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his priestly and regal offices, and of the great design of his death ; yet it is plain, that these things were but darkly apprehended by his own disciples, till the descent of the Spirit, who was to lead them into all truth. But now in the New Testament, we have the whole testimony of God concerning him completed. And all that taken together, is the object of the Christian faith: his divine person, “as God over all blessed for evermore; as the Word, who was in the beginning, who was with God [the Father, and who was God: his incarnation, or that he was the Word made flesh, God manifested in the flesh :” his life, and actions, and sufferings, in the human nature: the doctrine he preached, and the mighty works he did ; the propitiation he made for our sins, by dying, the just for the unjust: his resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, and constant intercession for us there at God's right hand: the universal kingdom and dominion committed to him as Mediator; his claims from us as such ; the fulness of grace dwelling in him for our supply; and the many blessings he hath authority to bestow upon us in his appointed way; and his second coming at the end of the world, to complete the designs of his "Tij kingdom. All and every part of the discovery made in scripture concerning Christ, is the matter of a Christian's faith, as far as he can perceive it to be revealed there.
Now the first act of faith, is a firm persuasion of the truth of his testimony. A doubtful and wavering opinion will have little practical influence. Nothing can effectually animate and engage to that divine temper, to which faith in Christ is intended to raise us; nothing can furnish us out a constant supply and nourishment for maintaining such a spirit; nothing can carry through the exercise of it in all weathers and trials, short of a lively and stedfast conviction of the truth of the gospel. The practice of most nominal Christians, is a proof of this; and the unevenness and inconstancy which we all find in our own frames from the infirmity of our faith, shews of what importance it is to be daily confirming the assenting act of faith. Many of Christ's disciples, while he was below, having but a faint and weak persuasion about his character, “went back, and walked no more with him,” John vi. 66. But that, which under the influence of divine grace secured the rest who continued with him, was this, that “they believed, and were sure, that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God,” ver. 69. 2. A personal acceptance of Christ according to his character in the gospel, or a consent that he shall be such to us, enters into the nature of saving faith in him. A Christian's faith is not only a general assent to gospel declarations, but it includes a personal application, from a consideration of our own concern in them. There is not only an act of the understanding, but correspondent acts of will and affections. Therefore we read more than once of “believing with the heart,” Acts viii. 37. Rom. x.9. We must deliberately consent to own and accept him in all the characters he bears, and have our spirits impressed suitably to the nature and importance of what we ascent to concerning him. We must deliberatel recognise him with Thomas, “for our Lord and our God,” John xx. 28. As he is the only Saviour of sinners; and set forth in the gospel for a propitiation, through whom pardon and acceptance with God may be had : so our belief of these general truths must be attended with the committing of ourselves to him, to be saved by him in his own way, and a firm reliance upon him as able and willing to perform all the kind offices for us, which are included in the character of a Saviour, Heb. vii. 25. 2 Tim. i. 12. There must be a faith in his blood, for the pardon of our sins in the virtue of it. Are we persuaded, that he is the great prophet sent of God, “the faithful and true witness?” We believe not this in a gospel sense, unless our souls entirely bow to his instructions, and are determined to hear him, and credit him, and obey him in all that he says, as far as we can discover his mind, Matt. xvii. 3. We own his authority to be the universal Lord and Sovereign ; but then only the belief of this is genuine, when we are truly willing that he shall be in all things so to us, and fully resolved to be under law to Christ, 1 Cor. ix. 21. As soon as Saul became a believer, the language of his heart was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Acts iz. 6. Our belief of his all-sufficient grace must be accompanied with a fixed dependance upon it for ourselves; being “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” 2 Tim. ii. 1. And when we contemplate his holy and heavenly, and most useful life and behaviour, as recorded in the gospel, a right faith eyes this as our pattern, and forms the mind to sincere purposes of imitation.
