Sermon 6. Faith and Experience

"The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." 1 Sam. xvi. 7.

{63} HE among the sons of Jesse, whom Samuel thought to be the destined king of Israel, was of imposing countenance and stature; not like David, a youth, ruddy indeed, and handsome, but one whom the Philistines might despise. Samuel and Goliath, a prophet of God and a heathen giant, both judged by what met their eyes. Samuel, when he saw the manly form and face of Eliab, said, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him." And God answered him, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him, for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." And Goliath, when "he looked about and saw David," "disdained him, for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance." And to him David answered for himself; "The Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord's ." [1 Sam. xvii. 42, 47.] Even then, as {64} in the latter days, the weak were strong, and the strong weak; the first last, and the last first; the mighty cast down from their seat, and the humble and meek exalted.

And much more now, when the Most High has hid Himself beneath a servant's form, and after ascending into heaven, sent His Holy Ghost as our invisible Guide and Comforter, now, far more than before, do we require to be warned, not to judge by what we see, but by what God has said. When His word and His outward world are at variance in the information they convey to us, it is our bounden duty to trust the revealed word, and not the visible world. Not that sight is not His gift, but that He has demanded of us as Christians, as a sort of poor return for His love to us, that when these two informants, one natural, the other revealed, oppose each other, we should trust for a little while the latter,—for a little while, till this world of shadows passes away, and we find ourselves in that new world, in which there is no contradiction between sight and hearing, but absolute unity and harmony in all things, for He is the light of it. But till then, it is our very profession, as children of the kingdom, to walk by faith not by sight. And hence many warnings are given us in the New Testament, against our forming absolute judgments of men and things, from what we see; to "judge nothing before the time, till the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God." Again, St. Paul says, "Do we look on things after the outward appearance? if any {65} man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's." And in like manner our Saviour, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." [1 Cor. iv. 5. 2 Cor. x. 7. John vii. 24.]

Now I propose to consider one part of this large subject; viz. to insist on a point which is very important, the necessity we lie under, if we would be Christians indeed, of drawing our religious notions and views, not from what we see, but from what we do not see and only hear; or rather, the great mistake under which men of the world lie, of judging of religious subjects merely by what the experience of life tells them. We must believe something; the difference between religious men and others is, that the latter trust this world, the former the world unseen. Both of them have faith, but the one have faith in the surface of things, the other in the word of God. Men of the world take it for granted, that all that seems to be really is. They fancy there is nothing deeper than what presents itself at first view. They cannot bring themselves to think that truth is hidden; that men's characters, words, works, professions, fortunes, doctrines, reasonings, must be carefully and critically examined, before we can find even the traces of truth. They readily allow that in sciences of the world, the appearance is contrary to the truth of things. They quite understand that the great agencies in the material system are invisible, and that what is visible is deceptive. They are not loth to admit that the stars do not move, though they seem to do so; and that subtle fluids and {66} mysterious influences, which it has required ages to detect, are the causes of the most wonderful revolutions in nature; yet they think it folly to distrust the face of the world in religious matters, or to search amid the perishable shadows of time for the footsteps and the resting-places of the Eternal.

On the other hand, the very ground from which religious men start, is the avowal, that the sights of this world are against them, and that they must believe God in spite of this. This deserves attention, because it is very common for cavillers to bring it, and for Christians to feel it, as an objection to the doctrines of Scripture, that they contradict sight. But whatever be the worth of the objection in the mouth of an unbeliever, it is irrelevant and preposterous when dwelt upon by Christians; seeing that, when we were made Christians, we began as a first step by owning that sight was against us, and resolving, by God's grace, to trust His word more than sight. This is a representation, which, so made, few persons will deny; I proceed to exemplify more fully what I mean by particular instances, which will make it, I fear, more difficult to be received by a good many.

1. For instance: Let us consider a doctrine much debated and much resisted at this day,—the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. Scripture tells us expressly that, "except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God;" and that God has saved us "by the washing of regeneration;" and that "Baptism saves us;" and that we "wash away our sins" by Baptism. No other means have been pointed out to us for attaining regeneration, or the new birth; so that, while {67} Baptism is said to take us out of a state of nature into a state of grace, if a man is not born again in Baptism, it does not appear how he is to be born again. Such is the true doctrine, which has ever been received in the whole Church. Yet, on the other hand, consider how hard a battle faith has to fight against experience in this matter, and how certain it is that nothing but faith can overcome it.

