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SERMON LXIII.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, A LIFE OF FAITH.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.—2 Cor. v. 7.

IN the latter part of the former chapter, the apostle declares what it was that was the great support of Christians under the persecutions and sufferings which befel them—viz. the assurance of a blessed resurrection to another life: (ver. 14.) “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus;” “for which cause (saith he, ver. 16.) we faint not; but though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day;” that is, though our bodies, by reason of the hard ships and sufferings which we undergo, are continually decaying and declining; yet our minds grow every day more healthful and vigorous, and gain new strength and resolution, by contemplating the glory and reward of another world, and as it were feeding upon them by faith; “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”

And he resumes the same argument again at the beginning of this chapter: “For we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;” that is, we are firmly persuaded, that when we die, we shall but exchange these earthly and perishing bodies, these houses of 184clay, for a heavenly mansion, which will never decay nor come to ruin: from whence he concludes, (ver. 6.) “Therefore we are always confident;” θαῤῥοῦντες οὖν πάντοτε, therefore whatever happens to us, we are always of good courage, and see no reason to be afraid of death: “knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord;” that is, since our continuance in the body is to our disadvantage, and while we live, we are absent from our happiness, and when we die we shall then enter upon the possession of it. That which gives us this confidence and good courage, is our faith; for though we be not actually possessed of this happiness which we speak of, yet we have a firm persuasion of the reality of it, which is enough to support our spirits, and keep up our courage under all afflictions and adversities whatsoever: (ver. 7.) “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

These words come in by way of parenthesis, in which the apostle declares in general, what is the swaying and governing principle of a Christian life; not only in case of persecution and affliction, but under all events, and in every condition of human life; and that is faith in opposition to sight and present enjoyment: “We walk by faith,” and “not by sight.” “We walk by faith:” whatever principle sways and governs a man’s life and actions, he is said to walk and live by it. And as here a Christian is said to “walk by faith,” so elsewhere the just is said to “live by faith.” Faith is the principle which animates all his resolutions and actions.

And “not by sight.” The word is εἴδους, which signifies, the thing itself in present view and possession, in opposition to a firm persuasion of things future and invisible. Sight is the thing in hand, 185and faith the thing only in hope and expectation. Sight is a clear view and apprehension of things present and near to us, faith an obscure discovery and apprehension of things at a distance: so the apostle tells us, (1 Cor. xiii. 12.) “Now we see through a glass darkly;” this is faith; “but then face to face,” this is present sight, as one man sees another face to face: and thus likewise the same apostle distinguisheth betwixt hope and sight, (Rom. viii. 24, 25.) “Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why doth he yet hope for it? but if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Sight is the possession and enjoyment; faith is the firm persuasion and expectation of a thing; and this the apostle tells us was the governing principle of a Christian’s life; “For we walk by faith, and not by sight:” from which words I shall observe these three things.

I. That faith is the governing principle, and that which bears the great sway in the life and actions of a Christian: “we walk by faith;” that is, we order and govern our lives in the power and virtue of this principle.

II. Faith is a degree of assent inferior to that of sense. This is sufficiently intimated in the opposition betwixt faith and sight. He had said before, that “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord;” and gives this as a reason and proof of our absence from the Lord, “for we walk by faith,” and “not by sight;” that is, whilst we are in the body, we do not see and enjoy, but believe and expect; if we were present with the Lord, then faith would cease, and be turned into sight; but though we have not that assurance of another world, which we shall have when we come to see and enjoy 186these things, yet we are firmly persuaded of them.

III. Notwithstanding faith be an inferior degree of assurance, yet it is a principle of sufficient power to govern our Jives; “we walk by faith;” it is such an assurance as hath an influence on our lives.

I. That faith is the governing principle, and that which bears the great sway in the life and actions of a Christian. “We walk by faith;” that is, we order and govern our lives in the power and virtue of this principle. A Christian’s life consists in obedience to the will of God; that is, in a readiness to do what he commands, and in a willingness to suffer what he calls us to; and the great arguments and encouragements hereto, are such things, as are the objects of faith and not of sense; such things as are absent and future, and not present, and in possession. For instance, the belief of an invisible God, of a secret power and providence, that orders and governs all things, that can bless or blast us, and all our designs and undertakings, according as we demean ourselves towards him, and endeavour to approve ourselves to him; the persuasion of a secret aid and influence always ready at hand to keep us from evil, and to strengthen and assist us to that which is good; more especially the firm belief, and expectation of the happiness of heaven, and the glorious rewards of another world, which, though they be now at a distance, and invisible to us, yet being grounded upon the promise of God “that cannot lie,” shall certainly be made good.

