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JOH ix. 35, 36. Jesus said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God ? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him ? THE question of our Lord was asked of one whom lie had just delivered from blindness, but who knew nothing of the real nature and dignity of the person who had so relieved hirn. He was persuaded, indeed, that Jesus was a prophet ; be cause he thought that none but a good man and one endowed in a particular manner with hea venly gifts, could have wrought such a miracle as Christ had just performed : and he was cast out by the Jews, that is, he was shut out from their religious worship and church, because he tried to convince them of this truth ; and would not join them in saying that Christ was a sinner. In this state Jesus sought him out, and asked him in the words of the text, Dost thou believe on the Son of God ? The man replied, Who is he, that I should believe on him, for I never o2
190 SERMO XVII. heard of such a person, nor do I know where he is to be found? It was an answer of complete ignorance, but of ignorance which was not wil ful, nor did it proceed out of an evil heart.
Christ therefore teaches him more plainly than he was wont to do to any, except his own peculiar disciples. Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. The instruc tion was well received by him to whom it was given : he said directly, Lord, I believe : and in token of his belief, he worshipped Christ imme diately. Jesus said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God ? It is the very question which he still puts to the conscience of every man, and on the answer given to it does the salvation of every man still depend. How often also is the answer which our hearts would return, the very same with that which was made by the blind man to Christ : Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him ? It is not, indeed, generally the same kind of ignorance, it is not an honest want of instruction, accompanied with a desire to gain it ; but it is a wilful and a proud ignorance, like that of Pharaoh when he said to Moses, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go! I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go. And therefore it is, that I have not taken for my text the words in
SERMO XVII. 197 which our Saviour replies again to the blind man : " Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee ; " because Christ never would give such an answer to those whose igno rance is their own fault : on the contrary, their eyes are blinded that they cannot see, and all
deceivableness of unrighteousness, that is, all the various seductions by which men are led to embrace evil rather than good, is allowed to be practised by Satan against them. I purpose then to take a few cases of common characters ; and to show how many there are, who, if asked plainly, whether they believed in the Son of God ? would be forced to confess, that they had but very imperfect ideas about him, and that they did not fully know who he was that they should believe on him. First let us see what the question means. It is plain that it means more than a mere nominal belief, like that of a person who had learnt his creed by heart, and had been told in his child hood, who Christ was ; without having in after life thought about him at all, and yet without ever having his old belief overthrown : so that if he should be put in mind of it, he would still possess it. This is just such a belief as we might have concerning any famous person that we have ever read of; whose name is of no concern to us in our daily living, and does not present itself to our minds ; but if we were asked concerning it,
198 SERMO XVII. we should then remember what we had learnt, and say that we had no doubt of the history of it. Such a belief on the Son of God is no belief at all : because I may very well believe that Csesar Augustus was once an emperor of Rome, and yet scarcely ever think of him ; for it is of no conse quence to my conduct and happiness whether he ever lived or no. But to believe on Christ and not think of him, is almost a contradiction : so much does it concern us to think of him, if we believe
what we are told of him. We know that the belief spoken of in the text, is a true and lively assurance that Christ is indeed the Son of God, from whom we shall receive our eternal sentence of happiness or misery, according as we please him or no ; and any man who does hold such an assurance strongly, cannot easily avoid being in fluenced by it in his conduct. I ow first, I believe that there are many, who, in a very strict sense, may be said not to know who the Son of God is. They call him their Saviour, but if they are asked what he has done for them, they would say that he has taught them their duty, and told them that if they did well they should go to heaven hereafter. Thus they consider him in fact as a great prophet, but are never led to regard him with that faith, and love and adoration, which his character, as re vealed in the Scriptures, demands. I am not speaking of those who avow their disbelief in
