« Prev Sermon XVII. Sermon XVII. 2 Cor. i. 24. Next »

SERMON XVII.

2 COR. i. 24.

For by faith ye stand.

THERE can be none here ignorant, that the great evangelical virtue so frequently spoken of, so highly commended, and upon which the whole weight of man’s salvation leans and depends, is faith; a thing more usually discoursed of by divines than explained, and consequently more easily took up by their hearers than understood: there being scarce any who will not with much zeal and vehemence pretend to it, and by all means wear the reputation of the name, though they are wholly strangers to the nature of the thing. For it being the great and glorious badge of the citizens of heaven, the sons of God, and heirs of immortality; it is no wonder if every man has his mouth open to profess and boast of his faith: and those possibly the most loudly of all others, who entertain it only in opposition to good works.

But that I may give some account of the nature of it, I shall observe, that the scripture makes mention of three several sorts of faith.

1. The first is a faith of simple credence, or bare assent; acknowledging and assenting to the historical truth of every thing delivered in God’s word. And such a faith is not here meant; for the devils may have it, who, the apostle St. James tells us, in 301the 2d chapter, 19th verse, believe and tremble. They own all the word of God for a most certain, undoubted truth; but the devils’ faith is very consistent with the devils’ damnation. He that believes well, may live ill; and a good belief will not save, when a bad life condemns.

2. The second sort is a temporary faith, and (as I may so call it) a faith of conviction. Such an one as by the present convincing force of the word is wrought in the heart, and for a time raises and carries out the soul to some short sallies and attempts in the course of godliness; nevertheless, having no firm fixation in the heart, but being only like the short and sudden issue of a forced ground, it quickly faints and sinks, and comes to nothing, leaving the soul many leagues short of a true and thorough change of its estate.

3. The third and last sort, and which here only is intended, is a saving, effectual faith, wrought in the soul by a sound and real work of conversion. It takes in both the former kinds, and superadds its own peculiar perfection besides. And if it be now asked, what this faith is, I must answer, that it is better declared by its effects and properties, than it can be set forth by any immediate description of the thing itself. However, this seems to be no improper representation of its nature; that it is a durable, fixed disposition of holiness, immediately infused by God into the soul, whereby the soul in all its faculties is changed, renewed, and sanctified, and withal powerfully inclined to exert itself in all the actions of a pious life.

It is not a bare persuasion or conviction resting 302 upon the heart; for persuasion (which is nothing else but the proposal of suitable objects to the mind) is of itself no more able to effect this strange and mighty work, than it is possible to persuade a man that is stark dead to be alive again. No; it is a living, active principle, wonderfully produced and created in the heart by the almighty working of God’s Spirit; and which does as really move and act a man in the course of his spiritual life, as his very soul does in the course of his natural. And this is that faith by which we stand; and if ever we are supported against the terrible assaults of our spiritual adversary, this must be our supporter.

In the words we have these two things considerable.

I. Something supposed; which is, that believers will be encountered and assaulted in their spiritual course.

II. Something expressed; which is, that it is faith alone that in such encounters does or can make them victorious.

I. And first for the first of these, the thing sup posed. The words of the text are a manifest allusion to a person assaulted or combated by an enemy. From which the Spirit of God in scripture frequently borrows metaphors, by which to express to us the condition of a Christian in this world. Sometimes setting it out by wrestling, as in Ephes. vi. 12; We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. Sometimes by warring, as in 2 Cor. x. 4; The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. And sometimes by striving, as in Heb. xii. 4; Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving 303against sin. But still it describes a believer’s life in some word or other, importing contest or op position.

Now in every such contest or combat, there are three things to be considered.

1. The persons engaged in it.

2. The thing contended for by it.

3. And lastly, the means and ways, by which it is managed, and carried on.

Of each of which in their order; and,

1. For the persons engaged in this conflict; they are such, whose hatred of one another is almost as old as the world itself, as being founded in that primitive enmity sown by God himself between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent, in Gen. iii. 15. The Devil’s hatred of us bears date with our very being, and his opposition is as early as his hatred; for it is of too active a virulence to lie still and dormant, without putting forth itself in all the actings of a mischievous hostility. The Devil hates us enough as men, but much more as believers; he maligns us for the privileges of our creation, but much more for the mercies of our redemption: and as soon as ever we list ourselves in the service of the great captain of our salvation, lie bids present defiance to us, and proclaims perpetual war against us; which he will never be wanting to carry on with all the force, art, and industry, that malice, bounded within the limits of created power, can reach unto.

