Project Canterbury

Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon XXIX. The Excellency of Faith.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John xx. 20.

The apostles, who behold Christ after his crucifixion and burial, were satisfied, on the evidence of their senses, that he had risen from the dead. The certainty which they enjoyed of his resurrection was not go properly the result of faith as of knowledge. What we see, we know to be true: what we are assured of on sufficient testimony, we believe to be true. The evidence, therefore, which, arises from testimony, though a sufficient foundation for faith, regulating our conduct in the most important events of life, aixl producing on the mind full conviction, is still not so striking nor so strong as that which rs produced" by our senses, and which leads to knowledge.

Let us then seriously consider the nature of that faith to which is annexed the promise of salvation, in reference to the exercises of the understanding, to the dispositions of the heart, to its moral effects, and to the divine agency by which it is produced.

Those of the apostles, therefore, who saw our blessed Lord, enjoyed the greatest possible certainty of his resurrection. But Thomas was not present when Christ appeared unto the rest of the [346/347] apostles; he refused, therefore, to believe, on their testimony, that Christ had risen, and required the evidence of his senses. "Except," says he, "I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." Jesus afterwards appeared unto the apostles when Thomas was present, and called to him: "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." Convinced by this irresistible evidence, Thomas exclaimed, in the ecstacy of adoration, "My Lord and my God."

Thomas was convinced of the resurrection of Jiis Master on the evidence of sense. But belief founded on the evidence of testimony, on the statements of credible witnesses, is a law of our nature. To reject as false, every thing which we do not know from the evidence of our senses to be true, would so'far abridge human knowledge, and diminish human activity, that the business of life would be arrested, and the human mind, now so complex and powerful in its operations, and extensive in its range, would sink into the mere instinct that guides the brutes to the preservation of animal existence. Confidence in the testimony of those who could not be deceived, who had no motive to deceive, or who are too honest to deceive, even if interest urged them to the attempt, is one of those laws incorporated with our nature by its Almighty Maker, on which all men act, which is essential in the daily intercourse of life, in the improvement of their minds, and in the enlargement of their knowledge; and without the agency of which, the beneficial and exalted operations of civil society could not proceed in guarding, [347/348] strengthening, and completing the happiness and prosperity of the human race.

The testimony, therefore, of the disciples, his companions, who had seen the Lord, ought to have satisfied the incredulous Thomas; and for his unbelief he was therefore gently reproved by our blessed Lord: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed:" adding, in commendation of that faith which is founded, not on the evidence of sense, but of testimony: "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

Brethren, in this declaration of our blessed Lord we are deeply concerned. We do not possess the evidence of our Lord's resurrection, and of the divinity of his mission, which the apostles enjoyed: they repeatedly saw and conversed with that same Jesus whom they had beheld crucified and committed to the tomb. On the evidence of their senses, therefore, they were satisfied that Jesus had risen from the dead, and they adored him as their Lord and their God. The truth of his resurrection, of the consequent divinity of his mission, and of the doctrines which by him, or by his authority, were promulgated, we receive on the testimony of the apostles. We therefore are of the number of those who have not seen, and yet have believed: and if our faith be sincere and holy in its operations on our hearts and lives, we shall be entitled to that commendation of our Lord: "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

The text, therefore, leads us to consider the excellence of faith, and the blessedness of it.

The excellence of faith consists--

[349] I. In its rational character, as the assent of the understanding founded on sufficient evidence;

II. In the exalted dispositions which are connected with it;

III. In the moral effects which it produces;

IV. And in its divine origin, as excited and called into exercise by the agency of the Holy Spirit of God.

I. The excellence of faith consists in its rational character, as the assent of the understanding on sufficient evidence.

The object of Christian faith is the revelation which God has made of his will by Jesus Christ. In order to command the assent of the understanding to the truth of this revelation, it must appear that a revelation is possible, that it was necessary, that this revelation has been made.

