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and, with every accession of religious experience, becomes more vigorous and confirmed. The farther he advances in his christian course, the more deeply he is convinced that his prosperity is inseparably allied to obedience, that his spiritual enjoyments rise or fall in proportion as he walks more or less closely with his God. “ Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee."*
“ Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way which thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.”+
II. Its effects on his character and conduct: “none of his steps shall slide.” His steps shall not fatally slide; he shall maintain a uniform and 3onsistent deportment.
1. The violence of temptation shall not over
2. The suddenness of it shall not surprise him. 3. The deceitfulness of it shall not seduce him.
4. The example of the multitude shall not prevail.
* Psalnı lxxxi, 13, 14, 16.
† Isa. xlviii. 17, 18.
ON PRAYER FOR THE INCREASE OF FAITH.
Luke xvii. 5.—And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase
We have here an example of prayer addressed to Christ; which implies an acknowledgement of his divinity, since it is a received principle of scripture that God only is the proper object of prayer.
It is the more deserving of our attention on account of its being a prayer for a spiritual blessing, and that a blessing of prime importance; nor could it, with any propriety, be presented to one who was not conceived to have immediate access to the mind. However wavering or confused the apprehension the apostles entertained of Christ's personal dignity might be, during the continuance of his ministry on earth, it seems evident, from this instance, that there were seasons when they felt a lively conviction of his divinity, under which they ascribed to him a sovereign power over the heart.
From the reply which our Saviour makes to this petition, it is probable it more immediately respected that faith of miracles with which the apostles were, in some measure, endued, and which was greatly strengthened and enlarged after the day of Pentecost. The weakness of that faith they had, on some occasions, experienced, when persons afflicted with maladies were brought to
them, and they were not able to effect their cure.* A circumstance of this nature, it is possible, had recently occurred, which gave rise to this request.
Whatever particular species of faith might be designed in the words of the apostle, now before us, we shall beg leave to consider faith, in the present discourse, in its more ordinary acceptation, in which it denotes a persuasion of divine truth, founded on the testimony, and produced by the Spirit, of God.
The faith of which we shall speak is that cordial assent to the testimony of God, which distinguishes all regenerate persons, and which is defined by St. Paul, “ The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”+ Faith, in the New Testament, is applied solely to the exercise of the mind on the divine testimony. It denotes a reliance on the veracity and faithfulness of God; his veracity respecting the truth of what he has affirmed, his faithfulness in the accomplishment of what he has promised. Hence it differs from sense and reason. Of the objects of the former we gain a knowledge by immediate experience, by their direct impressions on the bodily organs; of those which fall within the province of the latter, we arrive at a conviction, by a process of argument more or less simple. Faith, on the contrary, is a reliance on the truth of what God has declared, simply because he has declared it. It implies a revelation of his mind and will ; and the principle * Luke ix. 40.
| Heb. xi. 1.
on which it founds the assurance of whatever it embraces is this, that the Supreme Being can neither deceive his creatures, nor be deceived. It converses with supernatural verities, that is, with truths which are not capable of being ascertained by sense, or demonstrated by reason.
In our present discourse we shall confine ourselves to two observations.
I. That genuine faith admits of degrees.
II. That an increase of faith is, on every account, highly desirable.
I. Where faith is genuine and sincere, it is yet susceptible of different degrees. Considered with respect to the number of the truths embraced, it is obvious, at first sight, that the faith of one christian may be far more extensive than that of another. Though every real christian embraces the whole revelation of God, and has, consequently, an implicit confidence in all the declarations contained in it, yet the knowledge of one may extend to many more particulars than that of another: a more accurate acquaintance with the Scriptures may bring before the view some truths of which the other entertains no conception. The religious belief of one may be confined to first principles, while that of another includes also the higher and more refined mysteries of christianity. Considered in this light, none can doubt of the possibility of an increase of faith; though, strictly speaking, such an enlargement of the view may be more properly denominated an increase of knowledge.
An increase of faith respects more immediately farther developement of the principle itself, a greater force of persuasion, a more unshaken confidence in revealed truth, accompanied with a more uncontrolled ascendency of it over the heart. The strength of Abraham's faith is described, not as consisting in the extent of the truths it embraced, but in the force and vigour of his persuasion of the divine promises. It is opposed to his “staggering through unbelief.” A persuasion of the same divine truths, even when it is cordial and sincere, may admit of augmentation. The power and grace of the Redeemer, for example, by which “ he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him,"* are cordially believed by all christians, but they are apprehended with different measures of clearness and force: with some they are sufficient to imbolden them to venture upon him with trembling hope; with others they produce the full assurance of faith, accompanied with “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”+ The transcendent love of the Redeemer, in dying for us, is truly apprehended, and sincerely believed, by all true christians; but the views which they entertain of it are very different in depth and impression. As the same object may be seen under different lights, so the same truths may be contemplated with distinct degrees of evidence and brightness. To “perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” I “Your
* Heb. vü. 25.
† 1 Pet. i. 8.
# 1 Thess. iii. 10.