The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated

By John Angell James, 1852


It has been said in reference to legislation, that there are many good laws—but that there needs one more good law to secure obedience to all the rest. So may it be said of hearing sermons—many good ones are delivered—but there yet needs one more sermon to put in practice all the rest. This is the design of the present chapter. And there is a single word, which if attended to, will accomplish this. "The word preached," said the apostle, in reference to the Israelites– "did not profit them, not being mixed with FAITH in those who heard it." Heb. 4:2. This lets us into the entire secret of 'profitable sermons' on the one hand, and 'useless sermons' ones on the other hand. Believing or not believing makes all the difference.

The Israelites had the gospel, or as the word signifies, the glad tidings of Canaan declared to them in the wilderness; even as we have the glad tidings of the heavenly rest; but they did not believe them, and the promise did nothing for them but aggravate their guilt and condemnation. It is faith alone which can make the promise to us of any avail—so said the apostle in another place– "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who BELIEVE." 1 Thess. 2:13. If there be no believing, there can be no effectual working; and where there is believing, there will be effectual working. So that if there be no effectual working, we know the cause.

Throughout every department of his operations God works by instruments or second causes. In the sphere of grace he works by the two instruments of reading and preaching his Word; or by this one instrument applied in a dual manner—and both these are rendered effectual in the same way—by faith—which comes in many cases by reading—but in far more by hearing the preached Word. In no age of the church does it appear that one of these instruments superseded the other. Neither is to be dispensed with; they assist each other—with more attentive hearing, we would have better reading; and with more diligent reading, we would have better hearing. If you have hearing without reading, you lay the church open to all the corruptions of Popery; you have priests—but no Bibles. If you have reading without hearing, you lay the church open to enthusiasm and fanaticism; you have Bibles—but not the ministry which the Lord has appointed.

Whoever reflects upon the matter will perceive that it was the same benevolent wisdom in which the entire scheme of our salvation originated, that made preaching the chief means of converting and sanctifying men. Let education advance as it may, the pulpit, however aided by the press, will still remain the chief prop of true religion in our world. And yet even this, with all its power derived from its Divine appointment and admirable adaptation to our mental economy, is not so efficient as might be looked for. When we consider what the gospel is—the glad tidings and offer of eternal life to the perishing children of men—the adaptation of the living voice to instruct and impress—the Divine command to proclaim these glad tidings—the millions of sermons which are continually being preached and the occasional exhibitions of its power, such as the conversions on the day of Pentecost, and under the preaching of Whitfield and Wesley—we are astonished that a greater result does not habitually follow the use of such an instrumentality.

What countless millions of sermons seem to be preached in vain, so far as regards any appreciable, or at any rate, ascertained result. Let an individual Christian, especially one far advanced in life, sum up if he can, the thousands of discourses he has heard on all the various topics of Divine truth, and then inquire what he ought to have been—as to knowledge, faith, holiness, deadness to the world, and fitness for heaven and eternity. What a sad, and melancholy, and humbling disproportion as to the means and the products, will he discover in himself. Where in his case, or where in the case of others, is the profiting by all this? No doubt there has been much mental gratification; much imaginative and even religious pleasure, in hearing all these discourses; and no small degree of edification. It may also be lawful to take into account what—but for these sermons, he might have been in the way of spiritual deterioration.

Still we say, what a small amount of profiting in the way of increased acquaintance with his Bible, and increased Christian holiness in all its visible branches, can he persuade himself he has gained. Let it never be forgotten that real, actual profiting—the enstamping of the Bible deeply upon the heart and visibly upon character—the transformation of the whole heart and soul into the image of God and the mind of Christ—the cultivation of a heavenly temper, and a fitness for glory everlasting—with real Christian consolation during our pilgrimage to the skies—are the ends of preaching; and that provided these are not promoted, whatever there may otherwise be of the gratification of taste, or the excitement of pleasurable emotion—the end of preaching is not gained. This, and this only, is profiting.

Multitudes are pleased by sermons, who are not in the smallest degree profited by them! And sometimes they are least profited by sermons, who are most pleased with them! While on the other hand, many a hearer little disposed at the time to be gratified by what he heard, has, like the patient who suffered almost with anger the sharp pangs inflicted by the surgeon's knife or probe, lived to bless the man who put him to pain, instead of merely lulling pain with opiates. If this be true, that profiting is the end of preaching, how much of failure is perpetually going on in accomplishing the ends of preaching. How is this? To whom shall we impute the blame?

