The Mystery of Faith, Sermon 5Andrew Gray (1634-1656) - A Powerful Preacher Who Died at a Young Age
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THERE are two great rocks upon which a Christian doth ordinarily dash, in his way and motion toward his rest.
1. The rock of presumption and carnal confidence; so that when Christ dandleth them upon his knees, and satisfieth them with the breasts of his consolations, and maketh their cup to overflow, then they cry out, My mountain standeth strong, I shall never be moved. And
2. The rock of misbelief and discouragement: so that, when he hideth his face, and turneth back the face of his throne, then they cry out, Our hope and our strength is perished from the Lord; we know not what it is to bear our enjoyments by humility, nor our crosses by patience and submission. O but misbelief and jealousy are bad interpreters of dark dispensations; they know not what it is to read these mysterious characters of Divine Providence, except they be written in legible letters of sense; misbelief is big with child, of twins, and is travailing, till it bring forth apostacy and security ; and no doubt he is a blessed Christian that hath overcome that woeful idol of misbelief, and doth walk by that royal law of the word, and not by that changeable rule of dispensations.
We conceive that there are three great idols and dagons of a Christian, that hindereth him from putting a blank in Christ’s hand concerning his guiding to heaven, – there is pride, self-indulgence, and security. Do we not covet to be more excellent than our neighbour? Do we not love to travel to heaven through a valley of riches ? and do we not ambitiously desire to walk towards Sion, sleeping, rather than weeping, as we go? Are there not some words that we would have taken out of the Bible? That is sad divinity to flesh and blood, Through many tribulations must we enter into the kingdom of heaven: we love not to be changed from vessel to vessel, that so our scent may be taken from us. There are three great enemies to Christ: misbelief, hypocrisy, and profanity. Misbelief is a bloody sin – hypocrisy is a silent sin – .profanity is a crying sin. These are mother evils, and I shall give you these differences betwixt them:
misbelief crucifieth Christ under the veil of humility;
hypocrisy crucifleth Christ under the veil of love; and
profanity putteth him to open shame.
Misbelief denieth the love and power of God;
hypocrisy denieth the omnisciency of God; and
profanity denieth the justice of God.
Misbelief is a sin that looketh after inherent righteousness;
hypocrisy is a sin that looketh after external holiness only; and
profanity is a sin that looketh after heaven without holiness: making connexion between these things that God hath always separated, and separating these things which he hath always put together: so that their faith shall once prove a delusion, and fly away as a dream of the night; but let us study this excellent grace of true and saving faith, which shall be a precious remedy against all those Christ-destroying and soul-destroying evils.
But now to come to that which we did propose,
Thirdly, To be spoken of from the words, which was the sweetness of this grace of faith; no doubt, it is a pleasant command, and it maketh all commands pleasant, it is that which casteth a divine lustre upon the most hard sayings of Christ, and maketh the Christian to cry forth, God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice. We need not stand long to clear that faith is a sweet and refreshing command, for it is oftentimes recorded in Scripture to the advantage of this grace; and unspeakable joy and heavenly delight are the hand-maids that wait upon it. But more particularly to make it out, we shall speak to these things.
The First is, That this grace giveth a Christian a broad and comprehensive sight of Christ, maketh him not only to behold the beauty of his actings, but the beauty of his person: and there are these three precious sights that faith giveth to a Christian of Christ : –
First, It letteth the Christian see Christ in his absolute and personal excellency, taking him up as the eternal Son of God, as the Ancient of days, as the Father of eternity, as the express image of his Father’s person, and brightness of his glory; and this filleth the soul with divine fear and admiration. Hence is that word, Heb. 11:27, That we see by faith him that is invisible. As if he had said, faith is that grace that maketh things that are invisible, visible unto us.
