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was possible, though at other times he doubted of it. "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief."
It is to the answer of our blessed Saviour to the first appeal of this father, and then to the exclamation of the father himself, that our attention is to be called this evening. Both of these verses contain important truths, in meditating on which, if God will grant his presence and his blessing, we may derive instruction, important for us to retain; and may be led, perhaps, to some resolutions and efforts on which it is of consequence for us to act.
From the first of these verses, namely, the expression used by our Saviour, we learn this important truth—that all real goodness is to be attained by the exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "All things are possible to him that believeth." That is the first point we learn from the passage I have read. Faith generally is opposed to three things—to despondency and distrust in the first instance; to presumption in the second; and to indifference in the third. It is plain, that wherever a lively faith on any subject exists, these other things will be removed. A person who has strong faith in any promise that is given, cannot at the same time be affected with distrust with respect to it. A person who exercises strong faith in another, for the obtaining of any particular benefit, is not, on the other hand, presumptuous and self-confident; he is not looking to obtain the same result from his own efforts; and wherever faith is spoken of in the scriptures, it is on this supposition, that men are not looking to themselves for the blessings expected. It is equally opposed to indifference; for where a person is careless of any blessing, it is possible, indeed, that he may not have an active doubt with respect to the power of another to obtain the blessing, but he is not exercising faith: faith remains dormant if it be existing; and certainly it is not such a kind of faith, as that which is connected with the blessing itself. He that would attain any blessing must attain it, not by his distrust, but by the earnest use of those means appointed by God. If our Saviour, then, has declared, that all things are possible to him that believeth, it implies that all things arc not possible, or rather, that no supernatural blessing is possible, to him
who does not believe. He who is found distrusting the promise of God, cannot expect to have the blessings attached to believing: he who is found trusting to his own efforts, and not to God, cannot expect the blessings : neither can he who is indifferent to these things expect the blessings. They are given to those who are neither distrustful, presumptuous, nor indifferent. "All things are possible to him that believeth."
It is material, however, to remark, in the next place, that/ai7A must always be limitedby the promises ofGod; because there is another kind of presumption, and that is, where persons trust to receiving blessings which are not promised, where they have no warrant from scripture. This, if it may be called faith or confidence at all, is certainly not that kind of faith to which the blessing is attached. Where we have a clear promise from Almighty God, it is our duty to trust: where we have no such promise, there is no ground of trust; and confidence is only presumption and enthusiasm.
We must notice further, to the right understanding of what our Lord has said, "All things are possible to him that believeth," that he clearly means here, the blessing is attached to the exercise of faith in the particular blessing u>e are asking. All things are not possible to him who has a mere general faith. It is possible to have a faith in our Saviour's salvation without exercising faith for the particular blessing we arc seeking; and, therefore, if a blessing is attached to believing, we may be without that blessing. Of this we have a remarkable instance in the passage before us. As this narrative is given by St. Matthew, in the seventeenth chapter, we read, that, before this demoniac child was brought to our Saviour, the disciples had previously been asked to cast out the devil, and they could not. On coming to our blessed Lord, and asking, "Why could not we cast him out?" he says to them, "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." Now, the disciples were believers ; they were saved by trusting to the Lord; they were converted by the instrumentality' of faith; but they did not exercise faith on this particular truth, that Jesus Christ had appointed them to work miracles in his name. This was the unbelief with which he charged them, and the unbelief by which they lost the very power he meant to communicate. "Because of your unbelief;" therefore they could not cast out the devil. On this particular truth they had not faith even as a grain of mustard seed; because if they had faith of that truth, in the least degree, they would have been able to do any supernatural work to which he called or appointed them, though it were as wonderful as removing the mountain which they saw, and casting it into the sea.
