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Comfort For Those That Are Weak In Faith.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.—Isaiah 42:3.
In this verse the holy prophet comforts those that are weak in faith by two beautiful similitudes, excellently adapted to the purpose. For as a bruised reed (to which he first alludes) must be handled very gently, lest it be entirely broken to pieces; and as the smoking flax, when once it has taken fire, must be continually encouraged by a gentle breath, for fear of blowing it out; so our blessed Redeemer, who knows our infirmities, treats us with great gentleness, reviving from time to time the spark of faith within us, with the soft and gentle breath of his Spirit, that we may not be discouraged by our manifold infirmities, but be enlivened and strengthened under them. Isaiah 57:15. And because this weakness of faith is a very grievous temptation, to which all Christians are more or less exposed; therefore has the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God, furnished us with very strong consolations against it, which ought to be deeply rooted in our mind, that we may have them in readiness, and apply them with success in the sad hour of temptation.
2. (1) We must carefully remember, that faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift and work of God; “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him.” John 345 6:29, 44. “Who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” Ephes. 1:19. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephes. 2:8. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Heb. 12:1, 2. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” Rom. 5:5. “We have the first fruits of the Spirit, which helpeth our infirmities.” Rom. 8:23, 26. Now, since faith is the work of God, and not our own, it follows, that it is not in our power to have it in such measures and proportions as we please. And whereas he has promised to save us by faith, it follows, that he knows how strong our faith ought to be, for the obtaining that great end, and will strengthen it accordingly. Therefore this was the answer of God to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 2 Cor. 12:9. “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” John 3:27.
3. (2) Whilst we are in this life, we must not expect to arrive at the highest pitch of perfection. This God permits, with a design to cure that natural pride and vanity of spirit to which the best of us are subject, by the daily sense of our great and manifold infirmities. To this we may refer the words addressed by St. Paul to the Philippians, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that, for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:12. As if he had said, “Though I am not yet so strong in faith, as to be able to apprehend him as I ought, yet I am apprehended in him; that is, I am in Christ Jesus by faith.” Let us, considering these things, bear patiently the infirmities of our nature, till we can attain to perfection.
4. (3) God does not despise or reject our weak faith, but cherishes, strengthens, and improves it, and at last crowns it with a blessed conclusion. In this sense we are to understand and apply those golden passages that follow: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.” Isaiah 43:3. “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4. “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:3, 4. “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, he increaseth strength.” Isaiah 40:29. “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Isaiah 50:4. “I revive the spirit of the humble, and the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15. “The Lord hath sent me to preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the brokenhearted,” and to comfort all that mourn. Isaiah 61:1. In this sense we may understand that passage in Exod. 34:26. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk;” that is, thou shalt not grieve the tender, weak faith of a babe in Christ. A strong and vigorous faith can bear anything, can pass through the flames of fire, and the floods of water; but a young, tender faith, must be softly and gently treated, like a bruised reed, which is in continual danger of being broken to 346 pieces. “I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.” Jer. 31:25. They that labor under the weakness of faith, are the poor in spirit, to whom the blessing is promised, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Matt. 5:3. They that feel the weakness of their faith, are sick in spirit: and to them must be applied for their consolation, that passage in St. Matthew, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Matt. 9:12. “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” Rom. 14:1. “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” 1 Cor. 9:22. “I will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” Ezek. 34:16. “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. On these promises, full of divine consolation, let all who are weak in faith entirely depend, and satisfy themselves that God is faithful and true (Psalm 33:4), and will not fail in his promises. To this head also we refer the instances of those that have been weak in faith. Such was the man (Mark 9:23, 24), who, when our Lord said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth;” answered with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” The nobleman. John 4:47. The disciples in the ship. Matt. 8:24. St. Peter sinking in the sea, when our Lord stretched out his hand and supported him. Matt. 14:31. Therefore, says St. Paul, “Comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men.” 1 Thess. 5:14.
