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that belief I immolate all the ideas of my in- | truth of this proposition; "blessed are they that tellect, all the systems of my reason. I hope, have not seen, and yet have believed." and to those hopes I immolate all the attractives of sensual appetite, all the charms of the visible creation: and were "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them," Matt. iv. 8, to be put in my offer, on the condition that I should renounce my hopes, I would consider the former "but dung," Phil. iii. 8, and cleave to the latter as the only real and solid good.
I. Let us, in the first place, endeavour to explain the nature of obscure faith: or, as we have announced the subject of this first branch of our discourse, let us attempt to unfold the ambiguity of the expression, "Thomas, because thou hast seen, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." By obscure faith we here mean, that which is founded, not on what a man has seen with his own eyes, not on what he has discovered to be true by the powers of his own reason, but on testimony worthy of credit.
Who is there among you, my brethren, who feels himself capable of this effort of mind! I acknowledge him to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He may rest assured that he shall be received as a worthy partaker at that mysterious table, which sovereign wisdom is once more, this day, furnishing before our eyes. But he may likewise rest assured, that his felicity, veiled, invisible as it is, shall remain more firm and unshaken, than all those things which are the idols of the children of this world. To meditation on this interesting subject I devote the present discourse, to which you cannot apply an attention too profound.
The occasion of the words of our text it would be unnecessary to indicate. Which of my hearers can be such a novice in the gospel history as to be ignorant of it? Thomas was not present with the other apostles, when Jesus Christ appeared unto them, after he had left the tomb. His absence produced incredulity. He refuses to yield to the united testimony of the whole apostolic college. He solemnly protests that there is but one way to convince him of the certainty of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, namely, to produce him alive. "No," says he, "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe," John xx. 25. Jesus Christ is pleased to adapt his condescension to the weakness of this disciple, and to gratify a pretension so arrogant and rash: he appears to Thomas, and says 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," ver. 27. Thomas
In order to comprehend it fully, it is necessary to distinguish two species of evidence: evidence of the object, and evidence of testimony. We call evidence of the object, that which rests, as I have said, either on the deposition of the senses, or on the discernment of sound reason. I believe that you are now assembled within the walls of this church: I believe it, because I see it is so. The evidence which I have on this subject, is that species of evidence which I have denominated evidence of the object, and which is founded on the deposition of the senses. In like manner, I believe that so long as you remain within these walls, you are not in your own habitations. The evidence which I have to support this belief, is still that which I have denominated evidence of the object, namely, that which is founded on the light of my own reason, whereby I am
is drawn different ways; by the shame of hav-assured, in a manner which leaves me not the liberty of so much as doubting, that so long as you remain within this temple, you cannot possibly be in any other place.
ing disbelieved, and the joy which he felt in being convinced by the testimony of his own senses, and exclaims, "My Lord and my God!" upon this Jesus Christ addresses him in the words of the text: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
But if there be evidence of object, there is likewise evidence of testimony. I believe there is a vast region on the globe, called the kingdom of Persia. I I have evidence to support this belief: not the evidence of object, but the evidence of testimony. I believe that there is such a kingdom, though I have not seen it with my own eyes: but there is such a cloud of witnesses, of undoubted credit, who assure me of it, that the evidence of testimony supplies the evidence of object. In like manner, I believe that a vessel of such or such a construction; and of so many tons burden, requires such a depth of water. I believe this, not because my reason has by its own powers made the discovery, for I never made mechanism of this kind my study; but the unanimous deposition of all who understand the art of ship-building, gives me full assurance of the fact, fills the place of my own intimate perception, and the evidence of testimony supplies the evidence of object.
