« AnteriorContinuar »
itself with sword in sheath as if to surrender, a spy and a traitor. It may come again as temptation, offering faith large gain to surrender herself. But perhaps, unbelief is never so formidable as when it presents itself as persecution ; armed with frowns and sneers, by-words and hisses, “cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonment,” hunger, cold, and nakedness, racks stones, swords, and fire. Conquering the enemy in all these forms, faith "obtains a good report.” But the conflict is without cessation, except when there is a victory on one side or the other. It commences in the believer's own heart; and when faith has become victorious there, it is assailed by a world of unbelief without. There is a triumph of faith within, therefore, before there can be any manifestation of faith without. But the conflict within is invisible; and the triumph of faith in that conflict is made manifest by it subsequent conflict with the world. This latter conflict alone attracts observation. In the conflict of faith with unbelief, the opposing forces are apparently unequal. Faith appears like an individual against a host. And because faith, single-handed, takes the field against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” the conflict has a peculiar interest.
Faith becomes truly and distinctly heroic only when it contends with difficulties which seem overpowering. And the grandeur of a triumph is in proportion to the greatness of the difficulties overcome. Generally the outward obstacles are not very great; consequently the triumphs of faith are usually small. The greater the progress of faith, the less remarkable is every succeeding step. As faith gains the ascendency, and moves onward, “conquering and to conquer," the enemy is reduced, and the din of the conflict is drowned in the notes of victory. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” But it is only once in an age that we see a man triumphantly believing against time and persecution, improbabilities and apparent impossibilities, a light and an exemplar for the multitude-a true hero in the “fight of faith" And as faith is a light to the soul, it becomes most conspicuous in times of the greatest spiritual darkness. Not only is its brilliancy increased by the contrast, but its flame is expanded by the very efforts which are made to extinguish it. There might be such a prevalence of piety that the faith of the most devoted servant of God would be no more conspicuous than a candle lighted at noonday. And there have been times when from the scarcity of piety the faith of a single servant, even though he followed his Lord “afar off," has been like the Aurora Borealis at midnight. There seems to be a preparation in time as well as in men for the formation of eras in the history of the world. And heroes in sacred history, as well as in profane, are both the instruments and the productions of the revolutions which give them celebrity. It is natural to look for the conditions requisite to the most extraordinary triumphs in those who are possessed of faith in the highest degree. And for the highest degree of faith, it is natural to look to those whose special office is to recommend it to others. Unless faith is first triumphant in themselves, they can hardly expect it to be so in those upon whom they urge it. It were unnatural that soldiers should be courageous while their leaders are “fearful and faint-hearted.” Of all heroism, that is the greatest which is called forth in defence of righteousness and truth. And all sacred heroism is emphatically the heroism of faith. Such was the heroism of those ancient worthies “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained pro, mises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."
III. Some of the trials of faith peculiar to the preacher.
The preacher of the gospel has most, if not all the trials of faith which are common to all Christians. He has also some trials of faith which are altogether peculiar to himself. And some trials of faith which are common to others are rendered peculiar to him by the greater intensity to which his furnace is heated. It is notorious that the preacher is often made the subject of oppression, for the very reason that he is a preacher. He is often slandered and otherwise maltreated for his very faithfulness to “ rebuke with all authority.” Not unfrequently, too, professing Christians even, to whom he ministers, will not suffer him to “ live of the gospel” in the full sense of the scriptural provision ; justifying themselves, however, on the ground, not that their love of the gospel is but little stronger than their love of money, but that a liberal support even, to say nothing of any justly due overplus, would greatly endanger his Christian humility, Accordingly it would not be surprising if, in some of his frequent emergencies, he should be strongly tempted to resign his high commission. And “the man that endureth temptation" may well be considered victorious over a trial of faith at a point where the flesh is peculiarly weak. Again, the inefficiency of the faith of Christ's professing followers for whom he “labors in word and doctrine,” sometimes subjects the preacher's faith to a severe trial. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile their apparent zeal and fervency in ordinary duties with their “neglect of the weightier matters." The preacher is apt to distrust that faith which does not evidently “work by love." He witnesses many things which suggest the Scripture, “All men have not faith.” His courage is diminished. He is prone to conclude that the gospel, as proclaimed by him, is not “ the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
