that pleading earnestness which prevails with God. Careless, unstable, unreliable, worldly-minded Christians have little faith. Their inconsistent life is at once the evidence of its weakness, and the cause of its continually becoming more so. For these and like reasons, we must proceed on the assumption that the weakness of faith is a fault to be repented of, not less than a want to be supplied. The prayer for more, is a virtual confession of our sin in having so little ; nevertheless, it is a hopeful symptom. Is it the desire of our hearts? Is it your prayer to God, now and always — "Increase my faith?" If so, the methods and means of its increase will be of interest. On this point, we shall attempt but a few brief suggestions. In
the text, the apostles asked of the Saviour, as a direct bestowment, that he would increase their faith ; and this suggests that prayer is a means of increasing faith. It possesses, indeed, an admirable adaptation to this end. Faith is the gift of God, and therefore it is to be sought in prayer, as are all other divine blessings. If we have a little faith, and pray for more, God will give it to us by the inspirations of his Holy Spirit, helping our unbelief, and increasing our faith : while prayer thus obtains fiiitli as a divine gift, and so adds to its strength, it exercises it
XIV.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 229 as a grace, and according to a law of both natural and spirituul life, increases its vigour and activity. Prayer to tlie invisible God, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for spiritual and eternal mercies, is purely an act of faith. Prayer is faith in exercise. If not identical, they are intimately related. They act and react on one another continually. Faith prompts to prayer, and prayer increases faith. It does so both in the nature of the act, and in the method of its answer. If the answer came always in the moment of asking, faith would not be nourished so much as sense would be indulged. The Syro-Phenician mother had strong faith when she began to cry to Jesus in behalf of her daughter; but when, after repeated and distressing repulses, she pressed her suit and triumphed, her faith mightily increased, and would have removed mountains ; and from the lips of the Son of Grod, she received the precious commendation and assurance — "0 woman, great is thy faith!" The Christian who thus cries to Grod in his closet, and kneels with his family at the mercy-seat, and forsakes not the place where social prayer is wont to be made — will experience a steady increase of his faith. It grows by its exercise in prayer, by the grace which Grod gives in answer to prayer, by the very method of the answer, and by the fact of getting answer at all. Every instance of answered prayer establishes faith in Jehovah as a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God. Another means of its increase, entirely within our reach, is active employment
in the service of God. If you wish to find a professor of religion who is "fearful and unbelieving," imagining difficulties and dangers in every direction ; afraid to attempt anything for fear it will fail, and living without the joys and consolations of religion, go to one who does the least service in the church: and who habitually shrinks from or refuses to perform a large part 20
230 TRUTH I LOVE. [Ser. of Christian duties. Such a course of behaviour violates the fundamental conditions of the life of faith, and if the divine principle be in him at all, it can only drag out a sickly existence, with fewer and fainter pulsations. The law of its life and the condition of its increase is activity. It " worketh by love ;" and this its native tendency must be complied with, in order to its growth. It may and must be nurtured by the word of God, and by the influences of grace, bestowed in answer to prayer, but these alone do not bring it up to a full and healthy development. It needs work. Faith and works, though theological opposites in the matter of our justification, which cannot be mingled, are friendly allies and energetic co-labourers in our sanctification. In Abraham, the father of believers, faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect : its genuineness was evinced and its strength increased. Every act of sincere obedience to Grod that you perform, will increase your faith, and especially every act of self-denying service will have this eflfect. Try the experiment, and you will bear witness to its efficacy. With reference to the means and methods of increasing faith. I only add further, that God has this end in view in all the dealings of his providence. It is of the very essence of our probation, that we are required and taught to live by faith: and the whole scheme of providence and grace is adjusted for developing and strengthening this habit of the soul. For this end the bless-
ing on our labours is concealed or delayed ; impediments are left or even placed in our path ; the providential way of Jehovah is through the sea and in the deep waters ; and the unfolding of his mighty plans and holy purposes is so slow that the forward movement in the life-time of a generation is scarcely perceptible to those who stand amid the world's confusions.