Secondly, It letteth the soul see Christ in his relative excellencies, that is, what he is to us; faith taketh up Christ as a husband, and from thence we are provoked to much boldness and divine confidence, and withal, to see these rich possessions that are provided for us by our elder brother, who was born for adversity; faith taketh up Christ as a blessed day’s-man, that did lay his hand upon us both; and from thence is constrained to wonder at the condescendency of Christ, – it taketh him up as dying, and as redeeming us from the power of the grave, and from the hands of our enemies and this provoketh Christians to make a total and absolute resignation of themselves over unto Christ, To serve him all the days of our life, in righteousness and holiness. And
Thirdly, Faith maketh the soul to behold these mysterious draughts of spotless love, those divine emanations of love that have flowed from his ancient and everlasting love since the world began. Would ye know the great ground why we are so ignorant of him, who is the study of angels, and of all that are about the throne? It is this, – we are not much in the exercise of faith. And if we would ask that question, What is the way to attain to the saving knowledge of God in Christ? we would give no answer to it but this, Believe, and again believe, and again believe: faith openeth these mysterious seals of his boundless perfection, and in some way teacheth a Christian to answer that unanswerable question, What is his name, and what is his son’s name? There is this,
Secondly, that pointeth out the sweetness of faith – that it giveth an excellent relish unto the promises, and maketh them food to our soul. What are all the promises without faith (as to our use), but a dead letter that hath no life; but faith exercised upon the promises, maketh a Christian cry out, The words of his mouth are sweeter unto me than the honey and the honey-comb; as is clear from Heb. 11:12, 13. It is by faith that we embrace the promises, and do receive them.
Thirdly, The sweetness of faith may appear by this, that it enableth a Christian to rejoice under the most anxious and afflicting dispensations that he meeteth with while he is here below; as is clear from Rom. 5:1, 5, where his being justified by faith, hath this fruit attending it, to joy in tribulation; and likewise from Heb. 10:34, 35. Doth not faith hold the crown in the right hand, and let Christians behold the infinite dignities that are provided unto them after they have, as a strong man, run their race? And when a Christian is put into a furnace hot seven times more than ordinary, it bringeth down the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, to walk with them in the furnace; so that they walk safely, and with joy, through fire and water; and in a manner, they can have no cross in his company. For would ye know what is the description of a cross? It is to want Christ in any estate. And would ye know what is the description of prosperity? It is to have Christ in any condition or state in life. What can ye want that have him? And what can ye have that want him? He is that All; so that all things beside him are but vanity. But besides this, faith doth discover unto a Christian, that there is a sweet period of all his trials and afflictions that he can be exposed unto; so that he can never say that of faith, which Ahab spake of Micaiah, He never prophesied good things unto me; but rather he may say always the contrary, Faith never prophesied evil unto me, it being a grace that prophesieth excellent things in the darkest night, and sweetly declareth, that though weeping do endure for the evening, yet joy cometh in the morning; and that, though now they go forth weeping bearing precious seed, yet at last they shall return rejoicing, bearing sheaves in their bosom.
And this may bring in the Fourth consideration, to point out the sweetness of faith, that giveth a Christian a refreshing sight of that land that is afar off, and maketh him to behold that inheritance that is provided for the saints in light; it goeth forth to the brook Eshcol, and there doth pluck down those grapes that grow in Immanuel’s land, to bring up a good report of that noble country we are sojourning towards, and the city, the streets whereof are paved with transparent gold. And howbeit, it may be a perplexing debate between many and their own souls, whether or not these eyes, that have been the windows through which so much uncleanness have entered, and these species of lusts have been conveyed into the heart, shall once be like the eyes of a dove washed with milk, and fitly set; and be admitted to see that glorious Object, The Lamb that sitteth upon the throne: or whether ever these tongues that have been set on fire of hell, and these polluted lips that have spoken so much against God and heaven, and all his people, and interests, shall ever be admitted to sing these heavenly hallelujahs amongst that spotless choir of angels, and that assembly of the first born: or if these hands and feet that have been so active to commit iniquity, and so swift to run after vanity, shall ever be admitted hereafter to carry those palm branches, and to follow the Lamb wheresoever he goeth; and whether ever these hearts that have been indeed a Bethaven, a house of idols, may yet, notwithstanding, be a dwelling for the Holy Ghost – Though these things, we say, and such like, may be the subject of many sad debates to some weary souls, and cause many tossings to and fro till the morning, yet faith can bring all these mysteries to light, and looking within the vail, can let us see thousands of thousands, who were once as ugly as ourselves, yet now, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, are admitted to stand before the throne of God, and serve him day and night.
Now there is that Fourthly, which we promised to speak of concerning this grace of faith, from these words, and it is the absolute necessity there is of the exercise of this grace which is holden forth in that word, His commandment, which doth import these three things : –
1. That all the commands that we can obey without this commandment of faith, is but a polluting ourselves in the ditch till our own clothes abhor us.