This is lie exercise of faith to which our Lord directs our attention when he says,—" All things are possible to him that believeth." All things for which God has given his plain promise are possible to those who exercise faith upon that promise given by Almighty God—faith as opposed to distrust, presumption, and indifference. If any pne exercise this kind of faith in the promises God has given, all things are put within his power: so that if any Christian is found, from week to week, and from month to month, complaining of the weakness of his grace, his liability to sin, his frequent falls, his want of progress, he sees the cause; it is not that God is unwilling to give him strength, and grace, and victory; but it is because he has been exercising little i faith in the promises God has given. There is a general confidence which the Christian is well entitled to maintain, that God will give him all things fully and without particularizing: but if he stands in need of a particular blessing, he boldly pleads in prayer for it, and rests assured that he shall have it in God's time. But it is of the greatest use, that we should be well versed in the particular promises God has given, and the method in which God bestows them—that .we should notice how God gives these blessings, in order that our faith may not fail, and that, through repeated disappointments and long delay, we may yet pursue after those blessings which it is God's will eventually to bestow. This is the first thing we learn from our Saviour's expression to this Jewish father—" If thou canst believe, ,
all things are possible to him that believeth."
In the next place, his reply to our Saviour will furnish us with some important truths in connection with this. "Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief." From which answer we clearly discern, that faith may be weak and partial in a real believer. When he said, " Lord I believe," it is plain that this person did receive Christ Jesus as the Messiah sent of God, that he did believe in his power generally to work miracles by the aid of God: but when he said, "Help thou mine unbelief," it is clear, likewise, that he was conscious of a faltering in his faith, that with respect to this particular blessing, which depended on the exercise of faith, he felt misgivings. The blessing depended on the exercise of faith. "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth," said our Saviour : that is, if thou canst believe, I have the power and will to effect this cure; exercise that faith, and it shall be done. But this person, from conflicting doubts, felt a misgiving in his soul, whether the blessing would be granted; therefore he said, "Help thou mine unbelief." He showed this faltering'in his mind when he first addressed our Lord; for his supplication was, "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us." Here was nothing of that powerful faith of the Syrophenician woman, who followed our Lord through all repulses and delays, assured that he was able, and that he would cure her daughter; and this shows, that faith may be weak and partial, though it be genuine.
In ordinary cases our faith in any thing is proportioned to the evidence we receive for it. Where any matter of evidence on any point to be received just preponderates over the evidence against it, there our faith is weak and wavering; a little would change our minds, and induce us to alter our opinions. But even where the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, our minds may be in such a state as to be unable to receive it. For however much some persons may talk of our religious faith being the result of enquiry and evidence, and depending solely on the power of the intellect, or on its feebleness, we know well that passion and prejudice, not only in religious matters, but in all other matters where our interests or our passions are involved, have a powerful influence in the formation of our opinions; and wherever prejudice or excited passion exists, a much stronger degree of evidence is required to fix our belief of a thing, than were our minds perfectly calm. It is so in religion. Now, just as where evidence is in itself imperfect the faith may be feeble, from the weakness of the understanding, or from the insufficiency of the evidence; just so where our prejudices have been great, or deeply rooted, or our passions strong, there again the evidence may be such as to compel us to a sort of doubtful opinion, and to leave our faith weak, easily to be warped, easily to be turned aside, easily to lapse again into unbelief. Faith, then, is weak, whenever it is of a wavering character, whenever we are found to-day confident, and to-morrow doubting, according to the varying forms of our mind, or the circumstances in which we are placed. Of this kind was the faith of this Jewish rather; it was a wavering faith, in some moments feeling a confidence that our Lord Jesus could give him that great blessing he was asking, at other times questioning, from its magnitude, whether it could be bestowed. But faith may also be partial. We are quite conscious that our faith may, in some matters, be perfectly fixed and strong; and yet, with regard to other truths, to some minds equally plain, equally plain in God's holy word, and which we ought to receive free from doubt—whether our attention has not been so strongly turned to those points, or we have had, from circumstances, more powerful prejudices, or whatever be the cause, of the fact we are conscious, that our faith may be partial. And here we must observe, that strong faith is also more apt to be partial than weak faith; because the same disposition of mind that leads us heartily to credit anything that God has said, that leads us heartily (if I may use a familiar expression) to take him at his own word, would lead us equally to trust him on all other occasions where he has given us a plain demonstration of his will and purpose to do us good. This Jewish father was an instance also of partial faith, because when he said, "Lord I believe," it seems as if
he had a clear, unquestioned certainty with respect to our Lord's divine mission. He knew him to be from God, and nothing would persuade him to say "By Belzebub the prince of the devils he casteth out devils"—to that measure of unbelief nothing could compel his faith; he wavered only on this point, namely, as to the power of our Lord to cure his child.
