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(Preached before the Northamptonshire Association, held at Nottingham, June
2, 1784.] :
2 Cor. v. 7.-WE WALK BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT.
MUCH is said, concerning faith, in the holy scriptures, especially in the New Testament ; and great stress is laid upon it, especially by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This, I apprebend, is not very difficult to be accounted for. Ever since the fall of man, we have been entirely dependent on the mercy of God, through a Mediator. We all lie at his discretion, and are beholden to his mere sovereign grace for all the happiness we enjoy. We bave nothing on which we can rely for the possession or continuance of any good, but the word and will of God. The only life, therefore, proper for a fallen creature in our world, is a life of faith ; to be constantly sensible of our dependence upon God, continually going to him, and receiving all from him, for the life that now is, and that which is to come.
Believers, and they only, are brought to be of a spirit suitable to such a kind of life. The hearts of all others are too full of pride and self-sufficiency; but these are contented to be pensioners on the bounty of another, can willingly commit their all into Christ's hands, and venture their present and everlasting concerns upon his word. The just shall live by faith.
Self-renunciation, and confidence in another, are ideas which seem ever to accompany that of faith. The Apostle speaks of being Vol. VII.
justified by faith ; that is, not by our own righteousnes, but by the righteousness of another: of living by faith ; that is, not by our own earnings so to speak, but by the generosity of another : of standing by faith ; that is, not upon our own legs, as we should say, but upon those of another : and, here, of walking by faith ; which is as much as if he had said, “We walk, not trusting our own eyes, but the eyes of another : we are blind, and cannot guide ourselves ; we must, therefore, rely upon God, for direction and instruction. This, my brethren, is the life we must live, while in this world, and this the manner in which we must walk in onr progress toward the heavenly state. Great is the wisdom and goodness of God in so ordering it ; great glory hereby redounds to him, and great good accrues to us.
All I shall attempt will be, to explain the NATURE, and show the IMPORTANCÉ, of the Christian's walk by faith. Both are necessary, the one, that we may form just ideas of what we have to do ; and the other, that we may feel our hearts excited to do it. Omay the same SPIRIT who indited the sacred passage breathe upon us that these ends may be accomplished !
1. Let us inquire, WHAT IS INTENDED by the sacred writer, when he says, We walk by faith, not by sight. Faith and sight, it is easy to see, here stand opposed : as, indeed, they do in many other parts of scripture ; especially in that remarkable definition of faith, wherein the Apostle to the Hebrews calls it the evidence of things not seen.
But what kind of sight it is opposed to, may deserve our attentive inquiry.
And here before I proceed any farther, in order to make the way clear, I will advert to a notion which has been too generally received, but which appears, to me, unscriptural and pernicious : what I refer to is, that faith is to be considered as opposed to spiritual sight, or spiritual discernment. It is true, I never heard of any person, either in preaching, writing or conversation, who said so in express words ; but expressions are often used, which convey the same idea. When the terms faith and sense are used, it is common with many, to understand, by the latter, sensible communion with God. So it is commop to hear a life of faith opposed to a life of frames and feelings. Those times in which we have
the most spiritual discernment of God's glory, sensible communion with him, and feel our love most ardently drawn out to him, are thought to have the least of the exercise of faith. It is common to say, “There is no need for faith then ; at those times we live by sense: but that; when all our graces seem dead, and we can see no evidence from whence to draw the favourable conclusion, then is the time to walk by faith.” The meaning is, then is the time to believe all is well, and so rest easy, whether we have evidence that it is so, or not.
Thus we have often heard several passages of scripture applied, or rather miserably misapplied ; for instance, that in the last chapter of Habakkuk : Although the fig-tree shall not blossum, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and no herd in the stalls : yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my Salvation. As if, by the fig-tree not blossoming, &c. was meant the Christian graces not being in exercise ; and that then was the time to walk by faith, to rejoice in the God of our salvation ! That passage also concerning Abraham, who, against hope, believed in hope, has been understood, as if to be. strong in faith, giving glory to God, like Abraham, was to maintain an unshaken persuasion of the goodness of our state, whether we have evidence, or no evidence.
