By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
In both Testaments God expresses his displeasure against unbelief. By Moses he says to Israel: "You did not believe the Lord your God." "You rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God, and you believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice." Deut. 1:32; 9:23. Again, God complains of Israel: "They would not hear, but hardened their necks, like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God." 2 Kings 17:14. By the psalmist he says, "They believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation." Psalm 78:22. By another prophet he thus threatens them: "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established." Isaiah 7:9.
The New Testament is no less clear. The great sin of the Jews under the ministry of John the Baptist was their unbelief. Matt. 21:32. The Son of God marveled at the unbelief of his own disciples, and sharply rebuked it, Mark 6:6; Luke 24:25. Our Lord himself expressly says: "He who believes not, is condemned already." "He who believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:18, 36. Paul says, by unbelief the natural branches were broken off. Romans 11:20. Unbelief hinders prayer: "How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed?" Romans 10:14. "The God of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not." 2 Cor. 4:4. "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thess. 2:11, 12. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars—shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Rev. 21:8. Unbelief may relate to any doctrine, or promise, or threatening of God. It commonly has special reference to the person, work, offices, and sufferings of the Savior—then it is a rejection of him as he is offered in the gospel. He demands our affectionate confidence, and we withhold it.
Unbelievers are of two classes, speculative and practical. All speculative unbelievers are also practical unbelievers; but some practical unbelievers have no intellectual doubts of the truths of the Bible. Speculative unbelievers are of two sorts. Some rage and rail and blaspheme. Others doubt, hesitate, are skeptical. This latter class alternately hope that the Bible is not true, and fear that it is true. Meantime they live as if it were not true, and so are practical unbelievers. If they do not deny, they suspect. This is truly unbelief. Not to credit is to disbelieve. Not to receive is to reject. A refusal to obey the gospel is as truly dangerous as a scornful denial of its claims.
The object of this chapter is to show the sin of unbelief. It is a great offence against God in many ways. It is very wicked and deserves God's hot displeasure.
1. Unbelief is a very heinous sin, because it is an impeachment of the divine VERACITY.God's word is his testimony—it is the highest testimony ever given. When a judge gives a decision or a jury gives a verdict contrary to good evidence, all right thinkers have but one opinion. We take the testimony of men. We act wisely in so doing. But "if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater." 1 John 5:9. Man is fallible, man is corrupt. Man often deceives, man is often deceived. Yet in some cases man is and must be believed. Under certain circumstances everyone gives credit to the word of man. Much more then should we believe God, who is infallible, and who cannot lie. From the days of Moses until now the best governments on earth have held that two or three witnesses were sufficient to prove any fact. If so, shall we not believe the Trinity of persons in the Godhead? Jesus adopts this kind of argument when he says: "But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me." John 8:16-18.
The testimony of Christ confirming all the doctrines taught by the prophets and by himself was open, clear, decisive. The very highest proofs of his knowledge, veracity, and sincerity, were amply given. The testimony of his Father was given in an audible voice from heaven. It was repeated in the many stupendous miracles wrought by Almighty power. In these the third person of the adorable Trinity also bore testimony in a manner both striking and convincing. In Hebrews 2:3, 4, Paul argues thus: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, [that is, Christ,] and was confirmed unto us by those who heard him; God also [that is, the Father] bearing them witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit." So that the three who bear record in heaven, have given testimony upon earth. Their witness is harmonious, unequivocal, often repeated, and accompanied by infallible signs. He, therefore, who lives in unbelief, discredits and impeaches the testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That this is a heinous sin cannot be doubted.
Well do the Scriptures say, he who believes "has set to his seal that God is true." They as distinctly say, "He who believes not God, has made him a liar, because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son." 1 John 5:10. This language is indeed solemn, but it is just. God's honor in regard to his veracity is dear to him. He never will part with it. He says: "My glory will I not give to another." The heavens and the earth shall pass away, but his word shall not pass away. Every jot and tittle shall be fulfilled. Because God is perfect, he is jealous of the honor of his name. An evil being may be reckless of his repute for veracity, but a good being, never. To man you can offer no greater indignity than to say that he is a liar. How dreadful then the sin of making God a liar!
Besides, God has made his word the chief means by which to test the confidence of his creatures in his truth: "You have exalted your word above all your name;" that is, above all by which you have made yourself known. And the chief theme of God's word is, redemption by his Son—together with histories, laws, doctrines, promises, and threatenings. His word is truth selected from the boundless field of omniscience. It is more precious than gold, yes, than much fine gold. His words are fitly spoken. They are like apples of gold in settings of silver. They are more precious than rubies. To disbelieve them is to trample pearls under our feet. It is to take the covenant of God and treat it with contempt.