You perceive from the occasion on which the words were spoken, that they point, in the first instance, to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We shall take care, accordingly, not to lose sight of this object. Nevertheless, as the proposition of our blessed Lord is general, we shall take it in all its generality: and shall discourse to you of that obscure faith which reverts to periods long since passed, and looks forward into periods hidden in a remote futurity. The nature of obscure faith; the excellency of obscure faith: this is the simple division of my present discourse. Or, to convey a still clearer idea of my design, under the first head, I shall endeavour to unfold the ambiguity of that expression; "to believe without having seen:" in the second, I shall evince the
Let this definition be carefully remarked: and let this be constantly kept in sight, that though the faith of which we are speaking, has not a certainty resting on the evidence of the senses, or on the conclusions of right reason, it has a certainty perfect in its kind, that which rests on a testimony worthy of credit. Take care, therefore, not to confound an obscure faith with a fluctuating, unsettled, illfounded faith. They are two things perfectly distinct, and it is impossible to distinguish them too carefully. The obscurity of which we are going to treat, is by no means incompatible with evidence.
Having thus explained our meaning, when we say that faith is obscure, when we say that the Christian believes what he sees not, we do not by this understand that he believes in what is destitute of proof, we only mean that he believes the truth of facts, of which he has not been an eye-witness, that he believes in truths which he could not have discovered by his own reason, and that he hopes for a felicity of which he has not a distinct idea: but he believes those facts, on the unanimous testimony of a great number of witnesses, who could not possibly have acted in concert to deceive him: he believes those truths on an infallible testimony: he hopes on that same testimony, namely, on the word of God himself. In all these things, the evidence of testimony supplies the evidence of object.
That it is of this kind of faith, we are to understand these words in our text, "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed," the occasion on which they were pronounced permits us not to doubt. Of what was Jesus Christ speaking to Thomas? Of his own resurrection. Who are the persons he had in view, whom Providence was afterward to call to believe, without having seen? Those who could not possibly be the eye-witnesses of that resurrection. But were the persons, who should be called to believe the doctrine of the resurrection, to believe it without satisfying reasons of its truth and certainty? By no means. Call to your recollection, a part of what we submitted to your consideration, on this subject, upon another occasion. We have in confirmation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1. Presumptions. 2. Proofs. 3. De
I. The circumstances of the death of the Saviour, and of his burial, furnish us with presumptions on this subject. Jesus Christ died: his body was deposited in the tomb; but a few days afterward it was not to be found there. We thence presume that Jesus Christ is risen again. If Jesus Christ be not risen, his body must have been conveyed away: but how is it possible to maintain such an assertion? To whom shall we impute such conveyance? Not surely to his enemies. Could they be suspected of a design to contribute to his glory, by giving currency to the report of his resurrection? It can as little be imputed to his disciples. They had no inclination to do so: for how could men so notoriously timid, have formed an enterprise so daring and dangerous, and that in favour of a man (I go on the supposition that Jesus Christ did not rise again,) who had thus abused their credulity? But had their inclination been ever so strong, was it in their power either to surprise or to discomfit a guard forewarned of the design? These I call presumptions.
II. The testimony of the apostles furnishes us with proofs of the resurrection. This testimony possesses no less than eight distinct characters, which raise it beyond the reach of all suspicion: 1. The nature of the witnesses, who had neither the credit, nor the riches, nor the eloquence necessary to practise an impos
The reader is referred to the sermon on The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, of Mr. Robinson's Selection.
ture on mankind: 2. The number of those witnesses, amounting to more than five hundred: 3. The nature of the facts which are the subject of their evidence, things in which it was impossible they should deceive themselves, things which they had seen, heard, and perceived in the most sensible and palpable manner: 4. The uniformity of their testimony, which in no one instance ever contradicted itself: 5. The judges before whom their evidence was given; judges expert in the art of involving cheats in self-contradiction, but who never could detect any, in the witnesses of whom we are speaking: 6. The place where their testimony was published; for had the apostles gone and published the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, in regions remote from that where the fact could be completely sifted, they might have fallen under suspicion; but they attest it to the face of the whole city of Jerusalem itself: 7. The time when this testimony was published, respecting which the same reasoning applies which does to the circumstance of place: 8. The motives by which those witnesses were actuated, and which could be no other but the satisfying of their own consciences, as, so far from having a temporal interest to promote, by the publication of this event, every temporal interest pressed in the opposite direction.