None, that gives up his name to Christianity, must think that he enters upon a state of ease, softness, and fruition. For though it is called indeed the way of peace, yet it is of peace only in another world, or of peace with God and our own consciences, 304 but of incessant war with the Devil, who will always have power enough to trouble and discompose even those whom he cannot destroy; and to bruise our heel, though he gets a broken head for his pains.

We see, then, who the persons are, concerned in this spiritual combat; namely, believers on the one side; that is, persons truly sanctified and justified, and consequently in a state of grace and favour with God; and, on the other side, the great enemy of mankind, the tempter, with all his hellish retinue, all the powers of darkness (as it were) drawn out into battalia, and headed by him, to defy the armies of the living God. It follows now, that we see what is the thing designed and contended for by him, in the assault he makes upon believers, which is the second thing here to be considered. And it is, in short, to cast them down from that state of happiness in which he finds them; which happiness consisting partly in God’s image, which is holiness, and partly in an interest in God’s favour, which indeed is but a consequence of the former, the loss of one naturally drawing after it the loss of the other; therefore the Devil does the utmost he is able, wholly to divest the soul of both.

1. And first, he designs to cast believers down from that purity and sanctity of life, that the Spirit of regeneration has wrought them up to: for the Devil, having lost all holiness himself, perfectly ab hors it in all others. A pious person is an eyesore to him; and to be holy is to begin his hell here upon earth, and to torment him before his time.

As he was the first and grand apostate from God, so he is restless and indefatigable to propagate that 305apostasy and rebellion amongst mankind, and to draw them into a confederacy against their Maker. He is said to have been a liar and a murderer from the beginning; and chiefly does he attempt the murder of souls, by making them like himself. And so intent is he upon his cursed game, that he will compass sea and land, tempt and entice night and day, use both force and art to debauch and deface God’s image in the soul, to rob it of its innocence; and, in a word, to plunge it into all kind of filth, folly, and impurity. It is his business, for the labour he employs about it; and his recreation, for the pleasure he takes in it: for every upright and virtuous person is a reproach to him, and upbraids him with the loss of that, which he was so much concerned to have preserved entire. Holiness carries its beauty with it; and there are none that malign and envy the beautiful so much as those that are deformed: but sin has left upon the Devil a spiritual deformity, greater and more offensive than any bodily deformity whatsoever.

2. The Devil designs to cast believers down from their interest in the divine favour. After the angels were fallen from heaven, the door was presently, without either delay or pity, shut upon them: nor was there any reserve of mercy, to recover them to their lost estate. Whereupon their envy and malice were inflamed against the sons of men, whom God treated upon gentler terms, not taking them upon the first advantage; but allowing them means of pardon and restitution, and so cancelling the handwriting that stood against them, by reason of the law. He spread open the arms of an evangelical and better covenant to receive them.

306

No wonder, therefore, if the Devil strives to cast the soul from that pitch of happiness which he finds denied to himself. And if he grudges to see men so much superior to him in the felicity of their estate, whom he knows to be so much inferior to himself in the perfection of their nature; no wonder, I say, if the pride of Lucifer disdains to see poor men ascend to that from which he fell, and so would lay them in the dust again, from whence they were first took. The Devil would make us God’s enemies by sinning, that so God may be our enemy in punishing. For the thing that he so earnestly drives at, is to sow an immortal enmity between God and an immortal soul, and to embroil the whole creation in a war against heaven.

The divine grace, he knows, is a thing never to be aspired to by him; the everlasting gates are made fast against him; and therefore he would give himself that fantastic pleasure, at least of having company in the same condemnation, and consequently of getting the whole race of mankind excluded and cut off from the enjoyment of that, of which he himself has no hope. He would gratify his envy and his implacable virulence, by feeding upon the sight of others’ misery, and solacing himself with the despair and wretchedness of unpardoned sinners. He would have others hate God as much as he does, to the intent that they may be as much hated by him.