Revelation is possible. The Being who made and who rules all things, is the infinite source of truth and of wisdom; and therefore he can devise, that system which will convey moral truth and wisdom to his intelligent creatures; and almighty and irresistable in power, he can make known to them his will. And it was necessary and expedient that the Governor of the universe should proclaim to man, by a special revelation, a system of religious truth and duty. For human reason had proved an incompetent guide in those interesting subjects connected with the spiritual and immortal interests of man. On points in which it was essential that he should arrive at certainty, reason could only offer conjecture and hope. Prompted by the general view of God's mercy, she might indulge the hope that he would extend [349/350] pardon to the penitent sinner; but no effort of reason could determine the mode in which the Ruler of the world, consistently with his holiness and justice, could exercise the attribute of mercy. This holiness and justice, violated by man's sin, seemed to require a propitiation; but where was this propitiation to fee found? Of what avail was the sacrifice of thousands of rams? to what purpose flowed rivers of oil? worse than in vain, the offering of the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul. On the subject of human guilt it still remained a painful mystery, "how God, just as well as merciful, could be just, and yet justify the sinner." The light which human reason shed on the attributes and will of the Maker of the universe, and on the obligations and rules of virtue, was obscured by the prejudices and passions of a corrupt heart and imagination. On the scenes of man's future existence there rested clouds which reason could not dispel. A revelation, therefore, that should cast certainty on these infinitely interesting topics, was the most invaluable gift that man could receive from his Maker.

But what was to be the evidence of the divine origin of this revelation I Having respect to the divine nature and counsels, it must necessarily contain doctrines transcending the comprehension of human reason. Its internal excellence, therefore, could not be a complete evidence of its divine origin. This must be established by those miraculous works which divine power alone could effect. These miraculous works were performed in attestation of the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For all these events we have the testimony of eye-witnessed, sealed by their blood, [350/351] confirmed also by their own miracles, and handed down in records scrupulously scrutinized and guarded from age to age. The apostles testified to facts with which they were intimately acquainted. No delusion of the imagination could have made them believe that their Master, who was crucified, was risen again: no sinister motive of interest or ambition could have supported them under the unparalleled sufferings which they sustained in attestation of this fact: no power, but the power of the Most High, could have enabled them, in a short period, to subvert the Jewish temple and the Pagan altar, and on their ruins to erect the cross of a despised Nazarene. The Gospel of Christ was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; and yet a few illiterate fishermen converted to the belief of this contemned Gospel myriads of Jews and Greeks. The Jews forsook their temple and flocked to the standard of him whom their fathers slew. The schools, long the boast of the Gentile philosophers, were deserted: human wisdom and human passions rendered homage to the cross. By what power was this wonderful conversion of the world effected? Surely only by the power of God. "Jesus Christ was a man approved of God among them by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God wrought in the midst of them, as they themselves also knew." Christian faith stands not in the wisdom, of man, but in the power of God.

The intrinsic excellence of the Gospel, in its provision for all our spiritual necessities, is calculated to confirm our faith in it. For our release from the guilt of sin it provides a Saviour, who, as the Son of God, is mighty to save; and yet, bearing [351/352] our sins and carrying our sorrows, is touched with a feeling for our infirmities. For our deliverance from the dominion of sin, it affords the most ample means in those precepts which enlighten and direct us, and in that Holy Spirit which sanctifies and governs us. It displays, as our Deliverer from the grave, and our Guide to the mansions of immortality, Him who has vanquished death, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Our faith in it is then a rational assent to its truths; for this faith is founded on the highest moral evidence--human, confirmed by divine testimony--and the intrinsic excellence of the system thus externally established.

II, The excellence of Christian faith further consists in the exalted dispositions which are connected with the exercise of it.

As an assent to revealed truth on sufficient evidence, faith, in its most strict signification, is an act of the understanding; but when sincere and genuine, it implies, and calls into exercise, the most exalted virtues of the heart.

1. It implies an humble desire to know and to do the will of God.

A proud confidence in the power of human reason, and a disposition to reject every fact or doctrine, however attested or excellent, which transcends its comprehension, is not justified by the frail and dependent character of man; and is most hostile both to the discovery and to the reception of truth. Opposed to this arrogant spirit, is that humility which is a principal constituent of faith; a profound sense of his weakness and dependence, [352/353] and an unreserved acknowledgment of the claims of his Maker and Judge to his homage and obedience; an earnest desire to know and to do the will of him whose will constitutes the happiness and perfection of all intelligent creation--these are the exercises of that intellectual humility which is an essential constituent of Christian faith, and which is so suitable to the character of man, as a creature dependent, in all his powers, in all his acts, in all his principles and hopes, on the Being who made him, and which enhance the excellence of that Christian faith of which they are principal constituents.