Partly this is to be ascribed to the PREACHERS of the day. Either their aim is often something else than profiting their hearers, or else they know not how to accomplish this. One would suppose it impossible to hear a great deal of even what is called the evangelical preaching of this age, without asking the question– "Who can be profited by this? What adaptation is there in all this to convert sinners, to instruct, sanctify, and comfort believers? It is all very fine—there is much to please the intellect, to gratify the taste, to exercise the imagination; but what hearing is there in it upon spiritual edification, in any view of it?" I do not forget that many people and preachers also, take a far too limited view of the range of pulpit instruction, and would exclude from sermons subjects which I think might and should be, introduced to them. And I am equally convinced that instruction is by many thought too little of—as one way of profiting. A discourse replete with clear scriptural exposition—but which was addressed principally to the understanding, would be thought cold, uninteresting, and unprofitable, if it did not contain what would be called experience, and was not made up in great part of fervid appeals to the feelings. By such people, profiting means nothing more than emotional excitement.

It is my sad and serious conviction, that the evangelical pulpit is losing its power, just because it is losing sight of its object and its aim. The cultivation of the intellect and the advancement of knowledge, in the present day, are lifting both preachers and hearers above the plain and simple gospel of Christ. Sermons are with many people no longer heard as the word of God—but as the word of man; not as means of grace and aids to salvation—but as intellectual exercises on religious topics, for the gratification of taste, intellect, and imagination on a Sunday. And it must be confessed that the preachers of them are, by their artificial and excessive elaboration, and the introduction of new topics, teaching their hearers so to regard them, and are training them thus to be a kind of amateur hearers of sermons. A philosophized Christianity instead of a Christianized philosophy, is finding its way into our pulpits; which, aided by a rationalistic taste, and set off by an aspiring intellectuality, is seducing the church from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.

And to what shall we attribute all this—but to the increasing weakness of faith? The faith of many a preacher is fluttering at this moment in the spell of the basilisk eye which is fixed upon it—or if it be not so far under the spell, is whirling in dangerous circles and partial admiration round it. The faith of the pulpit is become somewhat debilitated. You do not always see the preacher rising clothed in all the solemn majesty of eternal truth; nor hear him wielding "the powers of the world to come," as if his eye at that moment were piercing the veil and gazing upon the Shekinah on the mercy seat; nor feel him commending himself to your conscience as in the sight of God. His is not the power to encircle your imagination with the realities of the unseen world; to unveil to you the glories of heaven, the terrors of hell; and to make you feel as if the day of judgment had come, and you stood face to face before the Judge on the great white throne. No—it is often power; but of another kind, and for another end. It is the power of intellectuality, of taste, of logic, of poetry, of philosophy—the power to please—but not to profit. You say, as you witness the exhibitions of intellect– "Here is the reason—but where is the faith of the preacher?"

But this chapter has chiefly to do with the faith of the HEARER, or rather the lack of it. Without faith it is impossible to hear even the gospel itself with profit. No matter how grand, glorious, and to ourselves interesting and important the theme—no matter how certain—no matter what may be the consequences of receiving or rejecting it—no matter how anxiously or how pressingly it may be urged upon us—the sermon can do us no good if it is not believed. Until faith opens the door of the mind and heart to let it into the soul, it is a blessing at the gate—but not in the house.

Our object therefore now will be to inquire in what way faith is to be so exercised in relation to the preaching of the Word of God as to secure a profitable hearing.

First, we shall consider the exercise of belief, BEFORE hearing sermons.

It need scarcely be said, that for the whole course of our hearing to be profitable—it must rest upon the basis of a habitual faith in the Scriptures as the Word of God, and in Christ as the substance of Divine revelation. No man can attend the ministry of the Word in faith, who is not a believer of the Word itself. And this thought must be habitually in our mind in prospect of going to the house of God. Suppose you were going to court, to be honored with an audience by the Queen, and to receive a communication or direction from her; and suppose, instead of expecting it to be delivered to you by her own lips, you knew she would speak by one of her courtiers, who would also be empowered to expound as well as to read it. Still, the prevailing thought of your mind, in prospect of going into the royal presence would be– "I am going to receive a message from the Queen. I must be profoundly attentive to all I hear, that I may understand every word of the royal mandate, and be prepared to execute the monarch's will." You would not consider the intervention of a third person, so far, as to put aside this view of your visit to court. You would not allow your expectations to settle on the reader of the Queen's address to you; it would not be the eloquence of his exposition of it, the melody of his voice, the fascination of his manner, that would fill and occupy beforehand your mind. No! it would be the presence and commands of majesty, and the right manner of conducting yourself as regards the royal message.

