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Romans i. 17.
THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
That faith is the rock upon which Christ hath built his Church ; that it is the principle upon which man is to rest his hope of salvation, we all profess to believe.
It is not, therefore, necessary, that I should occupy your time by enumerating the various proofs which serve to shew, that the doctrine of our Church in this respect, as in all others, coincides with the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. It will be, I trust, more serviceable to us all to consider attentively what that faith is upon which so great things rest; and what propriety there is in so highly estimating its importance. The first we can, of course, learn only by an humble examination of the Scriptures ; and the second we may be assisted in comprehending by a consideration of our nature and condition,
“ Faith is,” as the Apostle declares, “ the substance," or rather the substantializer, “ of things hoped for, the evidence,” (or that which produces a conviction) “of things not seen. To dilate a little—the sublime brevity of the definition, we may say, that faith is that principle within us, by which the hopes and evidences which would otherwise be vague and shadowy, become permanent and substantial.
Upon the word which is translated in our Bibles,“ substance,” I have one remark to make before I proceed. According to the philosophy of the ancients, “every body” consisted of what they termed a substance and its accidents. By “ accidents,” they understood those qualities which are cognizable by our senses, and by “substance,” that unknown principle in which the accidents inhered. For instance, when they examined any “body," they were competent by their senses to perceive a certain form, and colour, and weight, and various other qualities, and these they termed “accidents,” not imagining that they constituted the “body,” but that they were properties belonging to it. Beside these, they concluded that there was some existence which their senses were incapable of discerning, and which had the power to keep together the various properties which they noticed, giving them, as it
were, a definite and permanent habitation. The name they give to this unknown existence, we have translated “substance;" and St. Paul, who was well acquainted with the philosophy of his times, uses precisely the same word, when he terms faith, “the substance of things hoped for."
According to this, faith is that principle, or essence, which, as it were, binds and fixes our hopes; which reduces them from a state of evanescence and confusion, into a settled and consistent form, by means of which, the hopes and promises respecting eternity become incorporated with us, and form a part of our very being, and without which, the hope of a hereafter may dart through the mind without settling there, and the promises of God may appeal to the heart; and make no lodgment within it, “not being,” as the Apostle says, “ mixed with faith in them that heard.” Büt faith is also the evidence of things unseen, and it is by being such an evidence that it has become thë substance of things hoped for. It is the evidence of things unseen. The word which we translate “ evidence,” signifies' full and perfect conviction, it is demonstration, or such full and clear evidence as brings conviction to the mind. Thus, when you speak of the evidence of your senses, you speak of
the knowledge derived from them of the existence or nature of external things; and as you would define sight, the evidence of things seen, the Apostle defines faith, “ the evidence of things not seen," so that we may conclude, that the faith by which the just man shall live, the faith which is “ the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, is a conviction by which the world to come is as powerfully and as vividly apprehended by the soul, as the existence of the world in which we live, is manifested through the
Having thus defined what faith is, the Apostle proceeds to shew what it has power to do, and places before us many instances of its efficacy; some proving that it has made man acceptable to God, and others setting forth examples of heroic virtue, which the faithful were enabled to exhibit in the sight of man. Amongst these examples, the most splendid instance of faith, and that from which we can most fully understand its power, is exhibited in the conduct of the Patriarch Abraham. In his extreme old age, the Lord promised him a son, in whose name his posterity should be called, and through whose seed all nations should be blessed. Neither his own age nor the age of his wife prevents him from relying on the
promises of God. The child is born, and a new and powerful affection is awakened in the heart of the aged parent.
Again the Lord spake to him and said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering, upon one of the mountains which I shall tell thee of.” Now as a man and a father, Abraham must have felt the pleadings of nature earnest against such a command. We can imagine also, that his reasoning faculties might have been seduced into the service of his affections, and have furnished plausible arguments against obedience. He could not, as we could, object, that the direction was contrary to the written commandments; but he might have considered how God had promised that this son Isaac was to be the father of mighty nations; he might have argued, that by obeying the present command, he must frustrate the past decrees; and, he might therefore conclude, (in the same manner as many reasoners amongst us) that God could not possibly have issued the command, because he could not discover the wisdom of it.
This would be the reasoning adopted by the natural man, but faith pursued a different course of inquiry. Abraham having first as