A Sermon






"How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?"--John v.44


The question of the text is equivalent to a strong assertion, that while individuals receive honour from men rather than from God, they cannot believe. This is a very common way of speaking. When we wish to express a very strong negative, we throw our remarks into the form of a question, as in the text--"How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?" which is equivalent to saying, you can by no means believe while you do this.

In speaking from these words, I propose to show--







I. What faith is not. There is scarcely any word in the Bible more common than the word Faith. Few things are said more about in the Bible as important to be considered; the greatest stress is laid upon it everywhere; it is always put forth as of the greatest importance; and yet, strange to tell, there is scarcely any word in the Bible, perhaps, about which such loose and vague ideas have existed among mankind. A great many individuals have used the word without really understanding what they themselves meant by it; much less have they understood, in many cases, what the Spirit of God means by the word. If there be anything of importance in the Scriptures for us to understand, it is that we should conceive rightly of the full import of this term. To be sure there are other terms which, perhaps, are just as important, such as Love and Repentance. Now, it is of the greatest importance that we should have the most distinct ideas of what these terms mean, for, observe, they are all designed to express a state of mind. What is this state of mind? Now, the Holy Scriptures treat of the states of mind indicated by these terms. The Scriptures, from beginning to end, are always using language which is designed to represent certain states of mind; sometimes it refers to the mind of God, sometimes to the minds of saints, and sometimes to the state of mind in which sinners are. Sin is nothing else but a state of mind; and holiness is nothing else but a state of mind; so that, unless you understand what these terms mean and what particular states of mind they are designed to represent, you will never understand anything about religion. Hence, when I speak on the subject of Faith, I am in the habit of trying to make myself understood, and, if possible, to develop in my hearers what I suppose to be the true idea represented by the term, and also what is not the meaning of the word.

Before I proceed to define the meaning of the term Faith, I would just remark that every man, by his own consciousness, knows that there are three distinct operations of his mind--his intellect which thinks, his sensibility which feels, and his will which acts. Now, these three faculties every man is conscious of possessing, and is conscious of exercising these three classes of action. He is conscious of thinking and reasoning; he is conscious of willing to put forth action--to do certain things in preference to others; he is also conscious of feeling; he knows that he has sensibility which can feel, and have desires and emotions of various classes and kinds. Every man knows, moreover, that ofttimes his thoughts and intellectual affirmations are unavoidable--that he is not voluntary in them. For instance, every man knows this; and he affirms, without any hesitation, that a thing cannot be and yet be at the same time. Every man, also, is perfectly conscious that the whole of a thing is equal to all its parts, and that he cannot possibly affirm the opposite of this, or go beyond this. Every man knows that he is irresistibly compelled, under certain circumstances, to make such and such affirmations. The same is true of the feelings. Every man knows that he must feel in a certain manner, and cannot possibly feel otherwise; for example, if he puts his hand into the fire and burns himself, he will feel the smart--it is irresistible. So you may suppose that, under certain other circumstances, he will have various feelings and emotions which he cannot possibly avoid, because they are wholly involuntary.