The faith of the preacher is subjected to another trial from the obstinacy of the unbelief of the world around him. His mind is much employed with such themes as seem fitted to lead the unbelieving to Christ. His thoughts engross his affections. He prays God to make the word effectual. Here and there, perhaps, an unbeliever seems deeply moved. Per. haps a multitude are mentally exclaiming, “ Almost thou persuadest." But they go from the sanctuary, and their serious impressions are lost in “the cares of this world ;" while the preacher is hopefully and prayerfully preparing “a message from God unto" the awakened and alarmed. As the Sabbath returns he delivers his message ; but with the same result as before. And the process may be repeated till his expectation is destroy. ed from its own intensity, and almost in despair he exclaims, “Who hath believed our report !” Then it is that to him the exhortation to “be not weary in well doing,” is like the irony of Elijah to the prophets of Baal. Moreover, the faith of the preacher is often tried in view of the magnitude of his work, and the conscious weakness of the instrument. He is singlehanded, and yet is required to preach the gospel to men who are at "enmity against God," and are ready to "wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.” And he is required to preach so faithfully that their blood shall not be required at his hand. Knowing full well that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," and that the truth re. sisted always produces yet greater hardness of heart, and that all human
wisdom and power are absolutely nothing in converting a soul, and yet that every one that planteth or watereth must approve himself “unto God a sweet savor of Christ' even though he be unto men "a savor of death unto death," it is not strange that the preacher should shrink from this weight of responsibleness, and cry out with the apostle, though without the apostle's faith, “ Who is sufficient for these things ?” But of all the trials of faith peculiar to the preacher, perhaps the severest of all is his continual remembrance that they are peculiar. He must endure them alone. His very office separates him from any adequate sympathy or assistance from other believers. As they have not his work to perform, they can know but little of his hopes of success, and fears of failure, and consequently also of the bitterness of his disappointments. Thus shut up in the circle of his own private and peculiar trials, and depressed with the consciousness that none human can enter for his relief, he may not be able to appreciate the wisdom of the providence, and at length find himself struggling for life against rising doubts of those "things not seen as yet.” If in “moments of despondency, Shakspeare thought himself no poet, and Raphael no painter," why should it be thought affectation in the preacher sometimes to conclude, that he is “ less than the least of all saints !"
IV. The triumphs of faith as illustrated in the life and history of Noah.
The conflicts and triumphs of faith in the preacher are substantially the same in every age. But it seems to be peculiarly appropriate that we should stimulate our faith by a careful study of the religious history of that “great cloud of witnesses” by whom “we are compassed about." Turning back to the early generations of our race we find a period when “all flesh had corrupted his way.” The decendants of Seth ħad mingled with those of Cain, till “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth.” In the midst of this deep moral night, a man burdened with the curse of sin was blessed with a son. A presentiment of the future celebrity of the child perhaps took possession of the father. And as a first preparation for the triumphs of faith in the hero of our subject, his consecration in infancy should not be forgotten. For Lamech named his son, “Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands because of the ground which the Lord had cursed." Notwithstanding the wickedness of the times, “ Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations." By nature he was no better than others; but he yielded to the strivings of the Spirit, and secured his presiding and protecting presence. The long suffering of God towards his disloyal creatures was great. He waited centuries in vain for any signs of repentance. And not until five hundred years after Noah was born did he threaten a judgment from heaven. The denunciation was terrible. Man was so degraded that he was to be whelmed in one common ruin with the beast, and the fowl, and the reptile. “ The end of all flesh is come before me,” was the language of the “grieved" Jehovah. But though wroth with the wicked, in mercy God remembers the faithful. Though there be but one in the universe, the Infinite Eye searches him out. Noah, like Enoch, has “ walked with God.” And the Spirit descends and communes with him as with a familiar friend. Noah is commanded to build an ark, rot only for his own preservation, but for that of his family, and a pair of every species of flesh. For a flood is announced, in which all but such as take refuge in the ark shall be drowned, And notwithstanding it may
never have rained heretofore, and the ground may never have been moistened except with a mist; and though the size of the ark be enormous, and the burden of the work be upon himself, Noah doubts not a moment, but undertakes forthwith what the Lord has commanded. But his faith has no sooner manifested itself in obedience than it attracts attention. “What means this collection of gopher wood ? What means this hew. ing of timber? What carpenter ever framed into a building such huge beams as these ?" Amidst a thousand such exclamations from the surrounding inhabitants, Noah quietly proceeds with his task. His procedure excites their curiosity till they scrutinize and wonder in silence. Then, standing erect, the “preacher of righteousness” proclaims the strange tidings from heaven. He lays open the majestic but terrific conception of the destruction of the world by “a flood of waters;" the righteous alone being saved in "an ark.” The people are confounded, but not convinced. Their surprise passes off, and they pronounce him the victim of profound superstition. Their curiosity changes into ridicule and contempt: the ark becomes a bye-word, and the builder a hiss. But with unshaken confidence Noah holds on his course, suffering all manner of derision and abuse from the looker-on, and the passer-by. Though a host of scoffing spectators are present, there is no interruption of the work, Slowly and surely, and with surprising exactness, the timbers are arranged and adjusted, and the vessel goes up, up, and still up, till the command, “With lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it," is completely fulfilled.