If we now combine these two considerations—first, that the exercise of faith brings all promised blessings within the believer's reach—and secondly, that it is possible to have a genuine faith in our Saviour, and yet that our faith should be weak, and in many points partial—then we come to this next consideration, that if we would obtain great blessings it is of consequence to us that we should be earnest for more faith. We perceive this also in the narrative before' us, for when this Jewish father was convinced, by our Lord's word, that the cure he so earnestly desired depended on the exercise of faith on that particular promise, "he straightway cried out with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." He cried out with tears; he earnestly desired the blessing, earnestly desiring the faith to which it was attached: he questioned whether those lingerings of doubt he felt would not hinder him of the blessing he so greatly desired; therefore he earnestly desired more faith. Well may we imitate him in this also; for if, indeed, the greatest spiritual blessings are to be obtained by the exercise of strong faith, of how many blessings shall we be deprived if our faith is weak and partial. The lowest degree of saving faith, of real spiritual belief in the Lord Jesus, which is the accepting of Christ as our Saviour, does indeed bring us into vital union with him, grafts us on the stock of that parent stem, gives us an inheritance among all his followers, makes us partakers of everlasting grace, admits us to all the privileges of the children of God, and ensures to us our Father's care to all eternity. "In him all that believe are justified from all things," says the apostle; they have a full and complete pardon. He came to save to the uttermost them that believe on him. But, notwithstanding, the lowest degree of faith has these Almighty and eternal blessings connected with it: it is we have seen, the strong exercise of faith in God's promises to us that ensures our comfortable walk, and our progress in knowledge, in grace, and. in virtue, while we are here below. Of all these blessings, attached to the exercise of faith in God's particular promises, shall we be deprived if our faith is weak and partial.
My brethren, of how much consequence is it to us that we should desire strong and universal faith. God has given many great and exceeding promises, ensuring to his people large supplies of grace, virtue, comfort and strength, even here below. Of how much consequence is it to us that we should not by our own failings be deprived of these large supplies, and go on our road to heaven feeble, infirm, and unhappy, through our own neglect to lay hold of God's almighty strength, who has commanded us, "Be you strong in the Lord"—Be you filled with the Spirit"—" Walk in the Spirit"—and many other such like precepts.
There is as real a difference between the strong believer and the weak, or rather I should say, between the believer who exercises strong faith, and the believer who has but a partial and weak faith, as there is among the armies that fight human battles—between the veriest coward that ever disT graced the standard under which he fought, and the bravest soldier who was the admiration of his friends and foes; for the one who exercises strong faith is ready to fight the strong fight of this world: on the contrary, the man who is not able to exercise faith in God's promises is scarcely able to hide himself frsm those foes which surround him; his thoughts are not in achieving victory—his state is not fit for fighting the good fight of faith— he is altogether occupied in resisting those temptations, to which his unbelief is daily exposing him.
Believers are also citizens of this world, placed here by God to be active in their different spheres; and there is as real a difference between a man who exercises strong faith and he who is but weak, as there is between that poor man who is anxious under the apprehension of an approaching bankruptcy, and the liberal benefactor of a province. For the one, he whose
faith is weak, is occupied continually with his own evils, with his own unhappiness; he is constantly perceiving his deficiencies, but grievously failing continually in duty; feeling a thousand anxieties and alarms; there is a continual restlessness of spirit: whereas he who exercises strong faith is ready to diffuse far and wide the blessing he himself enjoys; he becomes a blessing to others; the promise is dear to him, and heaven seeming within his reach, his own interest secure, that man is able, and that man does, in fact, lay himself out for the good of others; whereas the other is always shrinking within those evils by which he is so beset and harassed.