But every man knows just as well, and comes by his knowledge in precisely the same way--by his own consciousness--that it is not so with his will, but that, on the contrary, his will is perfectly free. A man wills a thing in one direction or another, and acts as he wills; he may will to go to meeting or to sit at home, to go about his business, or to refrain from going about his business; every man knows with the same certainty, and in the same way, that his will is free as that he exists. Now, suppose that any one in this house were really practically to call in question whether his will is free, whether he is able to will to go in one direction or another. Suppose we should say to him, Do you calculate to go home when the meeting is concluded? "I don't know," he would say, "whether any such motives will be presented before me as will make me willing to go: I am not free, I cannot will to go myself, and whether anything will take place to make me willing I can't tell." Now, we say that every man assumes his own liberty; and if he was not free to act as he might will, should there be a post in the street he would be just as likely to run up against it, and be thrown down, as he would be to pass on either side of it. The truth is, no man practically does call in question the freedom of his will, and if a man ever does this in words, he does not know what he says. Every man knows that he is free as certainly as that he exists, and he bases almost everything that he does upon this assumption; if men were not free they would do nothing of themselves any more than a machine can. These remarks being made, I proceed to show what faith is not. It is not thought, nor is it an affirmation, nor an intellectual perception, nor an intellectual conviction: the devil may have a faith of that sort,--indeed, he has it; the Bible declares that; the devil believes, and his belief makes him tremble. It is only an intellectual conviction: we often find sinners deeply convinced, so that they tremble, but that is not faith. Faith, then, does not consist in believing simply with the intellect anything that God says--a man may believe it with his intellect, and yet have no faith. Let me say again, that faith is not mere feeling. Thoughts and feelings, as any one knows, are in a sense involuntary; moral character does not attach directly to them: being involuntary they are unconnected with actions of the will. We do not deny that persons are in a sense responsible for their thoughts and their feelings, but mark--it is because their thoughts and their feelings are placed in such a relation to the will, that the will can in a certain sense modify or control them: man is responsible only for the actions of his will. This leads me to say that faith is also in the Bible represented as virtue--it is called a holy faith; it is represented as obedience to God. Again: Faith must not only be voluntary, but it also implies, as a condition of its existence, that the intellect perceives something to be believed; faith always implies that there is something to be believed, and that which is to be believed must be recognised by the intellect. It is the intellect which sees, and the mind, when it puts forth an act of the will, chooses or rejects that which the mind sees. Faith, therefore, must imply the perception by the intellect of some truth, but merely this perception of truth, however clear it stands out before the mind, with all the vividness and brightness of a living reality,--if it goes no further, it is not faith; and the clearer the conviction of an unbelieving man, the greater will be his agony of mind--that is the reason why an unbelieving conviction disturbs the guilty and makes them tremble. The clearer, I say, the intellect sees when the mind does not believe, and when the heart does not yield to the truth, the more intense is the agony of that mind, when these truths relate to God, and his relations to eternal things.

II. Let us consider, then, what faith is. First, that which constitutes the faith of the gospel is the heart or the will committing itself to the truth which the intellect perceives--yielding the whole will up to it, so as to be influenced by it. Observe, then, there are properly in faith the following things:--First, there is an intellectual perception, a realizing that the thing is true; then there is the mind committing itself to the truth, or embracing it, or yielding itself up to the truth, to be moulded and governed by it. It is in fact the mind's coming into sympathy with, and partly yielding itself up to, and embracing the truth so perceived. Let me illustrate this if I can. Sometimes you see persons convinced of a thing they do not will to be convinced of for some reason or other. It is often found that when certain truths are pressed upon an individual, he is unwilling to believe. For example, there is a man who has a sick wife: he sees that she is pale and haggard, he perceives her sunken cheek, and hears her hollow cough, and he fears that she may be in a consumption; he is unwilling, however, to believe it, and tries to flatter himself that her lungs are not affected, and perhaps the doctor tells him that it is a nervous complaint and not a consumption. But day after day he sees the hectic flush of the face and the clear and burning eye, and all the other symptoms of consumption. By-and-bye the physician says, "I must give her up, she is in a consumption; I am satisfied that she can live but a little while." Now, mark! Suppose the man does not recognise the hand of God in this event; he now sees the naked reality, it stands out plainly before him; in a few days or weeks he will be without a wife, and his children without a mother--ah, what an agony that is: he has not such confidence in God as to be able to see the hand of God in the affliction: he has no such confidence that he can yield up his little ones without any misgiving to his heavenly Father. The reality has at length come upon him; his intellect must yield; his wife must die; his children must be left without a mother; and he himself must go about alone. But to all this his will does not consent; he is dissatisfied with the order of providence; he is disposed to murmur, and is in agony when he realizes the fact that his wife must die. If you tell him that in all this God is acting wisely, his intellect will admit that all the actions of God are both wise and good, but his heart does not admit it, his will does not receive it. See the difference between faith and a mere intellectual conviction. Take the Bible and show him the promises of God, bring before him evidences of the goodness of God, of the universal care that God exercises over all his creation; "I know it!" he says, "I know it!" but how he agonizes and smarts under it. But he becomes a converted man. You left him last night in the greatest distress; but you see him this morning, and he meets you with a smile. You ask after his welfare?--Oh, he never was better. You inquire how his wife is?--Oh, the Lord is going to take her home. There is a great change. He says now, "I have no wish nor desire but that God's perfect will should be done." He can now embrace the fact with his heart; he sees in it the hand of his Father and Saviour; he can yield up his mind to the dispensation without a murmur. Now, this is faith in the particular providence of God.

