Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated
By John Angell James, 1852
FAITH'S VICTORY OVER THE WORLD
"Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the
victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." 1 John 5:4
The situation and circumstances of the Christian during
his state of discipline and probation upon earth, are singularly, solemnly,
and perilously, critical. His attention is divided between two worlds. He is
placed amid the scenes, the duties, the possessions, the trials of one
world, all of which are ever appealing to the senses, and urging their
claims upon the faculties and instincts of our nature; claims which he
cannot, dare not, altogether resist or neglect. And yet amid these objects
always present to him, he is, upon peril of his immortal soul, supremely to
value, pursue, and enjoy the objects of another world, of which he knows
nothing but by report. He must not omit one just and proper interest of this
life, to which he is related by his both various and tender ties; and yet he
must regard, practically and constantly, as his highest interest, the
life that is to come. He must, to a certain extent, attend to the things on
earth, and yet his affections must be set on things in heaven—the visible
must not be neglected, yet the invisible must be supremely regarded—the
temporal must be attended to in due season and measure, and yet the eternal
must predominate. If this be easy, nothing is difficult. If this be a light
accomplishment, how is it that so few succeed?
What is the mighty principle which shall arbitrate
between the claims of these two rival worlds for man's affections; give to
each its due; and so enable him to attend to the present, as not to encroach
upon the future? Faith! It is for lack of this, such multitudes who escape
the snares of vice, and the other ways to perdition, which are ever open and
always crowded, are still lost. If immorality slays its thousands, the
world slays its ten thousands! In every Christian land, worldliness is
the most thronged road to everlasting ruin. The supreme love of the world
will as certainly lead its possessor to the bottomless pit as the love of
open vice! "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in
him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of
the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father—but is of the world."
1 John 2:15, 16. Yet with how much general reputation, amiable disposition,
and social excellence, may this supreme regard to 'seen and temporal things'
be associated. Worldliness, I repeat, and repeat with emphasis, is the
smoothest, the most polished, the most fashionable, the most respectable
path to the bottomless pit! Worldliness does not merely consist in an
intense love of money, and an excessive eagerness to be rich—but in a
supreme regard to that which is visible and the temporal, whether these
relate to the quiet scenes of domestic comfort, or to the elegancies,
splendors, and accumulations of wealth, as leads a man to seek his highest
bliss in these!
The danger of a destructive worldliness arises then, not
only from the adaptation of surrounding objects to our senses, our tastes,
and our appetites—but from the necessity we are under to pay some attention
to them, and from the difficulty of ascertaining what that precise measure
of attention really is; and also from the proneness there is in us to make
this duty and this difficulty an excuse for a supreme and exclusive regard
to earthly objects. Yet it can be no excuse, for we have a volume in
our possession, which commands us in the name, and with the authority of
God, not to love the present world—but to set our affections on that other
eternal world, the certainty of whose existence it establishes, and the
glory of whose objects it reveals. Let us be surrounded by what earthly
objects we may, or occupied by what present duties in reference to them we
may, there is a voice ever sounding in our ears the solemn mandate– "Love
not the world! Love not the world!"
We have already said there is a principle by which the
due subordination of seen and temporal things, to unseen and eternal things,
may be maintained. The apostle confirms our assertion, where he says–
"Whatever is born of God overcomes the world—and this is the victory that
overcomes the world, even our faith." 1 John 5:4. By the world, in this
passage, we are to understand all the objects of earth—wealth, honor,
pleasure, renown; the favor or the wrath of man; the scenery of nature, and
the objects of science; some things unlawful in their nature, and others
unlawful only when supremely regarded—in short, to use the expression of the
apostle already quoted, things seen and temporal, as distinguished
from things unseen and eternal. Such is the world that assails the
Christian, and which he must overcome or perish eternally!
The world is a foe which attacks us in various places;
in the shop, by all the temptations incident to trade and wealth; in the
halls of politics and public business, by all the enticements to pride and
ambition; in the places of amusement, by all the soft blandishments of
pleasure; in the haunts of vice, by all the gratifications of appetite; in
the scenes of nature, by all the delights of taste and imagination; in the
walks of science and literature, by all the delights of intellectual
gratification; in the social circle, by all the enjoyments of friendship;
and in the domestic retreat, by all the sweets of marital bliss. Oh, how
many are the scenes where the world meets man and subdues him!