The stupendous structure has now become a temple in which the heroic builder worships as well as works.. Its form, its position, and its hugeness, now presented to the spectator with their combined effect, seem to force the admission that the architectural design must be from heaven. The query arises in one and another, “Is not the old man in his right mind after all ? How could he accomplish all this if he has not received a commission from on high ?” Meantime, the “preacher of righteousness" ceases not to warn them “ of things not seen as yet," and to exhort them to repentance and faith. Whether standing in the first story, or the second, or the third, or even on the roof, he watches every goer and comer, that he may " preach the word.” “A little while, and he who threatened he would come, will come, and make no tarrying, and listen to no calls for mercy. And ye who will not be blessed in believing what ye have not seen, shall be cursed in seeing what ye would not believe.” Year after year rolls away until scores are consumed, and yet Noah never forgets to « be instant in season, out of season ; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” And as a century of labor is drawing to a close, he urges reconciliation to God more particularly from the shortness of time. “A few more sounds of the hammer, and the ark will be builded. And when it shall have been coated “within and without with pitch," the sky which has hitherto been so mild and serene will soon assume a new aspect. “For the Lord hath spoken and he shall perform.” At length the ark is completed. The difficulties of labor and expense, and the almost “intolerable unbelief and ridicule the undertaking encountered,” have at last been overcome. Equally faithful has been Noah in the office of ship-carpenter, and in that of “a preacher of righteousness." Not a moment has he queried how the earth would be drowned. Not a moment has he doubted that a flood would come. And five score years has he toiled and preached, under the most trying circumstances, by that
in the promise of God. And now, as he retires from his labor, and be. holds his preparation for the deluge, it is only to reveal a still greater depth of faith, in waiting for the command from above to enter into the ark he has made. And again he lifts a warning to the world, “Seven days,' and the Lord will appear with a flood of waters.' 'Seven days,' and ye who have mocked and derided, shall do so no more. Repent, and do works meet for repentance, or in 'seven days' He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh ; the Lord shall have you in derision." But his preaching seems to answer no purpose, save that of exciting the people to still greater manifestations of contempt. And pointing perhaps to the neighboring Ararat they exclaim with all assurance of unbelief,
"Shall yon exalting peak, Whose glittering top is like a distant star,
Lie low beneath the boiling of the deep ?” It was sad for the preacher of righteousness to be thus forced to conclude that he was “a savor of death unto death” to the whole world. Still he ceased not to “cry aloud, and show the people their transgression.” The longer they persisted in their wickedness, the more earnest and eloquent grew the preacher ; "and so much the more as he saw the day approaching!” Five days have already gone by, and the sixth is now passing, and the ark stands there complete, majestic, and alone,—the magnificent result of a faith which shall soon remove mountains, and cast them into the sea. And while the preacher of righteousness is paying his last visits to his relatives and friends, and everywhere uttering his last warnings and entreaties, the people on all sides are giving vent to their ridicule. “Tomorrow, and the ark shall prove a monument of the blindest superstition.” Alas ! and it shall prove a monument of the blindest superstition; the superstition, not of faith, but of unbelief, - not of the preacher of righteousness, but of the world which he warned of destruction !
“Behold their last to-morrow!
And no breath,
Shall lift its point to save." But with their accustomed obstinacy and unbelief the people retire once more to their rest. The ark, which was designed from the beginning,” and commenced a century ago on the earth, has been finished. And the “seven days” respite foretold by the preacher is drawing to a close. And under the delusion that to-morrow Noah's faith will be shaken and destroyed, and their own unbelief be triumphant, they close their eyes in the sleep of nature, only next to close them forever in the sleep of death. Their dreams correspond to their previous reveries, and again they awake as they fell asleep, infatuated with unbelief. The morning seems the brightest and serenest they have ever beheld. The past six days have been holidays, spent in “ eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” . But the seventh is to be the great day of all. To-day the people of the land assemble to see and exult over the folly of Noah. They are becoming impatient to witness his disappointment and defeat. For unbelief itself has not been so confident of the soundness and safety of its course, but that the warnings of faith have wrought up an excitement the most intense. Every hour seems a day, and every minute an hour, when