"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." John, xiv: 1.
Amidst the variety of subjects which, for a considerable time past, have employed the attention of our ministers, whether in the pulpit or from the press, there is one topic which seems to have been almost entirely overlooked: - I mean the consolations which the gospel has provided, as the remedy for the troubles and afflictions of God's people. Important as the subjects of discussion have been and worthy of the deepest regard, they do not supply this "lack of service" - a service which in its place appears to be as pressingly called for as any that we can render to the church of Christ.
Make the best of human life, brethren, it is fated to have its griefs; nor has the highly privileged state of the Christian exempted him from this lot. The aspect indeed of the church's trial may change with changing times and circumstances, - so also may the nature of our sufferings. The afflictions of the primitive Christians, in apostolic times, were, in some respects, of a different character from those which are experienced by us, and much more grievous to be borne; - particularly in regard to earthly privations and bodily sufferings: yet have we our measure meted out to us; and so must we expect it will be, while we inhabit this vale of tears, and while we have to conflict with sin and with its train of evils. Christian sufferings, however, are not to be considered in the light of a curse - inflicted merely as the penalty of sin. No! - our gracious Master, in his wisdom and covenant love, has given them a disciplinary character; - has infused into these bitter draughts a wholesome quality; and, as a pledge of his kindness, has furnished the means for sweetening the draught, and for sustaining the spirit in its painful straggles.
It is my present purpose, brethren, to throw some contribution
into that division of the spiritual treasury which seems most to need it: - in other words, to present, as I may be enabled, the remedy which the gospel furnishes for the troubles of the heart: - "let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." I shall not stop here to enquire whether (as some think,) the translation would be improved by rendering both these expressions imperatively - "believe in God, believe also in me." In substance and effect the two readings amount to the same thing; and I deem it unnecessary to trouble you or myself with this criticism.
Our text, is a small part of an extended discourse delivered by our Lord to his apostles - "the eleven," I mean, for Judas had gone out at an early period in the conversation which took place at the table. It was his valedictory address - his farewell sermon to his beloved little band, after the last supper, and just before his separation from them by death. This circumstance, you can easily conceive, is well calculated to add weight to the things which were spoken, and to deepen the interest of a discourse in itself so interesting and so weighty.
"The things concerning Jesus" were now hastening to a crisis. The dreadful agony was just at hand; - Pilate's bar rose in full prospect before him - and death, in its most appalling form was staring him in the face! Nevertheless, his heart, is on his disciples. His affections still linger around the little family from which he is presently to be separated; and as a rich legacy suited to their need, he leaves them this his farewell sermon.
Yes, "a rich legacy suited to their need." How admirably! how sweetly suited! what wise instructions! what salutary admonitions! what soul-encouraging promises! and what soothing and consoling assurances for desponding spirits? All bearing the impress of heaven itself, and blended in harmonious keeping, to meet the cases of those to whom they were addressed. Surely, my friends, we may well apply to this discourse of our blessed Lord, the character which Solomon gives to a "word fitly spoken": - "like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Surely these heavenly truths, these precious promises - grounded on the power, and love and faithfulness of Christ, are more beautiful to the view of the soul, than would be to the bodily eye, the rich
piece of needle-work, where figures of glowing apples are wrought with threads of gold on a ground of silver tissue.
But it is with that feature of our Lord's discourse which is more peculiarly adapted to the consolation of his forlorn disciples, that we are now particularly concerned. My text is one of those passages which exhibit that feature in a strong light, and is of so comprehensive a character, that it seems capable of a beaming on all cases of suffering to which the Christian may be liable. No particulai case is here specified - no matter what it may be - here is the remedy: "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." The prospect presented by this divine faith is calculated to brighten the gloom of affliction." In my father's house are many mansions" - "I go to prepare a place for you."
Enter with me into this subject. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
The doctrine contained in the text may be thus briefly stated: "evangelical faith, or that faith which Christ requires, is the sovereign remedy for heart-troubles." In the discussion of this general proposition, let us consider it under two heads, namely: The faith which is here required; and this faith, the sovereign remedy for the troubles of the heart.
And here, brethren, let me remark to you, that if you are not at present tried with any peculiar affliction, you are liable to become so; and therefore you are interested - all interested in the subject now presented to your attention.
I. We propose to consider that important article, the faith which is required or enjoined in the text. And at once we see that this faith has for its object GOD as the supreme souice of being, and JESUS CHRIST as the Redeemer of men. "Ye believe in God, believe also in me."