SERMO XVII. 199 his divinity ; but of those, and I believe they are many, who receiving all the doctrines of our creed without scruple, and confessing, when ques tioned concerning it, that Jesus Christ is God and man, do yet habitually lose sight of his office of Saviour and Mediator, and regard him only as a teacher. Hence it follows that he does not hold his due place in their religion ; they speak of God, and think of him, and pray to him with out knowing that he can only be approached through his Son ; and their opinions and practice are more those of the disciples of John the Baptist, who preached repentance, than of the Apostles of Christ, who taught together with repentance
towards God, faith towards Jesus Christ our Lord. Connected with this is a thing which may appear trifling, but which in reality is a very curious symptom of the state of feeling that I have been describing. It is notorious that in writing and in speaking, the name of God, or of Providence, is frequently used, not merely in thoughtless profaneness, but when men wish to use expres sions of seriousness and devotion. It is noto rious also, that the name of Christ is very seldom used in the same manner, and that if it were used in conversation, people would start at it, as something unusual. It cannot be said that men are restrained by reverence from using the name of the Son, when they do not hesitate to
200 SERMO xvn. pronounce that of the Father : neither is it agree able to the practice or commands of the Apostles to forbear speaking of him who holds all power in heaven and in earth, and in whose name we are directed to do all things. But the custom has arisen from a wish to comply as much as possible with the language of the world, and to keep out of sight the peculiarities of the Gospel. It is something of the old shame which used to be felt for the scandal of the cross ; God is a name which unbelievers may use, for they profess to acknowledge a Supreme Being, and, therefore, they hear the word without offence. But the men tion of Christ shows the difference between Chris tians and unbelievers in the strongest manner; it is the signal of our profession which cannot be mistaken, and it at once awakens the hatred of the world. For the Gospel is always thoroughly hated by every one that is evil, because it is truth and righteousness, and reproves the deeds
of the wicked ; nor is there any better proof that what is called natural religion is of an infinitely lower kind, than the pretended respect shown for it by those who cannot bear the perfect purity of the law of God. However, it may be asked, what practical mischief is done by regard ing our Lord mostly as a teacher, and by not keeping his name so continually in our thoughts ? The mischief is this, that we by so doing lose
SERMO XVII. 201 sight of the great corruption of our nature, which needed a Saviour and a Sanctifier much more than a teacher; and by forgetting our own weak ness, we shall never gain that strength which through Christ is able to overcome all things ; but trying to fulfil the law of works, we shall fall far more short of that law, than if we had endea voured to attain unto righteousness by the law of faith. In other words, the love of Christ is the most practical principle in the world : of which there is this proof; that all those men whose lives have afforded the brightest examples of goodness, have been full of this love of their Saviour ; and gratitude to him for his redemp tion, confidence in him as their Mediator, and a hope to reign with him hereafter in glory, have been the ruling feelings of their minds. On the other hand, where Christ has been lowered, and has not formed the principal part of men s reli gion, it is equally matter of experience, that general holiness of life has decayed also ; a spirit less devout, less humble, less self-denying, and less affectionate, has arisen in the heart; and the truth of Christ s words has thus been abundantly proved, that whoso honoureth not the Son, the same honoureth not the Father; and that no mail
can come unto the Father but by him. A second class of persons, who do not know the Son of God, consists of those to whom the
20.2 SERMO XVII. expression of the Apostle, that we walk by faith, and not by sight, appears, if they would confess the truth, utterly wild and unreasonable. They are so far from walking by faith, and not by sight, that they live entirely upon what they see around them, and bestow not a thought upon those things which could only be discerned by faith. The Apostle s words are intended to encourage those, who, having their hearts full of the great blessings promised to them hereafter, are impatient for the enjoyment of them, and who are troubled mean while with a variety of evils in the present life. To such persons it was a very needful lesson, that they must for a time be contented to take on trust the good things that were promised them, for they could not expect as yet actually to see and enjoy them. But the persons of whom I am speaking care very little for the blessings of heaven, and have no need that any should advise them to wait patiently for their coming. They have their business and their pleasures, their thoughts, hopes, and affections, all among earthly things, which they see, and know, and enjoy. They have no desire, therefore, to have faith; for whilst present things engage their minds wholly, why should they cherish a lively belief in things that are to come? What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for ? and if he has all that he wants, experience supplies to him the place of
