This was the language which our blessed Lord addressed to his disciples but a short time before his crucifixion. It was natural that their hearts should be troubled, when they looked forward to their beloved Friend and Master suffering an ignominious death; when they considered that they thus would soon be deprived of his affectionate counsel and support; and when they surveyed the trials and persecutions which awaited them, as the disciples of one whom the inveterate malice of his enemies would crucify and slay. Jesus, their divine Master, was touched with compassion for them, and he addressed to them the voice of consolation-"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." Ye believe in God, who is infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely good; believe also in me, whom he hath sent to be your Guide, Comforter, and Saviour-through whom you can have access unto this greatest and best of Beings, and obtain a title to his blessing, his protection, and his everlasting favour. "What can hurt you or make you afraid? Believ[490/491]ing in God, believing in me, let not your heart be troubled.
This, brethren, is the language which Jesus Christ still addresses to us, his disciples; and the consolatory truth which he exhibits, and which it is my design now to inculcate, is, that faith in God, through Jesus Christ, is an effectual remedy for all the troubles of the heart.
From the troubles of the heart who is exempt? Who therefore will not feel interested in the gracious declaration-"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
The troubles of the heart arise--
1. From the sense of guilt;
2. From the power of sin and temptation;
3. From the calamities of the world;
4. From the fear of death.
For all these, faith in God, through Jesus Christ, is an all-powerful remedy. It offers,
1. For the sense of guilt, the assurance of pardon;
2. For the power of sin and temptation, the certainty of victory by the aids of divine grace;
3. For the calamities of the world, the consolations of the divine favour;
4. For the fear of death, the triumphant hope of immortality.
1. Faith in God, through Christ, is a remedy for the sense of guilt, by the assurance of pardon which it conveys to us.
Where is the individual, brethren, who has not, in a greater or less degree, disregarded the dictates of reason, resisted the monitions of con[491/492]science, and violated the righteous commands of God, his Maker, his Sovereign, and his Judge? There is no man who liveth and sinneth not; and there is no man who views the evil of sin in the colours in which reason and the word of God present it, and who faithfully examines his own life, marked by actual transgressions as well as omissions of duty, who will not feel cause to exclaim with the penitent psalmist--"There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure, O Lord; neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin: for my wickednesses are gone over my head, and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear."
For this sore trouble of the heart who can find a remedy! Can reason or nature proclaim the terms on which the just Governor of the universe will remit the punishment incurred by man who has offended him, and convey that assurance of pardon which only can dispense peace to the wounded spirit! Man, oppressed and agitated with a sense of guilt, turns for consolation to reason and nature. He hears not the voice of pardon; for this can come only from the God of reason and nature, the Almighty Sovereign, against whom man has transgressed, and who only, therefore, can declare the terms on which the penalties of transgression shall be remitted. The God of reason and nature, the Almighty Sovereign whom man has offended, is as merciful and good as he is just and holy: he has sent his Son Jesus Christ to satisfy the justice and repair the violated authority of his government, and thus to be vested with power to proclaim the terms of forgiveness. The Son of God was constituted, in our nature, the Lamb with[492/493]out blemish and without spot, slain for the sins of the world; and he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; he was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; he was delivered for our offences, and raised for our justification. That mystery is resolved which baffled the efforts of reason, "how God could be just, and yet justify the sinner:" for "if any man sin, he has an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
Thus does faith in God's mercy, through Jesus Christ, convey the assurance of pardon.
Let not then your hearts be troubled; God is in Jesus Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Conscience may accuse you of numerous violations of the laws of God; in the indulgence of your sinful passions you may have resisted his authority, contemned his power and his justice, despised his gracious warnings, and rejected his merciful invitations; the remembrance of your sins may be grievous unto you, and the burden of them intolerable; yet let not your heart be troubled; God has proclaimed, through his Son Jesus Christ, the terms of forgiveness-has provided for the remission of your guilt. Repent, and be heartily sorry for these your misdoings. Resolve to serve God in newness of life; and have a lively faith in his mercy, through Christ, the all-sufficient and compassionate Saviour who has graciously promised to receive all those who come unto God through him. Believe steadfastly, unhesitatingly believe that God, for his sake, will be merciful unto your unrighteousness, and [493/494] will remember your sins and iniquities no more. "Be of good comfort"-it is your Saviour who speaks to you-"Be of good comfort, your sins are forgiven." "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
2. But even when the heart is refreshed by the assurance of the pardon of its past sins, its troubles are renewed in the sense of its liability to temptation.
For this source of trouble, faith in God, through Jesus Christ, presents the hope of victory by the aids of divine grace.