1. Its object is God - the self-existent Being; the supreme source of all created beings; and I may add, the fountain of all fullness - the centre and circumference of all perfection. Now faith in God, the great First Cause, is justly considered as lying at the foundation of all religion, whether natural or revealed. I am aware that some have made it a question, whether the idea of God (or of a First Cause,) could be originated in the mind of a mere child of nature; nay, that they have not merely made this a question, but have taken the negative, and denied that fallen man, without a revelation, or that tradition, which is the offspring
of revelation, would ever originate the idea; and so they would deny that in strict propriety there is any such thing as natural religion. I shall not here attempt to settle this question, not is it material to our purpose. It is agreed on all hands, that when the idea of God, as the Creator or First Cause, is once suggested to the enquiring mind - come from what source it may - then the universe around stands forth as the evidence of this great truth, and conviction follows as the consequence. Faith then, in the existence of God, may be justly considered as the first link in the chain of religious truth; - as first in the natural order; or, as before observed, as lying at the foundation of all religious belief. And with this agrees the testimony of the Apostle, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is" - that he exists. The phrase "He that cometh to God," is expressive of religious exercise; and it follows that in this case there must be faith in his existence.
The scriptural idea of God, involves in it all perfection as to Himself - all fullness as to his creatures. If we can have access to this fountain - if we can be allowed to draw from his fullness, we may find a supply in every case of need: and hence the necessity, that in the initial stage, in the first step of religion, we "believe in God;" - believe in his existence, and in his ample fullness to meet all our wants - to relieve all our woes.
Yes, my brethren - ay, and my fellow sinners all, here is a rich supply for all our needs. Are you guilty? Here is authority to pardon all transgression. Are you polluted with sin? Here is sanctifying influence - the source of holiness. Do you feel your weakness? He can "strengthen you with might by his spirit in the inner man." Are you "in heaviness through manifold temptation?" He can "make a way for your escape." And is your heart oppressed with grief? He is "the God of all consolation."
I have said - "If we can have access to this fountain - if we can be allowed to draw from his fullness." But now, be it observed, that faith simply in the existence of the all-sufficient God, does not present us with the way of access to Him - does not assure us that we are allowed to draw from his fullness. Though necessary as the incipient stage of religion, it does not suffice for the desired object. God is set before us; but how shall we obtain free and favorable access to Him? We are brought to the vestibule of the temple;
but how shall we gain admittance? We are in sight of "the fountain of living waters;" but how shall we draw the needed supply? Thanks be to the God of all grace! our text furnishes us with an answer to the anxious enquiry: "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." While faith in God presents before us an object all-sufficient - faith in the Redeemer is the way whereby we come to God and partake of his fullness. And so we remark,
2. That the object of this faith is not only God, as the all-sufficient Being, but Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of sinners. It is through him that we become "reconciled to God"1 - by him that "God hath reconciled us to himself"2 and so, "by him also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand."3 The ample supply indeed is treasured up in him; for "in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge:"4 " in him dwelleth all (he fullness of the godhead bodily;"5 and "of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace."6
And now, brethren, I trust you see the fitness of one part of this divine prescription to the other; - the fitness of combining these remedies to give them due effect: "believe in God, believe also in me." While God stands before the mind's eye in the fullness of his all-sufficiency, you see in Him all that you can need, whatever your case may be. But you see, at the same time, an awful moial distance between this holy Being and your own sinful souls: "your iniquities have separated between you and your God." You see indeed in his holy nature a fearful hostility to all that is sinful; and well may you enquire with anxious solicitude, how, O how, shall I find access to Him as a reconciled God and Father? Hark! that voice! Behold, Jesus Christ comes foith to answer the enquiry! He declares himself "the way, the truth, and the life:" he asserts the gracious designs and the love of God; and gives the evidence in groans, and tears, and blood! And thus, while faith in God presents us with an assurance of his ability to bless - faith in Jesus Christ presents an equal assurance that He is willing as well as able. " Ye believe in God, believe also in me."
Before dismissing this part of our subject, it seems proper,
1 Romans v :10. - 2 2 Corinthians v :18. - 3 Romans v: 2.
4 Colossians ii :3.
5 Colossians ii: 9. - 6 John i: 16.
I should remark, that faith is to be considered in regard not only to its object, but to its quality. Considered in this respect, let me offer a reflection or two on this important exercise of the soul.