For, believe it, how little soever men may value the grace, mercies, and forbearances of the gospel; yet the Devil, who knows the worth of them, by wanting them, would never be so much concerned to bereave us of the benefit of them, did he not 307judge it infinite and invaluable. For can we think that he would be so intent and busy, use so many arts and stratagems, only to rob us of a toy? No, surely; we may learn the greatness of the prize, from the labour used to compass and obtain it. The favour of God is the very life of the creature; and if the Devil can but prevail with a man to sin himself out of it, he prevails with him to cut his own throat, and to imbrue his hands in the blood of his own soul.

3. I come now to the third thing considerable in this spiritual combat, which are the ways and means by which it is managed and carried on.

I shall mention four.

(1.) The Devil’s own immediate suggestions. The Devil, being a spirit, can operate upon the mind and the imagination, raising in it evil thoughts, and frequently filthy desires, by the representation of objects suitable to our beloved and most predominant affections. And this course of working is so subtle, and withal so efficacious, that he can slide into the hearts of men, without any resistance, or indeed any observation. Thus he is said to have filled the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts v. 3, and to have entered into Judas, John xiii. 27. All which was done by the wicked thoughts he injected into the minds of those wretched persons. The Devil is often at work within us, when we know it not; and secretly undermining the very foundation of our peace with God, planting his engines, and laying his trains, to fetch down all that spiritual building that the Holy Ghost has reared up within us. He creeps into our bosoms, and lodges himself in our very hearts, before we can so much as spy out his motions; 308 and then he is tampering with our thoughts, desires, and particular inclinations, before we are aware that our adversary is near us, or any thing designed against us: upon which account, he is such an enemy as will certainly gain an entrance; and therefore it must be our care, that he completes it not with a conquest.

(2.) The second means, by which the Devil assaults a man, is by the infidelity of his own heart. A quality that, of all others, does his work the most compendiously and the most effectually. It was the engine by which he battered down that goodly fabric of the divine image in our first parents: and wheresoever he can fix this instrument, like another Archimedes, he will turn about the world, and make every one of his assaults against the souls of men successful and victorious.

This is such a thing, as was even able to counter work the miracles of Christ, and, as it were, to bind those hands of omnipotence by which he wrought his mighty wonders. For in Matt. xiii. 58, it is said of our Saviour’s countrymen, that he could do no mighty work amongst them, because of their unbelief. It is a thing that seems to keep possession for Satan in the hearts of men, and to frustrate all addresses of the Holy Ghost to them: for if men can but once arrive to that pitch of desperate impiety, as to question the truth of the divine oracles, and to disbelieve the words of veracity itself, what can possibly work upon them, while they are under the power of such a persuasion? there being no coming at the will and the affections, but through the understanding; nor any prevailing upon those, without first convincing of this. And surely, if the understanding 309can hold out against the commanding authority of divine and infallible truths, it may well defy the impression of all other arguments whatsoever.

The Devil was to induce Eve to eat the apple, against God’s express prohibition, guarded and confirmed by a severe threatening: an hard task, one would think, to undertake to bring a person, both innocent and very knowing, to such an horrid prevarication, and to eat the forbidden fruit, though served up to her with certain death; Gen. ii. 17, In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. And questionless the tempter could never have succeeded in such an unlikely attempt, had not unbelief cut the way before him: for as soon as he brought her to disbelieve that severe word of God, and to be persuaded that she should not surely die, and thereby, in effect, to give the lie to an infinite truth, the Devil’s work was then done; for thereupon she presently takes the fatal morsel, and eats death and confusion, both to herself and her whole posterity.

3. The third means by which the Devil assaults and combats the soul, is by the alluring vanities of the world. Look over the whole universe, and you will find it to be the Devil’s grand and plentiful magazine; there being scarce any thing in it, but what he sometimes uses either as a weapon or a snare: the whole way and course of it being a professed enmity and opposition to God; so that he that loves one cannot possibly love the other, James iv. 4.