And how many also are its weapons and its
methods of attack! There are its EXAMPLES, how numerous, how
various, and some of them how fascinating; and as our manners and habits are
so much formed by imitation, how difficult it is with such models
perpetually before him, for the believer always to preserve the purity, the
integrity, and the beneficence of the Christian character. There are the
FALSE PRINCIPLES and LOOSE MAXIMS of a relaxed morality, so
plausibly defended and so widely circulated as to conceal their sinfulness,
and to come recommended by a warrant and authority which it is difficult to
Sometimes the world approaches the believer with a
smiling face, making promises and offering caresses, like the serpent to our
first mother in the garden, or like Satan to our Lord when he said– "All
these things will I give you—if you will fall down and worship me!" How
difficult is it on such occasions to turn away from the lovely enchantress,
to keep the eye steadily fixed on heavenly glories, and instead of greedily
quaffing the cup of poisoned sweets, to dash it on the ground!
At other times, the world marches onward with
persecution; in some cases with cruelty and rage—and at others with
ridicule and scoffs. We have not to fear the path of blood or fire—but
though the scaffold and the stake are, we hope, forever gone, how often are
believers called for conscience's sake to bear the indignation of friends,
the loss of public favor, or the malignant raillery of those whose conduct
has been reproved, and whose conscience has been aroused by their holy and
consistent conduct. How hard is it to bear such treatment with patience and
resignation, and to hold fast the principles and conduct which have incurred
How many are there whose good resolutions have been
shaken by the mockeries and insults with which libertines have treated the
godly; by the malignant and diabolical pleasure with which they have seized
upon the smallest failings of the believer, and held them up with bitter
scorn and wicked exaggerations to the public gaze. How many are there, who,
afraid of the railleries and scoffs which attend an inflexible adherence to
duty, have abandoned that firm and inflexible deportment which befits the
Christian; and have striven on almost every point to accommodate their
conduct to that of the world; and have endeavored, by means which have
marred their peace and wounded their conscience, to diminish the contrast
which ought ever to exist between the lives of the godly and the impenitent.
The world assails and vanquishes many, and wounds—if it
does not destroy others—by places and offices of public trust and duty.
The senatorial, magisterial, and municipal honors and responsibilities, have
in many cases been a sad snare to professing Christians. They have been by
these means, thrown into associations, and exposed to temptations, which
proved lamentably detrimental to the spirit of godliness. Not that Christian
men ought altogether to retire from such offices, and leave public affairs
to be guided and governed by the wicked. It is a question, however, whether
they should ambitiously covet and seek them. If God in his providence calls
them to such 'slippery places', and they give themselves to prayer to be
kept from evil, and firmly maintain the integrity and consistency of the
Christian character, they may, by their example and their influence, be
great public blessings. But how difficult is this! How few have surmounted
the difficulty, and come unscathed from the conflict with the world, in such
scenes as these!
Let us now inquire what is the victory over the world of
which the apostle speaks, and how it is to be obtained.
By what language shall we make this plain? This is
extremely difficult, since, as we have said, there is some attention and
attachment to this present world—which are legitimately given, and even
commanded. But though there cannot be an entire 'disregard' to the things of
this world, there may be a subordinate one. And though also there
cannot be an exclusive regard to the things of the next world, there
may be a supreme one. It is obvious there cannot be two
supreme affections. Now a true Christian loves God in Christ supremely,
for he is required to love him with all his heart, and soul, and mind.
Consequently, the world is never conquered, until the love of it is brought
into subordination to this due regard to God. This is the victory—the
supreme love of the world displaced by the supreme love of God. And then, as
the love of God is in a real Christian the supreme affection; so a
concern for salvation is the supreme solicitude! As in the former
case, there may be many subordinate affections, so in the latter, there may
be many subordinate concerns; but that which controls the one is a higher
regard to the claims of God, and that which controls the other is a higher
regard to eternal salvation.