And this faith, this firm persuasion of absent and invisible things, the apostle to the Hebrews tells us, was the great principle of the piety and virtue of good men from the beginning of the world. This 187he calls, (chap. xi. ver. 1.) the ὑπόστασις, or “the confident expectation of things hoped for, and the proof or evidence of things not seen,” viz. a firm persuasion of the being and providence of God, and of the truth and faithfulness of his promises. Such vas the faith of Abel; he believed “that there was a God, and that he was a rewarder of those that faithfully serve him.” Such was the faith of Noah, who being warned of God, of things at a great distance, and lot seen as yet, notwithstanding believed the Divine prediction concerning the flood, and prepared an ark. Such also was the faith of Abraham, concerning numerous posterity by Isaac, and the inheritance of the land of Canaan; and such likewise was the faith of Moses, as he did as firmly believe the invisible God, and the recompense of reward, as if he had beheld them with his eyes.

And of this recompense of reward, we Christian have a much clearer revelation, and much greater assurance, than former ages and generations had; and the firm belief and persuasion of this, is the great motive and argument to a holy life; “The hope which is set before us” of obtaining the happiness, and the fear of incurring the misery of another world. This made the primitive Christians, with so much patience to bear the sufferings and persecutions, with so much constancy to venture upon the dangers and inconveniences which the love of God and religion exposed them to.

Under the former dispensation of the law, though good men have received good hopes of the rewards of another life, yet these things were but obscurely revealed to them, and the great inducements to obedience were temporal rewards and punishments, tin promises of long life, and peace, and plenty, and 188prosperity, in that good land which God had given then, and the threatenings of war and famine, and pestilence, and being delivered into captivity. But now, under the gospel, “life and immortality are brought to light;” and the great arguments that bear sway with Christians, are the promises of everlasting life and the threatenings of eternal misery; and the firm belief and persuasion of these is now the great principle that governs the lives and actions of good men: for what will not men do, that are really persuaded, that as they do demean themselves in this world, it will fare with them in the other? “That the wicked shall go into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal?” I proceed to the

Second observation, namely, that faith is a degree of assent inferior to that of sense. This is intimated in the opposition betwixt faith and sight; “We walk by faith, and not by sight;” that is, we believe these things, and are confidently persuaded of the truth of them, though we never saw them, and consequently cannot possibly have that degree of assurance concerning the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell, which those have who enjoy the one and endure the other.

There are different degrees of assurance concerning things, arising from the different degrees of evidence we have for them. The highest degree of evidence we have for any thing is our own sense and experience; and this is so firm and strong, that it is not to be shaken by the utmost pretence of a rational demonstration; men will trust their own senses and experience, against any subtilty of reason whatsoever: but there are inferior degrees of assurance concerning things, as the testimony and 189authority of persons every way credible: and this assurance we have in this state concerning the things of another world; we believe, with great reason, that we have the testimony of God concerning them, which is the highest kind of evidence in itself: and we have all the reasonable assurance we can desire that God hath testified these things; and this is the utmost assurance which things future, and at a distance are capable of.

But yet it is an unreasonable obstinacy to deny, that this falls very much short of that degree of assurance which those persons have concerning these things who are now in the other world, and have the sense and experience of these things. And this is not only intimated here in the text, in the opposition of faith and sight, but is plainly expressed in other texts of Scripture; (1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10.) “We know now but in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” That degree of knowledge and assurance which we have in this life is very imperfect, in comparison to what we shall have hereafter; and (ver. 12.) “We now see, as through a glass darkly,” ἐν αἰνίγματι, as in a riddle, in which there is always a great deal of obscurity; all which expressions are certainly intended by way of abatement and diminution to the certainty of faith; because it is plain, that by “that which is in any part,” or imperfect, the apostle means faith and hope, which he tells us shall cease, “when that which is perfect,” meaning vision and sight, “is come.” We see likewise in experience, that the faith and hope of the best Christians in this life is accompanied with doubting concerning these things, and all doubting is a degree of uncertainty; but those blessed souls 190who are entered upon the possession of glory and happiness, and those miserable wretches who lie groaning under the wrath of God and the severity of his justice, cannot possibly, if they would, have any doubt concerning the truth and reality of these things.