But we have, likewise, of this truth, demonstrations properly so called. With these we are furnished in the miraculous gifts communicated to those who attest it; of which we cannot entertain any doubt, without taxing with extravagance three sorts of persons equally clear of all ground of suspicion on such an occasion: 1. The apostles, who gave the history of those miracles, and relate in a manner the best adapted to expose imposture, on the supposition of their having been impostors: 2. Their enemies, who in their writings against them, have not denied that they wrought miracies, but that these miracles were a proof of the truth of their doctrine: 3. Finally, their proselytes, who had the greatest imaginable interest in examining whether it were true that the apostles wrought miracles, who had all possible opportunities of ascertaining the fact, and who sacrificed their property, their reputation, their life, for a religion entirely resting on this truth-The apostles work miracles. These we call so many demonstrations.
This recapitulation sufficiently instructs us, that we are not called upon to believe an event so very extraordinary, as if it were destitute of proof: on the contrary, we believe it on proofs clear, cogent, and decisive. When, therefore, Jesus Christ says, "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed," he means not to say, that it is blessed to believe things destitute of evidence: he speaks only of things which have not the evidence of object, but which have that of testimony.
Let us pursue this thought a little farther. The idea which we have suggested of obscure faith, distinguishes it from three kinds of conviction, which are but too frequently confounded with it: the faith extorted by tyranny; the faith generated in the brain of the enthusiast; and the faith of the superstitious.
1. The faith of which we speak, must be
carefully distinguished from the faith which is extorted by tyranny. We do not here understand that which violence would attempt to produce by the terror of punishment. Never did racks, gibbets, and stakes, produce in the soul, any thing like conviction in favour of a religion which pretended to establish itself by arguments so odious and detestable. But there is a tyranny of a different kind, which has produced believers not a few. By dint of at-out hesitation, the glory of religion to his own: testing fictions, men have forced them into and maintains, at the expense of truth itself, credit: by dint of insolent pretensions to infal- the errors which he has advanced. libility, the simple have sometimes been prevailed upon to admit it: and the simple generally constitute the bulk of mankind.
recommended by an air of probability. One of the marks which distinguish false zeal from true, is, that this last, I mean true zeal, sacrifices its own glory to that of religion, and is infinitely better pleased to acknowledge its own error, than to spread the slightest cloud over that pure and genial light in which religion is arrayed. A man, on the contrary, who is actuated by a false zeal, sacrifices with
We denominate that the faith extorted by tyranny, which is yielded to the insolent decisions of a doctor, who gives himself out as infallible, without proving it; or to fabulous legends, unsupported by any respectable testimony. How, under the pretext that I am bound to believe facts, which I may never have seen with my own eyes, am I laid under an obligation to swallow every thing that a legendary is pleased to tell me? How, under the pretext that I am bound to believe truths which are above the reach of my reason, am I laid under an obligation to believe every thing proposed to me by a man, who may be practising upon my credulity?. And upon my refusing to believe on such a foundation, shall I be taxed with being incredulous like Thomas, and with saying as he did, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe!"
If you would have me believe the facts which you propose, produce me the proofs which support them, if not as complete as those which assure me of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, at least, such as are somewhat of a similar nature; and if you wish I should consider you as infallible, like the apostles, produce me proofs of your infallibility, equivalent to those which the apostles produced of theirs. But if on examining such pretended facts, I discover that they are fictions merely; if on examining the foundation upon which your infallibility rests, I find that the men who gave themselves out for infallible, while they lay claim to the infallibility of the apostles, are undermining the doctrine of the apostles, I shall not reckon myself obliged to pay the slightest deference to their decisions. The faith which these decisions attempt to produce, will be faith extorted by tyranny, and which will have no relation whatever to that faith which Jesus Christ expects from his disciples, and which is, in truth, obscure, but nevertheless, well founded; which is destitute indeed, of the evidence of object, but which is ever accompanied with the evidence of testimony.