Many no doubt have written and spoken on this subject, as
if the love of God actually and entirely extinguished all other
affections, instead of merely subordinating them—so much so, that a
considerate reader or hearer has said to himself– "Now that is strictly
impossible," or "absurd." It is absolutely contrary to reason and
disserviceable to religion to write and preach as if the world had no
claims at all upon us! It has claims, and will make them good in
defiance, whether allowed or not. They must be allowed—and ought to be
allowed. To attempt to render the heart insensible to them is to do violence
to nature, without doing honor to grace. This is not merely to vanquish the
foe and to take him captive—but it is to give no quarter, to murder, to
annihilate him. This then is the victory over the world—to subordinate it
This, however, is the lowest ground on which a man can
justly deem himself a Christian. Surely no one can pretend to be a
Christian, who has not this exalted and supreme affection to Jesus. Christ
came "to redeem us from this present evil world;" but if the world has the
government of our affections—if we are still enslaved by a supreme regard
for it, where is the evidence of our redemption? Many people profess to be
in considerable doubt and perplexity as to the state of the case with them,
whether or not their love to the world is supreme or subordinate—since
they may love the world in measure. There ought to be no doubt here, and
there would be none if there were more knowledge and more spirituality.
The doubts of some professors are of the most fatal kind.
The very careless, and unfeeling, unanxious manner in which they are
expressed, too plainly show how well-founded their doubts are.
The doubts and fears of others, by the deep and trembling
solicitude with which they are expressed, and the dread with which they are
attended of the object concerning which they are felt, indicate that it is
lack of knowledge rather than of piety, to which they are to be traced. In
most cases of comparison, the preference is a matter of prompt and
unequivocal consciousness. And it should be so here. And why is it not? I
would send the Christian to his Bible and his heart, with a sincere and
earnest desire to know the meaning of the former and the state of the
latter, and let him then attend to the following direction given by Foster
in his Lecture on "The Supreme Attachment due to Spiritual Objects." "Let a
man take the occasion to examine, when he is very strongly interested by
some one temporal object or concern, whether he can say, more than all
this—is the interest I feel in 'the things that are above.' When
he is greatly pleased with some temporal possession, or success, or
prospect, and his thoughts suddenly turn to the higher objects—is he then
decidedly more pleased? Does he feel a deep and earnest solicitude
that this temporal good may not injure him in his higher interests? If he
suffers something very grievous as to his temporal interests, does he
deliberately feel that he would far rather suffer so, than in his spiritual
interests? Or again, in such a case, does he feel a strong overbalancing
consolation from 'things above?' Is he more pleased to give the
earnest application of his mind to the higher objects and interests, than to
any inferior ones? (As a man digging in the confidence he would find gold,
would labor with more soul and spirit than one raising stones or planting
trees.) Does he feel that, on the whole, he would do more, or sacrifice
more, for the eternal, than for the temporal? While greatly interested in a
temporal pursuit, does he habitually charge it upon his soul, and actually
endeavor that he do with still greater intenseness pursue higher, eternal
objects? If he perceives that his pursuit of a temporal object is beginning
to outrun (if we may so speak ) his pursuit of the nobler, eternal
objects—does he solemnly suspend his earthly pursuit, in order that this may
not be the case? Is he constantly, or very often, impelled to the divine
throne to implore grace and strength that there may be a decided
preponderance to eternal realities? and the witness for him 'above' that
there is that proof at least of his affections there? If, by the advance of
life, he is sensible that he is fast going out of the 'things on the
earth,' does he rise above all regret at this, in the view of the
sublimer objects? We will only add, in his occupation and transactions with
the 'things on the earth,' has he acquired the habit of imparting
even to those concerns a principle and a reference still bearing toward the
higher objects? Such questions as these would be the points for placing and
keeping the subject in a state of trial and proof; would be an admonition
too, of the necessity and priority, of seeking eternal realities."
I may put the matter also in another form. What is the
object which a man knows he supremely desires—the blessings of
salvation or the possessions of earth? Which of these yield him most
delight? Which of these does he congratulate himself most upon possessing?
Which does he consider his best portion? Which, when the two come into
collision, and he must imperil the one by sin, or the other by principle, is
made to give way? Will he give up 'godly principle' for gain, or gain for
godly principle? Which distresses him most in the fear of losing—his
salvation or his property? Which loss does he deprecate with most intense
dread? Which, in the usual pursuit of them, is he most afraid of
displeasing—God, or his friends? Which habitually guides his thoughts and
feelings, and moulds his character?
