Weakness of Faith.
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and
throughout the Year, Vol. II.
Trinity Sunday to All Saints'
Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 155-159.
First part of Sermon LIX. for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity.
2 Cor. iii. 4-11. St. Mark vii. 31-37.
Such trust have we through CHRIST to God-ward.—2
COR. iii. 4.
ST. PAUL is here speaking of the wonderful experience which he and others
now had of the efficacy of God’s grace in Christ. Such trust—such confidence,
or full assurance, the word implies an habitual frame of mind (pepoiyhsin),
such reliance of faith—have we through Christ to God-ward.
But he has no sooner uttered the words than he stops to qualify and correct
them still further, lest any one should think that even this faith in God
was anything of our own, or owing to ourselves. Not that we are
sufficient of ourselves to think anything—not that even such good thoughts
of reliance and trust, or any such consideration of God’s power and goodness
are our own,—as of ourselves,—as arising from anything in us; but
our sufficiency is of God. Even this frame of mind consists in
entire dependence upon God; the very heart which thus thinks and feels
in consciousness of its own utter inability and helplessness, leans and
hangs, nay, more, reposes altogether upon God. Even as a child that cannot
walk, or a man out of his depth that cannot swim, supports himself upon
another, and when he ceases to do so at once sinks or falls,—a Christian,
in his most earnest exertions and endeavours, has this sense of rest in
God; and when he has it not he ceases to think and feel as a Christian.
This very trust in God is of God.
And this sufficiency which is of God is especially shown, St. Paul proceeds
to say, in the efficacy of us His ministers. Who also hath made us able,
or sufficient, ministers of the New Testament. But in using
the word Testament,” which commonly signifies a written will or covenant,
he subjoins, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth,
but the Spirit giveth life. The letter commands, but gives no power
to fulfil, and therefore only brings condemnation; but the Spirit gives
power to fulfil, and in that fulfilment is life. The knowledge of the Scriptures
themselves, of the Creeds, and of the Catechism, will only serve to condemn
us, unless by faith and love they are received into our hearts and lives
by the Spirit of God. And therefore this was the case especially with the
Law, which St. Paul proceeds to speak of as “the ministration of death
;“ for when the sinner came to the Law it said unto him, “the soul that
sinneth, it shall die.” And this it set forth in various ways; oven the
sacrifices which were offered by the Law were a confession that he that
offered them was worthy of death; while surely the death of slain animals
could never atone for sin; manifold punishments were declared by it; it
was given out amongst signs of wrath and terror, the earthquake and the
fire, and the awful trumpet; and the Law in its progress and going forth
was accompanied with the deaths of many for disobedience. But when the
sinner came to the Gospel, it spoke not to him of death but of life; it
said not to him, “I will punish,” ‘but “I will forgive.” It spoke with
a still small voice, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.” [St. Chrys. ad. loc.] Its going forth
was not accompanied with signs of terrors or of death, but of healing diseases,
and of raising the dead. The Law took hold of a man gathering sticks on
the Sabbath, and slew him; the Gospel on the Sabbath day took hold of impotent
and dying men, and gave them life.
It is then in contemplation of this, the vast difference between the
two, the Law and the Gospel, that St. Paul calls one the ministration of
death, and the other that of life; and thus proceeds to shadow forth the
unspeakable grace and glory which the Gospel opens. But if the ministration
of death, written and en graven in stones, was glorious, so that the children
of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of
his countenance; which glory was to be done away? The Law was
from God, and therefore was full of a hidden glory; and Moses, from conversing
with God, had his face covered with glory; but this was only for a time,—that
glory soon passed from Moses’ face, as that Law itself was to pass away;
to pass away as being perishable as the stone on which it was written.
But not so the souls of men, on which the new Law is written by the Finger
of God, according to His promise: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel; not according
to the covenant that I made with their fathers; I will put my laws into
their mind, and write them in their hearts.” [Heb. viii. 8-10.]
Let the Jew, therefore, look back to the face of Moses, and glory in
that dispensation which he received from God; but how infinitely more precious
and glorious is that to which the Christian has to look, who has his law
written on the living stones of the heavenly Jerusalem! How shall not
the ministration of the Spirit, proceeds St. Paul, be rather glorious?
For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration
of righteousness exceed in glory. “The ministration of righteousness,”
that by which sins are forgiven, by which the Holy Ghost is bestowed, and
men are enabled to walk in the Spirit—that by which they are made righteous
before God, as clothed in Christ’s righteousness and putting on Christ,
are renewed by Him day by day, through faith that worketh by love. For
Christ came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. [St. Matt. v. 17.]
“And it is for this end,” as saith St. Augustine, “that the Holy Spirit
is given, in order that the Law may be fulfilled. This power Christ gives,
through the Holy Spirit, to all them that believe; for the more every one
receives of the Holy Spirit, the more does he fulfil the Law.” [Serm. cclxx.
3.] For this reason then it is called “the ministration of righteousness.”
St. Paul, through the remainder of this chapter, dwells on this, the
unspeakable glory of the new covenant, and describes it to consist in beholding
the face of Christ; in gazing as it were upon His countenance in faith
and love, while the Almighty Spirit within us converts us, as we gaze and
behold Him, into the same Image. This, Christian people, is the inexpressible
glory of that marvellous dispensation under which we live; the looking
to Christ, and by looking being changed; and by becoming changed being
divested of this body of death and sin, and having a hidden life with Christ
in God. In dying to the world, obtaining life; in very weakness and in
a sense of weakness, being lost and again found in Him Who is our strength.
St. John speaks of this glory, in the beholding of Christ, when He was
seen among men: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten
of the Father, full of grace and truth.” But St. Paul, in this passage,
speaks of those who have not “known Christ after the flesh,” but behold
Him in the Spirit, His example as Man, His power as God; and both of them
as manifested here below, and made known to us in the Gospels.
The Epistle, indeed, appointed for the day stops short of this account
of the Apostle, and does not proceed to tell us in what this glory of the
new covenant consists, as St. Paul afterwards describes through this chapter.
But the Gospel which succeeds sets before us as usual that very Image Itself
of Christ, and invites us to behold Him "full of grace and truth.”
.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)