Now, let us see what faith in Christ is? Faith in Christ is the mind yielding itself up to him, and implies, first, a conviction of sin. That is, the mind apprehends itself to be a sinner. It implies also that the mind is convinced that Jesus Christ died for sinners; it also implies that the mind assents and consents to the understood relation of Christ to man as a Saviour, in that he died to save him. But look at that man, what ails him? Why, he has a clear conviction that he is a sinner, but his will does not yield, and he is wretched; and the clearer his conviction is of the truth, the more miserable does he become. The Bible tells him to believe--he says, "I do believe," yet he finds no comfort in it. He is told to pray; he says he does pray, and pray in faith; but does he receive answers to his prayers? No! The fact is, he knows intellectually about these things, but yet his heart does not yield and come into sympathy with them so as to embrace these truths, and he is often in agony when he thinks about them. All at once, some thought passes in his mind about Christ and salvation, when he instantly yields his will and heart to the truth, and his soul becomes like to the chariot of Aminadab! He finds himself in sympathy with the truth; and he wholly gives up his heart to embrace it. The truth does not distress him now as it did before. He has set his heart on the truths of the Gospel now; he sees a glorious reality in them, and they set upon the soul with such sweetness, that he feels it to be the element in which it was designed to "live, move, and have its being;"--all is joy and peace.

III. I am, in the next place, to notice some of the things that are implied in believing in Jesus. First, of course, it implies a supreme regard to his will, a committing of the mind to him, and a yielding up of the whole life to live in sympathy with these truths that respect him. Furthermore, it implies a forsaking of everything that is inconsistent with the will of Christ. We cannot love him, and yet at the same time sympathize with his enemies. Again: it implies a supreme regard to what he does or wills respecting us. For example, an individual who really believes in Christ, has a supreme regard to his good opinion, and is desirous to please him; and is infinitely more desirous to have the approbation of Christ than the approbation of the world--infinitely more. Believing in Christ, then, implies a supreme desire to please him; a state of mind that will say whatever will please him; that will do, and that will aim to please him, regarding any token whatever of his approbation as being infinitely more valuable than the approbation of all the creatures in the universe. Of course it implies that there must be no such regard for the opinions or admiration of men, as at all to interfere with the mind's supreme love to, and confidence in God, and the opinion and approbation of Jesus Christ. Of course if this is so, it implies a change of life--a change in respect to the great end for which men live. Instead of living to themselves, they live to Christ; instead of living to please men, they live to please God; instead of regarding men, they regard Christ; and it is but a small thing with them what men may think of them.

IV. This leads me to show, in the next place, what it is to receive honour of men. "How can ye believe which receive honour of men, and seek not that honour which cometh from God only?" First, it implies a disposition to be honoured by them. To "receive" honour from men, implies that the mind embraces it, and comes into sympathy with it. Now, a man may be honoured by his fellow-men, without being said to receive that honour in the sense here meant, or any sense that implies anything wrong. He may not seek it; and he may regard it as of no such importance as to sacrifice any principle of right and truth to it. To "receive" it, then, in the sense of the text, implies that the mind has such a regard to the public sentiment, or the opinion, good will, and favour of men in some particular thing, more than the opinion and favour of God. It implies a state of mind, in fact, that has no sympathy with God--a selfish state of mind that regards the approbation of men as a great thing, and that seeks to secure the favour and applause of men. That state of mind, I say, is selfish; it has the spirit of self-seeking in that particular form. For instance, some men seek money--that is the form in which their selfishness manifests itself; others seek power; others, still, seek their own reputation among men--they aim to secure popularity, in order that they may control and rule; and such a regard have they for the praise of men, that they will not sacrifice it for the honour and approbation of Christ.