Now the victory over the world is, this subordination
in the state of our mind—of the creature to the Creator; of earth to heaven;
of temporal blessings to spiritual ones; of time to eternity. It is the
formation of an unearthly, spiritual, divine, and heavenly mind-set and
It may be proper to observe that this victory does not
refer exclusively to the subjugation of the world only in one of its shapes
and modes of assault—but over them all. It is not a victory over
covetousness, or the love of wealth merely; nor over a love of pleasure
merely; nor over the love of ambition only; but equally over the quiet and
supreme love of our home comforts and dear relationships. There may be, as I
have already shown—worldliness in the home—as well as in the shop.
There is something so lovely in seeing a husband and a wife withdrawing from
the gay circles of fashionable life, and in their sweet and quiet home,
giving themselves up to the enjoyment of each others company, and the
company of their children; putting out all their ingenuity to make that
scene pleasant, and to find their happiness upon their own domestic
hearth—that one feels unwilling to write a syllable to its disparagement!
But fidelity both to God and to them requires and demands that it should be
said, that this is one form, though the purest of all, of worldliness! And
even if the spouse or children are loved more than God-a dark cloud of
'Divine displeasure' covers the whole. The victory, in this case, is not
gained—and the words of Scripture hold good there– "If any man loves the
world, the love of the Father is not in him," and without the love of God,
this lovely pair must be rejected from their paradise, under God's sentence
of displeasure, as Adam and Eve were from theirs! Even into that scene Jesus
Christ enters with the question– "Do you love me—more than these?"
Another remark which it is of importance to make is, that
the Word of God speaks of a victory rather than an entire
conquest. In the military tactics of earth, this distinction is ever
maintained. An enemy is often beaten when he is not conquered, and the hero
that has defeated him may still, after he has gained one victory, have to
fight for another. And, indeed, in reference to the same conflict, there may
be the long battle—the victory but just won—the momentary triumph—yet not
the absolute rout and dispersion of the foe.
There are all these varieties in the Christian's
spiritual conflict with the world. This foe is never entirely conquered
until just before the victory is obtained over "the last enemy, which is
death." The Christian's final triumph over the world is upon the borders of
the grave, when he surrenders possessions, relatives, and even the very
'love of life' itself, to the will of God—and feels the last remains of
attachment to seen and temporal things, dissolving in the hope of things
unseen and eternal realities.
And before this final triumph, how various is the fight.
In many cases it is a most long, drawn-out battle. It is difficult almost to
say whether at times, he has subdued the world—or the world subdued him! How
little advantage does he seem to gain over his enemy. And where the
advantage is on his side, how slight is it. How strong does his foe yet
remain! How his affections still cleave to things below! How the cares, the
comforts, and the snares of the world still beset him!
"How cold and feeble is his love,
How negligent his fear;
How low his hopes of heaven above,
How few affections there."
If he is successful in keeping down the love of money—how
difficult to keep down the love of home—and to keep up supreme love
We now proceed to show how faith acts so as to obtain
this victory over the world.
This is an interesting and important part of the subject,
to every real Christian. He is aware of his danger from the strength,
subtlety, and ever-present activity of this enemy of his soul. There is
not, there cannot be, a true believer who is not aware of this. The man who
feels careless, confident, and secure—who is unapprehensive, unanxious,
unconcerned—who sees no danger, and feels no alarm from the things of the
world—who gives himself to unmolested ease and undisturbed enjoyment of the
world—who wishes to be let alone to take his fill of pleasure and of comfort
from the world—and desires to have no idea of peril, and to hear no call to
arms and to conflict—cannot be a Christian! He is one of those of whom the
apostle speaks– "Who mind earthly things."
The sincere and devout believer, on the contrary, is
sensible of his perilous condition. "The world," he says, sometimes in alarm
amounting to distress– "the world is my great foe under which I sometimes
fear I may sink vanquished, and lose my portion in the eternal state, by
undue attention to the concerns of this life. I am sometimes in danger from
business, at others from domestic ease and at others from family concerns. I
find the love of things seen and temporal creeping over me, and enfeebling
all my godly principles. Tell me, O tell me, how I may best resist and
overcome this foe!"