So also that passage, in the fiftieth of Isaiah, has been frequently brought for this purpose: Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light ? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. As though a state of darkness, there, meant a state of mind wherein a person could discern no evidence whatever of his being a good man; and as though such were there encouraged to make themselves easy, and leave the matter with God, not doubting the goodness of their state. Our Lord's rebuke to Thomas has been understood in the same manner: Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed : blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. As if a blessing should rest upon those, who, destitute of all discernible evidence of their Christianity, nevertheless believe it with an unshaken confidence. If this is to walk by faith, then faith must staud opposed to spiritual sight, or spiritual discernment.
I doubt not but there is such a thing as to live upon frames : which ought to be guarded against. If I imagine, for instance, that God changes as I change; that he admires me at one time, and not another; or that his great love, from whence all my hope of salvation springs, rises and falls according to the state of my mind ; this is, doubtless to dishonour God, as it strikes at the immutability of his love. So, if I derive my chief consolation from reflecting upon what I am, instead of reflecting upon what Christ is, this is to dishonour Christ, and may, very properly, stand opposed to living by faith. But this is not the common idea of living upon frames. It has been usual, with many, to account that man to live upon frames, who, when he is stupid and dark and carnal, cannot be confident about the safety of his state ; and him to live by faith who can maintain his confidence in the worst of frames. Allow me, brethren, to offer three or four plain reasons against this notion of the subject.
1. Faith is the only means of spiritual discernment and communion with God; and, therefore, cannot be opposed to them. Our best frames are those in wbich faith is most in exercise ; and our worst, when it is the least. Faith is the eye of the mind. It is that by which we realize invisible and spiritual objects, and so have fellowship with God. Yes, it is by this grace that we behold the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.
2. If faith is opposed to spiritual discernment and communion with God, then it must work alone ; it must never act in conjunction with any of those graces wherein we feel our hearts go out to God; for this would be to confound faith and sense together. But this is contrary to fact. When we have most faith in exercise, we have most love, most hope, most joy; and so of all the graces : all sweetly act in harmony. Thus the scriptures represent it as ever accompanied by other graces ; especially by love purity, and lowliness of heart. It is expressly said to work by love ; and, it should seem never works without it. It is also said to purify the heart. The exercise of faith, therefore, and the ex
ercise of holiness, can never be separated. Equally true is it, that it is ever attended with lowliness of heart. There are two instances of faith recorded, which our Lord particularly commendded, saying, he had not seen such great faith, no not in Israel : the one was the case of the woman of Canaan, and the other of the Roman centurion ; and both these were attended with great hu. mility. The one was contented to be treated as a dog, and the other thought himself unworthy that Christ should come under his roof. A confidence unaccompanied with these, if it may be called faith at all, seems nearly to resemble what the Apostle James called faith without works; which he pronounced to be dead BEING ALONE.
3. If faith is to be understood in this sense, then it not only works without, but contrary to other graces. The scriptures encourage a spirit of self-examination and godly jealousy. These are modest and upright graces, and constitute much of the beauty of Christianity. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; say the inspired writers : try your ownselves ! - Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it.-Let us pass the time of our sojourning here in fear. But always to be confident of the safety of our state, let the work of sanctification go on as it may, is not only unfriendly to such a spirit, but subversive of it. Hence, it is common, with some, to call every degree of godly jealousy by the name of unbelief, and to impute it to the enemy; yea, to shun it, and cry out against it, as if it were itself a devil! This is not the most favourable symptom of an honest heart. Surely an heart truly upright would not wish to receive comfort itself, but upon solid evidence: and where it was taught to call such a fear by the name of unbelief, I know
I think I may say, it never came from the word of God. If the veracity of God were called in question, no doubt it would be unbelief; but the question, at those times, with a sincere mind, is, not whether God will prove faithful in saving those that trust in him, but, wheth-r he be indeed the subject of that trust. His doubts do not respect God, but himself. Love and fear are the two great springs and guardians of right action. When love is in exercise we do not stand in need of fear to stimulate or guide us