Home      Back to Trinity 12




Weakness of Faith.
by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

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.)