Not, of course, by retiring from the world into
monasteries and convents; as some devotees do. This is not to conquer
the enemy—but to flee from him; a cowardly retreat, in which there is
neither piety nor virtue.
Nor will troubles always do it.
Afflictions, no doubt, have been in some cases, sanctified for this
end; and sufferers in the dark season of their woe, when the objects of
their regard have been removed from them, have learned by bitter experience
how foolish and vain it was to set their affections on things below. At the
grave of a friend; amid the wreck of their fortunes; or in the chamber of
sickness; the mask of the 'mirthful deceiver' has fallen off, and the world
has stood before them as a convicted cheat. In some cases disgust with life
has followed, and the poor wretched victim of disappointment has exclaimed,
''It is better for me to die than to live, for there is not now a single
object upon earth to make existence any longer desirable." This is being
conquered by grief, instead of conquering the world.
There are, however, better cases than this, of really
sanctified worldly trials. There have been Christians, and others, whose
trials have been eminently blessed to their souls—whose graces never
appeared in vigor while the sun of prosperity was shining upon them—but
which came out upon their darkened skies, like stars upon the brow of night.
They say with the Psalmist– "It was good for me to be afflicted—for before I
was afflicted, I went astray." But this is not always the case. In most
instances, the loss of one worldly possession only makes the heart cling
closer to those that are left! Instead of repairing to the 'eternal
fountain' when one 'cistern' is broken, they set themselves busily to hew
out another 'cistern'—or go to some other 'cistern' which is still left.
It may be salutary to remind those who need the caution,
not to trust to the season and hours of affliction—for sanctified
afflictions may never come. God may give them up to 'unsanctified
prosperity'. He may in anger say– "They are tied to their idols—let them
alone!" Besides, shall we tempt God to wean us in this way, from the world?
Shall we provoke him to remove from us objects that have alienated us from
him? Shall we place him under a kind of necessity to save our souls—by
taking away the snares that endanger them? Shall we choose this way of
gaining the victory? I know severe trials are infinitely better than losing
our souls. Yes, better be stripped of all, and become poor as Job upon the
ash-heap—than come short of eternal life! But is there not a more excellent
way—a way more dignified, more consonant with our comfort, more pleasing to
God, more effectual in itself? There is! "This is the victory that
overcomes the world—even our faith!"
Yes, our faith! This is a weapon that suits all hands,
and is adapted to all occasions. In whatever form, or in whatever force, the
foe advances—faith can meet him and defeat him! By faith, martyrs have
triumphed, when the enemy came armed with all the terrors of the scaffold
and the stake! By faith, kings, men of wealth, and people of renown, have
triumphed, when the enemy came arrayed with smiles, caresses, and
blandishments! By faith, men of business have triumphed, when the enemy came
dexterously wielding corrupt principles, maxims, and examples. Turn to the
eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, that trophy-house of the Church, and see
how this mighty weapon of faith, gained the victories there recorded.
But still, we have not pointed out in what lies the power
of faith—to obtain this victory over the world.
1. Faith conquers by recognizing a new authority.
The world, with the authority of a king, ruler,
and master—exercises dominion over the souls of its vassals. With the voice
of command it says– "Yield allegiance to me!" It asserts its right to
govern, and the soul of the worldling concedes the right and obeys; and his
servant he is whom he obeys. But faith believes in God and in Christ. The
Christian sees that the world is not only a tyrant—but an usurper! He
realizes the fact of the Lordship of Christ, and transfers his allegiance to
him. "Other lords have had dominion over me," says he– "but by you only will
I be ruled." He breaks the yoke of the world, from off from his neck—and
takes up the yoke of Christ. Christ says to him– "Love not the world—love
me! If any man loves father or mother; son or daughter; houses or lands,
more than me, he is not worthy of me!" "I yield," says the Christian– "I
believe that you are my Lord."
The whole current of Scripture commands runs against the
love of the world. In every possible form, it is forbidden. Precept
after precept is delivered against it, and faith recognizes the rightful
authority of them. Christian, open your ears and hear, the voice of
authority, which follows you everywhere, forbidding a supreme regard to the
objects of time and sense! In the house—in the shop—in the place of
enjoyment—in social scenes—in solitary contemplation upon your
possessions—in the beautiful scenery of nature—this voice is ever saying–
"Love not the world!"