But however contentious men may dispute against common sense, this is so plain a truth, that I will not labour in the farther proof of it; nor indeed is it reasonable, while we are in this state, to expect that degree of assurance concerning the rewards and punishments of another life, which the sight and sensible experience of them would give us; and that upon these two accounts:

1. Because our present state will not admit it; and,

2. If it would, it is not reasonable we should have it.

1. Our present state will not admit it. For while we are in this world, it is not possible we should have that sensible experiment and trial how things are in the other. The things of the other world are remote from us, and far out of our sight, and we cannot have any experimental knowledge of them, till we ourselves enter into that state. Those who are already passed into it, know how things are; those happy souls who live in the reviving presence of God, and are possessed of those joys which we cannot now conceive, understand these things in another manner, and have a more perfect assurance concerning them, than it is possible for any man to have in this world; and those wretched and miserable spirits who feel the vengeance of God, and are plunged into the horrors of eternal darkness, do believe upon irresistible evidence, 191and have other kind of convictions of the reality of that state, and the insupportable misery of it, than any man is capable of in this world.

2. If our present state would admit of this high degree of assurance, it is not fit and reasonable that we should have it. Such an overpowering evidence would quite take away the virtue of faith, and much lessen that of obedience. Put the case that every man, some considerable time before his departure out of this life, were permitted to visit the other world, to assure him how things are there, to view the mansions of the blessed, and to survey the dark and loathsome prisons of the damned, to hear the lamentable outcries of miserable and despairing souls, and to see the inconceivable anguish and torments they are in; after this, what virtue would it be in any man to believe these things? he that had been there and seen them, could not disbelieve them if he would. Faith in this case would not be virtue, but necessity; and therefore it is observable, that our Saviour doth not pronounce them blessed, who believed his resurrection, upon the forcible evidence of their own senses, “but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” They might be happy in the effects of that faith, but there is no praise, no reward belongs to that faith which is wrought in man by so violent and irresistible an evidence. It was the great commendation of Abraham’s faith, that “against hope he believed in hope,” he believed the promise of God concerning a thing in itself very improbable: but it is no commendation at all to believe the things which we have seen, because they admit of no manner of dispute; no objection can be offered to shake our assent, unless we will run to the extremity 192of scepticism; for if we will believe any thing at all, we must yield to the evidence of sense. This does so violently enforce our assent, that there can be no virtue in such a faith.

And as this would take away the virtue of faith, so it would very much lessen that of our obedience. It is hardly to be imagined, that any man who had seen the blessed condition of good men in another world, and had been an eye-witness of the intolerable torments of sinners, should ever be tempted knowingly to do any thing that would deprive him of that happiness, or bring him into that place of torment. Such a sight could not choose but affect a man as long as he lived; and leave such impressions upon his mind, of the indispensable necessity of a holy life, and of the infinite danger of a wicked course, that we might sooner believe that all the men in the world should conspire to kill one another, than that such a man, by consenting to any deliberate act of sin, should wilfully throw himself into those flames: no, his mind would be continually haunted with those furies he had seen tormenting sinners in another world, and the fearful shrieks and outcries of miserable souls would be perpetually ringing in his ears; and the man would have so lively and terrible an imagination of the danger he was running himself upon, that no temptation would be strong enough to conquer his fears, and to make him careless of his life and actions, after he had once seen how “fearful a thing it was to fall into the hands of the living God:” so that in this case, the reason of men’s obedience would be so violent, that the virtue of it must be very little; for what praise is due to any man, not to do those things which none but a perfect madman would 193do? for certainly that man must be besides himself, that could by any temptation be seduced to live a wicked life, after he had seen the state of good and bad men in the other world; the glorious rewards of holiness and virtue, and the dismal event of a vicious and sinful course. God hath designed this life for the trial of our virtue, and the exercise of our obedience; but there would hardly be any place for this, if there were a free and easy passage for us into the other world, to see the true state of things there. What argument would it be of any man’s virtue to forbear sinning after he had been in hell, and seen the miserable end of sinners? But I proceed to the

Third and last observation; namely, that notwithstanding faith be an inferior degree of assent, yet it is a principle of sufficient force and power to govern our lives: “We walk by faith.” Now that the belief of any thing may have its effect upon us, it is requisite that we be satisfied of these two things.