That Baptism really does change a man's moral state as well as his state in God's sight, that it gives him the means of being a better man than he otherwise would be, and therefore, in the end, occasions his being a much better or a much worse man than he would have been without it; that two souls, one baptized and one not, are not in the same moral condition, but that the baptized, as having been regenerate, is inwardly either better or worse, or both at once,—in some things better, and in some things worse,—than the unbaptized; so that Baptism may be said to be like the effect of the sun's light in place of twilight, removing the sameness or the dulness of the landscape, and bringing it out into all sorts of hues, pleasant or unpleasant, according as we profit by it or not; or like education, which also (though in another way) developes and diversifies the mind;—all this seems to be certain from Scripture. But whether certain or not, these effects do not show themselves perceptible at first, or perhaps at all. Knowing others, as we here know them at best, knowing them but a little, and not any number of them in the same respect, so that we cannot compare them together, we are not able, commonly speaking, to discover the minute points of their characters; and therefore the great difficulties {68} which I am going to state lie in the way of the Scripture doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.

I say then, we have these startling appearances:—Persons brought up without Baptism may show themselves just the same in character, temper, opinions, and conduct, with those who have been baptized; or when these differ from those, this difference may be sufficiently or exactly accounted for by their education.

An unbaptized person may be brought up with baptized persons, and acquire their tone of thought, their mode of viewing things, and their principles and opinions, just as if he were baptized. He may suppose that he has been baptized, and others may think so; and on inquiry it may be found out that he has not been baptized.

On the other hand, a baptized person may acquire the ways of going on, and the sentiments and modes of talking of those who despise Baptism, and seem neither better nor worse than they, but just the same.

An unbaptized person may in after-life be baptized; and if quiet and religious before, may remain so afterwards, with no change of any kind in his own consciousness about himself, or in the impression of others about him.

Or, he may have had a formed character before Baptism, and not a pleasing one; he may have been rude and irreverent, or worldly-minded. He may have improved; he may have had faith sufficiently to bring him to Baptism, and, as far as we can judge, may have received it worthily; yet he may remain, improved indeed just so much as is implied in his having had {69} faith to come to Baptism, but apparently in no greater measure.

Or, he may come to Baptism and improve after it, but only in such way as to all appearance he might have improved without having received it when he did; viz. from the intercourse of friends, from reading religious books, from study and thought, or from the trials of life.

Again, he may come to Baptism as a mere form, or from worldly motives, and yet in appearance be no worse than he was before. If he had a mixture of good and evil in him before, the same apparently remains.

And again, whether he has received Baptism or not, he is liable to the same changes of mind, to the same religious influences, nay, may run through the same spiritual course, may be gradually moulded on the same habits,—perhaps be affected in some remarkable way, so remarkable that it may be called a conversion, and what he himself may incorrectly call a regeneration,—which it cannot be, if we judge according to Scripture, and not appearance, since he either has been already regenerated in Baptism, or has not yet been regenerated, being unbaptized. Yet the same religious experience (as it sometimes is called) may befall him, whether he has been baptized or not.

It is indeed most obvious and striking how, in all systems, whether we take our own, or that which principally obtains abroad, or that of any dissenting bodies, we find the same sort of moral character attaching to this or that class of persons; how rank, wealth or power forms men every where alike; how all systems {70} have their freethinkers; how all have the same parties. Men are formed every where by the influence of visible things on the same types, and correspond one to another, as if proving against the Word of God, that baptism and grace are not the really influential principles among men, but the world that is seen.

Here then, I say, is experience counter to the word of God, which says, that except a man be born of water and the Spirit he is no member of Christ's kingdom. To which may be added, the nature of the rite of Baptism itself, its great simplicity, even supposing immersion is used, and much more in the case of pouring or sprinkling. No outward rite indeed can measure the great dignity of the gift of regeneration; were the outward ceremonies ever so laborious they would not be adequate; a simple rite, on the other hand, is a symbol of the freeness of the grace given us, which requires nothing on our part but repentance and faith;—yet, at the same time, the more simple the outward rite is, and the greater, on the other hand, the hidden gift, the greater trial is it to believe that it is given through the rite. Whether, then, we consider the ceremony of Baptism itself, or the persons who are made subjects of it, in both respects, sight and the word of God, the doctrine and the fact, are strangely contrasted. Let us not deny that it is so; why should we? Let us fairly and calmly gaze upon the contrariety, upon the difficulty, as some call it, or rather on the trial,—the trial of Faith, which alone overcomes the world.