2. But authority is
somewhat stern, and there requires something more soft and tender to
overcome the world; and therefore
faith exhibits new and superior
objects of contemplation and affection!
There is of course, some attraction in the things of this world—and the mind
will be enamored by this world—until a superior attraction is seen.
Glow-worms are bright in the absence of the moon and the stars; and the moon
and the stars are bright in the absence of the sun. But when the great
luminary rises, how glow-worms, and stars, and moon, all disappear, lost in
the blaze of his meridian glory! So it is with the world—how important—how
beautiful—how glorious it is—while the soul does not see the glorious
spiritual objects of the Word of God. What is there better or brighter to
the worldling—than the world? Consequently his whole soul is
engrossed by this present world. This world is his all.
But when faith comes, a new world—and what a world!—opens
to his view! A man coming up from the mines, who had all his life lived
there, and knowing nothing better than the objects he had seen below the
earth, all at once beholding the glorious sun and a beautiful landscape—does
not experience a transition really greater than that of the Christian who
has seen nothing, known nothing—but worldly things, and who at length comes
by faith to look at spiritual and eternal realities!
But what are these objects that by an irresistible
attraction draw away his heart from the world? There is the moral
character of GOD in the harmony and glory of his perfections. What an object
this! How the believer delights to meditate upon God. His desire is to him,
and the remembrance of his attributes. He had heard of God before—he
now rejoices in him. But it is God in CHRIST that may be said to be
the especial object of faith. Hence, the noble and sacred enthusiasm of the
apostle– "As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except
the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in
this world died long ago, and the world's interest in me is also long dead."
Gal. 6:14. How many have repeated the same, and added the words of the poet.
"It was the sight of your dear cross,
First weaned my soul from earthly things;
And taught me to esteem as dross,
The mirth of fools and pomp of kings."
It is not for the dark mind of the worldling—and scarcely
for the lukewarm professor—to imagine the glory which an enlightened and
warm-hearted believer sees in the cross of Christ! How all the splendor of
earthly things pales before that infinitely more resplendent object. It
rises upon the soul like another sun, bright in itself, and diffusing its
luster over everything else upon which it shines. With that stupendous
object is connected the brightest manifestation of the Divine character, in
harmony with the sinner's salvation. The cross is the central point of the
Divine administration in creation, providence, and redemption. On that 'tree
of death' to the Savior—but 'tree of life' to the sinner, grow the fruits of
eternal mercy—the blessings of grace and glory. There are pardon, peace,
holiness, and eternal life! All this is realized by faith, and only thus!
How the world fades into darkness, and dwindles to an almost invisible point
before that blessed object!
The true believer often contemplates THE END OF THE
WORLD, and the scenes of judgment. "He represents to himself, the vision
(not from a melancholy fancy, or crazed brain—but from a rational faith, and
a sober, well-instructed mind,) of the world dissolving, monarchies and
kingdoms breaking up, thrones trembling, crowns and scepters lying as
discarded, worthless things. He has a telescope through which he can behold
the glorious appearance of the Supreme Judge; the solemn state of his
majestic person; the splendid pomp of his magnificent and vastly numerous
retinue; the magnificent worshiping throng of glorious and celestial
creatures doing homage to the Eternal King; the swift flight of his royal
guards, sent forth into the four winds to gather the elect, and covering the
face of the heavens with their spreading wings; the universal silent
attention of all, to that loud sounding trumpet that shakes the pillars of
the world, pierces the inward caverns of the earth, and resounds from every
part of the encircling heavens; the many myriads of joyful expectants
arising, changing, putting on glory, taking wing, and ascending upwards to
join themselves to the triumphant heavenly host; the judgment set; the books
opened; the frightful amazed looks of surprised wretches; the final judgment
of all, to their eternal states; the heavens rolled up as a scroll; the
earth and all things that are therein consumed and burnt up!
All this is seen by faith—through the telescope of the
Scriptures! And when the Christian sees this, there is little desire towards
the trivial affairs of this vanishing world! Though he will not neglect the
duty of his own place, he is more heartily concerned to increase the
knowledge of eternal realities! He is then no more concerned about worldly
trifles, than a person passing by a swarm of flies, is concerned which fly
has the longest wings—or which fly excels the others in sprightliness and
briskness of motion!
