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promises, accompanied, it is probable, by misgivings, if they were nothing more, as to the reality of his existence. The question to be answered is, At what period of their history did this event occur? and we are to suppose it is addressed to one who, though acquainted with the other facts of Jewish story, is ignorant of this.
Well, then, he will surely reply, if such a universal apostasy did really take place, which is hardly credible, it must have been in one of the latest, darkest ages of Jewish history ;—perhaps when the Jews, after the dispersion, had been long mingled among the heathen, and had learned their works. Or it may have been when the leaven of the Sadducees had thoroughly corrupted them with a shallow infidel philosophy. Or it may have been when the Pharisees had so overladen the truth with fables that even sensible men, impatiently confounding truth with the error which involved it, discarded both; unwisely treating them with the same
1; contemptuous indifference. There is one epoch in their history in which it could not possibly have occurred; for there was an epoch during which not only God's power, but the visible mani. festations of his power, never ceased, and when every member of the national family was a witness to the fact. It was the forty years spent in the wilderness of Sinai. Not to speak of the miracles which attended their entrance into the desert, — the plagues of Egypt, the cleaving of the sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh's host, -the circumstances in which they found themselves in the desert rendered unbelief for a time impossible. The most stupid, the least observant in the camp, if he had eyes to see, must have seen the pillar of fire every night, and the pillar of cloud every day; he must have noticed how the manna fell from heaven at eventide, and how on the Sabbath it never fell at all. He could not deny the miracles of Marah and Meribah, nor the fact that Moses smiting the rock, as Jehovah's minister, produced a flood of the purest waters. And then had they not all scen the mountain burning with fire, and heard the sound of the trumpet waxing louder and louder, and felt the trembling of the mountain, and even listened to the voice of God? No; if it be true that Israel ever doubted the existence or the word of God, it must have been in some age remote from these events; and when, in fact, the recollection of them had become so indistinct that the tradition was discredited.
Yet the truth is, that this was the very crisis of their apostasy; it was in the midst of these very scenes that "they believed not his word.” It was with these sights before them, these thunderings and voices still echoing in their ears, with the manna in their mouths, and the water from the rock gurgling at their feet, that the whole house of Israel apostatized from God. The defeetion was universal ; so universal that he sware in his wrath, that they should not enter into his rest, and “they entered not in because of unbelief.” (Heb. iii. 19.)
Is an explanation sought for a national act which the Scriptures pronounce to be so wicked, and which we all perceive to be so irrational ? It lies amongst these considerations : Foremost of all, our natural indisposition to believe in the realities of the unseen world; an indisposition to be explained only on the supposition of something wrong in our mental constitution; in other words, our estrangement from God in consequence of the fall. The case of the Hebrews in the desert might have been placed on record for this very purpose; to show that the tendency to unbelief is such that no apparatus of miracles, however magnificent the scale, affects it. The evil heart of unbelief is there; no evidence eradicates the sinful disposition. It would even
seem as if the obstinacy of rejection grew in exact proportion to the weight of evidence rejected. No doubt this was the case with the ancient Jews, and is so still. Those who believe not Moses and the prophets, would not believe though one rose from the dead. It is not more evidence that remedies unbelief, but another state of mind.
We propose the same question again, selecting an example from the New Testament. There is a man, not otherwise averse to Christ, whose unbelief of what the Lord had said has rendered him conspicuous in the evangelic history. His name stands out, and has stood out for ages, as an example and a warning. He did not believe the word of Christ. Who might this man be?
Possibly, some well-disposed but half-instructed disciple. One who, like Zaccheus, had climbed a sycamore and heard a few un. convected words from the lips of Jesus as he passed that way; was smitten with their power at the moment, but after a while gave way to doubt, not clearly comprehending the little he had learned. Or he had hung on the outskirts of the multitude who crowded around the Son of man; and when he wrought a miracle he heard their shout of wonder as the blind man received his sight, or the lame man flung away his crutches, or the dead son sat up upon his bier ; but he did not actually see the miracle itself, and so naturally began to doubt it. But, be the unbeliever whom he may, one thing is certain ; we must not look for him
the chosen twelve. To them the sin would have been impossible. One of them, it is true, was a traitor; but how can we suppose for a moment that any of their number could be guilty of unbelief? Had they not "companied with Jesus from the beginning?" Had not they, one or other of them, seen every miracle, heard every discourse, witnessed every action of his life? Had they not received from him the most stupendous gifts ; so that they themselves healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, cast out devils ? No; unbelief, whatever their faults, could never have been the sin of men in circumstances such as these.
And yet it is one of these very men who stands forth, enshrined in the sin of unbelief, a warning to the church in all ages. A frozen pillar of impious incredulity. The Lot's wife of the New Testament.
The subject of his unbelief was the fact of the resurrection of Jesus; a fact so wonderful, so contrary to the course of nature, that perhaps some may feel disposed to say it ought not to be credited on any slender grounds; and that Thomas would have betrayed a credulous mind had he believed it on the mere report of others. There is some force in this; a right use of the understanding is, no doubt, a duty which we owe alike to God and to ourselves. A vain, idle credulity, a readiness to believe each marvellous tale, is not countenanced in the word of God. They neither understand the character of God nor comprehend the meaning of the Bible, who believe that religion can be served by a weak, wondering, and blind credulity.
The unbelief of Thomas, then, could not have been of this kind, or the reprobation he received would not have been deserved. But he had, or might have had, sufficient evidence; otherwise his unbelief would have been no sin, nor would it have provoked the Lord's displeasure. This will appear most clearly, if we inquire into the occasion of his doubts. They were evidently these : he did not believe the Scriptures, nor did he believe the word of Christ; and he had, sinfully no doubt, neglected the opportunities of having his unbelief removed.