That there is something more in evangelical faith than mere abstract passive persuasion of the truth of the fact, is, to my mind, as clear as any thing that is revealed or required in the scriptures. Such an abstract persuasion - such a passive admission of the truth, may exist without any vital operation. And what is dead faith, but a faith of that sort? If then it be asked, what more is necessary to evangelical faith — to a living faith in God — in Jesus Christ? I answer, trust - confidence in the object is necessary: a casting of the soul on him "who is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him:" "I know in whom I have believed: (or trusted,) and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him."1 When the last idol is resigned, and every dependence given up but Christ the Redeemer - the soul being brought to rest on him alone - then is evangelical faith seated in the heart; and working by love it becomes a vital principle of holy action.
We come now to the other division of our subject; and here we are to consider,
II. That the faith here required is the sovereign remedy for heart-troubles: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."
But here I would caution you against a mistaken view with respect to this point. Let it not be thought that we are to consider faith in itself as possessing this virtue. No, brethren: here, as in other cases, where the most interesting and important results are ascribed to faith, the efficient cause is to be found in the object, not in the act of faith. It was thus with regard to the healing of bodily diseases: "Thy faith hath made thee whole." And it is thus with regard to spiritual healing: "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." In all such cases, the result is ascribed to faith as the instrument; and as, in that character, taking hold on the object, and receiving and appropriating the benefit. A wonderful instrument indeed is faith! - capable of achieving wonders, through the efficacy of the object on which it acts! In this
1 2 Timothy i: 12.
then is this faith to be considered, when we speak of it as the sovereign remedy for the troubles of the heart.
Well, brethren, we have our "songs in the house of our pilgrimage," and here too we have our troubles: for "this is not our rest." And we are now to see how the remedy provided by our heavenly Physician may be brought to bear upon these afflictions. Under the first head of our discourse, this view of the case has been in some measure necessarily anticipated; but we now assign to it a more particular attention.
I am aware, brethren, how much easier it is, calmly to present the remedy for the evils and afflictions of life, and earnestly to press the advice that we should appropriate and apply that remedy - than it is to put this advice into actual practice for our own benefit. But trusting in that grace which can give effect to our feeble efforts - remembering that we ought to "bear one another's burdens," and having a common interest with you in this case, I am encouraged cheerfully to proceed with this part of my subject.
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous."1 To attempt an enumeration of them in detail, would be a task which we cannot undertake, nor is it necessary. There are classes of affliction which we shall notice, including all the particular cases to which we may be subject, (some of which we may specify;) and if the remedy provided by infinite goodness should be found to cover all these classes of human evil, then may we feel assured that it is sufficient for all particular cases, whether specified or not; whether appertaining to mind or body — whether of a spiritual or an earthly character. Be not discouraged. If "many are the afflictions of the righteous," remember, "the Lord delivereth him out of them all."
These classes of affliction may arise at different times, from different quarters; as the storm arises sometimes from one point of the horizon, and sometimes from another. And I may add, that as in the case of a storm, so here; the clouds of trouble may gather from different quarters at the same time, and meeting and mingling in conflict, what a tempest threatens to crush the sufferer! See Paul "in heaviness through manifold temptations!" and hear the old
1 Psalm. xxxiv: 19.
patriarch exclaim — "All these things are against me!" Brethren, if amidst your trials you have been spared from the severity of the tempest, you have reason to bless the hand divine for milder dealings: and if ever that should be your lot, remember that He who "rides in the whirlwind" has promised, "as thy days, so shall thy strength be."1 Let us take a view of these classes of affliction, and the fitness of the remedy provided by our gracious Redeemer.
1. There is a class of sore troubles arising from the temptations with which we may be assailed. Name them "legion, for they are many;" and various are their characters and the aspects which they assume. But thanks to divine grace! he who expelled and controlled the legion of demons, can strengthen us to bear the fieiy trial, and give us the victory over all temptations. What are the characters of these troublers of our peace? Some are spiritual — some fleshly; and some partake of a mingled character. You may be assaulted with suggestions of unbelief; — with apprehensions that you are deceived in your best hopes; — with legal and slavish feats that you may miss at last of the blissful enjoyment of God's presence. And hence may be induced a despondent spirit — a trouble of the heart, sad and grievous to be borne. Again, you may experience enticements to an improper, an unlawful indulgence of carnal appetite: and sore may be the conflict, when "the flesh lusteth against the spirit."