While we live in the world, we walk upon traps and pitfalls, and such things as have a strange and peculiar energy to work our destruction. Even the most beautiful and desirable things of it are deadly 310 and pernicious; nay, so much the more deadly, by how much the more desirable. Like a sepulchre, it is still a devouring and a consuming thing, for all its paint and varnish, its stately and fair appearance. For see how the world first entangles, and then kills such as come within the compass of its mortal embraces!

One man is taken with the riches of it, which he pursues, follows, and at last worships, till he has even made his gain his god; but at length he finds, that his god deserts him, and leaves him in the hand of the Devil. Another has his eyes dazzled with the glories and glistering honours of the world; and being mad upon them, lists himself a servant of the Devil in the practice of all baseness imaginable, that so he may at length rise by him and like him; not considering that the Devil carries the aspiring wretch up to such a pinnacle, only that he may persuade him to throw himself thence down headlong. Another man is catched and inveigled with the pleasures of the world, and so suffers himself to be carried away with that general torrent of voluptuousness that runs violently, and drowns certainly. He first makes himself a swine, and then the Devil enters into him, and hurries him into the gulph of eternal perdition.

And if the world cannot get that hold of a man, as to captivate him into a slavish pursuit either of the riches, honours, or pleasures of it; yet the very custom, the compliance, and fashion of it, insensibly cools, and at length freezes up that ardent principle of love to God and holiness, that should animate and bear up the soul in the ways of duty. Nay, the very wisdom of the world (which is the best part of that bad thing) pollutes and deflours the heart, and 311brings it under the power of principles directly contrary to the very spirit and design of religion: and a man shall pass for a wise man and a politician, when, with much artifice and subtilty, he is only spinning the thread of his own destruction. Which being so, it is not for nothing that Christ bids his disciples be of good cheer, for this very one thing, that he had overcome the world, John xvi. 33, that great and mighty adversary, and, as it were, under the Devil himself, the general of all his forces. For it is the custom, the garb, and fashion of the world, that credits, and strengthens, and in a manner leads on all those sins by which the Devil fights against the souls of men.

4. Fourthly and lastly, the Devil assaults and encounters men by the help of their own lusts and corruptions. The world, the flesh, and the Devil, are those three formidable enemies, that we stand jointly engaged against by our very baptism. Our own bodies are armed against our souls; for the scriptures tell us, that the lusts of the flesh war against the soul, or spirit. So that it may be said, that a man’s enemies are not only those of his own house, but also of his own flesh; not only of the house he lives in, but also of the house he carries about him: and surely a bosom-enemy must needs be as great a mischief, as a bosom-friend is a blessing. The body of sin and lust that dwells within us is an adversary that will be always annoying us, a domestic tempter, always at our elbow to seduce, and thereby to ruin us.

So that which way soever we cast our thoughts, we shall find enemies ready to attack us in all our spiritual concerns. For if we consider the invisible 312 world, there is the Devil and his legions embattled against us; if we look abroad upon things visible, there the whole world stands engaged in the same quarrel; and if we look yet further into the lesser world, ourselves, there we shall find our bodies furnishing out weapons of unrighteousness for the same war; and lastly, if we take a survey of our own hearts, we shall find them full of treachery and infidelity; so that we have cause to cry out, Who shall deliver us from such potent enemies, and especially from our own selves? How shall we be able to bear up against such an unequal, such an over powering force? Surely it can be no ordinary assistance that can bring us off from such opposition clear and victorious. And if the strong man be overcome, it must needs be by some other that is stronger than himself.

And thus I have finished the first general head proposed from the words; namely, the thing implied or supposed in them; which was, that believers should be encountered and assaulted in their spiritual course.

But now, as all kind of opposition or assault includes in the very nature of it an endeavour in the assailant to conquer and cast down the person as sailed by him from his present station, which we have been hitherto discoursing of; so, in the second place, it implies also an endeavour in the person assaulted to maintain and make good that his station against all the force and opposition of his adversary.

