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1. He watches over them by his providence
[The dearest of God's children may appear to others, perhaps also to themselves, to be forsaken of God. But the Father's eye is ever upon them for good, and "runneth to and fro throughout the whole earth, to interpose effectually in their behalf." They may be suffered to want for a season, in order that they may be stirred up to seek relief from him: but they shall assuredly be supplied with every thing that is needful for them". They may experience many deep and heavy afflictions, but not one which shall not ultimately "work for their goodi."]
2. He keeps them by his grace
[God is not an unconcerned spectator of his people's conflicts. He shields their heads in the day of battle. If they fall, he raises them up; if they be wounded, he heals them; if they faint, he renews their strength. He will not endue them with such a degree of grace as shall supersede the need of vigilance and exertion; nor will he commit to them a stock that shall suffice for months or days: but he will give them grace to help in the time of need1;" and that "grace shall be sufficient for them." Thus will he secure them from the destruction which they fear, and make them "more than conquerors, through Him that loved themm."]
3. He comforts them by his presence
[Who can express the consolations which God sometimes pours into the souls of those who wait upon him? They have been weeping perhaps under a sense of sin, or lamenting a state of spiritual darkness; and behold, God reveals himself unto them their "light rises in obscurity, and their darkness becomes as the noon-day." Often will God "manifest himself to them as he does not unto the world;" he will give them "a spirit of adoption, whereby they shall cry with confidence, Abba, Father;" and will so "shed abroad his love in their hearts," that they shall have "an earnest of their inheritance," and a foretaste of the heavenly glory. This is promised by God himself to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and is actually experienced by many who can attest his fidelity".]
1. Those who are destitute of love to Christ, and of faith in him-
82 Chron. xvi. 9.
h Ps. xxxiv. 10.
i Rom. viii. 28.
m Rom. viii. 37.
1 Heb. iv. 16.
[If a mere profession of Christianity be a sufficient proof of our faith and love, we may spare ourselves the trouble of addressing any as though they were destitute of those graces. But if none truly love Christ or believe in him, except they who are altogether devoted to him in heart and life, then the persons we are addressing will be found to constitute the greater part, we fear, of almost every congregation. And what shall we say to such persons? Shall we address them in the words of our text, "The Father himself loveth you?" Would to God we could! But there is not one amongst you so ignorant, as not to know, that such an assertion would be false. Let your own consciences judge: Can God love those who neglect and despise his dear Son? Let the Scriptures determine. Does not St. Paul say, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maran-atha"?" Be assured that God cannot be your Father: for our Lord says expressly, "If God were your Father, ye would love me." Be assured too, that if you die as you are, you must perish for ever; for Christ says again, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." Repent ye then of all your ingratitude and unbelief, and "turn to your strong-hold, as prisoners of hope;" begin to "live by faith in the Son of God;" and "delight yourselves in him" now, that ye may be meet to enjoy him in a better world.]
2. Those to whom Christ is precious
[Thanks be to God! there is a little flock that hear the voice of the good Shepherd, and that follow his steps. Think then, ye who love the Lord, how greatly ye are honoured, how highly ye are privileged; the Father himself loveth you! To say that all good and holy men loved you, or that all the angels in heaven loved you, would be a rich blessing but to be loved by the Creator of men and angels, to be loved by the Father himself, O! who can estimate this blessing? It is true, that the very thing which causes God to love you, will cause the blind and the wicked world to hate you: but why should you regard the hatred and contempt of men, if you are owned and approved of your God? "Let them curse, provided your God condescend to bless." And if your" love at any time be ready to wax cold through the abounding of iniquity" around you, remember that the very thing which heightens man's resentment, will call forth the manifestations of God's favour; and that when your enemies shall "want a drop of water to cool their tongue," you shall "be drinking of those rivers of pleasure which are at God's right hand for evermore."
• 1 Cor. xvi. 22.
P John viii. 42.
q John viii. 24.
AN INQUIRY INTO THE REALITY AND DEGREE OF OUR FAITH.