Though an all-sufficient atonement for sin is provided, and though pardon is thus offered to all who truly repent and believe, who come unto God through Christ, steadfastly purposing to serve and please him in newness of life; yet how is this possible? "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots? Then may they do good who have been accustomed to do evil." Alas! so weak and corrupt is man's nature, that when he would do good, evil is present with him. He may delight in the law of God, after the inward man, agreeably to the dictates of reason and of conscience; but he finds another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin. This is the natural condition of man. It is worse than folly to attempt to reconcile this constitution of our nature with the justice and benevolence of our Almighty Maker. So it is. Unjust and cruel indeed would this condition of man be, were there no remedy provided. 'For to what purpose,' he may exclaim, 'is pardon offered on conditions [494/495] which I am unable to perform? Forgiveness is promised only to those who forsake their sins. I have not the strength and resolution to forsake them: sinful propensities and passions hold the dominion over me, and overpower the dictates of my reason, and prostrate my virtuous resolutions. In vain do I desire and endeavour to do the commandments of God: the temptations of the world, so alluring and powerful, find advocates in my passions, and lead me to violate my vows of obedience, and to depart from God's holy ways; I do the things which I ought not to do, and leave undone the things which I ought to do; I indulge in practices which my sober reason disapproves, and neglect to discharge those high duties which I know are the law and the perfection of my nature. Thus continuing a transgressor, thus fast bound by the chain of my sins, how can I expect that I can be acceptable to a God who, though he declares mercy to the penitent who forsakes his sins, is yet of purer eyes than to behold iniquity? How can I indulge the hope of pardon, when I do not exercise those holy affections, nor discharge those duties, which are the indispensable qualifications for enjoying the favour of a righteous, and just, and holy God? Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'
This is the condition in which nature finds man, subject, from the objects which surround him, and from the sinful passions of his heart, to temptations which lead him to violate the dictates of reason, and conscience, and the divine law-to resist and to overcome them, he finds his own powers impotent, his own exertions ineffectual. In this deplorable condition nature finds man, and in this condi[495/496]tion she leaves him. She holds forth no effectual aid by which man may escape from the power of temptation; she knows no deliverer who can rescue man from this spiritual thraldom, and assure him victory over his foes.
But there is a voice, to which reason and nature are strangers, which addresses to those who, sensible of the weakness and corruption of their nature, are overwhelmed with despondency at their vain efforts for deliverance-"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me:"-it is the voice of Jesus Christ, whom God hath exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins; and imperfectly would he perform his divine office, if he did not, by saving us from the dominion of our sins, qualify us to receive the remission of them.
Here, then, is the effectual remedy which faith in God, through Christ, applies for the troubles of the heart which laments its subjection to sin and to temptation. That incomprehensible but powerful grace of the Holy Spirit, whereby man is prepared for calling upon God, is redeemed from sin, sanctified in soul and body, and led in the ways of God's laws, and in the works of his commandments, is the gift of God, through Christ. Secretly but powerfully does God's preventing grace, going before men in all holy works, excite them to repentance, and to faith, and to holy obedience; and they who, not resisting his gracious influences, lament and confess their sins, imploring God's mercy and grace through Jesus Christ, and waiting upon him in the ordinances of his church, to which this Spirit is especially and fully given, shall be renewed in the spirit of their minds, shall be en[496/497]dued with divine power to resist and overcome the most formidable temptations, and to serve their God in newness of life.
Yes, the penitent believer is assured that he can do all things necessary for his salvation through that grace of Christ which strengtheneth him. By this grace he obtains that new heart, and renders that holy obedience, which, though they may be alloyed with imperfections, will yet be acceptable unto God, through the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ. The heart of the believer, then, need not be troubled. He knows in whom he has believed: he knows that God is faithful; and that God hath promised not to tempt him above what he is able to bear, but will with the temptation make a way to escape; and that he will never leave nor forsake those who trust in him. He knows that his Saviour is almighty; and his Saviour hath promised, "My grace shall be sufficient for you; my strength shall be made perfect in your weakness." Furnished with supernatural strength, armed with the grace of his God and Saviour, he subdues his sinful passions, he perseveres in the paths of holiness-he overcomes the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil-he bears down his enemies under his feet.
Thus, then, is faith in God, through Christ, all-powerful in removing the sense of guilt, and in resisting the assaults of temptation.