2. Faith also calls us to exercise another moral virtue--trust.

Under a sense of his weakness and guilt, man is prompted to rely on the wisdom, the power, and the mercy of his Maker, his Redeemer, and his Judge. In this trust consists the practical exercise and the consoling efficacy of faith. The Christian, in the exercise of faith, beholding the Saviour revealed in the Gospel, Jesus Christ the Son of God making atonement through his blood, and by his obedience and sufferings vindicating the justice and holiness of God, and relying on the merits of this Saviour for pardon and acceptance, enjoys the peace of a conscience reconciled to God. In the exercise of faith, the Christian confides in the divine strength which the Saviour offers him, diligently applies it, and enjoys the assurance of release from unholy passions, and of succour under all temptations. In the exercise of faith, the Christian relies on the compassion of that gracious Saviour who is touched with a feeling for his infirmities, and he is no longer depressed or intimidated [353/354] by the evils of the world In the exercise of the Christian relies on that Redeemer who rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, and is invested with almighty power, assuring victory to his followers; and he triumphs in the hope that he shall be conducted through the grave and gate of death to a joyful resurrection. In this reliance, then, the Christian finds fulness of consolation under all the weaknesses, the sorrows, find I he sins of our corrupt and mortal nature. How exalted and valuable is that faith which leads to this consolatory and exalted reliance!

3. Faith also implies the exercise of love in its purest fervours and on the highest objects.

Love, occupying all the powers of the mind and the affections of the heart, to that God who so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but should have everlasting life--love to that blessed Redeemer who gave himself to suffering and death for our salvation, who still liveth to make intercession for us, to guide and to succour us, and who is preparing for us mansions of rest and glory in his Father's house. Love exercised on objects thus exalted, purifies and elevates the soul, and enhances the excellence of that faith which calls it forth.

III. But the excellence of Christian faith will also appear from the moral effects which it produces.

What is it which brings down the high imaginations of man, which prostrates his elevated ideas of his own virtue mid strength, and leads him, as a redeemed sinner, to receive salvation at the [354/355] foot of the cross?--That faith which believes that Jesus is the Son of God; that this Saviour, rejected of men, "is the brightness of the Father's glory," "God over all," "mighty to save."

What is it which subdues the corrupt propensities of the heart, and places God in the soul as its rightful Sovereign, and enlists all its affections in his service?--That faith "which worketh by love."

What is it which quells passion, tames inordinate desire, effects what no human laws can effect, disarms revenge, and from being proud, sensual, corrupt, the slave of sin and Satan, makes man humble, holy, undefiled, the child of God?--That "faith which purifieth the heart."

What is it which has inspired the Christian, when they would seduce or intimidate him from the service of his God, to despise the blandishments of pleasure, the threats of power, the terrors of persecution--what is it which has quenched the fires of the stake, and calmed the agonies of the rack?--That faith which "overcometh the world."

Yes--What is it which gains a victory infinitely greater than those which have obtained glory for the conquerors of nations, victory over the world, its sins, its temptations, its pleasures, its sorrows? What is it which enables the Christian, when surrounded by every enjoyment alluring to the imagination and gratifying to the passions, to remember that he is the citizen of a better country; which excites him, when distress, poverty, and tribulation encompass him, to rejoice, knowing that they are working out for him an eternal weight of glory? What is it which even brightens the valley of the shadow of death, and leads the Christian triumphantly through this dread region, looking forward [355/356] to the glory which awaits him in the celestial realms beyond it?--That faith which is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." In the words of an eloquent Christian Father, eulogizing the triumphs of faith--"Give me a man who is wrathful, reproachful, ungovernable, and with a few words of God I will render him as placid as a lamb. Give me a man covetous and niggardly, and an avaricious man, and I will return him to thee liberal, and distributing his money with a bountiful hand. Give me one that is timorous of grief and death; he shall despise all manner of torment. Give me one that is lustful, adulterous, and intemperate; you shall presently see him sober, chaste, and continent. Give me one that is cruel and thirsty of blood; his fury shall be immediately converted to piety and clemency. Give me one that is unjust, foolish, and criminal; and he shall presently be rendered just, prudent, and innocent."

These are the triumphs of Christian faith--triumphs which natural religion never knew, which unassisted reason never could attain.

IV. For it is of importance that we should remember that true saving faith is rendered an operating principle by divine power--by the Holy Spirit of God.