And he that is so victorious as to keep his ground, maugre all such encounters, is said to stand in the day of battle; which is a word expressing the posture of a combatant defending himself with success: Ephes. vi. 13, Take unto you the whole armour 313of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. So that by standing is here signified to us a man’s preserving himself in that estate, from which his adversary contends by all means possible to throw him down.

It remains therefore now, that we shew how and by what means this is to be effected; and the text tells us, that it must be by faith; by faith ye stand: which introduces the

Second general head proposed, which is the thing positively expressed in the words; namely, that in all these spiritual assaults made against believers by their implacable enemy, it is faith alone that does or can render them victorious.

For the making out of which, I shall shew,

1. In what condition man is, considered according to his mere natural estate, and void of the grace of faith.

2. What advantages and helps faith gives believers, for the conquering of all that opposition that shall be made against them by their spiritual enemy.

And first for the first of these, the condition that man is in, considered according to his natural estate, and void of the grace of faith; which, we may be sure, is bad and deplorable enough: and to prove it so, there needs no other argument than this, that if bare nature, since the fall of Adam, were not infinitely insufficient to work out its own recovery, the divine grace would never have put itself to the expense of little less than a miracle, to work in it such qualifications as may in some measure enable it to acquit itself in the keeping of God’s commands. For so very strong is the sway and bias of nature to contrary courses, that if those inclinations were not controlled and overpowered by some superior principle, 314 it would, notwithstanding all instructions and exhortations to the ways of duty, of itself roll back and relapse into a state of sin, even without any solicitation from Satan or the world: as a stone, if we quit our hold of it, will of itself, without any further impulse, fall down to its centre fast enough. Nothing can hinder the workings of nature, but something that shall be of more force than nature. But while a man is destitute of faith, what forces can he rally up against the workings of so quick and vigorous a principle as his own corruption? Will he oppose his imperfect good desires, his fading resolutions, his good duties and self-righteousness? Alas! nature will quickly break through all such puny resistances. These are all like the cords upon Samson; they seem to bind him indeed while he lies still; but when the strong man bestirs himself, then presently they break: all the forces that reason or natural conscience can raise, fly before a temptation. All good purposes, made in the strength of human wisdom and bare morality, vanish, when a pleasing sin offers and presents itself to a lively appetite.

It is with the body of sin as with our natural body, which, if there be strength of nature, will by degrees work out all those obstructions that grieve or offend it. So strength of natural corruption will of itself gradually work off all those convictions that restrain it.

Nay, after it has been in some measure hampered and oppressed by those convincing works, it will then, upon the least recovery of itself, act so much the more strongly against them; it being the property of any active principle, whensoever it is opposed, then to exert its strongest actions in order to its own 315preservation and defence. Every conviction or serious thought, cast into the soul by the word, will oppose the corrupt workings of nature; which, finding itself so opposed, will endeavour to rescue and relieve itself by a greater vehemence of acting.

So that, till a thorough change pass upon our sinful nature, in the renovation of all its powers, faculties, and inclinations, the soul remains as weak and naked as it first came into the world, without either strength or weapons to defend itself; and when an alluring temptation comes in its way, it will run with fury through all its convictions to embrace it, and is no more able to abstain from it, than an hungry wolf to forbear his prey. Nature has corruption enough to be its own tempter; and if want of grace leaves the door of the heart unguarded or open, sin needs no other invitation to enter: nor has the soul only, while unrenewed by faith, a readiness and propensity to sin, but also a cursed suitableness to and compliance with every thing that may any ways induce it to sin: so that, in this forlorn, faithless condition, it is like a city, about which there is an army besieging it, and within which there is treachery betraying it, and no arms to defend it. And thus much for the first way of proving that it is faith alone that can render a man victorious in his conflicts with his spiritual adversaries; namely, by shewing his deplorable weakness and insufficiency to deal with such opponents, while considered in his natural estate, and void of faith.

The other way of proving the same assertion is, by shewing what advantages and helps faith gives believers for the conquest of these their spiritual enemies.

316

I shall mention three.