2. This, then, is one trial of Faith. Another, which has in all ages assailed it, and not the least in our own {71} age, is the success which attends measures or institutions which are not in accordance with the revealed rule of duty. This was the perplexity of believers in the old time, as we read in the Psalms and Prophets, viz. that the wicked should prosper, while God's servants seemed to fail: and so in Gospel times. Not that the Church has not this peculiar prerogative with it, which no other religious body has, that as it began with Christ's first coming, so it will never fail till He comes again; but that for a time, in the course of single generations, nay, I may say in every age and at all times, it seems to be failing, and its enemies to be prevailing. It is the peculiarity of the warfare between the Church and the world, that the world seems ever gaining on the Church, yet the Church is really ever gaining on the world. Its enemies are ever triumphing over it as vanquished, and its members ever despairing; yet it abides. It abides, and it sees the ruin of its oppressors and enemies. "O how suddenly do they consume, perish, and come to a fearful end!" Kingdoms rise and fall; nations expand and contract; dynasties begin and end; princes are born and die; confederacies are made and unmade, and parties, and companies, and crafts, and guilds, and establishments, and philosophies, and sects, and heresies. They have their day, but the Church is eternal; yet in their day they seem of much account. How in early times must the Church have been dismayed, when, from the East, the false religion of Mahomet spread far and near, and Christians were extirpated or converted by it by thousands! Yet even that long-lived delusion is now failing; and though {72} younger than the Church by some centuries, has aged before it. And so in like manner, in spite of the duration of the Christian name hitherto, much there is to try our faith at this moment, who cannot see the future, and therefore cannot see the short duration of what shows proudly and successfully now. We at this day see a number of philosophies, sects, and parties, thriving and extending, and the Church seems poor and helpless, as if its very place were to be insulted, and its very calling to give way. We see men in one department of philosophy rejecting the accounts, for instance, of the Creation or the Deluge, as they stand in the Old Testament; others setting aside the precepts of almsgiving, and the like, as given in the New; others disputing the historical narratives contained in the Old; and others denying those interpretations of the doctrinal portion of Scripture which have ever been received. We see imperfect forms of Christianity made the religion of states and nations, and apparently bringing forth good fruit; nay, apparently flourishing more than many forms which are more perfect and catholic. We see the Church in slavery apparently flourishing more than the Church free. We see sects apparently flourishing more than the Church. We see wrong principles, unsound doctrines, apparently making men what Christians should be, and what the true Gospel can alone really make any one. We find the teachers of what we must call heresy, and the ministers of division, doing what the Church does not, or cannot do; we find dissenting bodies sending missions to the heathen, and apparently succeeding in converting them. I do not speak of the {73} fact, that good men are found among bodies which are not in communion with the Church. This is no difficulty to faith. That God who raised up Elijah and Elisha in Israel, has no where said He will not now also extend His mercies wider than His promises: but I speak of the apparent infringement of His promises in the visible disorders of the Church, and the triumph of other bodies over it. When we dwell on such facts as these, I do think it requires some special faith in those who are exposed to the temptation, to keep close to the ancient ways of the Church Catholic, and to remain untouched by the sophistries and unmoved by the successes, of this world which surrounds us.

3. Another instance in which Experience and Faith are seriously opposed to each other, though the contrast is not exhibited on so open or so wide a field, is to be found in the case of those who deny the doctrine of the Ever-blessed Trinity, or the Incarnation, or the Atonement, or original sin, or eternal punishment. These persons, indeed, are often such in their tempers and lives as to be no difficulty to the Christian. They are men of immoral habits, or at least grossly self-indulgent; or men who for years have never thought any thing of religion, and then just at the last consider that they must take up some profession, and adopt whatever meets their taste; or they are evidently worldly, insincere men, as far as we can judge of others, or overbearing men and unamiable. But this is not always the case. We may meet with persons of unsound faith so adorned with interesting traits of character, as to try us severely. Of course we are not called on to judge any one absolutely; {74} we leave that to God. But I can fancy a case of the following kind. A man on the one hand strong in his contempt for the most sacred subjects; not believing the doctrines of original sin, everlasting punishment, and the Atonement; having no formed opinion concerning our Lord, whether He was really God or not; never partaking in Holy Communion, and seldom going to Church: and I can conceive the same man, not merely amiable, benevolent, and friendly—this might easily be allowed—but showing forth (at least to our perceptions) an integrity in his daily business, an honourable view of things, a correctness, a delicacy of sentiment, a considerateness and generosity of conduct, and, in a certain sense, a reliance upon Providence, a feeling of the greatness of religion and of its awfulness, a knowledge and admiration of Scripture, and when he comes into trouble, a recurrence to it, and a touching application of its words to himself;—the while his doctrinal views are to all appearance as unsatisfactory as before. And to those who see this, is it not a trial of Faith, quite as great as the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration can be, how a person apparently with open eyes, can deny the power and the grace of our Saviour, and the great need of His coming on earth, and yet have so much religious feeling and principle as he has? Is such a man acting under the influence of God's grace or not? If not, how is it he practises so much? and if he is, how is it he does not believe more?