2. That God taketh greater delight in the exercise of that grace of faith, than in the exercise of any other grace.
And Lastly, That as to the many imperfections which we have in our obedience, there is a sweet act of oblivion past of them all; if we make conscience seriously to obey this command of faith, which is indeed the sweet compend of the gospel, all these things do most clearly appear, in that believing here is called, His command – sent, by way of excellency, as if this were his only commandment.
But that we may yet a little more particularly point out the absolute necessity of faith, there are these things that speak it forth to the full :
1. That though rivers of tears should run down our eyes, because we keep not his law, though we should never rise off our knees from prayer, and should all our life-time speak to God with the tongue of angels, and though we should constantly obey his commands, yet without faith we should never escape that eternal sentence of excommunication from the presence of the Lord; there being no action that doth proceed from us which can please the majesty of the Lord, unless it hath its rise from this principle of faith; as is clear from Heb. 11:6, Without faith, it is impossible to please God. And though we should offer unto him ten thousand rivers of oil, and thousands of rams, and should offer up in a burnt- sacrifice all the beasts that are upon the mountains, and the trees that are upon many hills, this should be the answer that God should return unto us, Who hath required these things at your hands? I take no pleasure in these solemn sacrifices; because there is no way of attaining peace with God, but through the exercise of faith, making use of the spotless righteousness of Christ.
2. Let us do our utmost, by all the inventions we can, to bring down our body, and let us separate ourselves from all the pleasures of the flesh, yet all our idols shall reign without much contradiction, except once we do attain unto this grace of faith, which is that victory, whereby see must overcome the world, and the hand which maketh use of infinite strength for subduing our corruption, maketh the Christian sweetly to take up that song, Stronger is he that is with us, than he that is in the world. From all this that we have said, both of the sweetness of faith, and of the necessity thereof, we would propose these few considerations, to two or three sorts of persons.
1. There are some who live in that vain imaginary delusion of attaining heaven through a covenant of works, and do neglect to seek salvation by faith in the righteousness of Christ. And to those who build upon this sandy foundation, I shall say but these two words,
First, How long shall you labour in the fire of airy vanity? Do you never think to put on the cope-stone? Know ye not that the day is approaching, when your houses shall fall about your ears, your confidence shall be rejected, and your hope shall evanish as a dream, and flee away as a vision of the night?
Secondly, What a monstrous blindness, and what an unspeakable act of folly it must be to say that Christ was crucified in vain? Which yet we do practically assert when we go about to purchase a righteousness through the works of the law.
2. There are some who are secure in their own thoughts concern ing their faith; they never questioned the reality of it, they never examined it. O! ye whose faith is cold as yourselves, ye say ye never knew what it was to dispute, and I may say ye never knew what it was to believe. Thou profane hypocrite, let me tell thee, a strong faith, and yet strong idols, must needs be a strong delusion. Thou wilt not obey the Lord, thou wilt not pray, thou wilt not believe a threatening in all the word, thou wilt count all religion madness and foolishness, and yet thou wilt persuade thyself thou believest in Christ. O be not deceived, God is not mocked: and why will ye mock yourselves? Shall I tell you that reprobates have a sad religion; one day they must believe, obey, and pray, and give testimony to godliness, but alas, too late, and little to their advantage. Shall not they whom all the ministers on earth could scarcely ever persuade to believe so much as a heaven or hell, or one threatening in all the book of God, at last be forced to believe their own sense, when they shall see the Ancient of days upon the throne, and shall hear the cries of so many thousand living witnesses come out both from heaven and hell, bearing testimony to the truth of threatenings and promises? That not one jot of them is fallen to the ground. And he who would never be persuaded to bow a knee to God in earnest all his life, shall he not then pray with the greatest fervency, that hills and mountains might fall upon him, to cover him from the face of the Lamb? And he that would never submit to a command of God, must he not at last obey that dreadful command, depart from me ye cursed into everlasting torment. Yea, he who was the greatest mocker in the world, shall then confess, that they are blest who put their trust in the Lord, as they are excellently brought in, though in an Apocryphal book, Wisdom 5:4, crying out with great terror, while they behold that unexpected sight of the glorious condition of the godly; O here are the men, say they, whom we mocked, whose life we accounted madness, and their end dishonourable: be wise therefore in time, and do that willingly, which ye must do by constraint, and do that with sweetness and advantage, that ye must do at length with loss and sorrow.
