5. ON UNBELIEF
Unbelief is a sin of much greater extent than is generally imagined. Some
people confine the sin of unbelief to Jews, Muhammadans, and Pagans; to
atheists, deists, and skeptics. They deem it a breach of charity to charge
this moral evil upon those who profess to believe the Gospel to be a
revelation from God; and who exhibit in their outward character, the amiable
virtues of benevolence, kindness, and compassion.
But if we bring what the world denominates faith to the test of Scripture,
and try its genuineness by the touchstone of the word of God, we shall soon
discover it to be "reprobate silver." This counterfeit coin bears some rude
outlines of the King's image; but it is so badly executed, that it may be
easily detected by a spiritual discerner.
True faith is lively, operative, and fruitful. True faith works by love,
that sacred spring which sets all the wheels of obedience in motion. True
faith purifies the heart, by uniting the soul to Jesus, and drawing from him
through the Spirit, continual supplies of grace and strength, to mortify
sin, and walk in the ways of holy obedience. True faith overcomes the world,
by raising the believer above its vanities and follies; by enabling him to
renounce its pomps and honors; and to live as a pilgrim and stranger upon
earth. True faith realizes the invisible glories of heaven, and thus becomes
the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But how does the world's faith operate? It leads men to the house of God on
the Sabbath; and then allows them to attend theaters, and gayeties of every
description through the week. It induces them to attend the Lord's table on
some great festival of the church, and then lulls their consciences to sleep
by the assurance that they have done "some great thing" towards liquidating
the contracted debt of daily transgression. It prompts them, it may be, to
read their Bibles on the Sabbath, and then to close the sacred volume until
the Sabbath returns again.
The faith of the nominally Christian world, bad as it is, is nevertheless
valuable to civil society; inasmuch as it restrains men in some degree from
the licentious and savage practices of heathen nations, and preserves some
portion of external decency and respect for religion among us. But it has
nothing saving in it, because it has no respect to the will and favor of
God. This profession of faith is consistent with worldly ambition, pride,
lust, avarice, hatred of God, and enmity to the Gospel. These evils abound
in the lives of multitudes, with whose praises the world resounds.
Look at the great mass of our population, all of whom profess to be
Christians. And what is the character of their life and conduct? Who fill
the theaters? who resort to houses of debauchery? who tread the giddy
circles of maddening pleasure? who compose the midnight revel, and waste
their reason amid the fumes of intoxication? who defraud and circumvent
their neighbors? who defile their conversation by obscenity and oaths? who
spend their time, when worldly business releases them from labor, in idle
indulgences or active wickedness?
The nominal professors of Christianity; men who would be highly offended if
you ranked them among the degraded idolaters of the heathen world– men, who
pride themselves upon their elevated scale in society, and who glory in the
name of Christian. Yet these pretended admirers of Christianity abhor the
spirit of the religion which they profess! They scruple not to charge the
humble followers of Jesus, who "run not with them to the same excess of
riot," with hypocrisy, enthusiasm and fanaticism. They regard them with a
sneer of contemptuous scorn; and delight to make them the sportive subject
of their bacchanalian carousals. Many of these enemies of the cross of
Christ are loaded with the common bounties of an indulgent providence.
"How terrible it will be for you who sprawl on ivory beds surrounded with
luxury, eating the meat of tender lambs and choice calves. You sing idle
songs to the sound of the harp, and you fancy yourselves to be great
musicians, as King David was. You drink wine by the bowlful, and you perfume
yourselves with exotic fragrances, caring nothing at all that your nation is
going to ruin." The poor of Christ's flock are allowed to perish around
them, unheeded and despised!
But oh! what an awful change ensues, when death strikes the fatal blow!
Instead of beds of ivory and couches of luxurious ease, they lie down on the
lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Instead of bacchanalian songs and
the melody of sweet music, they hear and join in the dreadful concert,
composed of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! Instead of the
delicious wine poured with profusion into their golden bowls, they crave in
vain for a drop of water to cool their flaming tongues.
Instead of continuing their laugh of ridicule at the once despised follower
of Jesus, "they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, are amazed at
the strangeness of his salvation, so far beyond all that they looked for;"
and exclaim, "this was he, whom we had once in derision and a proverb of
reproach. We fools have accounted his life madness, and his end to be
without honor; how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is
among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the
light of righteousness has not shined unto us, and the Sun of righteousness
rose not upon us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and
destruction; yes, we have gone through desert places where there lay no way,
but as for the way of the Lord we have not known it. What has pride profited
us? or what good has riches with our bragging brought us? All those things
are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hastens by." Oh! that men
were wise; that they understood this, that they would consider their latter
Unbelief manifests itself in characters of another class.