2. In the second place, the faith, of which we are treating, must be distinguished from that of the enthusiast; I mean that of certain Christians, who found the reasons which induce them to believe, entirely on such and such impulses, which they pretend to be the operation of the Spirit of God: impulses destitute of illumination, and which determine the person thus agitated, to yield his assent to a proposition unsupported by proof, or, at most,
This has been found to be the case with certain eminent names, on the subject of our present discussion. The vehemence of the controversies which have been carried on, respecting the operation of the Holy Spirit on the souls of believers, has frequently carried some of the disputants farther than they themselves intended. In the heat of argumentation they have asserted, that the action of the Holy Spirit, which operates in the faithful, is carried so far as to give them a degree of faith, superior to the reasons which they have for believing. When pressed by their adversaries, they ought to have acknowledged this to be one of the propositions which one is tempted to advance in the warmth of dispute, and which candour, without hesitation, is disposed to retract, after the heat is subsided. But this were a sacrifice too great for self-love to make: it is deemed better that religion should suffer from the intemperate zeal of the sophist, than that the sophist should correct his hasty position, by the illumination of religion.
Thus, in order to support one absurdity, a still greater absurdity has been advanced. It has been maintained, not only that the following proposition is true, namely, The impulse of the Holy Spirit gives us a faith superior to the reasons which we have for believing; but this is absolutely necessary; for, it has been alleged, that the Christian religion being destitute of proofs which enforce assent, all those who should refuse to believe what is destitute of this kind of proof, must, in so doing, refuse to believe the Christian religion.
God forbid that we should attempt to defend with weapons so empoisoned, the truths of religion! It was not thus that they were defended by Jesus Christ and his apostles. They called on men to believe, but they at the same time, adduced proof of what they wished to be received as the object of faith. The Spirit of God undoubtedly, operates on the soul of every one who implores his assistance, but it is by making them feel the force of the proofs, not by convincing them of what it is impossible to prove. And who could be condemned for not having believed, were Christianity destitute of sufficient proof? would not the infidel be warranted in alleging: "I am not to blame, if I withhold my assent to such a proposition: I do not feel that impulse which engages one to believe what cannot be proved?" But the notion which we have given of faith, confounds every one who refuses to believe. We say, with Jesus Christ of the unbelievers of his time: "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil," John iii. 19.
3. Finally, the notion which we have given of faith, distinguishes it from that of the superstitious. To believe, in the view of doing honour to religion, a doctrine weakly proved, whatever may be the origin of that doctrine, is to have a superstitious faith. Under this description may be ranked what has been denominated "faith extorted by tyranny, and faith generated in the brain of the enthusiast." But we have, under this particular, a different kind of superstition in view. To believe a truth completely proved, but without having examined the proofs which support it, is to have the faith of superstition. A truth of which I perceive not the proofs, is no truth with respect to me. What renders my disposition of soul acceptable in the sight of God, when I receive what he is pleased to reveal to me, is my reception of it as an intelligent being, after having weighed the motives which induced me to give it welcome; after having discovered, on putting them in the balance with the opposite motives, that the first had greatly the preponderancy over the others. But to believe a truth with precipitation, to believe it without knowledge, is mere superstition. If it should This commentary contains much good sense. determine you to declare yourself on the side It does not, however, seem to me to have exof truth, it must be entirely by chance, and, hausted the whole meaning of Jesus Christ. which may, to-morrow, plunge you into error, God is supremely good: nothing appeared to as it induces you, to-day, to embrace the truth. him too dear for the salvation of the human Obscure faith, then, is not a persuasion un- race: he, has made choice of means the best supported by proof, it is, in truth, destitute of adapted to the execution of this great work. the proofs which constitute the evidence of ob- If he has made choice of means the best adaptject; but not of those which constitute the evi-ed to the salvation of the human race, he has dence of testimony, as was from the beginning likewise made choice of the properest method affirmed, and which it was necessary oftener of enabling us to avail ourselves of the ap than once to repeat. pointed means, and that method is obscure faith. Why so? This is the point which we must attempt to elucidate: and some time ago, you will please to recollect, we undertook this task. For when that difficulty was urged against us, which unbelievers make the subject of their triumph, "Wherefore did not Jesus Christ show himself alive after his passion, THE BLESSEDNESS OF BELIEVING, this reply, that the gift of working miracles to his judges, to his executioners?" We made
WITHOUT HAVING SEEN.