He did not believe the Scriptures; perhaps he did not understand them. He seems to have been in the state which St. Paul describes in his epistle to the Corinthians; a natural man, who could not perceive the things of the Spirit of God, for they were foolishness unto him. (1 Cor. xi. 14.) Had he not read in all the prophets that Christ must suffer, and that he should rise from the dead the third day ? Had he never read in the book of Psalms the Messiah's prophetic intimation of his resurrection,—“Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore”?
But all this he might have read without perceiving that it applied to Christ. Had he read the Scriptures in the right way, this indeed could scarcely have been the case. Had he prayed for wisdom, had he dug as for hid treasures in these spiritual mines, it would not have been so. But this is the way in which God's word is often treated. We read it carelessly, with a mind preoccupied or prejudiced; and then we wonder, as if strange things had been brought to our ears, when the simple truths of the gospel are repeated to us; and we are ready to exclaim : “ What new doctrine is this?”
But unbelief, if explained, is not to be thus excused. Such
ignorance is itself an aggravation of all the sins to which it leads; for what is it, in effect, but to plead that God has but mocked us with a revelation from heaven, which, after all, is so imperfect, or so obscure, that we cannot trace out His will therein ? Besides, the apostle had enjoyed the privilege of hearing the Lord Jesus expound the Scriptures from day to day. And upon no point, certainly, had our Lord insisted so much or so often as on this: the Son of man must be put to death, and the third day he shall rise again. These very words had Thomas heard repeatedly; and afterwards to doubt the fact, was nothing else than to call in question the veracity of Jesus Christ.
And there lies the great sin of our own unbelief ; it is the questioning of the veracity of God. We can measure the greatness of this crime upon the scale of human feelings. Can you offer a greater insult to your fellow man, than deliberately to call his veracity in question ? And yet there is ground for your suspicion there; for the most veracious man living may have deceived, if not from contempt of truth and a love of falsehood, yet from levity, from ignorance, from a fickle mind. But Jehovah is unchangeable. “I, the Lord, change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” He must abide faithful to his word; he cannot deny himself. Add to this, that the declarations of God, and more especially his promises, are not extorted; they are freely made. God condescends to us, when he makes any revelation of his will to man; we can scarcely plead a right to the information which the Scriptures yield. This condescension is voluntary; how great, then, the guilt of calling bis word in question !
Unbelief is not merely the offence of infidels who reject the Bible; or even of nominal Christians, who profess to believe in God but in works deny him, being disobedient. Alas! it is the sin of
, believers too. Or else what mean those constant lamentations, that weakness of our faith, our inability to credit the Divine testimony? What else those prayers we daily offer for an increase of faith, that is, of a greater readiness and a greater power to trust in the promises of God ? Indeed, it is the greatness of God's love which staggers the weak capacity of man. We are accustomed to no such display of mercy; and the truth is, we need divine assistance to help us to believe it. Mercy for the chief of sinners, freely offered, without money and without price! It seems incredible. Exceeding great and precious promises-promises which begin to take effect in this life, but which reach through all eternity. And all these to be shared on the simple terms of believing and embracing them. So much love seems impossible: nay, too often it is foolishness unto us. If the mercy had been less, we could have believed it more readily. If the promises had been conditional, if they had required some fitness upon our part, this we could have comprehended. But even the Christian is slow of heart to believe that such great blessings are his—his at this moment, if he will accept them, purchased already in the blood of Christ.
Thomas, thus doubting, was confirmed in his unbelief by his neglect of those opportunities which would have at once removed every misgiving. On the first day of the previous week, that is, the first Christian sabbath that gladdened the world, the disciples had been assembled with closed doors for fear of the Jews, and Jesus suddenly stood in the midst, and said unto them, “ Peace be unto you.” “But Thomas was not with them” when Jesus came. Now, though it is not affirmed by the evangelist, we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that this absence was the result of fear ; that it was the result of sin. That great danger was apprehended, is evident from the secrecy of their little meeting; the doors being shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews. Then, again, we can scarcely suppose that an apostle, one of the twelve, would have been left in ignorance by his brethren of their intention to assemble at such a time and place; nor can we readily admit that one who was set apart by the Lord for the work of the ministry, had other engagements which justified his absence. We have no intimation that he was sick ; the inference seems to be that a cowardly fear, or a base despondency, had caused him to be absent from his brethren.
But whatever his case might be, we know that such is the nature of unbelief. It does not court instruction, it avoids it. It does not seek conviction, it endeavours to escape from it. Is the professed infidel a man who has carefully read the Bible, with prayer, and with an honest mind? We more than doubt if one solitary case like this was ever known. His business has been not to read, but to object, perhaps to scoff. Is the nominal Christian, who tells you that the gospel merely regulates the conduct, but does not change the heart, a man deeply read in Holy Scripture ? Does he love to turn especially to the epistles of the New Testament, in which the nature of the work of grace upon the soul is more fully delineated than in other parts of Scripture ? On the contrary, he tells you the epistles are hard to be understood; are very mystical; are of local interest; are, in fact, of little moment compared with other parts of Scripture. “He will not come unto the light.”
And even in the real Christian, when unbelief takes possession of the soul, the symptoms, in their measure, are the same. It does not prepare him to receive instruction. It prepares him to resist it. It does not lead him to pray for the removal of his “ heart of stone;" it only leads him to believe that he labours beneath a disease without a remedy. Unbelief is a blight; and wherever it falls, the spiritual husbandry of God withers away.
It is usual to palliate unbelief as at the worst a mental infirmity; we shall do well to observe that the Scriptures never speak of it in this light, but always as a sin, a grievous sin. It excluded the Jews from the land of promise; it hindered their descendants from recognising Christ when he walked in their streets and taught in the temple; and we are solemnly warned in the epistle to the