Christians are placed in this world in an inclement atmosphere; and there is as real a difference between him who exercises strong faith, and he who is a weak and partial believer, as there is between the hardy and daring mountaineer when he carols in the mountain air, and the poor consumptive sufferer, who shivers in the summer breeze. The one is able to shrink from no temptation, he is so languid; he feels that his soul is sick, he feels that he has nothing of the vigour and thrivingof a well ordered soul: whereas, the other, who exercises strong faith, is growing more and more powerful, experiencing the promise of God, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength ; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
Now, if there is this difference, or any thing like it, (and I have but feebly, most feebly described the real difference that exists between them,) how important it is for us earnesly to desire, especially if we are conscious of that feebleness of faith which is constantly erring, that we should desire the stronger faith which it is God's will to bestow. The strong believer is ready for doing or suffering: he stands where God places him, ready for all hazards, and all emergencies. In short, there is nothing stronger in this lower world than a firm believer in the power and goodness of God. Such achievements he shall work, and he alone, as are recorded of those worthies whose names are placed in an imperishable shrine in the eleventh of the Hebrews. Whereas, a feeble believer, whatever his natural endowments, or original strength of mind, will be certainly, in his religious course, weak and indolent, sensual and worldly, anxious and fretful, if he be not altogether callous and indifferent to the welfare of his own soul, and the souls of his fellow men.
Have you not found it so that this universal malady, this malaria of the mind, if I may so express myself, does wither up all their best energies and graces, and prevent them from executing a thousand projects, by which they might have advanced the cause of their Redeemer in their own families or circles, in their own neighbourhood or country. Know, my brethren, it is our business, with this Jewish father, earnestly to desire that we may attain a much stronger faith than We have hitherto enjoyed. "Straightway he cried out, and with tears said, Lord, I believe, kelp thou mine unbelief."
Our text, however, does not leave us here; it adds one other material point of information, and that is, if we would obtain a strength of faith, it must be by persevering prayer. Conscious that his faith was weak, and fearful that through its weakness he should lose the promised blessing, the Jewish father exclaimed, "help thou mine unbelief." It was well for him that he did not look to himself for the production of this blessing; and yet it shows that there was much of faith that he should come to the Saviour who stood before him to increase his faith. It shows that he had confidence in the supernatural power of him, of another man, the humble teacher, that stood before him, to ask him to increase a sentiment in his own mind, which increase of sentiment he could not himself produce. He could not produce a strong belief—how should that teacher who stood before him produce it? He must have had a powerful conviction that that Saviour was appointed, and able, to heal the maladies of men, or he never would have said "help thou mine unbelief." It was so with the disciples of our Saviour, and it is the true and only way in which a believer in Jesus shall attain the additional faith he needs. The disciples came to our Lord, saying, " Lord increase our faith"—an attribute, it must be confessed, of one superior far to man, to increase the faith of another. It was not by argument; it was not by setting
before them the strong evidence to the truth, that they expected it; these they might have had, and yet remained as feeble in their faith as before: but it was by a direct influence on the heart, by a sweeping away of prejudices, by calming the impetuous passions. In this way they expected their faith should be healed and increased; and so it must be with us.
My brethren, in this, and in this way only, can we expect to have our faith, from day to day, strengthened and enlarged. It always will be so, as the apostle says in the second chapter of Colossians, where he terms faith of the operation of God. Believers, he says, are risen with Christ " through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." It is in this way alone that faith can be increased, when faith is of the operation of God. To him, therefore, must believers continually go for the augmentation of that which they confess, in its origin, was received from him. Thevery first beginnings of faith were his own gift. He himself imparted it in its feeble origin to our minds; and it is his prerogative to increase it perpetually till it becomes the full assuranceof sight in heaven. But for our comfort, when we look on it as the gift of another, we may learn that he is most willing to bestow. It is his own desire—his own delight, to see his people exercising a strength of faith in him. Jesus is willing to increase our faith; and if therefore any one here is labouring under this moral disorder, oh, that he might but be persuaded to come with the same earnestness of desire to the Lord Jesus for this blessing, and he will doubtless obtain it. If there be a feeble believer here, and I doubt not there are many, let such a one remember, that if he can find in the whole circle of his religious friends one who is possessed of eminently strong faith, and by the strength of faith has attained other graces in equal eminence— that very person can trace his course back to the time when he had no stronger faith than you have, to the time when his spiritual maladies were as inveterate and as universal as yours; he can trace it to that time when his present attainments might seem as hopeless to him as they might seem now to you.
Let every person here, who feels, in