3. There are some who certainly have some hope of eternal life, but content themselves with a small measure of assurance, and these I would beseech that ye would be more endeavouring to make your calling and election sure, and would be endeavouring to see your names written in the ancient records of heaven: and this we shall press upon you by several arguments.
1. Those strong and subtile, and soul-destroying delusions that are amongst many, who conceive they do believe, (as we are saying,) and are pure in their own eyes, who are not yet purged from their iniquities. O! are there not many of us that are in a golden dream, that suppose we are eating, but when we awake our soul is empty, whose faith is a metaphysic notion that hath no foundation, but men’s apprehension? and this shall never bear us through the gates of death, nor convey us unto an eternity of joy.
2. May not this press you to follow after assurance? It is a compendious way to sweeten all your crosses; as is clear from Hab. 3:17, 18, where the convictions of this made Habakkuk to rejoice in the God of his salvation? Though the Fig- tree did not bear fruit, and the labour of the olive did fail, and there were no sweetness to be found in the vine; and from Heb. 11:34, where they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods: knowing within themselves that they had a better and an enduring substance: this is indeed that tree which, if we cast into the waters of Marah, they will presently become sweet, for it is not below the child of hope to be much anxious about these things that he meets with here, when he sincerely knoweth that commandment shall come forth, lift up your head, for the day of your eternal redemption draweth near, even the day when all the rivers of his sorrow shall sweetly run into the ocean of everlasting delight.
3. A Christian that is much in assurance, is much in communion and fellowship with God, as is clear from Song 1:13, 14, and Song 2:3, where when once she cometh to that, to be persuaded that Christ was her beloved, then she sat down under his shadow, and his fruit was pleasant unto her taste; for the assured Christian doth taste of these crumbs that fall from that higher table, and no doubt, these that have tasted of that old wine will not straightway desire the new, because the old is better. And then,
4, It is the way to keep you from apostacy, and making defection from God; faith is that grace which will make you continue with Christ in all his temptations, as is clear from 2 Pet. 1:10, where this is set down as a fruit of making our calling and election sure, that sf we do these things we shall never fall ; faith makes a Christian to live a dependent life; for would ye know the motto of a Christian? It is this, self diffidence and Christ dependence, as is clear from that word in the Song 8:5, that while we are walking through this wilderness, see are leaning upon our well-beloved.
5, This assurance will help a Christian to overcome many temptations. There are four sorts of temptations that assault the Christian: there are temptations of desire, temptations of love, temptations of hope, and temptations of anxiety, all which a Christian, through this noble assurance, may sweetly overcome; he that hath once made Christ his own, what can he desire but him? As Psalm xxvii. 4, One thing have I desired qf the Lord; what can he love more than Christ, or love besides Christ? all his love being drowned (as it were) in that ocean of his excellencies, and a sweet complacency found in the enjoyment of him. As to hope, will not assurance make a Christian cry forth, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. And when the heart is anxious, doth not assurance make a Christian content to bear the indignation of the Lord, and patiently submit unto the cross, since there is a sweet connexion between his cross and his crown? 2 Tim. 2:12, if he suffer with him, he shall also reign with him,
And, Lastly, There is this argument to press you to assurance, that it sweeteneth the thoughts of death; it maketh death unto a Christian not the king of terrors, but the king of desires: and it is upon these grounds that assurance maketh death refreshful to a Christian.
He knoweth that it is the funeral of all his miseries, and the birth.day of all his blessings and eternal enjoyments. This is the coronation-day of a Christian, and the day when he shall have that marriage betwixt Christ and him sweetly solemnized; and that when he is to step that last step, he knoweth that death will make him change his place, but not his company; and O that we could once win unto this, to seal that conclusion without presumption, my beloved is mine, and I am his, we might, without presumption, sing one of the songs of Sion, even while we are in this strange land, and taking Christ in our arms, might sweetly cry forth, non, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. Comfort yourselves in this, that all your clouds shall once pass away, and that truth shall once come to pass, which was confirmed by the oath of an angel, with his hand lifted up toward heaven, that time shall be no more. Time shall once sweetly die out in eternity, and ye may be looking after new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. O! long to be with him, for Christ longeth to have you with him.
Andrew Gray was an exceptionally gifted young preacher. This work is a set of 5 treatises to establish the heart of believers in Christ and give them assurance. Gray is one of the easiest Scottish puritans to read.