These two things are to be understood as necessarily included in a genuine faith in Christ. The fruits of it will farther appear, when we consider the other particulars mentioned in the text. I proceed, 2. To consider faith in Christ, as now to be exercised by us with this circumstance attending it, that we see him not. “Though now ye see him not, yet believing.” The apostle plainly fixes an emphasis upon this circumstance in the character of those to whom he wrote. And the main body of believers; all, except a few in Judea at the very beginning of Christianity, are in the same circumstance. Some may be ready to magnify over much the disadvantageousness of their condition in this respect; to esteem the case of those, who knew Christ after the flesh, heard his doctrine and saw his miracles, far happier than their own; and to think, that they have a far harder part to maintain a lively faith in Christ, than those most primitive disciples had. In answer to which, it might be sufficient to return the words of our Lord to Thomas. After he had expressed an unreasonable distrust of Christ's resurrection, though he had the testimony of so many credible persons for it; Christ condescended so far as to offer him sensible evidence of it; “Reach hither, (says the Lord) thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, [my pierced side :] and be not faithless but believing,” John xx. 27. Thomas struck with admiration, cries out, “My Lord and my God,” ver. 28. Jesus saith unto him, ver. 29. “Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” But as the apostle takes notice again in the text of this circumstance with commendation; and as I think it may lead us to some useful thoughts in our own condition, I choose to consider the matter more particularly, and to offer the following things to observation. w 1. An actual converse with Christ in the flesh, did not produce faith in all, or even in the generality of those who had that advantage. This appears through the history of the gospel. Though the doctrine of Christ was so divine and excellent, as often to raise the admiration of his hearers, insomuch, “that they were astonished at his doctrine,” Matth. vii. 28. and sometimes owned, that “never man spake like this man,”
John vii. 46. yet it was ineffectual to most of them for any' saving purpose. His miracles, though so great as were never before performed, though the spectators were dazzled with him, and sometimes forced to own that God was with him, yet generally failed to persuade men to become his disciples in earnest. It is emphatically observed of the people of one place, John xii. 3J, 38. "that though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Elsewhere we find Christ, "upbraiding the cities £of Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum,] wherein many of his mighty works were done, because they repented not," Matt. xi. 20. The number of his disciples in the days of his flesh was but few: probably the five hundred brethren, of whom he is said to have been seen at once after his resurrection, 1 Cor. xv. 6. made up the main body of the disciples he had during his personal ministry. .Judas who statedly attended him as one of his twelve apostles, proved the most treacherous enemy to his master, notwithstanding that advantage. These are plain evidences, how insufficient the bare sight of Christ, and personal converse with him were of themselves to produce faith, and may prevent all repining that we lived not in those days.
2. Faith in Christ is as reasonably claimed from us, as it was from those who actually saw him.
For on the one hand, those who lived in the time of Christ's sojourning on earth, had many disadvantages for their faith which we have not, to balance some advantages which they had above us. A very general prejudice prevailed among the .lews at that time, that the Messiah was to set up a temporal kingdom; with which the disciples themselves appear from several passages to have been deeply tinctured. This was a notion most opposite to the true character of Christ, and which made his appearance in the world in a state of meanness, to be the reverse of the common expectations from the Messiah. Hereupon he was generally "despised and rejected of men:" and his death, while as yet the blessed ends and uses of it were apprehended by very few, was the greatest damp to men's faith and hope. We are released from all these disadvantages by the full revelation of the gospel: wherein we see how illfounded that expectation of a temporal kingdom was; and that his kingdom was not to be of this world, but of a spiritual and heavenly nature; and Christ crucified is manifested in the light of the New Testament, to be the wisdom and the power of God; though it were to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness.
On the other hand, though the fust disciples had immediate sensible evidence of Christ's miracles, which we have not; and they who beheld him after his resurrection, and saw him ascending into heaven, had a proof of these facts more infallible in the nature of the thing, than can be pretended in our case; yet we have proofs every way sufficient.' Eye and ear-witnesses, of most undoubted credit, have given testimony to these things, and have sealed their testimony with their blood, and were enabled to add farther attestations by a variety of miracles, and the several gifts of the Holy Ghost, 1 John i. 1, 3. "That which was from the beginning," (says St John,) in the name of himself and of the other primitive disciples, "which we have heard (with our own ears from Christ himself,) which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, (with a just care and concern that we might not be mistaken in a matter of such importance,) which our hands have handled of the word of life," that is, concerning Christ: referring probably to that evidence already mentioned, which Christ was pleased to offer to Thomas and the rest of his disciples of the truth of his resurrection; which, though it were occasioned by an unreasonable incredulity in Thomas, yet was made by providence an occasion of giving a considerable assistance to the faith of after-Christians. "That (says the apostle,) which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you." And this testimony given by the first disciples, is conveyed down to us in the written records of the New Testament, which have been witnessed to, for the substance of the facts contained in them, by friends and enemies from age to age.
If yet it should be said, that we stand not however just upon the same foot of these things, as the first Christians did; yet while we fall short one way, we gain another. We have several evidences of the truth of the Christian religion, which they of the first age could not have, in the accomplishment of many prophecies contained in the New Testament; such as the