bestowed on the apostles, and on the first Christians, constituted a proof more irresistible of his resurrection, than if he had shown himself then, nay, than if he were still to show himself risen at this day.
JOHN XX. 29.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
tion, was going, henceforward, to cease. Je sus Christ was shortly to leave the world: a cloud was soon to receive him out of the sight of the inhabitants of this earth: "The heavens must now receive him, until the times of the restitution of all things," Acts iii. 21 The angels had declared to the apostles, as they stood rapt in astonishment at beholding their beloved Master disappear: "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven," Acts i. 11. The disposition of Thomas's mind, therefore, was going hence forth, to become universally fatal. Every one who should say with him, "except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe," must die and perish in unbelief. There was to be, henceforward, no other way but this, of believing without having seen, no other means of arriving at a participation in the felicity of be lievers: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
These words admit of a very simple, and very natural commentary, which we shall first produce, in order to explain them. The point in question is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: Thomas is to be convinced of the certainty of it, by nothing short of the testimony of his own eyes: this mode of producing convicVOL. II.-23
It might be retorted upon us, "That these two proofs, that of miracles performed by his disciples, and that of his personal manifestation, were not incompatible with each other Jesus Christ might first have shown himself alive after his resurrection; here would have been one kind of proof: he might afterward, upon his ascension, have sent the Holy Spirit to his apostles; this would have constituted a second kind of proof. These two kinds of
We have endeavoured to explain the nature of obscure faith: and now proceed, as was proposed,
II. To point out the excellency of this obscure faith. After having attempted to unfold the ambiguity of the expression in my text, "to believe without having seen," we must endeavour to evince the truth of it, by demon-proof united, would have placed the truth of strating this proposition, announced by our his resurrection far beyond the reach of all susblessed Lord," Blessed are they who have not picion. Wherefore did he not employ them? seen, and yet have believed.” Wherefore did he not give to a truth of his religion so interesting, and of such capital importance, every species of proof of which it is susceptible?" To this we still reply, that obscure faith was a method far more proper to conduct us to salvation than a clear faith, founded on the testimony of the senses, or on the personal discoveries of the believer him
self: "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
A principle which we have, on other occasions, laid down, will justify this reply. God has placed us in this world, as in a place of probation and sacrifice. It is his will that the manner in which we correspond to this view of his Providence, should determine our everlasting destiny. Let us try clearly to explain this principle, before we apply it to the subject in hand.
In strictness of speech, God will not proportion the celestial felicity, which he reserves for us, to the exertions which we make to attain it. Did God observe the rules of an exact distribution in this respect, there is not a single person in the world, who durst flatter himself with being a partaker in that felicity: because there is no one, I speak of even the greatest saints, who does all that he ought, and all that he might do, towards the attainment of it. Much more, supposing us to have done all that we could, and all that we ought to do, to be admitted to a participation in this blessedness, our utmost efforts never could bear any proportion to it. We must still say of every thing we undertake in order to salvation, what St. Paul says of the most cruel sufferings of the martyrs: "They are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us," Rom. viii. 18. The most extravagant thought, accordingly, that ever could find its way into the mind of man, is that of the persons who maintain the possibility of meriting heaven by their good works, nay, the possibility of a man's meriting the kingdom of heaven for others, after having earned it for himself.