3. It is equally efficacious against the sorrows of the world.
Guilt may be pardoned and sin may be subdued, and yet the heart may be troubled. The Christian, whose soul is softened by divine mercy and sub[497/498]dued by divine grace, becomes more tender and susceptible, more alive to the sorrows of the world. He feels most acutely the stroke of adversity which inflicts pain, sickness, or poverty, or consigns to the tomb those whom nature or friendship hath endeared to him. For these troubles of the heart, reason supplies no effectual remedy. She enforces submission to evils, because we cannot avoid them-acquiescence in calamities, because they will not last for ever. These are cold consolations. But faith in God's mercy, through Christ, supplies consolations which are active and lively. Faith teaches us, that the evils which we cannot indeed avoid, are, in the hands of our gracious and merciful Father, the instruments of our spiritual good. Faith not only teaches us that the evils with which we are assailed will soon terminate, but renders us resigned to their continuance, by the assurance that they are the evidences of God's love for us, the merciful discipline by which he subdues our vices, exalts our virtues, weans us from the world, and prepares us for more exalted glory in heaven. Faith teaches us that, by these afflictions, we are conformed (and what a privilege is this!) to the likeness of our divine Master, who was despised and afflicted; and that while his grace is ready to support us under them, they are the pledges of our finally sharing with him the glory with which, after his patient endurance of suffering, he is invested at the right hand of the Father. These are remedies for affliction which reason and nature cannot supply; which enable Christians, under calamities which would overwhelm with disconsolate grief those whose only comforter is nature, to exhibit the serenity, the tenderness, the meekness of [498/499] holy resignation, and to exclaim, in the fervour of triumphant faith--"As dying, and behold we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." They are remedies supplied only by that Saviour who, infinite in mercy and power, addresses to his followers the divine words of consolation-"Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
4. In this divine declaration, also, we behold our only remedy for that trouble of the heart more severe than all others-the fear of death.
The fear of leaving the world, so long the scene of our plans, exertions, and pleasures-the fear of encountering the agonies which convulse the body when the ties which bind it to the soul are rent asunder-the fear that the vigour of intellect, the fire of imagination, the glow of friendship, the fervour of affection, will be extinguished in the gloom of the grave-these are the fears which clothe death with such terrors-they are fears which nature inspires, which reason cannot allay; she possesses no light with which to explore that dark futurity-no consolations with which to cheer the spirit, trembling on the confines of an unknown world.
But to this trembling spirit a voice is addressed-"Be not troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." It is the voice of him who hath brought life and immortality to light, and who holds the keys of death and the grave; who died and was buried, and rose again, and now liveth for ever; who ascended up on high, leading captivity captive; and, seated in glory at the right hand of [499/500] God, hath promised to his followers, that where he is, there they shall be also. Believing in him, the heart of the Christian is no longer troubled: his Guide through the valley of the shadow of death is that heavenly Shepherd whose rod and whose staff support him: his Comforter in his last hour is that Saviour who himself tasted the bitterness of death. Supported and invigorated by faith in this Almighty Redeemer, the Christian passes through the grave and gate of death to a joyful resurrection. The hour so terrible to nature, so tremendous to the sinner, is the hour of the Christian's triumph; for it is the hour when his trials terminate, when his warfare is closed, when he enters on a state of unspeakable and immortal glory. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
Brethren, how exalted is that faith which thus proves a sovereign remedy for the troubles of the heart-the sense of guilt, the power of temptation, the sorrows of the world, the fear of death.
What a foe, then, to human happiness is that infidelity which would deprive man of this exalted faith-which would leave him with no other comforters under the troubles of the heart than nature and reason-nature and reason, which reveal no pardon for guilt, no power to overcome temptation, no effectual consolation under the sorrows of life, no refuge from the fears of death.
But what is this faith, thus exalted in its effects? Is it a cold and unproductive belief in God's mercy through a Saviour? No; it is a faith which works by love, which purifies the heart, which leads to holy obedience. It is a faith which, under a sense of guilt, trusts for pardon only to the mercy of God [500/501] through the Saviour's merits; which, under the assaults of temptation, applies to the grace of God for strength to resist it; which, under the sorrows of the world, seeks for the only effectual consolation in the favour of God; and which, under the fear of death, sees no other deliverer but Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life. It is a faith so strong, so lively, so uniform in its operation, that the Christian lives by it, makes it the principle of his obedience, the source of his consolations, and the ground of his triumphs. This is the faith meant by our Saviour in his exhortation to his disciples-"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
Let those who are conscious that they do not possess this faith, be diligent in acquiring it. Let them, under a sense of their guilt and unworthiness, in lively penitence implore pardon through the merits of that blood which taketh away the sins of the world. Resolving to forsake their sins, let them fervently invoke the grace of God in Christ to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within them, and to enable them to resist temptation, and to establish them in the ways of holiness. They will find the sense of guilt removed, and the dominion of sin subdued: their hearts will not be troubled: their God and Saviour will be with them in all their sorrows to comfort them, and in the hour of death to give them victory.
But, destitute of this faith, guilt will disturb their conscience, sin will corrupt their souls, the sorrows of the world will depress them, death will pursue them with his terrors. How happy would it be for them, if, beyond death, there were no terrors! [501/502] But the terrors of death are the prelude to that everlasting wo which is denounced (and who would make the experiment whether the denunciation will be executed?) as the portion of transgressors, of those who despise the riches of God's mercy in Jesus Christ.
Oh, then, my Christian brethren, cultivate, by reading the word of God, by meditation, by prayer, by attention on all holy ordinances, your faith in God's mercy through Christ. In proportion to the strength of this faith will be the peace of your conscience, the power of holiness in your souls, your superiority to the changes and sorrows of the world, your composure and hope in death, and your felicity through endless ages. Believe in God, through Jesus Christ, and let not your heart be troubled.