In all these temptations - these troubles of the heart, you will need the prescription of the heavenly Physician, "ye believe in God, believe also in me." And behold the fitness of the prescription! Remember, brethren, that as faith in God presents the remedy in all its fullness and sufficiency, so faith in Jesus Christ gives you access to that remedy, and the privilege to take and apply it: — and again I say, behold the fitness of the prescription! Consider that in looking to our Redeemer for help, you look to one who "having himself suffered, being tempted, is able to succour them that are tempted."2
Does your trouble proceed from temptations of a spiritual character — tending to distrust and despondency? Direct your attention to the freeness of his grace. It is here that
1 Deuterenomy xxxiii: 25. — 2 Hebrews ii: 18.
you are to find relief. Cease to pore over your own unworthiness, to the discouragement of your spirit, and listen to the gracious promise, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out."1 What a promise! Why not embrace it? Over the head of all your apprehensions, reach forth the hand of faith, and take hold of the grace of the Father manifested in the Son. O, that is a blessed resolution of afflicted Job — "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."2
Are you troubled by a conflict with temptations addressed to "the desire of the flesh?" Place before your eyes the bright model of purity presented in the character of our Redeemer; and resolving to imitate that model, take courage from the promise that "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace."3 But do you feel self-condemned, from a consciousness that you have in some grievous measure fallen by the force of temptation? If grieved indeed, and penitent for the failure, let not your heart yield to despondency: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."4 And still he says "come;" and still he promises, "Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out." Surely, that is a precious remedy for heart-troubles arising from temptation - "ye believe in God, believe also in me."
2. There is a class of troubles growing out of our connection with the world; and the declaration of our Lord, John xvi: 33, is still applicable - "In the world ye shall have tribulation;" and still too is that encouraging word of his applicable - "But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." The world has its various aspects, as well as the temptations of which we have taken a view. It is itself indeed the fruitful occasion of temptations; although, on account of its peculiar character and influence, we give it here a distinct place in the sources of the Christian's troubles.
Yes, brethren, in a greater or less degree, according as circumstances may operate, the world in its different aspects will be found to be a source of trouble. Its blandishments allure - its frowns discourage - and its smiles deceive: various objects of business tax the attention - and cares of different
1 John vi: 37. - 2 Job xiii: 15.
3 Romans vi: 14. - 4 1 John v: 4.
sorts oppress the spirits. But, brethren, our Captain having overcome the world, we through him can conquer too: and ''This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.1 "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me." The bright example which faith recognizes in him shall encourage your hearts, and that holy influence which faith receives from him shall strengthen your hands.
3. Troubles often arise from afflicting providences. The loss of dear friends and relatives - the bodily pains and sickness which you may experience - the operation of adverse circumstances, come from what quarter they may, - all these I class under the head of afflicting providences. It seems to be too common a persuasion, that Divine Providence has nothing to do with those cases of calamity which are brought about by wicked agency. Permit me to say, brethren, that he who cherishes this sentiment, not only circumscribes the range of God's providential government, but so far deprives himself of that ground of resignation, and that support, which faith offers to him under the pressure of any such calamity.
All things are in the hand of God. Accidents (so called,) are under his control and management; and even those cases of calamity which are brought about by wicked agency - these too come within the range of his all-pervading providence. "He workelh all things after the counsel of his own will."2 For his own wise purpose he permits the act of wickedness, and by his wisdom and power he governs its operation. And thus, while he holds the wicked agent accountable for his wickedness, he brings to pass, through his criminal agency, the counsel of his own will. "Surely, the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shall thou restrain."3 And thus too, I may add, while you or I justly complain of the injury at the hand of the unrighteous man, we submit to the hand of the all-righteous God — considering the affliction as a dispensation of his providence. Is there something here mysterious and incomprehensible? — Join with me then, and with the Apostle, in the adoring exclamation, "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable
1 1 John v: 4. - 2 Ephesians i: 11. - 3 Psalm lxxvi: 10
his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"1
In regard to the dispensations of Divine Providence, of every description of character, there is a lesson taught by an eminent teacher in the school of Christ, of deep interest to every believer. Learn it, Christians, learn it by heart. Romans viii: 28: "And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Learn this lesson, I say, by heart; and then you will be enabled to understand that estimate of human affliction which an apostle has made — 2 Corinthians iv: 17: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh ibr us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
It remains for us to direct our attention to an important object, introduced by our Lord in close connection with the text, and obviously designed to give the crowning effect to the prescription which he has here given, as the remedy for the troubles of the heart. I allude to that blissful prospect opened before the disciples, — their final resting place and home in the future world: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also." To this prospect I made an allusion in the introductory part of this discourse — as calculated to brighten the gloom of affliction. And surely, brethren, the eye of faith cannot be raised towards such a prospect, without receiving a cheering ray of light from the throne of God.