1. It gives them a real union with Christ; concerning which we must know, that as the union of the soul to the body is the cause of life natural, so the union of Christ to the soul is the fountain of life spiritual. Christ being to the soul like armour, he then only defends it, when he is close united to it. And that such a nearness to him will afford us such protection from him, is evident from the nature of those things, by which this union between him and believers is expressed. In John xv. 1, 2, Christ compares himself to the vine, and believers to the branches. And in Coloss. i. 18, he is compared to the head, and believers to the members. Where we see, that as long as the branch continues united to the vine, it receives both life and sap from it, where by it is enabled to fructify and flourish; and so long as the members preserve their conjunction with the head, they derive from thence spirit and motion, whereby they are enabled to preserve themselves. But let there be a separation or disjunction between either of these, and then presently the branch withers and dies, and the members putrefy and rot, and at length pass into a total corruption. And just so it is with Christ and believers; through him strengthening them, they can do all things; Philip. iv. 13. And on the other side, without him they can do no thing; John xv. 4. It is from his fulness, that life and strength flows in upon every part and portion of his mystical body. And as our union to him is the great conduct by which all this is conveyed to us, so faith is the cause of this union. Faith ties the conjugal knot, and is that uniting principle, that, like a great nerve or string, fastens us to our spiritual head, and so 317makes us partake of all its enlivening and supporting influences.

Aristotle observes, that union is never perfect between complete natures of a different kind. But now it is faith alone that denominates and makes us new creatures; and consequently gives us a spiritual cog nation with Christ, without which it is no more possible for us to be united to him, than for the dead to incorporate with the living, for darkness to hold communion with light, or hell with heaven.

In short, the result of all is this: want of a true and lively faith in Christ speaks want of union to him; and want of union to him speaks want of influence from him; without which no sin can be really opposed, much less overcome. It is from Christ, and from Christ alone, that there must issue forth strength for the subduing of our corruptions; from him alone that there must come an healing virtue for the stanching of this bloody issue of sin, or, in spite of all our plasterings and dressings of it, it will prove incurable: it is from him that there must come a continual supply of assisting grace, to support and bear us up in a course of evangelical obedience; and without this, miserable experience will convince us that we are not able to stand.

2. Faith helps believers in the conquest of their spiritual enemies, by engaging the assistance of the Spirit on their behalf; without whose special influence it is impossible for the soul to do any thing in the ways of duty effectually, or to oppose any sin with success; for still we find all ascribed to this. It is through the Spirit that the deeds of the flesh are to be mortified, Rom. viii. 13; and it is the Spirit that worketh in us, Phil. ii. 13. Nothing but 318 the Spirit of God, living, reigning, and conquering in the heart, can repulse, and beat back our great adversary. That opposition that is from without, must be resisted and kept out by some living, mighty principle residing within us: but if the heart of man had of itself any thing to secure it against the assaults of sin and the tempter, Christ would have saved himself the labour both of purchasing and of sending the Spirit. But he well knew our weakness, our exceeding great and deplorable weakness; how unable naturally we are but to see the false and alluring fruit of sin, and not to desire it; to desire it, and not to taste it. How ready we always are to admit of a temptation, though offered by the Devil; to eat the apple, though presented by a serpent. And there are some temptations so strong, contrived with so much hellish art, tendered with such particular advantage to the acceptance of a corrupt heart, and withal pressed with such importunity, that nothing but the hand of Omnipotence can keep them off; nothing but the Spirit of God himself can hinder them from fastening upon, and prevailing over, the soul.

From whence it is evident, that the heart must be borne up and acted by the Spirit of God, or of necessity fall away. Every man naturally moves that way that the temptation moves; and if he goes a contrary way, he must needs do it, not as he is led by himself, but by another. As in the motion of the celestial orbs, when we see the inferior ones snatched about with a motion contrary to their own proper motion, we collect thence, that they are moved by a superior.