XIV.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 231 Sense and reason cannot pierce the clouds and darkness whicli surround Mm, and we are "shut up to the faith," which assures us that ' ' justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne," and whether we can see it or not, " all things do work together for good, to them that love Grod ;" and for the furtherance of that kingdom which is "righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Grhost. ' ' Thus, when sense is blind and reason baffled, are we schooled to the exercise of faith, and by the exercise, faith is increased. And oftentimes, the purpose designed by the Christian's afflictions is not so much the punishment of his sins, as it is the proof of his faith. Like gold from the furnace, it emerges from the fiery trial, approved, purified, perfected, and is found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ. By such methods and processes, Grod answers our prayer for the increase of faith, and in so doing confers upon us the greatest blessing we can receive in the present world. "Faith" is the great law, condition, and characteristic of our life on earth, as "sight" is the grand peculiarity and excellence of the believer's estate in heaven. Faith is the radical grace and principle of Christian character; its increase is the virtual increase of all other attributes and principles. It works by love ; it begets joy, peace, hope, and all the beautiful train of graces which adorn the character and bless the soul. It is the root from which they grow, and as, in material husbandry and horticulture, the only method of obtain-
ing fruit and flowers is the planting of seeds, so, in this garden of the Lord, the virtues and graces which beautify the character and life of a Christian spring up from the germ of faith, and most abound where that divine principle is the strongest. In the increase of faith, sanctification, in all its elements and prin-
232 TRUTH I LOVE. [Ser. ciples, is carried* forward. Faith " purifies the heart." It is a principle of antagonism to all evil, and will not jest till every corruption is mortified and destroyed. It is indispensable in the performance of our duties. If we depend on mere feelings for the impulsive power which shall urge and uphold us in the service of Grod, feeling may fluctuate, joy may decline, and darkness may surround us. We need, to keep us firm, and patient, and faithful, a principle which never suspends its operation ; which grasps the changeless and glorious things of the spiritual world and the eternal future, and brings down from heaven motives and powers, when all within is comfortless, and all around discouraging ! Faith is this bond of union and channel of communication between earth and heaven, between the soul and God. Whatever of motive power there is for doing and enduring the Divine will, in the thought of God's all-seeing eye, in the solemnities of the judgment-bar, in the hope of everlasting life, and in the danger of eternal banishment from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power, — all this is by faith brought to bear as an incentive to fidelity in the duties of our earthly lot: and not the power of motives only, but the direct power of almighty grace, "helping our infirmities," feeding our hidden life with spiritual supplies, is conveyed by faith from its heavenly source. Faith is union with God in Christ ; the fellowship of human weakness with Divine strength. Man's impotence obtains the aid of God's almightiness, and the believer is able to do what mere mortal power could never achieve.
Strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, the Christian performs duties which are painful to his natural sensibilities ; and resists temptations before which others fall. With "the shield of faith," he quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked,
XIV.] I CREASE OUR FAITH. 233 and when the world and all its attractions are offered as the bribe of his fidelity and the price of his soul, faith looks away to the crowns, and palms, and treasures of a better country, and spurns the worthless baubles of earth. ' ' This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. ' ' Have you this precious faith, my brethren? Bless God for its bestowment, and pray for its increase, till it shall hold the undivided ascendency of your heart, and govern your life. "Walk by faith," and you will walk safely, steadily, joyfully; and in the end of your pilgrimage, will reach the glorious objects which have been the pole-star of your earthly wanderings. * ' For now we see through a glass, darkly ; but then face to face : now we know in part ; but then shall we know even as also we are known. " The church needs the increase of faith, and the sinner needs its first implantation. Ye that have no faith, consider that your want of it is sin. Your unbelief is not owing to any intellectual inability, nor to any want of evidence. It is due to the indisposition and unwillingness of the heart. " He that believeth not Grod, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. He that believeth on him, is not condemned : but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is his commandment : That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. ' '
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