John xvi. 31. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
THE meekness and gentleness of Christ were manifested on all occasions. Even his reproofs were tempered with inexpressible kindness, and fully justified the description given of him by the prophet, "He shall not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax." He had been speaking plainly about his departure from the world: and his Disciples, understanding him somewhat better than before, were now confident that they believed in him. But he, knowing the very low state of their attainments, mildly reproved their mistaken confidence, and warned them of the sad discovery which they would shortly make of their unbelief. The mode in which our Lord put the question to them was very significant. To mark its true import, I will bring it before you,
I. In a way of explanation
If we consider the question in connexion with the foregoing and following context, it will be found to contain several important truths:
1. That many think they believe, when they are wholly destitute of faith
[The nature of faith is very little understood. It is generally supposed to be a mere assent to the Gospel as true; whereas it is a living operative principle, infused into the soul by the Holy Ghost. From these mistaken views of faith, every one of course conceives himself to be a believer. worldling, the self-righteous Pharisee, the sensualist, yea all, except avowed infidels, lay claim to this appellation; and, while they acknowledge themselves to need correction with respect to morals, have no idea at all that they need instruction with respect to their faith This self-deception
universally obtained among the unconverted Jews, who "trusted in Moses," not doubting but that they believed his writings, though they shewed by their rejection of Christ, that they did not believe them: and too much of the same spirit
a Phil. i. 29.
b John v. 45-47.
yet manifested itself in those who had become the stated followers of our Lord.]
2. That many, who have some faith, are yet much under the influence of unbelief
[As for unregenerate men, they have no faith at all, no, not even in the plainest truths of our religion; for though they assent to many truths, they feel not the force, nor experience the vital influence of any. Nor, when faith is imparted to the soul, is unbelief altogether eradicated; yea, it will be well if the natural principle do not, in many and very alarming instances, overcome the new-created principle which ought to govern the whole manc- -Thus it was with the Apostles in the passage before us: our Lord acknowledges that they were true believers ; but intimates that they would soon manifest, by their dereliction of him, how weak and insufficient their faith at present was. And thus it is with all, though in different degress, till they have been taught and disciplined in the school of Christ.]
3. That heavy trials will discover the state of our souls with respect to faith
[Affliction is a touchstone whereby all our graces, and especially our faith, may be tried. If our faith be strong, we shall approve ourselves to God under the most arduous circumstances: if it be weak, we shall be ready to faint at the approach of any dangers we fear, and to adopt sinful methods of attaining any ends we desire. If we have nothing but a false faith, we shall "make shipwreck both of it and of a good conscience" as soon as ever we are brought into any storms of difficulty and temptation: if our troubles be of a spiritual nature, we shall flee from God, and reject his grace: or if they arise from temporal things, we shall be offended with God, and condemn his providence. For the effects of weak faith we need look no further than to the passage before us. The immediate scope of our Lord's question was, to put his disciples on their guard against their remaining unbelief; and, by warning them of their approaching fall, to encourage and facilitate their speedy recovery: and we may learn from their example that, if our faith be not increased in proportion to our trials, we shall surely faint in the day of adversity.]
If such truths be implied in the interrogation before us, we may well urge it upon you,
II. In a way of personal inquiry
c Gal. v. 17.
f Gen. xxvii. 6—10.
Gen. iii. 8.
e Matt. xiv. 30, 31.
We are particularly exhorted to "examine ourselves whether we be in the faith." Let all of us then inquire into,
1. The reality of our faith
[Before we conclude too confidently that we are believers, we should ask ourselves, Whence we obtained our faith? It is not a plant of nature's growth; nor is it formed in us by human teaching. There is but one way in which it ever is or can be obtained, namely, by acknowledging our unbelief before God, and imploring him to create a lively faith in our hearts by his blessed Spirit. If we have never been "convinced of unbelief," we have not yet one grain of real faith. But if this inquiry be satisfactorily answered, we should further ask, How our faith operates? If it be genuine and scriptural, it will overcome the world, and work by love, and purify the heart. But has it these effects? We are warned by God that "all men have not faith1;" nor should we conclude that we have, unless we manifest it in its fruits.]
2. The degree of our faith
[If we cannot ascertain precisely the degree of our faith, we yet have grounds whereon we may form some estimate. Are we enabled to realize the things which are invisible? This is a very principal office of faith; and in proportion as we are enabled to set God before our eyes, and to keep heaven in view, we may safely conclude that we have that principle, which alone can produce this effect. Do we maintain our hope under discouraging circumstances? This was the mark whereby the strength of Abraham's faith was so fully known: and, if we be strong in faith, we shall be steadfast under heavy and longprotracted trials, and "against hope believe in hope." Are we kept diligent in the way of duty? It is presumption, and not faith, that leads us to relax our diligence in the use of means: the more faith we have, the greater will be our activity in every good work". The various offices of faith are fully delineated in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and by comparing our spirit and conduct with that of the saints there mentioned, we may weigh ourselves in the balance of the sanctuary. In this way we may provide an answer to the interrogation in the text; and, instead of boasting as though we had attained, shall learn to reply, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief."]
h 2 Cor. xiii. 5.
k 1 John v. 4. Ġal. v. 6. Acts xv. 9. in Rom. iv. 18-20.
i John xvi. 8, 9.
1 2 Thess. iii. 2.
n 1 Thess. i. 3.