4. One more instance shall be mentioned, of this opposition between Christian Faith and the Experience of life. We are expressly told in Scripture that the impenitent {75} shall go into fire everlasting. Now this, though so plainly stated by our Lord Himself, that one would think no one, believer or not, can deny that He has said so, nevertheless is a hard thing surely to receive, where men will not believe, and will go by sight. It is, indeed, no difficulty for any one to sit at home and believe the doctrine; it is no trial to his faith if he live among books, or be blessed with a religious circle of friends, or happily be under a parent's roof, or, like young or aged Anna, live almost in the temple of God: but if he is thrown upon the world, if he has an opportunity of coming very near profligate, or hardened, or worldly, or unbelieving men, or, which is the same thing, if he has any particular tie connecting him with any such, then will he feel how hard a saying it is that any one, even the most wicked of men, can be destined to eternal punishment. There is no man ever so bad but to our erring eyes has some redeeming points of character. There is no man but has some human feelings or other: and those very feelings impress us with a sort of conviction that he cannot possibly be the destined companion of evil spirits. Hell is the habitation of no human affections. Let a man be ever so blood-stained, so awfully blasphemous, or so profligate, yet at least, at times, perhaps when in pain or weariness, he shows something to excite our interest and pity. And if not, then his very pain seems to plead for him. His capability of pain, and his showing that he feels it, seem to connect him with us, and to disconnect him with those fallen spirits, who have no sympathies, no weaknesses, but are impenetrable and absolute evil, even though they suffer. {76}

Even the witch of Endor showed some compassion for Saul, and moves us by showing it. We are told, "And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me. Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee, and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way. But he refused, and said, I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, compelled him; and he hearkened unto their voice." [1 Sam. xxviii. 21-23.] Such was the conduct of one who avowedly dealt with familiar spirits. Oh miserable we then, if we are of the number of those who prefer sight to Faith! Oh, miserable, if when our Saviour, the very Word of God, and the True Witness, speaks plainly one way, we listen to the serpent's voice, saying, "Ye shall not surely die!" We have no right indeed, surely not, to say absolutely that this or that man whom we see and can point at, is destined to future punishment. God forbid! for we can but judge by outward appearance, and God alone seeth the hearts of men. But we are expressly told that there are persons so destined; we are told that the finally impenitent, whoever they shall be, are so destined; and whatever the sight of things may tell us, however the weaknesses and waywardnesses of our hearts may plead against such awful truths, however our feelings, and imaginations, and reason way be assailed, yet "let God be true, and every {77} man a liar;" let us believe Him, though the whole world rose up and with one voice denied His words. Let us accept the truth, as an act of faith towards God, and as a most solemn warning to ourselves, that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God;" that they "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe, in that day." [Ps. ix. 17. 2 Thess. i. 9, 10.]

To conclude. Let us pray God to teach us: we need His teaching; we are very blind. The Apostles on one occasion said to Christ, when His words tried them, "Increase our faith." Let us come to Him honestly: we cannot help ourselves; we do not know ourselves; we need His grace. Whatever perplexity the world gives us, whether about the doctrine of regenerating Baptism, or about the Church Apostolic, or about the necessity of maintaining the Gospel faith, or about the doctrine of everlasting punishment, (blessed are they who have no such trials, but some have!) let us come to Him with pure and sincere minds; imploring Him to reveal to us what we know not, to incline our hearts when they are stubborn, and to make us love and obey Him honestly while we seek, and not to seek mere barren knowledge, "which perisheth with the using."

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