Not only do the sacred writings ascribe all those miraculous powers which are the foundation of Christian faith to the agency of the Holy Spirit, but they represent the same Holy Spirit as opening the eyes of the understanding to discern, and the heart to receive, the wondrous things of God's law, the great mysteries of redemption. The agency [356/357] of the Holy Spirit on our minds and hearts is incomprehensible; but it is not, therefore, less a reality. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth. So are the operations of the Spirit. In its influence on the understanding and the heart, the Holy Spirit is not overpowering; for then it would destroy man's free agency, and subvert faith as a moral virtue. Its agency is moral and persuasive, aiding the operations of the understanding and the heart in discerning and receiving the great truths of redemption. The excellence then of your faith, Christians, is completed, by its being excited, cherished, strengthened, defended, and made the principle of active obedience by the co-operating power of the Holy Spirit of God. The influences of the Holy Spirit, conveyed to all men so far as is necessary to enable them to know and to do the will of their Maker, are secured to Christians by the instrumentality of the ministrations, sacraments, and ordinances of the church to which they must be united. For, my brethren, it is of importance that we should consider that the faith by which we are saved must be exercised in union with the church, the mystical body of Christ. Our Lord himself declares--"He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." By baptism we must be admitted into the church; and thus united, in the exercise of faith, to Christ, its divine head, must derive from him spiritual nourishment, consolation, and strength, and with this his mystical body finally be exalted to that triumphant state on which our divine Head hath already entered. How fallacious, then, the opinion that faith alone, independently of our union with [357/358] the church, by the participation of its sacraments and ordinances from its authorized ministry, will be effectual to our salvation! "He that believeth and is baptized," said our blessed Lord, "shall be saved;" and the language of his apostles uniformly proclaims, that through his body the church we are united to him, and in holy communion with this body shall finally enjoy the triumphs and glories of its divine Head.

The faith, then, by which we are saved, brethren, is such an assent of the understanding to the facts and truths of the Gospel as, through the influences of the Divine Spirit, calls forth the exercise of holy affections, and produces holy submission to the ordinances and commandments of God.

They whose faith thus worketh by love, and brings forth the fruits of holiness, have assured to them the pardon of their sins, (through the merits of that Saviour in whom they trust,) and the enjoyment of the favour of God; for, "justified by faith," they have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. They are enriched with the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit; for, in the language of the apostle, Christ by his Spirit dwells in their hearts, enriching them with divine wisdom and knowledge, purifying and sanctifying their souls, and leading them in the ways of God's law, and in the works of his commandments. They obtain succour under temptation, so that theirs is the victory which overcometh the world--even their faith. They enjoy comfort under sorrow; for, amidst all the changes and chances of this mortal life, their hearts are fixed on that Saviour whom, not having seen, they love; they rejoice in the unfailing assurances of their divine Lord--"None shall hurt [358/359] you, or make you afraid. All things shall work together for your good." And lastly, they who partake of true Christian faith are assured of victory over death, and everlasting life. "He that believeth in me," said Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, "shall never die;" and in firm reliance on this gracious assurance, it may be the triumphant rejoicing of every true believer, in his last tremendous conflict, when nature, and all that nature can supply, fails him for ever--"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of glory." Blessed are they who are not seized, and yet have believed.

But what is the awful denunciation against misbelief? "He that believeth not," said Christ himself, "shall be damned"--"shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of God, and from the glory of his power." Just sentence; for he wilfully rejects the counsel of God for his salvation.

Professing Christians, let me beseech you to remember that, this condemnation awaits not only those who reject Jesus Christ as their Saviour, but those who hold the faith in unrighteousness, those whose faith, not bringing forth good works, is dead. Examine then yourselves, whether you have that faith which worketh by love, which purifieth the heart, which overcometh the temptations of a sinful world, and which leads you to observe and keep the ordinances and commandments of God.

If you are Christians in deed and in truth, as well as in name and profession, be it your object to increase in that faith which is the source of all your virtues, and all your spiritual consolations and [359/360] joys. Be it your increasing prayer and endeavour that your faith may abound more and more in all its holy fruits--love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance. Let your faith, vigorous and lively, ascending to that heaven where your Saviour Christ hath gone before, raise you above the world--not above its duties, not above its pure enjoyments, the gifts of a gracious Providence--but above its sins, above an inordinate love of even its lawful pursuits and pleasures, above its temptations and its sorrows. Let your faith be the substance of things hoped for, and you shall enjoy on earth a foretaste of those glories prepared for you in your heavenly home. Let your faith be the evidence of things not seen, and you shall rejoice in that Saviour whom you see by the eye of faith, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Especially let this faith, thus purifying, ennobling, and consolatory, be in lively exercise when you approach the table of your Lord. There are exhibited the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion of him who died for you, and dying, redeemed you; and there are pledged to you the merits of him who rose again, and ever liveth to intercede for you. Realize, then, the infinite compassion and the mighty power of your Redeemer, the Lord of hosts; and when you receive the pledges of his grace and mercy, you may rejoice in the assurance that you are heirs, through hope, of his everlasting kingdom.

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