This is most certain, that it is not in the power of 319man that goes, to order his goings, but he must have a conduct. It is not in the power of man to foil the tempter; but it is God himself that must bruise Satan under our feet: it is not in the tender herb to keep itself from withering, and being blasted; but in the careful hand that covers and protects it. When God bid the children of Israel go and possess Canaan, he told them, that he would send his angel before them, and drive out their enemies. In like manner we go forth against a temptation; but Christ must send his Spirit before us to subdue it, or we shall certainly fall and perish by it. And as it is the Spirit that must do all this for us, so it is faith alone that entitles us to his assistance, as an effect and consequent of that interest that it first gives us in Christ. The Spirit never assists but where he dwells; and still it is faith that makes the soul, as well as the body, the temple of the Holy Ghost.

3. And lastly, faith helps believers in the conquest of their spiritual enemies, by giving them both a title to, and a power effectually to apply God’s promises. We all (as has been shewn) stand engaged in a spiritual warfare, and strength we have none, but what we fetch from God. God conveys none but through Christ: whatsoever Christ gives is by the Spirit; and the Spirit works by the promises, putting those weapons into our hands; and faith is properly that spiritual hand into which they are put. Every promise is indeed a spring of living water; but it is water in a well, and faith is the bucket that must fetch it up both for our use and comfort. There is enough in every promise, if apprehended by a lively faith, to enable any intelligent nature to defy and look all the powers of hell in the face. That one promise, Revel. ii. 10, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life, is enough to render the strongest assault of the Devil vain and ineffectual, and the most alluring temptation flat and insipid; if so be faith takes in the truth of it by a firm persuasion.

For God having so framed the nature of man, that every one of his actions is the prosecution of some thing first desired; and since nothing moves desire, but so far as it is apprehended good and beneficial; it follows, that since the Devil has engaged our actions and desires in his service by the pleasures and profits of the world, and such other things as affect the sense; if ever those desires be took off from thence, and pitched upon the service of God, it must be by proposing to them some greater good, obtainable in such a course, than can be had in the other: and greater good there seems to be none, but heaven and immortality. Which things falling not under the apprehension of sense, but only being represented in the divine promise, they are only apprehensible by believing, and by that faith that apprehends the promise: for till I either know or believe that there is an heaven, and a state of immortal glory, these can have no more influence upon my practice, than if there were no such things at all. So that it is faith that does, as it were, realize and make these things as present to a rational understanding, as the eye makes a desirable object present to the sense. Where upon, in Hebrews xi. 1, faith is, both with great elegance and significance, styled the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. That is, when we really believe the certain event of any good, though it be indeed future, yet it has as 321strong an influence to move the soul, as if it were actually present; and though it be indeed invisible, yet it does as really affect a man’s desires, as if it were placed before his eyes. So that those heroical conquests obtained by the saints over the Devil and the world, and there so fully described by the apostle, are all attributed to the strength of their faith in the promises; as, that they had seen the promises afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, in the thirteenth verse. And particularly that glorious triumph that Moses made over the proffer of all the grandeur of a court and kingdom, is solely ascribed to the mighty efficacy of the same faith, as the only thing that could enable him to have respect to the recompence of reward, in the twenty-sixth verse, and even to see him who was invisible, in the twenty-seventh verse.

Thus, therefore, does faith empower believers to stand it out against all the fiery onsets of their spiritual enemies; namely, by enabling them to see better and more desirable things in God’s promises to engage them to obey his precepts, than any that the Devil can propose to them in his temptations to allure them to the commission of sin.

Wherefore, it being evident, from what has been delivered, both that believers will be fiercely encountered in their spiritual course, and that faith is the only thing that can preserve and defend them in those encounters, we collect hence both the necessity and excellency of this grace; for it is this alone that will bear us victorious through all that opposition, that would otherwise wholly crush and extinguish us. It is this that will set us above all our enemies, by setting us above our own weaknesses. 322 It is this that will make us more than conquerors; and that by carrying us out of ourselves, and pitching us upon Christ. For in all these spiritual conflicts it will be found, that he that stands upon no other legs but his own, will certainly fall; there being no sure station for poor sinners but in him, who is the rock of ages, and the great Saviour of mankind; and so able to save to the uttermost all those that by faith rely upon him.

To whom, therefore, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

323
« Prev Sermon XVII. Sermon XVII. 2 Cor. i. 24. Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |