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1. Unbelief rejects the doctrines of the word. We see how far it has proceeded with some this day, that it has steeled their foreheads with as much impiety and impudence as to reject the word of God openly; and to disbelieve all these truths that reason teacheth not. The same root of unbelief is in us all by nature, and reigns there, where grace has not captivated the heart to the obedience of the truth. That this unbelief is even there, where it is not professed, is clear, if we consider how few there are, that have had the inward illumination of the Spirit of Christ to discover to them these truths in their heavenly lustre, John vi. 45. Most men have received the principles of religion, merely by the benefit of their education; and so their belief rests upon human testimony, which is no foundation for divine faith, and therefore they are still unbelievers, Matth. xi. 25; and xvi. 17. Again, how many make shipwreck of their faith, even of fundamental principles, in a time of temptation, especially in a time of suffering, 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12. That house must be built on the sand, and that faith must be ill founded, that cannot abide a storm. Ofttimes it has been seen, that they that could dispute for the truth, could not suffer for it; while others that could not dispute, could suffer. What is the reason, but "that God hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hath revealed them unto babes." Another proof of prevailing unbelief is, the inconsistency of most men's lives with their professed principles. Many a man that pretends a sound head has an unsound heart. You may as easily bring east and west together, as many men's practice and their principles; therefore God may say to them, as Delilah to Samson, "How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me." Every person believes fire will burn them, and therefore none cast themselves into it.
2. Unbelief rejects the promises of the word. God has made great promises, but unbelief looks upon them only as fair words. They that receive these promises, are by them made partakers of a divine nature; but surely men possessed of such a nature are very rare, for as the apostle says, "all men have not faith," that is, few men. The Israelites had a promise of entering Canaan, but did they believe it? No; they said, "God had brought them to the wilderness to kill them." The promises are as silver cords sent down from from heaven, to draw sinners to the promised land; but unbelievers cast these cords away from them.
3. Unbelief rejects the threatenings of the word. Men are of stubborn natures; God hath therefore hedged about his law with threatenings of wrath. As men travelling in deserts carry fire with them, to drive away wild beasts from attacking them, so God
threatens men, to keep them from sin; but sinners generally are more beastly than beasts, and will touch the smoking fiery mountain, though they should be thrust through with a dart; and will make promises of safety to themselves, in opposition to God's threatenings, Deut. xxix. 19, 20. If we consider narrowly, we will find unbelief of the truths of God at the bottom of almost all these sins that ruin souls, as the mother that brings them forth, Heb. iii. 12. I will instance this in a few, what more bloody sin than unconcernedness about the state of our souls. Few are concerned to inquire into that, whether there be a change made on them, that is saving or not. They live as they were born, and are like to die as they live. Now, what is the cause of this but unbelief, which makes them say, we are rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. Do these persons believe the sinfulness and misery of a natural state? Do they believe they cannot please God, that they are full of sin, and every thing they do is sin? that they are under the wrath and curse of God, and that there is no salvation without regeneration, and no regeneration but that which makes a new creature?
Again, presuming on the mercy of God, they live in their sins out of Christ, and yet they hope for mercy. Do these believe that God is such an one as he has revealed himself to be? Do they believe him to be just and holy, and that he will by no means clear the guilty. They overturn the very foundation of the gospel; for if mercy could have been had for mercy's sake, what needed Christ die.
The text intimates to us, that it is unbelief that cuts the sinews of the labour here enjoined. What idler would not dig, if he thought to find a gold mine that should be his own? How do men sweat and work, in order to get a livelihood, and these same persons will not be at pains for heaven. Surely if they believed the one as well as the other, they would not refuse. By the continuance of an unholy life, men shew that they do not believe that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Do they think hell to be a real place of torment, or only a bugbear?
II. Consider unbelief as rejecting Christ. When men had by their sin excluded themselves from heaven, God sent Christ into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Now unbelief rejects him, and casts him off, who is the only Saviour, Acts iv. 12.
Unbelief questions, yea and denies the soul's need of Christ. It puffs up men with conceit of themselves, so that it is a difficulty to
get them to submit to be carried to heaven. "Going about to establish a righteousness of their own, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." Strange indeed, that the patient will refuse to submit to a cure, or a naked man to receive clothes.
Sometimes unbelief denies the infinite merit of Christ, and with Cain says, as the margin has it, Gen. iv. 13, "My sin is greater than can be forgiven." O! but it goes ill down with an unrenewed heart, to expect life out of death, and satisfaction to justice by another. They that have believed according to the exceeding greatness of God's power, have found this very difficult.
Sometimes it denies Christ's willingness to save and help the sinner. Hence we find the leper believing his power, but doubting his will "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Men think it easy to believe Christ's willingness to save them, till the conscience be enlightened, and then this monster sets up its head. Now rejecting Christ, it must needs make men fall short of heaven. For by this mean,
1. It keeps the soul in a state of condemnation. "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." It keeps the soul under the curse of the first covenant, lays them open to the justice of God, in so far as it makes the soul turn its back upon the city of refuge. The soul is kept naked, having no righteousness in which it can stand before the Lord.
2. It keeps the soul in a state of impotency to do any thing to purpose for its salvation. It shackles the man so as he cannot labour, nay, nor move heavenwards. "Without me," says Jesus, "ye can do nothing." No influences of grace, to help to resist temptations, can the unbeliever have; for unbelief blocks up the way of communication between heaven and earth, Jer. xvii. 5, 6; Matth. xiii. 58. The unbeliever may pray, but God regards not his prayers, "for without faith it is impossible to please him."
3. In a state of separation from God; for there is no access to God, but by Jesus Christ. "No man cometh unto the Father but by him." Faith lays hold on him in whom the Father is well pleased. But as all they that were out of the ark perished in the waters; so all they that are out of Christ shall perish in everlasting misery.
4. Under the guilt of all its other sins. If a man believe, he will be saved, whatever his sins have been; for faith transfers the guilt upon Christ, which the river of his blood washeth away: but if not, he is damned for unbelief rivets all other guilt.
USE. Take heed, then, there be not in you an evil heart of unbelief. Here is the enemy that kills its ten thousands; that makes foolish virgins fall down to hell from the threshold of heaven. It signifies little what lusts be borne down, if this set up its head and prevail; if there be any hazard, it is from this quarter; yet how many are there that will mourn and confess other sins, but this that wounds Christ's heart most, touches their hearts least. Seek it out then, lest if it be with you undiscerned, it lock you out of heaven at last.
The example of others that have fallen by unbelief, should quicken us to all diligence about our salvation. By unbelief the Israelites fell in the wilderness, and never saw the promised land. By unbelief, many that have a flourishing profession have turned apostates from God; see these, John vi. 60, 66. The Jews fell out of the visible church by this, Rom. xi.; and by this, hypocrites in all ages have fallen short of heaven. For this end they are recorded, that we may escape the rocks on which others have split. Our hearts are all alike by nature; as in water, face answereth to face; so the heart of man to man." We may stumble on the stumbling stone on
which others have broken to pieces, if we do not take heed.
See then what use we are to make of the sin and ruin of others. They are not matters of sport or talk, to spend the time; but fearful examples placed before us, to bid us always beware. Sure, as a fall from a high place is the most dangerous; so for us to fall over others that have fallen, and whose fall should make us take heed to our feet, will make us fall very deep into the bottomless pit. The first unbelievers may say, though they heard, yet they saw not the danger; but after such direful examples, we cannot but say, as we have heard, so have we seen.
Presbyterial Exercise, May, 27, 1708.
MINISTERS IN THE CHURCH APPOINTED BY Christ.
EPHESIANS iv. 11, 12.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists ; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
THE apostle having pressed unity amongst church members, even from the consideration of the diversity of gifts among them, seeing they all come from one and the same head; namely, from Christ their common Lord and store-house; and having confirmed this from Psal. lxviii. 18, he doth in the text instance these divers gifts, all bestowed by that one blessed head for the very same ends. "And he gave," &c., this is the connection.
But lest we stumble in the threshold, there is one difficulty to be removed, before we enter on a particular explanation of the words. This is, in the text there is nothing of gifts, but only of offices and office-bearers instituted by Christ in his church. He speaks not of gifts necessary for the apostleship, but of apostles; he says not of the gift of prophecy, but prophets. To this it is answered, that saying the latter, he supposeth the former; the diversity of offices including the diversity of the respective gifts, seeing Christ never calls any to an office, but he always endues them with gifts in some measure suitable. He thrust out no labourers to his vineyard, without instruments for labour; nor does he send out any naked and unarmed, to pull down the kingdom of Satan. Thus the anointing in use of old, did signify both the call and furniture for the office.
In these words we have two things:
1. A remarkable instance of our exalted Lord's liberty to his church, in bestowing divers gifts upon her.
2. The end for which he hath given these.
As to the first of these, for the right understanding of it, four things are to be considered: 1. The gifts. 2. The giver. 3. The act of donation. 4. The time to which it relates.
As to the gifts, they are various, and this variety is held forth two
1. By the distributive particle some, often repeated; which seems to hold forth two things: 1. A distinction betwixt the church and