But though there is not a proportion of rigorous justice, between the heavenly felicity, and the efforts which we make to attain it, there is a proportion of equity and of establishment. Permit me to explain what I mean by these words: God will not save mankind unless they exert themselves to obtain salvation. Had it been his will to extend indiscriminating favour, he had only to open, without reservation, the path to heaven; he had only to exert the supreme power, which he possesses over our souls, to infuse into them virtue and illumination, and to put us in possession of a felicity already completely acquired, without subjecting us to the necessity of employing indefatigable and unintermitting efforts, in order to our acquiring it. But his views respecting man are altogether different from this. Hence it is that he is pleased to represent the life of a Christian, as a narrow path, in which he must walk; as a race which he must run; as a task which he must perform; as a warfare which he has to accomplish. For this reason it is, that salvation is represented to us, as a victory to be won, as a prize to be gained, as a kingdom which can be taken only by the violent. God, then, has placed us in this world, as in a place of probation and sacrifice: it is his sovereign good pleasure, that the manner in which we correspond to his gracious views, shall decide our everlasting destination.
Let us apply this principle to the subject under discussion; to that obscure faith, which discerns, in the darkness of the past, those
facts on which the great truths of religion rest, as the building on its foundation; to that obscure faith, which penetrates into the darkness of futurity, there to discover the blessedness which religion proposes to us as the object of hope.
1. Let us apply the principle laid down, to that obscure faith, which discerns, in the darkness of the past, those facts on which the great truths of religion rest. There is more difficulty in attaining a discernment of the truth through the darkness of the past, than in beholding the object with a man's own eyes. It is admitted. Had Jesus Christ appeared alive to his judges and executioners, after his resurrection: were he to appear to us, at this day, as risen from the dead, we should have much less difficulty in believing the certainty of an event on which the whole Christian religion hinges. It is admitted. There would be no occasion, in order to attain the conviction of it, to employ extensive reading, to consult doctors, to surmount the trouble of profound meditation, to suspend pleasure, to interrupt business. It is admitted. But the very thing which constitutes your objection furnishes me with a reply. The trouble which you must take, before you can acquire conviction of the resurrection of the Saviour of the world, the extensive reading that is necessary, the consultation of learned men, those efforts of profound meditation which you must employ, that suspension of your pleasures, that interruption of your worldly business-all, all enter into the plan of your salvation: it is the will of God that you should exert yourselves diligently for the attainment of it.
Let us suppose the case of two Christians: the first shall be St. Thomas; the second a Christian of our own days. Let us suppose both the two equally convinced of the resurrection of the Saviour of the world; but acquiring their conviction in two different ways: Thomas convinced by the testimony of his senses; the modern Christian, by the attentive examination of the proofs which establish the truth of it: Whether of these two Christians, according to your judgment, expresses the greater love of the truth? Whether of these two Christians makes the greatest sacrifice in order to arrive at the knowledge of it? The one has only to open his eyes, the other must enter on a course of deep and serious reflection. The one has only to reach forth his hand, to touch the print of the wounds of Jesus Christ; the other must exert all the powers of his mind, in sifting the proofs, on which the doctrine is established. The one expects that the Saviour should present himself to him, and say, “Be not faithless but believing," John xx. 21. The other goes forth seeking after the Lord Jesus, through the darkness in which he is pleased to involve himself. Is it not evident that this last expresses incomparably greater love for the truth, and offers up to it greater sacrifices than the first? This last, then corresponds better to the idea of probation and sacrifice, to which we are called, during the time which, by the will of God, we are destined to pass in this world. Blessed therefore, with respect to the obscurity of the past, "blessed is he who has not seen, and yet has believed."