V. This leads me, in the next place, to remark, that this state of mind renders faith impossible. This is plainly stated in the text. Christ does not mean to say that we have no power to put away that selfish spirit and feeling, but that while we have that form of selfishness we cannot believe. Do you say, Why is faith impossible? Why? Just because there is no fellowship between Christ and the world. "He that will be a friend of the world, is an enemy of God," says the apostle. Again: Christ and the world have a spirit in complete opposition to each other. Again: There cannot be any sympathy both with the world and with Christ. Again: If persons seek to please the world and to have its sympathy, favour, approbation, and good will, they are in a state of mind which is directly over against the state of mind that will please God, and secure the good-will, approbation and favour of Christ. These two states of mind are exactly opposite. But mark! they are both voluntary states of mind. We can determine whether to love the world or to love God, whether to have the favour of the world or the favour of God; but we cannot have both at once; we cannot walk in two exactly opposite directions at the same time; we cannot will supremely to love God, and yet supremely will to seek the applause and honour of man, at the same time. It is an absurdity to suppose such a thing possible. I have known individuals to have such a supreme regard to the opinions and approbation of an individual, as to be in perfect bondage to him: the approbation and favour of that individual was more regarded than the favour of all the world beside, or perhaps than Christ himself. Now, a man who is in that state of mind cannot be in Christ: if he is in bondage to man, he cannot have a supreme regard to the will of Christ.

It is easy to see the strength of the application of these words of Christ, as uttered to the Jews. It was extremely unpopular, you know, to believe in Christ when he was upon the earth--the whole current of public feeling and prejudice set strongly against him; the religious teachers of that day being the foremost to oppose and denounce him, and in seeking to prevent the people exercising faith in him. "Now," said Christ, "how can you believe in me while you are inquiring all the time, 'Have any of the rulers believed on him?' and are so anxious to know how it will affect your reputation with men if you become my disciples? I know very well if you become my disciples what it will cost you, and I tell you plainly that if you have so much regard for those around you so as to seek their approbation and honours, you cannot believe in me: if you come into sympathy with me, you must turn your back on them. You cannot love me and the world too."

A few remarks must close what I have to say this morning. First, there are many persons in the state of mind indicated in the text. When the Gospel is presented to them, they are held back from accepting it and connecting themselves to it, by the opinion of some individual, public sentiment, or something else. There are men who sustain a certain relation to them, and they don't like to displease them. I have repeatedly known men sustain political relations, and commercial and business relations, with men to whom they were in complete bondage; they could not believe and accept the Gospel, but they would sacrifice the good opinion, or the friendship or favour, of this particular individual. Now, they could not believe the Gospel, because belief implies a tearing away from this unholy relation, and a giving up of everything that would hinder the individual obeying Christ. One man perhaps sustains a political relation to another who has interest and influence, and expects to get him elected into a certain office: you call upon him to believe, and he does not accept the invitation; his mind is closed against it, because his so doing would offend his patron. Another man sustains certain business relations to an individual who has the power of injuring his worldly interests, if his views are thwarted; the question about believing in Christ comes up, but he cannot commit himself to Christ, till that man's opinion, views, and good-will shall have been consulted. Perhaps some of you, who now hear me, are in this very predicament. Perhaps there is some garment of self-seeking in which the devil has bound your soul fast; that you are in bondage; that you have given yourself up to be influenced by some man or set of men. Now, let me ask, will you come right out, and shake off this unholy garment? will you break this degrading yoke? and now that the Gospel is presented to you, say, with all your hearts, "'Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth:' it is a small thing for me to be judged of man's judgment: my God, let me have thine approbation, if all the world condemn me! It is God that justifieth, then who is he that condemneth?"

Let me remark again: My observation has led me to acknowledge of this fact--that political aspirants very seldom become truly pious. It is the most natural thing in the world that it should be so. Political ambition is among the greatest snares in the world, and the greatest hindrance to the reception of the Gospel. In popular governments, such as the United States, this is especially the case; you are there entirely surrounded by political ambition. I have watched it now for thirty years, and have marked the influence of political ambition on the minds of men. A man becomes politically ambitious, he tries to stand well with his party, and in a very little while he becomes a perfect slave to his party--as really as a negro in the Southern States is a slave; and I should ten thousand times sooner expect to be able to emancipate the negro, than the man who is politically ambitious! He has sold himself to his party. This is the case in the United States, and I suppose the same thing is true in England, that men who are politically ambitious have sold themselves to their party. But what will become of them. May we not ask, in reference to them, "How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not that honour which cometh from God only?" Let me tell you, my hearers, that if you are conscious of any influence which is keeping you from God, you must remove it, you must break it off; you must pluck out a right eye, if need be, and cut off a right hand! Some individuals who are in business, do not become religious lest they should offend their customers. In short, how many of these snares the devil has set, like gins and traps, at every corner of the street, and you find men falling into them on every hand, and when God's truth comes home to them, "How can they believe?"