5. (4) God has, indeed, the greatest concern for those that are weak in faith. Our Lord himself tells us, “They that be (strong and) whole need not a physician, but they that are sick (and weak).” Matt. 9:12. The shepherd leaves his ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness, and goes seeking that which was lost, until he find it (Luke 15:4); and as tender mothers show the most attention to their weak and sickly children; so does our Heavenly Father to those that are weak in faith.
6. (5) But if thou say in thy heart that thou perceivest scarcely a grain of faith in thyself, then I would ask, Dost thou sincerely desire to have faith? If thou dost, all is well; fear not. For since it is God that worketh in us “to will,” it follows, that whosoever finds in himself that good will and desire, finds in himself the work of God. Hence let him be encouraged and assured that he who has given us the will, will also give us the power to do. Phil. 1:6; 2:13.
7. (6) God is so compassionate to devout prayers and desires, that he never disappoints the hopes of those that trust in him. “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.” Ps. 10:17; 9:18. Wherefore, thy faith is as great as thy desire of obtaining it. “For God trieth the hearts and reins.” Ps. 7:9. “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him.” Ps. 91:14.
8. (7) It is therefore better to glory in the weakness, than in the strength of our faith. For it is the will of God concerning us, that we fall not into spiritual pride. “My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor. 12:9. Let this be thy comfort when thou laborest under weakness of faith.
9. (8) Faith, though it be ever so weak, is still faith. For our salvation 347 depends not upon the worthiness of our faith, whether it be strong or weak, but upon Jesus Christ, on whom it lays hold. As, therefore, a precious jewel may be held by the hands of a little infant as well as of a strong man, so a weak faith may as well lay hold on the merits of Christ Jesus (the true Christian's only hope and treasure), as that which is much stronger, and by consequence, both be capable of the same righteousness and blessedness. And as the apple of the eye, small and delicate as it is, can perceive not only the light and splendor of the meridian sun, but even the sun itself, though so many times larger than the earth, so does the eye of faith, though weak and infirm, perceive and feel the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2), the Lord Jesus Christ, with all the bright rays of his spiritual gifts and graces.
10. (9) Such is the nature of faith, that it is sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker; and sometimes the light thereof seems to be darkness. This has been attested by the examples of almost all the saints, particularly David, and Abraham, who is called “the father of the faithful” (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:7); and yet (Gen. 12:11) he was afraid that the Egyptians would put him to death on account of Sarah, his wife, and this, too, after he had received the promise. Moses also, at the water of Meribah, betrayed a want of faith. Numb. 20:10-13; Exod. 17:7. David's faith was sometimes so strong as to raise him, as it were, up to heaven; and then again so weak as to leave him to sink, as it were, into hell, and make him complain to God that “he was cut off from before His eyes.” Ps. 31:23. Whence it follows, that we must not conclude because a man's faith is weak, that therefore he has none at all; or that they who are contending against the weakness of faith, are therefore forsaken by God. We know that fire is often hidden under ashes, though neither light nor heat appear; we know that the trees are alive, though in winter they are stripped of their leaves: so we may in like manner conclude, that those people may have faith towards God, in whom we do not at all times discern signs or tokens of it. For the Spirit of the Lord is like the wind, that bloweth when and whither it pleases. John 3:8.
11. (10) He that complains of the weakness of his faith, shows plainly, that faith is striving and struggling within him, and a striving faith is a true faith; for there is a continual struggle in every man between faith and unbelief. He is perpetually assaulted by temptations to unbelief, so that his life is one continued combat; and he is obliged to be as watchful, as though he were in the midst of drawn swords, and expected every moment to be cut in pieces. Here is the trial of the Christian's faith; here is the exercise of his patience, to unite his earthly heart with Christ; to make the barren soil of his soul fit to receive the heavenly seed; to make the darkness of corrupt nature capable of the divine light. The flesh is continually inclining to the broad way of the world, and endeavoring to tyrannize over the spirit; the darkness is no sooner scattered, than it endeavors to recover its ground, and spread itself again over the face of the soul. This is what all the saints have confessed and lamented, and it is a most certain token of the presence of true faith. On the other hand, where there is no faith at all, there is no cause found for 348 striving. Here let the languishing soul call to mind that comfortable assurance given us, that “God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.” 1 Cor. 10:13. “God giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” Isa. 40:29.
