By Horatius Bonar, 1867
Here is another "beatitude" in addition to what Matthew gives; and from the same lips that spoke the others. For Christ was himself the "Blessed One;" and well knew who were "blessed," and what made them so. He knew not only who were to be partakers of the great beatitude, "Come, you blessed of my Father," but who are partakers of blessing now. The substance of his statement here is just this—"The blessed ones are the believing ones; and of these the most blessed are they whose faith rests most simply on the bare word of God, without either sight or sign."
Man neither understands nor likes this way. He says, Had I seen Christ and his cross, I would certainly have believed. He glories in his proverb, "Seeing is believing," in opposition to God's, "Believing is seeing;" thus denying that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and forgetting how the Lord spoke at Bethany—"If you would believe, you would see."
There—is, no doubt, blessedness in seeing (John 20:20); and there is blessedness in believing; and there is blessedness in believing after seeing; but that of which the Lord here speaks is a blessedness different from these, and truer than all of them—the blessedness of believing without seeing. Others may be blessed; for any kind of true connection with the Lord must make us blessed; but they are the most blessed who have not seen, and yet have believed. The actual sight of Christ contributed much less to the blessedness of those who saw him, than we generally suppose. Tens of thousands saw him, yet remained unbelieving and unblest; and in the case of multitudes of others, the sight of him only led to further unbelief, and hatred, and rejection. Even in the case of those who saw and believed, the seeing was not such a special advantage and blessing as we sometimes think. Thomas saw and believed; yet the Lord will not allow him or us to suppose that this is best. He tells us that, far better than this, is the blessedness which flows from simple faith, in the absence of all visible or sensible helps; simple faith, that counts God's testimony sufficient, and owns a risen Lord, though, in doing this, it is unassisted by eye, or ear, or hand.
But how and why are these believing ones so specially "blessed?"
1. They throw themselves upon the bare word of God.All that they believe, they believe simply because God has said it—so that their faith rests on no divided evidence; and the foundation they build on is not partly strong and partly weak, partly iron and partly clay, partly rock and partly sand—but wholly rock, wholly iron, wholly strong. They take God's testimony as their sole authority for everything. This makes their faith sure; far surer than if it had sprung out of what is seen by their own eye. This makes it also far more unwavering and unchanging than if it rested on sight; for sight may change; today bright, tomorrow dim; but God's testimony changes not. Not sense, nor feeling, nor touch, nor taste, nor vision—but the naked word of Him who cannot lie—this is the true foundation of a sinner's faith. That is the surest and truest faith, that thus comes into contact with, and rests directly on, the bare rock, with nothing between. Nothing can shake faith, in such a case—but that which shakes the evidence of God's own being and faithfulness. Changes and uncertainties, in themselves or in man, cannot shake them, so long as they know that with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
2. They come directly into contact with God himself.No cloud, no distance, no medium of any kind, comes between them and God. They deal directly with God; the soul touches him who is a Spirit, needing no interpreter nor introducer. We speak to God, and he speaks to us, as he did to Moses, face to face. We are of necessity cast upon God himself, God alone; and this is blessedness. Joseph no longer speaks to his brethren through an interpreter—but draws near and speaks in their own tongue; no, falls on Benjamin's neck, and kisses him.
3. They get more into the heart and reality of the things of God.Sight often crusts over spiritual things, or builds a wall, or draws a veil around them. Simple faith goes in at once to the heart and core of things; it goes beyond what is outer, and takes up its dwelling in the region of the invisible and divine. Instead of cruising along the rocky sea-board, it strikes inland, and pitches its tent amid the gardens and by the streams of a richer and more glorious country; it leaves things seen and temporal behind, and holds direct communion with things unseen and eternal. It is in itself simpler, purer, and more direct; less drossy and earthly; less mixed or alloyed with elements of frailty, or self, or the flesh; and hence it finds its way into regions into which faith of a grosser kind could never penetrate—it rises up, with a buoyancy all its own, into a higher atmosphere, disentangled and disengaged from the things of earth. Like a being without a body to clog it, it moves more at will, and rejoices in a liberty to which faith of a more material kind is a stranger.
4. They take fewer false steps, and make fewer mistakes.Simple faith sees, as it were, everything with God's eyes, and hears everything with Gods ears; it sees nothing with man's eyes, and hears nothing with man's ears; and thus comes to no false conclusions, and is kept from the continual mistakes into which sense is falling. It sees through the screen, or veil, of the visible into the invisible; it makes the distant seem as the near, and the future as the present. It not only sets the right estimate on the evidence of sense and feeling—but it puts the true interpretation upon all the facts and phenomena coming under the eye or sense. It disputes the point with sense and feeling, with the eye and ear, with consciousness and reason, and triumphs over all.
Exercising simple faith on the bare word of him who has given me the sure record respecting his crucified, dead, buried, risen Son—I see myself crucified, dead, buried, risen with him. Though seeing in myself the chief of sinners, I know and believe that there is no condemnation for me. Conscious of foolishness and ignorance, I know and believe that I am wise in Christ. Sensible of hourly defilement all over, I am persuaded that there is no spot in me. I see sin covering the earth, and Satan exercising dominion—but yet I do not believe in the supremacy of sin, and I know that Jehovah reigns. I see no visible Christ, no cross, no throne, no Holy Spirit, anywhere; and yet I believe in a Christ, a cross, a throne, a Holy Spirit, and that these are the most real of all real things. I see the sickness, the death-bed, the coffin, the grave of the saint; and yet I believe not in his sickness—but in his health; not in his death—but in his life; not in corruption—but in incorruption; not in mortality—but in immortality; not in the grave—but in the resurrection.