Nor is this all, for faith realizes the GLORY of an
eternal world. It also believes the CERTAINTY of the
eternal world. The true Christian no longer clings to this world—merely
because he has nothing better to grasp; he no longer feeds upon husks—merely
because he knows not where to obtain bread. He believes in heaven and
eternity! These objects are matters of belief, not of speculation;
substantial realities, not airy visions. He says– "I know in whom I
have believed, and that I am not following cunningly devised fables." I am
standing upon a rock, not quicksand. And as faith realizes the certainty, so
it does the glory of the eternal world. "Life and immortality are
brought to light by the gospel." The representations of the celestial world
contained in the Scriptures have a magnificence about them, which, though
but as a dazzling object seen through a dim transparency, shine into
darkness all the brightest objects of sense. The latter to the former are
like a dim candle held up amid the effulgence of a mid-day sun.
3. Faith produces a new affection,
as well as recognizes new objects. It not
only sees these objects—but seeing them, desires them—loves them—enjoys
them. Whoever is born of God overcomes the world. There is a new life, love,
taste, brought into the soul by faith. One love is supplanted by another
love—the expulsive power of a new affection. Make a new bed for a river,
deeper and wider than its former one, and the stream will instantly leave
its old channel, and flow in the new one. True religion is not all intellect
and contemplation—but it is also affection. The faith which perceives these
new objects works by love. It embraces these new objects of attraction—and
lets go the other. The heart that once was under the power of a supreme
love to the world—comes under the influence of a supreme love to God.
And there is no love apart from faith. Love is faith's genuine fruit, which
grows on no other stock.
We do, we shall, we must love this present world—until
this divine principle gives us something better to love. The soul of the
unrenewed man is blind to the beauty of spiritual objects, and therefore
loves them not. But after being spiritually illumined, he sees not only
their reality—but their excellence; and he now turns away from the poor,
meager, unsatisfying things of earth and sense—to the more precious and
glorious things of God, Christ, heaven, and eternity!
4. Faith, by uniting the soul to Christ, derives grace
and strength for the conflict and the victory.
It is not by his own power—or the vigor of his intellect—or the
inflexibility of his purpose—or the deductions of his reason, that he gains
advantage over the world. But it is his vital union with the Savior which
gives him the victory. He is a branch in the living vine—a member of the
mystical body; and is ever deriving influence from Christ, its fountain and
source. He is "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." He is
powerful, through the grace that is in Christ Jesus. "Be of good cheer,"
says Jesus– "I have overcome the world." John 16:3. But what is this to us?
Suppose a giant should say to a little child, trembling in front of a lion–
"Do not be afraid—I have overcome a lion." "Ah," says the little youngster–
"but what is that to me? Will you slay the animal for me?" "I will," he
answers– "depend upon me." Now this is Christ's meaning. "I have overcome
the world not for my sake only—but for yours. I have, by conquering the
world, not only set the example—but obtained the means for you to conquer it
too." Through all this mighty conflict, the believer keeps his eye fixed on
Christ, not only to see what he did—but to derive, from what he did, all
grace to do likewise. Jesus says to us– "Do not be afraid of the world. It
is not an invincible enemy. It has been conquered. I have overcome it; so
may you. I did it for you, and have weakened its power. You fight with a
wounded, beaten foe. Believe in me. My victory shall insure yours."
But here two things must be mentioned.
It must be a real faith, and not a mere nominal faith, to achieve this
victory. It is not enough to say you have
faith. It is not a verbal assent—not a hereditary or educational faith—not a
cold opinion—not a mere notion—not what the Scripture calls a dead faith;
which, in fact, is no faith at all. It must be a faith of the heart—of the
operation of the Spirit—a real, practical conviction of the truth of the
gospel. A belief that answers to the apostle's definition– "Which is the
confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not
seen." This will enable us to meet an objection made sometimes to our whole
statement of this subject– "We do not see those who profess to have this
principle, gaining the victory over the world." True—and just because they
are 'professors only'—but not partakers of this grace of faith. Theirs, in
many cases, is but the dead faith of a dead soul.