SERMO XVII. 203 belief. Who then is Christ, that such men should believe on him? They know nothing of him or of his kingdom ; they feel no longing for his salvation. Many of these men attend church, express their belief in the Gospel, and not unfrequently lament and condemn the progress of infidelity. This they do, not out of pretence, but thinking themselves very sincere; they have a respect for Christianity, and they propose to themselves, when they think of such things, to profit from its rewards hereafter. But if those labourers in the parable who were called early in the morning had passed the day in idleness, re solving to begin their work at the eleventh hour, they would in vain have asked for the wages of their labour. And so it is with us : we cannot put off the yoke of Christ for a season, resolving to put it on when all earthly enjoyment shall be ready to fail us. If we live by sight, we must not expect to die by faith. It is this way of living that has thrown so much dishonour on the Christian name. How are Christians better than other men ? it is asked ; and we can only answer, that it would be very wonderful if a great many Christians were better than others, while their hopes and inclinations are fixed on just the same objects as those of the world. When Christians are warmly pressing for advancement ; when considerations of their own comfort and interest
204 SERMO XVII. are chiefly looked to in their acceptance or re fusal of the situations which they are to hold in life; when they talk of the necessity of maintain
ing their honour, are jealous of the good opinion of men, and impatient of affront or injury ; when they are careless of the spiritual good of their neighbours, and when they estimate so highly the faculties of the understanding, whether accom panied or no by good principles and practice ; how is it possible that they should be better than other men? and how can any one be expected to glorify the name of their heavenly Father, by seeing such evil works as they do ? In what re spect can such persons be said to know Christ or to believe in him? They may, indeed, be able to repeat their creed by heart; but how far is this from the true saving knowledge of their Saviour ! They do not know their own sinfulness and weakness ; they do not know any thing of the comfort of being forgiven ; they are strangers to the happy confidence of a believer s prayer; they have never felt the earnestness of a Christian s hope. They are thus in absolute ignorance of the nature of the Gospel, and know not even the common commandments of the Scripture. How often do we hear men of this sort, well endowed, it may be, with natural abilities and human knowledge, complain of particular doctrines as being the doctrines only
SERMO XVII. 205 of divines, and at variance, as they say, with the principles of other men ? I mean such doc trines as these : that sensual lusts are to be reckoned among the greatest sins ; that self-in dulgence is dangerous to the soul s welfare ; that natural inclinations are not to be passed over as excusable, but to be carefully resisted, as the marks of our great corruption. The humblest Christian knows very well that these are not the doctrines of
men, but of the Scripture : whereas such persons as I have been speaking of, while they call them selves Christians, are so totally ignorant of their religion, that they attack and revile its precepts, pretending that they are merely the precepts of the clergy. Hence it is that so many books, not written by avowed unbelievers, are full of principles quite opposite to those of the Gospel ; because there are so many persons, who, not disclaiming the name of Christians altogether, have yet no clear knowledge of what a Christian ought to be. But how foolish, on every calculation, is such indecisive behaviour as this ! Would that they would take one side or the other : that they would either be servants of Christ in earnest, or renounce him openly, and say that they have nothing to do with Jesus of azareth and his salvation. Happy, indeed, would it be for the Church of Christ, if all its false friends were to declare themselves its enemies : the Gospel would then no more be
>()() SERMO XVII. reproached with the scandal of their evil lives, and the true believers would be drawn more closely to one another, and would feel the name of Christian to be a real tie of brotherhood. But how much more happy, if any of those who know not the Son of God, might be brought to learn who he is, and to believe and to worship him in spirit and in truth ! And, under God, there is no way so likely to draw them home, as for those who do know Christ, and believe in him and love him, to increase their knowledge and love more and more, and to bring their lives to a more perfect conformity with his Gospel. That in many things we offend all, is a truth which the consciences of every one of us
here assembled can abundantly confirm ; but that our offences may daily become fewer and less flagrant should be at once our labour and our prayer. And for all who in sincerity of heart do thus strive to increase their faith and knowledge of their Saviour, his words to the blind man are a most comfortable prophecy of what he will one day say to them, " that they have seen him, and he has talked with them ; " on earth, by his word and Spirit : in heaven, by his presence revealed to them, when they shall see him as he is.
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