Shall we undertake, by dressing it in pompous words, to adorn this passage - this rich promise of our Saviour to his disciples? 'Twould be "to varnish gold, or paint the diamond." The mind cannot imagine any thing more perfectly finished; and it only requires that our attention should be directed to it, in all its bearings, to see its beauty and to feel its influence."
In my Father's house are many mansions." - "My Father's house." How familiar the expression! - like that of a prince brought up in a palace, and undazzled by the splendors of royalty. - " My father's house." Then you have an interest in it; for you belong to my family. —
1 Romans xi: 33.
"Many mansions." Here you may be slighted, uninvited, cast out, as unworthy of a place among the children of this world: but be of good cheer; there is room for you in the mansions above. — "If it were not so I would have told you:" so that you should not be tantalized with the vain hope of a place among the blessed, and then shut out as unwelcome intruders. — "I go to prepare a place for you." To bespeak your future habitation, and see that all is in readiness for your reception. — "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also." Count upon my return, as certainly as on my departure. "That where I am, there you may be also." Christians, are you not ready to say, Lord, it is enough! Let me be where Jesus is, and I shall be with God, who is the fountain of bliss; for "in his presence there is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore." There the turmoil of life is hushed in perfect repose, and peace and joy take place of sorrow and affliction. Where is the believer who, in view of such a prospect, will not subscribe to the Apostle's estimate, Romans viii: 18 — "I reckon, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Christians, I commit the subject to the blessing of God, and to your reflection. May you find, by happy experience, the efficacy of that remedy which our heavenly Physician has provided for the troubles of the heart - "Believe in God, believe also in me." — "Grace, mercy and peace!" Amen.
NOTE. - I wish to add here a few thoughts, in regard to the supervision of Divine Providence, (as noticed in this discourse,) in cases of injury in any form, perpetrated by the agency of wicked men.
If we would rightly conceive of any such case, we must view it under two different aspects; namely, as a wicked action on the part of the agent; and as a dispensation of Divine Providence. Viewed in the light first mentioned, we justly abhor ths deed and condemn the perpetrator: — in the second point of view, we bow to the Disposer of all events, and own the righteousness of his all-pervading government.
But here it may be asked, if the case above mentioned be a dispensation of Divine Providence, how can the agent be I
considered culpable, and subject to just condemnation? Or, (vice versa,) if the agent be really criminal, how can such a case be considered a dispensation of Divine Providence?
In answer to these queries, and as something towards a solution of the difficulty, I offer the following remarks:
1. That in any such case, the agent acts freely, of his own volition, without any constraint or impulse from God he being left to the exercise of his own wicked disposition and design: James i: 13: and thus is he responsible and justly subject to condemnation. And
2. God, the sovereign Ruler, removing those restraints which might prove a hinderance, and so laying or ordering the train of circumstances as to permit the perpetration of the deed - the case thus becomes a dispensation of Divine Providence. And thus we exhibit the twofold aspect of such a case, as before mentioned.
The limits, however, of this permission on the part of Divine Providence, are marked out by unerring wisdom, and guarded by almighty power. "Hither to shall thou come, but no further," is spoken by the voice of Omnipotence, to the tuibulent passions of wicked agents, as well as to the tumultuous ocean. See this truth exemplified in the case of satan's power to afflict God's servant Job: and see too that expression of the Psalmist verified: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shall thou restrain."
It is in this view of Divine Providence, (as I humbly conceive,) that God is said to do that which he has seen proper to permit — having so ordered the train of circumstances, that it will certainly take place. Thus it is said that " He hardened Pharaoh's heart:" Exodus vii: 13; while Pharaoh, more strictly speaking, " hardened his [own] heart: " ch. viii: 15. So, also, David says of Shimei, while cursing the king, "Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him:" 2 Samuel xvi: 11. Examples to this effect abound in the scriptures: I add one more — the case of the death of our Redeemer, Acts iv: 27, 28: "For, of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus," &c. they "were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done."
That there rests still an adorable darkness on that link which connects the purpose and providence of God with
human freedom and accountability, is readily admitted: - a darkness which checks our presumption, and renders reverence more suitable than speculation. "O the depth!"
Nor is this the only mysterious feature in the afflicting dispensations of Divine Providence. Cases occur in which we may enquire in vain, why should this be? - Why such a visitation, so signally distressing, from the Divine hand? The reason rests with the great Sovereign; and it is the proper office of faith, in such a case, to refer the matter to Him, whose wisdom never errs, whose goodness never fails.
[From Henry Keeling, editor, The Baptist Preacher, Volume, IV. March, 1845, pp. 45-58. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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