Unbelief, therefore, is of the nature of sacrilege. It puts the holiest things to base uses. Moreover, God has not only pledged his word, but he has added to it the solemn solemnity of an oath. He who disbelieves his word charges him with falsehood. He who discredits his oath charges him with perjury. A witness may give his testimony upon oath, and we may decide in the teeth of all he swears, but in so doing we declare our utter lack of confidence in his statements. If God is displeased at anything, it must be at this atrocious insult.
Nor is this all. To disbelieve God is to believe his enemies, and especially his great adversary, the father of lies. Eve believed the devil rather than her Maker. When Ahab rejected the testimony of the man of God, he was ready to believe the lying prophets of Baal. Chateaubriand says: "Men are ready to believe anything, when they believe nothing. They have diviners when they cease to have prophets; witchcraft when they cease to have pious ceremonies; they open the caves of sorcery when they shut the temples of the Lord." He who does not believe God, surely believes the great deceiver. Such impiety is shocking to all right-minded people. Its wickedness is manifest to all whose consciences are not seared as with a hot iron.
2. He who by unbelief rejects the word of God and his well-beloved Son, impugns the Divine WISDOM.If we say that we do not need the salvation of the gospel, we charge God with making a needless sacrifice, and needless provision for our souls. When one says he is well—he declares that he needs no remedy. When one says he is good enough, and justifies himself—he cannot but look upon redemption by atoning blood as either a fable or a folly—a vast expenditure to no wise purpose. God's wisdom determined that Christ's work and death were necessary for our salvation. Unbelief says, "We can do without a Savior." Or if the sense of guilt is strong, then our unbelief, tending to despair, impeaches God's wisdom by saying that the death of Christ is insufficient, and his blood inefficacious to wash away our sins. We say the remedy is not adequate. We say that sin stains too deeply and guilt presses too heavily for us to hope in the atonement of God's dear Son. In this view, the scheme of redemption is a failure. It lacks virtue. It meets not men's needs. Could a more heinous impeachment of God's wisdom be made? Shall man be wiser than God, who charges his angels with folly? Is it surprising that the Judge of all the earth should be offended, yes, incensed—when men reject his Son and his gospel, which is both the wisdom of God and the power of God unto our salvation?
3. Unbelief is a rejection of kindness, a slighting of unspeakable MERCY offered to us by the Lord.The refusal of Jesus Christ—has no parallel for ingratitude, stubbornness, and daring impiety. Sovereign Love holds to our lips the cup of salvation. Unbelief thrusts it away, and says, "Keep your gifts to yourself—I need them not; I trust them not; I accept them not." In unbelief, the debtor in prison refuses to let Jesus be his Surety. By unbelief, the poor naked soul refuses the spotless righteousness of Christ—and cleaves to the filthy rags of its own righteousness! Unbelief refuses to permit the great Deliverer to come in and knock off the chains of fiery condemnation. It spurns the balm of Gilead, although the soul is all diseased. God expostulates with the wicked, and says, "How shall I give you up? As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner." The Father of mercy calls them. The Son of his love cries, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden." The Holy Spirit woos. The church of God says, "Come." Surely it cannot be safe, it must be perilous, lightly to esteem such love and pity, such mercy bought with blood—the blood of propitiation; mercy offered to us by the Lord himself; mercy so much needed by us all; mercy rejected by none but the perverse. God's love to us is amazing; Christ's love to us far exceeds any love the best man bears to him; the love of the Holy Spirit is unsurpassed. How, O how can we slight such kindness?
4. Unbelief is a denial and refusal of the GRACE of God in the gospel of his Son.And we need all the grace offered to us. We are sinful, guilty, justly condemned, blind, ignorant, wretched, impotent. We are with out strength, without holiness, without righteousness, without saving knowledge, without healing medicines, without hope, without God in the world. This is our state—and must continue to be our state—until we are made partakers of that grace which is rich, free, unmerited, abundant, treasured up in Christ, and proclaimed in the glorious gospel. But unbelief says, Christ has died in vain, his intercession is fable, his gospel is a fabrication. In robbing our own souls of this mercy, we rob God of the glory of his grace. In a word, if a man should choose to set himself in a universal opposition unto God, he can think of no more compendious way, than unbelief.
5. Unbelief is a slighting of God's power both to save and to destroy, and of his authority as a LAWGIVER and Governor.He has brought all his sovereignty to bear on the duty of faith in Christ: "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son." To disregard this command is to despise all his authority over us, for he requires faith in his Son under the sanction of the most solemn threatenings, many of which have been already recited.
6. The sin of unbelief is in most cases terribly aggravated.It is commonly a sin that has been long persisted in. If men are now unbelievers, they have been committing that sin all their days. Their lives have been lives of unbelief. For one act of unbelief, Moses was denied admission into Canaan. For one act of unbelief, Zacharias was struck mute. But our acts of unbelief have been as numerous as the calls of mercy which we have resisted. And our unbelief has been indulged against much instruction and knowledge. Often has the light shone as clear as day. Often have we heard appeals as solemn as death, and as tender as the compassions of a dying Savior. If we are now in unbelief, we have long known it was a sin. For unbelief indulged under a much darker dispensation, the carcases of six hundred thousand men fell in the wilderness.