Many nominal professors of Christianity are of a sweet, amiable disposition;
temperate in their enjoyments, and benevolent to their poor neighbors. They
are ready to promote objects of general usefulness, and pride themselves
upon their integrity of principle and strict propriety of action,
But how does their faith operate? Does it wean their affections from the
world? Does it make Jesus daily more precious to their souls? Does it break
them off from all self-righteous dependence? Does it produce real contrition
for sin; and continual application to the Fountain opened for sin and for
Alas! they know little, and they feel less, of all this. They had never seen
their absolute guilt and wretchedness as the offspring of fallen Adam; and
therefore they feel not their need of a crucified Jesus, to save them from
the curse and dominion of sin.
They profess indeed to believe in the Gospel; but they come to it as "they
who are whole." Their language is that of the young ruler, "What lack I
yet?" Hence they deem all experimental religion, all warm affections to the
Savior, all renunciation of worldly pleasures which are incompatible with
the pure spirit of the gospel, as carrying matters too far; as being
righteous over much. They wish to possess both worlds; to taste the joys of
earth—and the bliss of heaven. But eternal truth has said, "you cannot serve
God and mammon." Such profession of faith must therefore lead to the
chambers of death; for "if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none
of his." And Christ has declared of all his true disciples, "you are not of
the world, even as I am not of the world."
It is also a melancholy truth, that unbelief is not wholly eradicated from
the hearts of believers. If it were, there would have been no need for this
caution, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of
unbelief in departing from the living God." And again: speaking of the
Israelites in the wilderness, Paul says, "So we see that they could not
enter in because of unbelief." And then he adds this solemn warning: "Let us
therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any
of you should seem to come short of it."
Those who are in the habit of observing the secret movement of their own
spirit, will soon perceive how this subtle evil lies at the bottom of all
their languor in devotion: their inertness of duty; their dulness in
spiritual perception, and their declensions from the ways of God. This
acquaintance with our own heart will lead us to the continued exercise of
watchfulness and prayer, through the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit.
A consciousness of inbred sin will cause us to distrust ourselves, to look
continually unto Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. This salutary
fear, implanted in the heart through the covenant love of God, alone can
keep us from falling. We shall walk over the slippery paths of this sinful
world with safety, when we tread with cautious step, "leaning upon our
This knowledge of our corruption, when taught by the Spirit of truth, in
connection with the remedy provided to remove it, even the atoning blood of
Jesus, causes the soul who receives it, to sink deep in self-abasement; to
rise high in heavenly affections; to renounce the vanities of the world; and
to grow in a daily fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light.
How extensive, then, is the evil of unbelief. It blights the whole moral
creation of God, producing sterility in every heart unrenewed by sovereign
grace; while it sheds its baneful influence even over the trees of
righteousness which stand in the garden of the Lord.
Just in proportion as its influence is felt in the people of God, it
operates like the chilling blast in the vineyard. The blossom is injured—the
fruit is checked—yes, too often withered. To this root of bitterness
may be traced all the wickedness of the world; all the evils which have
abounded, and do abound in the visible church of Christ; all the declensions
and falls which have unhappily stained the lives of many, who, by their deep
repentance, have proved themselves to be among the redeemed of the Lord.
"Blessed Savior! you who came down from the throne of glory to die for poor
perishing sinners, save me from the deadly sin of unbelief. Oh! give me
faith in your precious blood. Enable me to rely upon you with the simplicity
of a little child. On you may I repose my soul, for you did bear my sins in
your own body on the tree. Lord save me from self-righteousness; from the
love of the world from pride of heart; from fleshly indulgence. Keep me near
to yourself. Wash me daily in your cleansing blood from every contracted
defilement. Clothe me with the robe of righteousness, with the garment of
salvation. Cause me to rejoice in you; to live in the light of your
countenance; to taste that you are gracious; and to glorify you by a growing
conformity to your mind and will."
In the hour or death and danger,
When the angry storms impend;
Woe to you, you wilful stranger
To the great Almighty Friend.
In the days of ease and pleasure,
When your sun unclouded shone,
Every folly was your treasure,
And usurped your heart alone.
Jesus Christ was disregarded,
Love and mercy smiled in vain;
Vengeance threatened—wrath retarded;
Nothing did your lust restrain.
But behold! He now arises,
Clad with frowns and armed with woe,
He your guilty soul surprises;
Where, ah! where will you go?
Earth, with all its gilded treasures,
Cannot yield a moment's ease;
Folly, with her wanton pleasures,
Now has lost her power to please.
Swelling streams of guilt surround you,
Like an overwhelming flood;
Ah! poor sinner, haste and turn you
To a Savior's cleansing blood!
See his agonizing features;
See his pains endured for thee;
See him bleed for rebel creatures,
Groaning on the accursed tree.
Still perhaps he may be gracious;
Still his mercy may forgive;
Like the heaven so vast and spacious,
Is the love which bids you live.