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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. 159-164.


Second 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.... 

(for the first part, on the Epistle.

...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 this is our glory to behold Him, and to be made like unto Him. And, indeed, in this Gospel for the day, He is brought to us, in some sense, singularly near. We behold therein our God, as it were, marvellous as the expression may seem, in great weakness. It is not so much on account of His almighty power, such as we read of in other instances, but of His condescension to our infirmities in great compassion; of His coming down to meet us in the slowness of our faith, becoming weak in our weakness, in order that He may impart to us of His strength. For we may observe that in the Gospel for to-day the incident recorded is not of that powerful Voice which awoke the dead, nor of that Word which storms and winds obeyed; it is not any great stupendous miracle by which persons at a distance were suddenly healed by the command of Christ, or of that power which brought fish to the shore at His bidding; nor of evil spirits trembling and terrified before Him; nor of His forgiving sins as the Almighty Judge Who is to come. But it is an apparently small manifestation of His power under peculiar circumstances, His making a stammering man to speak plain, and even that not without some delay and apparent difficulty, and with something as it were of human means. We are almost tempted to ask, where are His great words of power ? 

“Is His hand shortened that it cannot redeem?” Is He “as a mighty man that cannot save”?  Oh! no, my brethren, it is all of our unbelief that it speaks, and of the multitude of His compassions that fail not.  It is of His coming down to us, “more ready to hear than we to pray, and wont to give more than we desire or deserve:” as one submitting to be bound by the cords of our unbelief; and even as one thus bound, though in sighing, indeed, and much sadness of spirit, yet, as far as may be, aiding and healing us.  “He could not do many mighty works there,” it is said on one occasion, “because of their unbelief.”  He was as one bound; yet, even then, although thus bound, “He laid His hands,” it is added, “on a few sick folk, and healed them.” So it was now in this incident recorded to-day.  He came down from the throne of His almighty power to be as an Infant of days in swaddling bands, to meet us in our weakness. But let us come to the occasion itself. 

And again, says St. Mark, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, where He had meekly retired from the violence of the Pharisees, who were lying in wait to kill Him, He came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. He was still holding aloof from His Jewish persecutors, and proceeding by that further side of the lake which was inhabited by Gentiles.  And they bring unto Him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; not exactly deaf and dumb, but one that had some difficulty or hindrance, both in his hearing and his utterance; like themselves, spiritually slow to believe, deaf to His wonderful Divine words, and slow in tongue to acknowledge Him. And they beseech Him to put His hand upon him; they did not know Him as God, probably did not receive Him altogether as Christ, but yet looking on Him as a very Saintly Man of God, and a Prophet working miracles, they thought He could lay on him His sacred hand and heal him. This was much, indeed, had He been but mere man, but it was but a weak and inadequate acknowledgment of Him as God. And He never manifested His glory where there was not faith to receive Him. Perhaps for this reason the account is as follows:-- 

And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His finger into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue.  He condescended to be almost like a human physician, who had need to use means to bring about his ends, so did He accommodate Himself to the weakness of their faith, that they might thus come to understand that His Body was full of Godhead, that the touch and communion of His sacred flesh healed and hallowed mankind: that it was He Who was in the beginning with God, and was God, when “He formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  But this was not all, for He still lingered and delayed in His work of healing, which was not yet done.  And looking up to heaven, as if praying to God for mankind as the Son of Man, He sighed: the depth of His sorrows audibly burst forth from His overcharged heart as He pleaded to God for our unbelief, our unwillingness to hear, which is worse than being deaf; our tongue, which was made for His glory, but hath forgotten Him; but while He prayed as Man, yet at the same time as God He commanded.  He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 

And He charged them that they should tell no man. For He wished to be hidden; God always hideth Himself; as was said by the Prophet, “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, the God of Israel, the Saviour.” He hideth Himself in His Providence, and His works of grace; and where He is received into the heart He disposes a man to hide his works from the evil world, to withdraw himself more and more into that hidden life where God is. And well is it that it should be so; worldly men would but trample under foot the good which they love not, and turn again and rend those that bring it; and so but add to their own condemnation. 

But when God allows the good, which of itself would wish to be hidden, to break forth, He disposes the hearts of simple and lowly men to receive it with thankfulness. Although such as the Pharisees are more hardened and despise it, it is not so with these. But the more He charged them, the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. 

Now the consideration brought before us to-day is, as I have said, not the greatness but the smallness of the miracle; and taken with that confession which we make in the Collect, the most vast of all miracles wrought by the power of God is not so impressive, so calculated to come home to the heart of a sinner as this. When a thoughtful man looks back on his past life, he must be astonished at the evidences of God’s mercy and care which have surrounded him on all sides; every portion of his life which he contemplates is full of His goodness; but it may appear an extraordinary thing to say, yet nevertheless it will be found to be the case, that it is not the greatness but the smallness of these mercies which is most affecting. God has averted many dangers from him, it may be, given him many comforts, means of support, raised up friends, preserved to him loving relatives, perhaps blessed him with outward prosperity, a good name, and success in his undertakings; and these things God has bestowed upon him in consequence of his desires, or in answer to his prayers.  But is this all?  Are these the best things which God has to give? has He nothing in store which He wishes to bestow better than these, which He holds back in His hand because we desire it not?  These are indeed tokens of His goodness and love, but they are such as should make us ashamed, such as Christ may have granted us with a sigh; with a sigh that we wished for nothing better.  A very early writer, Origen, mentions it as a saying of our Lord’s Himself, “Ask for great things, and small things shall be given you.”  Would He not have granted to us, if we had desired it, that unspeakable gift, to have been conformed to the likeness of Himself; to have been changed, by beholding Him, from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord? No; there is nothing more affecting than these mercies of God, for would He not teach us by these how ready He is to give us what is of infinitely greater worth, if we in faith asked for it, and desired it?  Daniel is called “a man of desires,” but we are not men of desires; our desires are very weak and poor and low; because our love is small.  St. Peter fell down at Christ’s feet, overcome at the draught of fishes; and why? it was the smallness of the miracle, combined with the greatness of the power and love; it was as if he said, Boats and nets full of fishes!  Oh! what is this, if only Thou, our God, art with us?  What are these things, for which we toil, to us?  From that moment he turned his back for ever on his trade, and on all this abundance; and seemed, with St. John and St. James, ever after, to increase more and more in his desires, and as if saying with Abraham, the father of the faithful, “Lord God, what wilt Thou give me?” Wilt Thou not give me Thyself?