Thus what I see, I do not believe; no, I believe in the contrary of what I see. I believe not only without—but against seeing; and thus I put the right construction upon things seen and temporal, looking at everything with the eyes of God, and tasting the blessedness of anticipating the time when that which is perfect is come, and that which is in part shall be done away. Thus faith judges and sifts everything by the word of God, and is in its turn judged, sifted, purified, by that word, so as to yield the richest fruit, and bring home to our souls the fullest and truest blessing.
5. They are thus subjected to discipline of the best and most effectual kind.This life of believing without seeing—no, often of believing against seeing—is excellent training for every part of the new nature. It keeps the body under, while it lifts up the soul; it binds the flesh, while it sets free the spirit; it loosens us from the earthly, and fastens us to the heavenly. It is a divine school, or process of discipline, for every faculty of the renewed being; detaching intellect, imagination, feeling, more and more from the gross and the carnal, and familiarizing them with, as well as assimilating them to, the pure and the spiritual. It calms us, too, and keeps us calm in a stormy world. It awakes us and keeps us awake, amid scenes fitted to lull us asleep. It makes us more truly "children of the light and of the day," by transporting us beyond this world of night and darkness, into the kingdom of the unsetting sun. It greatly increases, too, our longing for the day of sinless vision, when sight shall no longer be a temptation, nor the senses a snare, nor outward glory a hindrance to spiritual feeling, nor the works of God a screen, or wall, between us and God himself. It whets our appetite for the marriage supper of the Lamb, and in thus giving us a time of fasting, prepares us for the day of feasting. How much of true efficacious discipline turns upon our being kept from present vision, and compelled to believe without sight or sign; to live wholly by faith upon an unseen Christ, and in expectation of an unseen kingdom!
For all that we have spoken applies both to past and future. We see neither; the cross and the crown are both invisible; and in regard to both it is true, "Blessed is he who has not seen, and yet has believed." The present lack of vision is no loss to us now, and shall be no loss to us hereafter. Seeds require darkness to spring in; light injures; so we require the darkness of this world to spring in; light would interfere with our development and growth. We are to flourish in light—but it is our day of darkness here that prepares us for this. Were it not for this day of darkness, this day of the absence of vision, we would be but half prepared for the day of light, and the realm of glorious day.
This is the church's day of faith, not of sight; for during her Lord's absence, she lives by believing, not seeing. Others have seen for her; and she believes what they saw. The disciples saw the death and resurrection for her; the prophets saw the glory and the kingdom for her; and she believes what they saw. She hears the report regarding the cross of Christ from those who saw it; and, believing, she says, "God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." She hears the report concerning the dying, buried, rising Savior; and, believing it, she rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory. She hears the report of prophets concerning the resurrection from the dead, when the Lord returns to raise and glorify his own; and, believing it, she says, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" She hears the report concerning the future inheritance and kingdom; and, believing it, she exults in the prospect, tasting thereby a peculiar blessedness, which she could not have done in other circumstances, even though God had given her a glimpse of the third heaven itself, or dropped down upon her a gem of the New Jerusalem, as a specimen, or pledge—to sight and touch, of what its glory is to be.
Words like those of our text seem specially written for us in this day of absence, when we must be indebted to faith alone for the knowledge of everything connected either with the sufferings that are past, or the glory that is to follow. We need not ask for a sign; there shall no sign be given but the sign of the prophet Jonah; and, besides, the privilege of the church in this age is to live without any sign or vision, in simple faith upon the word of an unseen God. This is her blessedness and honor. By this she resembles most, and treads most closely in the footsteps of, the Son of God. By this she condemns the world, and crucifies the flesh, and bears witness to the power, the faithfulness, the love of God. For this witness of simple faith, which so honors God, she is honored of God; and receives from him a recompense of reward, both now and hereafter, corresponding to her testimony.
Let those who have already believed through grace, learn more of their true character; let them remember their testimony, and act according to it, and up to it. Live as believing men; God expects this at your hands. Ask no sign nor vision; ask no evidence of miracle without, or feeling within, to rest your faith upon. God has given you a true report concerning his Son, confirmed with infallible proofs. Let your faith rest simply there, in the absence of sense, or sight, or feeling, or sign, external or internal. Remember how it is written, "If you shall believe, you shall see." The vision will come in its due time, and it will be infinitely glorious; meanwhile, walk by faith, until the day breaks and the shadows flee away. For "blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed."
Let those who have not yet believed nor tasted that the Lord is gracious, believe now. Wait not for signs without or movements within. Take the true testimony of God concerning his Son, and rest upon it. It is enough; and it is all true! See how true it is; and what a love it speaks of, what a salvation it announces! Believe, and be saved! But remember, that while "He who believes shall be saved; he who believes not shall be damned!"