1. Of the certainty; and, 2. Of the great concernment of the thing. For if the thing be altogether uncertain, it will not move us at all; we shall do nothing towards the obtaining of it, if it be good; nor for the avoiding and preventing of it, if it be evil: and if we are certain of the thing, yet if we apprehend it to be of no great moment and concernment, we shall be apt to slight it, as not worth our regard. But the rewards and punishments of an other world, which the gospel propounds to our faith, are fitted to work upon our minds, both upon account of the certainty and concernment of them. For,

1. We have sufficient assurance of the truth of these things, as much as we are well capable of in this state. Concerning things future and at a distance, 194we have the dictates of our reason arguing us into this persuasion, from the consideration of the justice of the Divine Providence, and from the promiscuous and unequal administration of things in this world; from whence wise men in all ages have been apt to conclude, that there will be another state of things after this life, wherein rewards and punishments shall be equally distributed. We have the general consent of mankind in this matter: and to assure us that these reasonings are true, we have a most credible revelation of these things, God having sent his Son from heaven to declare it to us, and given us a sensible demonstration of the thing, in his resurrection from the dead, and his visible ascension into heaven; so that there is no kind of evidence wanting, that the thing is capable of, but only our own sense and experience of these things, of which we are not capable in this present state. And there is no objection against all this, but what will bring all things into uncertainty, which do not come under our senses, and which we ourselves have not seen.

Nor is there any considerable interest to hinder men from the belief of these things, or to make them hesitate about them. For as for the other world, if at last there should prove to be no such thing, our condition after death will be the same with the condition of those who disbelieve these things; because all will be extinguished by death: but if things fall out otherwise (as most undoubtedly they will) and our souls after this life do pass into a state of ever lasting happiness or misery, then our great interest plainly lies, in preparing ourselves for this state; and there is no other way to secure the great concernments of another world, but by believing those 195things to be true, and governing all the actions of our lives by this belief. For as for the interests of this life, they are but short and transitory, and consequently of no consideration in comparison of the things which are eternal; and yet (as I have often told you) setting aside the case of persecution for religion, there is no real interest of this world, but it may be as well promoted and pursued to as great advantage, nay, usually to a far greater, by him that believes these things, and lives accordingly, than by any other person: for the belief of the rewards and punishments of another world, is the greatest motive and encouragement to virtue; and as all vice is naturally attended with some temporal inconvenience, so the practice of all Christian virtues doth in its own nature tend both to the welfare of particular persons, and to the peace and prosperity of mankind.

But that which ought to weigh very much with us, is, that we have abundantly more assurance of the recompence of another world, than we have of many things in this world, which yet have a greater influence upon our actions, and govern the lives of the most prudent and considerate men. Men generally hazard their lives and estates upon terms of greater uncertainty than the assurance which we have of another world. Men venture to take physic upon probable grounds of the integrity and skill of their physician; and yet the want of either of these may hazard their lives: and men take physic upon greater odds; for it certainly causeth pain and sickness, and doth but uncertainly procure and recover health; the patient is sure to be made sick, but not certain to be made well; and yet the danger of being worse, if not of dying, on the one hand, and the 196hope of success and recovery on the other, make this hazard and trouble reasonable. Men venture their whole estates to places which they never saw; and that there are such places, they have only the concurrent testimony and agreement of men; nay, perhaps have only spoken with them that have spoken with those that have been there. No merchant ever insisted upon the evidence of a miracle to be wrought, to satisfy him that there were such places as the East and West Indies, before he would venture to trade thither: and yet this assurance God hath been pleased to give the world of a state beyond the grave, and of a blessed immortality in another life.