Let me ask you, my dear hearers, if you don't know something of these facts in your own experience? How many of you can say, to-day, that there is no human influence, no fear of man, no regard to the good-will or opinion of any living being, that holds you back from a whole-hearted consecration to God? How is it? Again: You can see from this subject why so many professors of religion have little or no faith. How can they believe if they regard the opinions of the world, instead of committing themselves to God, let men say what they will. A great many people fail to be saved because they regard public sentiment; they ask, How will it affect my reputation? How will it strike such and such an one? Instead of asking, Lord, how will it please thee? If this is the character of any of you, my hearers, it is impossible for you to be saved. Let me say, once more; one of the greatest and most important steps that men can take, is to break away from this snare, and at once commit themselves to God, without regard to what any man, or set of men, may say; break right away from the fear of man, and regard only what God will think, what God wishes, and what will please him, and at once commit their whole being to him; this is a great and most important step for a man to take. Is this the step that you will take? Are you prepared to do it this morning? Doubtless, many of you know that you ought to do it, and therefore I need not occupy the time in telling you of your duty; but I ask, Have you manhood enough to do it? Have you strength of character enough to do it? or are you so perfectly enfeebled, so perfectly weak, that you cannot? Have you been so long gone, so far in the other direction, that you cannot make up your minds to do your duty, and commit yourselves to God? It is remarkable how such things enfeeble the mind in a certain sense. Look at that drunkard! watch him as he goes shuffling along the streets! He has been a "temperate drinker," as he called himself; then after a little he became intemperate, and eventually, he became so degraded and debased as to abhor himself, and everybody abhors him, and he is shunned even by his own family and friends; he has become a mere wretch! See how weak he is! Sometimes after he has been intoxicated, and has come to his senses, he is ready to spit in his own face, if such a thing were possible--he abhors and despises himself; but set a cup of strong drink before him, and you see his weakness; he is a perfect slave, he has sold himself, and he will drink it even if it be his eternal ruin! Many a man has, in a similar way, sold himself to ambition, and become a complete slave to the influence of certain men, or to the opinions of certain individuals. They dare not do anything without consulting them! They dare not take such a great and important step as to break off their sympathy with them, in order to enter into sympathy with God! They are so weak as to have lost all self-reliance. You ask them to believe in Christ, and you give their consciences a twinge; but they slink away, as the drunkard quails before the cup; while he takes it up to drink its contents, he trembles and almost curses himself. And it may be the case with some of you, my hearers, that you are seeking honour from men, and despising yourselves all the time. Let me ask, Are you prepared to look God in the face? Oh! if I knew your name, perhaps I might tell a tale--and nothing but the truth--that would make you blush, so that you dare not hold up your head; of something which has kept you from entering into sympathy with God, and committing yourself to him; perhaps your wife could tell this tale, or others who may be intimately acquainted with you. I will tell you who can tell the tale--that conscience of yours can tell it! Or, perhaps it cannot speak just now! Perhaps you have abused it's claims time after time, so that now it takes a dignified and indignant position of silence, and says not a word. But it will speak by-and-bye! It will tell the story presently! You may only hear the rumblings of conscience now, having smothered it so long, but it will speak by and bye--a death-bed is coming. Ah, but perhaps before that, conscience will assert its claim and reproach you with your folly. But let me ask, Will you turn now, and enter into sympathy with Christ, and believe in him? When do you expect to be converted? Dear soul, do you ever expect to be converted? Do you ever expect to be, until you break with the world--until you come to cast off the regard of men, and regard God supremely? How is it? You must do it some time, if you will be saved: when will you do it? Do you think a future time will be better? As reasonable and dying men, reflect! You will break off the world and sin at some future time!!! Do you believe that there will ever be a better time to break off the favour of man and escape destruction, than the present? None! none! Then will to come to Jesus now? Are you saying--"Hitherto I have played a foolish game, but I will now turn my back upon the world and sin, and commit myself to Christ, let men say what they will." Will you do this? Then do it now, right here, in this house! Let the question be settled right here! Oh, do not postpone it! For the sake of your own immortal soul, decide now!

Shall we ask the Lord to interpose and break off your chain? Will you stretch forth your fettered hand and let it be struck off? Hold it out! hold it out! Stretch forth the fettered hand; and we will ask the Lord to break off the chain, to bring you out of your present state of thraldom, and assist you to commit yourself to Christ!


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