Again, we have seen great sinners turn from sin to the Savior, and find mercy. In their renovated lives, we had the proof of the power of Christ to save. We must be guilty for disregarding the lessons of such examples. Hear the Son of God himself on this matter: "For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this—you did not repent and believe him." Matt. 21:32.
Yes more, the salvation of the gospel is God's last offer to man. Christ's atonement rejected by unbelief, there remains no more sacrifice for sins. God will never send another Savior into the world. Christ himself said: "If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins." Indeed, unbelief is by preeminence the damning sin of all who hear the gospel and perish. It is of the nature of all sin to work death; but unbelief is a sin without which no other sin that we in a gospel land commit, renders damnation inevitable. Unbelief is the act of a poor condemned criminal on his way to execution refusing a pardon! It is the act of Esau taking the pottage, eating it, and giving up the birthright forever.
Unbelief is a sin always wilfully committed. So charges Christ himself: "You will not come to me, that you might have life." So charge the apostles: "You judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life."
Unbelief persisted in, seals our perdition. It closes every door of hope, and leaves us enshrouded in the darkness of despair forever and ever. It does all this by grieving the Holy Spirit, by vexing him to depart from us.
7. Indeed, how can unbelief be other than an enormous sin—when it has its seat in pride, self-will, self-righteousness, love of riches, love of human honors, and hardness of heart?"The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God." "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and seek not the honor which comes from God alone?" "You cannot serve God and mammon." "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "You always resist the Holy Spirit." These are but samples of the manner in which God speaks of the causes of unbelief. All unbelief has its seat in dreadful depravity.
8. We may judge of the heinousness of the sin of unbelief from the dreadful SENTENCE resting on all in whom it reigns.The Bible says they are "condemned already." They are condemned by the first covenant, which says: "Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." "The soul that sins—it shall die!" It shall die—it shall die—it shall die! And O what a death! But to this condemnation is added that of the gospel: "He who believes not, is condemned already." "This is the condemnation—that light has come into the world—and men loved darkness rather than light." O this double condemnation, how terrible! It is a condemnation from God, the Lawgiver, the Judge of all. His sentence is irreversible. And this condemnation "already" rests on unbelievers. The day of judgment will declare and enforce it—but it will not alter it. He who lives and dies condemned—will awake to shame and everlasting contempt on the morning of the last day, and will stand self-condemned as well as God-condemned at the tribunal of Christ! Beware, O unbeliever, beware. 'Forsaking truth and embracing error—angels shrunk into devils. Forsaking error and grasping truth—sinners rise to the dignity of saints, and to the companionship of angels.'
1. What a dreadful thing is sin!It is so daring, so stubborn, so mischievous, so ruinous to man, so dishonoring to God.
2. What mercy is found in God in providing a Savior, in offering him to our acceptance, in waiting on ungrateful and rebellious men so long, and in actually leading many to the Savior.
3. What a dreadful doom awaits those who will not be reclaimed!It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for such! "Unbelief brings greater guilt" and sorer punishment "than the sins of the worst of heathens, who never heard of these glorious things, nor have had this Savior offered to them." "The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool," says God; "but my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation." Isaiah 51:8.
4. Let us carefully guard against that great parent of unbelief, a self-righteous temper, which says, "I am holy, I am clean, I am pure." "If righteousness came by the law, then Christ died in vain." Gal. 2:21. To expect heaven on the ground of your own merit is, says Edwards, to "arrogate to yourself the honor of the greatest thing that ever God himself did." "To take on yourself to work out redemption is a greater thing, than if you had taken it upon you to create a world." A self-righteous spirit is fatal to the soul.
5. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God."Heb. 3:12. It dishonors and provokes God. It grieves the Savior. Mark 3:5. It grieves the Holy Spirit of promise. An attack of illness is not so bad as an assault of unbelief.
6. The great business assigned us on earth by God himself is, believing—believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. When the multitude said to Jesus, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent." John 6:28, 29. So when the jailor cried, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." Acts 16:30, 31. This is the tenor of all the Scripture. It is only by faith that we enter into heavenly rest. Be sure you truly believe: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." "Until you have this faith, you have no saving interest in Christ. It is only believers who are united to him and are his living members. And it is by faith that he dwells in our hearts, and that we live in him. Eph. 3:17; Gal. 2:20. In vain do you boast of Christ, if you are not true believers. You have no part or portion in him. None of his special benefits are yours until you have this living, working faith." [Baxter.] The law presses until we believe. Forgiveness and acceptance come not until we close in with Christ: "He who believes on him is not condemned; but he who believes not is condemned already." Why—O why do not all perishing sinners flee to Christ? Why will men involve their souls in deeper sin and more alarming danger, by persisting even for an hour in the rejection of Christ?