12. (11) Let us be assured, that whensoever, in our greatest infirmities, we can but think upon Jesus Christ, he will be with us, and dwell in us by faith. Thus it is said, “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” Exod. 20:24. For we cannot so much as think upon God, without his special presence and assistance. Moreover, being engrafted into Christ, as branches into the living vine (John 15:1, etc.), we truly live in him, and draw life and nourishment from him. “Our life,” and the strength of our faith, are “hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3); and the Holy Spirit witnesseth the same in our hearts, by the joy, peace, and comfort, which he produces there. Rom. 8:16. As in the Old Testament, there was no Prophet who heard not God speaking in him; so under the Gospel, there is no Christian but hears Christ speaking in him, and, from time to time tastes the unction of the Holy Spirit. And so strong is this union of our faith with Christ, that all the power of death and hell cannot dissolve it; because Christ, who is the life and root of our faith, is immortal. Though thou hast not always so lively a perception of this in thy heart, yet “greater is he that is in thee, than he that is in the world.” 1 John 4:4.
13. (12) When we are weak in faith, let us look up unto Christ Jesus our Redeemer, and merciful High Priest, who offered up himself for us on the cross, and is praying that our faith may be strengthened; as he did for St. Peter, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32); to whom also he stretched out his almighty and saving hand, when he thought himself sinking into the sea. Matt. 14:31. And he saith, “Holy Father, keep them through thine own name; neither pray I for these alone, (the Apostles), but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” John 17:11, 20. So also we are told, “We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Heb. 2:17; 4:15; Rom. 8:34. This intercession ought to be our comfort when our faith is weak and languishing; from whence we should, by a lively and steadfast faith, expect a blessing.
14. (13) Our next support is, the divine mercy, which is inexpressibly great, as infinite as God himself. Of this let no man despair. This mercy of his anticipates us, waits for us, supports us, and endures forever. And this he never denies to any one. Come then, ye that complain of the weakness of your faith, cast yourselves into the protecting arms of divine love, which will never leave you nor forsake you.
15. (14) God, who has wrought the beginning of faith in us, has graciously promised, that he will “perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6); that he will “stablish, strengthen, settle us” (1 Pet. 5:10); and that we shall be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, 349 receiving the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.” 1 Pet. 1:5, 9. This is the end that God proposed to our faith, when he first gave us the beginning of it. Faith being, therefore, the operation and work of God, must be perfected by its divine Author. For this cause the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:2) calls the blessed Jesus, not only the Author, but also, the Finisher of our faith. And Christ himself tells us: “No man shall pluck my sheep out of my hand.” John 10:28.
16. (15) To this end he has given us various means whereby our faith may be strengthened and preserved, namely, the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer. “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), said the disciples. “Lord, help thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24. Moreover, God has promised “his Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” Luke 11:13. “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities.” Rom. 5:5; 8:26. In a word, this is the end and design of Christianity, that we may grow and be perfected in faith.
17. (16) Lastly. Our faith is founded on God's eternal love to us, “Whom he did predestinate, them he also justified.” Rom. 8:30. But we are justified by faith alone in Christ Jesus. Rom. 3:28. “God hath chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” 2 Thess. 2:13. Come then, comfort thyself with these promises; sink not under the weakness of thy faith! When thy faith seems to be at its lowest ebb, then is thy Saviour nearer to thee than thou thinkest. This was the case with the disciples; when they looked upon themselves as lost in the tempest, then Christ was at hand to save them. Matt. 8:24-26. Let us also be persuaded, that our Redeemer and Saviour is never so near us, as when we think ourselves in most danger.
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