Now, what can be the reason that so slender evidence, so small a degree of assurance, will serve to encourage men to seek after the things of this world with great care and industry; and yet a great deal more will not suffice to put them effectually upon looking after the great concernments of another world, which are infinitely more considerable? No other reason of this can be given, but that men are partial in their affections towards these things. It is plain they have not the same love for God and religion, which they have for this world and the advantages of it; and therefore it is, that a less degree of assurance will engage them to seek after the one, than the other; and yet the reason is much stronger on the other side: for the greater the benefit and good is, which is offered to us, we should be the more eager to seek after it, and should be content to venture upon less probability. Upon excessive odds a man would venture upon very small hopes; for a mighty advantage, a man would be content to run a great hazard of his labour and pains upon 197little assurance. Where a man’s life is concerned, every suspicion of danger will make a man careful to avoid it. And will nothing affright men from hell, unless God carry them thither, and shew them the place of torments, and the flames of that fire which shall never be quenched?

I do not speak this, as if these things had not abundant evidence; I have shewn that they have; but to convince men how unreasonable and cruelly partial they are about the concernments of their souls, and their eternal happiness.

2. Supposing these things to be real and certain, they are of infinite concernment to us. For what can concern us more, than that eternal and, unchangeable state, in which we must be fixed and abide for ever? If so vast a concern will not move us, and have no influence upon the government of our lives and actions, we do not deserve the name of reasonable creatures. What consideration can be set before men, who are not touched with the sense of so great an interest, as that of our happy or miserable being to all eternity? Can we be so solicitous and careful about the concernment of a few days; and is it nothing to us what becomes of us for ever? Are we so tenderly concerned to avoid poverty and disgrace, persecution and suffering in this world; and shall we not much more “flee from the wrath which is to come,” and endeavour “to escape the damnation of hell?” Are the slight and transitory enjoyments of this world worth so much thought and care? and is an eternal inheritance in the heavens not worth the looking after? As there is no proportion betwixt the things which are temporal, and the things which are eternal; so we ought in all reason to be infinitely more concerned for the one than for the other.

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The proper inference from all this discourse is, that we would endeavour to strengthen in ourselves this great principle of a Christian life, the belief of another world, by representing to ourselves all those arguments and considerations which may confirm us in this persuasion. The more reasonable our faith is, and the surer grounds it is built upon, the more firm it will abide, when it comes to the trial, against all the impressions of temptations, and assaults of persecution. If our faith of another world be only a strong imagination of these things, “so soon as tribulation ariseth, it will wither; because it hath no root in itself.” Upon this account the apostle so often exhorts Christians, to endeavour “to be established in the truth, to be rooted and grounded in the faith,” that, when persecution comes, they may “continue steadfast and unmoveable.” The firmness of our belief will have a great influence upon our lives: if we be “steadfast and unmoveable” in our persuasion of these things, we shall be “abundant in the work of the Lord.” The apostle joins these together: (1 Cor. xv. 58.) “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.” “Steadfast and unmoveable,” in what? In the belief of a blessed resurrection; which the more firmly any man believes, the more active and industrious will he be in the work and service of God.

And that our faith may have a constant and powerful influence upon our lives, we should frequently revolve in our minds the thoughts of another world, and of that vast eternity which we shall shortly launch into. The great disadvantage of the arguments fetched from another world, is this—that 199these things are at a distance from us, and not sensible to us, and therefore we are not apt to be so affected with them; present and sensible things weigh down all other considerations. And therefore, to balance this disadvantage, we should often have these thoughts in our minds, and inculcate upon ourselves the certainty of these things, and the in finite concernment of them: we should reason thus with ourselves—If these things be true, and will certainly be, why should they not be to me, as if they were actually present? Why should not I always live, as if heaven were open to my view, and “I saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” with crowns of glory in his hands, ready to be set upon the heads of all those who continue faithful and obedient to him? And why should I not be as much afraid to commit any sin, as if “hell were naked before me,” and I saw the astonishing miseries of the damned?

Thus we should, by frequent meditation, represent these great things to ourselves, and bring them nearer to our minds, and oppose, to the present temptations of sense, the great and endless happiness and misery of the other world. And if we would but thus exercise ourselves about “the things which are not seen,” and make eternity familiar to ourselves, by a frequent meditation of it, we should be very little moved with present and sensible things; we should walk and live by faith, as the men of the world do by sense, and be more serious and earnest in the pursuit of our great and everlasting interest, than they are in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments; and should make it the great business of this present and temporal life, to secure a future and eternal happiness.

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