This victory will be obtained only
in proportion to the strength and degree of the faith that gains it.
We have already observed, that victory is a
thing of proportion; from the merely maintaining of our ground—to a complete
conquest. Now this holds good here. A feeble belief will only just enable
the Christian to avoid being completely beaten by the world. And we see many
in this condition. Here is one professor, of whom we cannot but hope the
root of faith is in him. He is upon the whole, though not wholly, a
Christian. There is so much of worldliness mixed up with his affections and
pursuits, that it is sometimes difficult either for himself or his friends
to ascertain the reality of his religion. Now, how is this? Just because his
belief of divine truth is so feeble.
Here is another who has many distinguished excellences;
many graces of the Christian character; much spirituality, meekness, and
general good conduct; but he is sadly deficient in liberality—he has a
tendency to covetousness; he loves his money too much. Why is this? And it
is by no means an uncommon thing in the church of Christ. Why, his faith is
weak. He does not believe what God says about money with the strength of
conviction he should do. The victory will, and must be gained, in proportion
to the means of gaining it—so that if the foe gains the advantage over us in
any one particular, or in any one degree—it is because in that one
particular or degree we are deficient in this sound practical belief.
Let us then engage in this part of the Christian life
with sincere intentions; deep seriousness; and intense earnestness. Of the
three great enemies of our souls—the world, the flesh, and the devil—while
we are in danger from all, we are, I repeat, most in danger from the world.
The world is the most decent, and the most trodden path to hell. It is a
path not only outside the church—but also runs through the very garden of
that sacred enclosure. It is a path not only thronged by those who make no
profession—but by those who do. It is a path, though it is strewed with
flowers, leads to perdition—and ends in the bitter pains of eternal death!
You might be entreated, as a guard against this sin of
worldliness, to consider the short-lived existence, as well as
unsatisfying nature—of all earthly things. It would be well for you to
ponder the question of the prophet to some of old– "Where will you leave
your treasures?" Isaiah 10:3. Yes, they must all be left, whatever it is
that you gain—whether wealth, honor, or relations—it must all be left! Oh,
that you would consider and say, as you look round upon the various objects
of your pursuits– "Why am I so anxious to get what I must leave eventually,
and may leave soon? This, and this, is what I am to leave. It has no
one relation to me so positive as this—that I shall leave it. So near
as I am now to it, I may the next moment come to behold it at an infinite
distance—and so dear and important as it is now felt to be to me, tomorrow
it may be absolutely nothing to me. And when I have left it, what
consequence will it be to me who that person is, who rushes across my fresh
grave to seize it?"
Yes, rich men must leave their treasures. Where? where?
Why often to the curses of the poor—the extravagance of the gay—and the
greedy joy of heirs, who have no concern that they are now lifting up their
eyes in torments, the subjects of,
'That loudest laugh of hell—
The pride of dying rich.'
Open the grave, examine skeletons—there is no distinction
there! Skulls wear neither diadems of gold—nor wreaths of honor! Bones
retain not clothing of purple and gold—or if they did, how worthless a
consideration is this to the persons once associated with them—whether they
be in heaven or in hell.
But we choose rather to direct your attention to the
cultivation of a stronger faith in God—in Christ—in heaven—in eternity!
Faith is a mightier conqueror of the world, than even death. We shall do far
more to gain the victory by looking up into heaven—than by looking down into
the grave. The glories of heaven will do more to draw us away from
earth—than the terrors of hell to drive us away from earth. We must be
allured—not terrified—to that brighter and better world, which is attracting
to itself all who are holy in this present world. We must place ourselves
more habitually in that part of the temple of inspiration where the Holy
Spirit has lavished the riches of his wisdom—in depicting the glory to be
revealed—and feel our love, and hope, and enjoyment of earthly things die
away within us—in the vision and anticipation of heavenly ones.
We must not only imagine ourselves looking out of our
graves upon those things which now so absorb and please us—but looking down
upon them from the celestial sphere of glorified immortals. Time must be
redeemed from seen and temporal things—to meditate upon unseen and eternal
things. We must resist an encroaching world, and eluding its grasp, enter
into our closet, and shut the door, and commune with our Father who sees in
secret. We must thus increase our faith. Nothing else will give us the
victory—but faith will.