What else or what less is before you in going to hear a sermon? It is a message from God to you! It is God speaking by his ministers. And shall your mind be occupied wholly by the one thought, as it too frequently is, of your being about to hear some popular preacher, or even your own pastor? Faith lifts the soul above this low expectation, and fills it with the solemn thought– "I am going to hear what God will say unto me!" In proportion as we realize this, we shall collect our thoughts; and elevate our ideas; and compose our minds; just as we should properly dress, adjust, and adorn our body, and prepare our manner—for our appearance at court.

And then faith will consider preaching not as a human—but a divine institute. We shall not only recognize in it a wisely adapted but humanly invented means of improvement—but an ordinance of God, which derives its efficacy in part from his own appointment. We shall consider it as the way in which he holds his walks, and is accustomed to reveal himself to his people. "You meet those who remember you in your ways." Hence it will enlarge our expectations in prospect of going up to the house of God. We shall look for God there, and cherish an assurance that we are going to be blessed by the word which he will speak to us. Without a particle of fanaticism, we shall be blessed, for we may suppose that the preacher will say something that will suit our case. Our anticipations will rise to something higher than even "the feast of reason."

To the heart hungering and thirsting after righteousness, something else will attract it to the pulpit, than mere intellectuality, logic, or rhetoric—even the provisions of God's house—the truths of the gospel—the bread of life. The expectations thus raised and supported by faith, God will not disappoint—but will bless the provisions of his house, and satisfy the poor with bread. He will reveal himself, in and by the sermon, to those who come to see his power and glory in the sanctuary. He loves to accomplish those expectations which center in himself, instead of the preacher; and to satisfy those longings which are directed to the enjoyment of his favor. How different all this to the practice of those who go to church—merely to see and be seen; or because their fathers went and they have been taught to go; or to 'criticize' or 'idolize' the preacher; or to furnish their heads with knowledge, instead of enriching their hearts with grace; or to calm and appease their conscience; or to save themselves from being called atheists; or to make 'hearing sermons' their piety itself, instead of regarding them as only the means of learning and promoting piety. Of course there is no faith in any of these.

Faith would unquestionably lead us, did we possess it, to pray very earnestly for the spirit of God to be granted both to ourselves and the preacher. "For who then is Paul, and who is Apollos—but ministers by whom you believed, as the Lord gave to every man?" There is no blessing upon the Word—but what comes from God. Not a sermon will ever convert a simmer, or comfort or sanctify a believer—without God's Spirit. The Word indeed is, in its own nature, living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; but it is only in the hand of the Spirit that it does any execution, and pierces through the inmost recesses of the heart. The seed of the kingdom contains a germinating and vegetating principle; but it is only as it is fertilized by the moisture that comes from the clouds, that it will grow. The believer recognizes this truth, and goes to his closet with the prayer– "Lord, if your presence goes not with us, carry us not up hence." We should in this respect as in others, turn God's promises into prayers, and say– "Bless both the preacher and my soul. Open my eyes by his ministry, to see wondrous things out of your word—and as you have said you will abundantly bless the provisions of your house, fulfill this day your word unto your servant, upon which you have caused him to hope."

Prayerless hearers must be profitless hearers! When we see the careless, undevout manner in which people hurry off to sermons, can we wonder that they get no good by them? It would be a wonder if they did. Not a pause in their worldly thoughts—not a single spontaneous prayer on the way to God's house, or entering into it—not the glance of an eye or a thought to heaven, either of desire or expectation. Alas, alas, what good can come of hearing sermons in this fashion?

Secondly. Faith must be in exercise DURING the hearing of sermons, not only before but at the time.

It must be mixed with hearing. Hearing and believing must be concurrent. As the truths of the discourse enter the ear, faith must, as we have said, open the door to give them cordial welcome. This will lead you to listen to a sermon with solemn attention, deep reverence, devout affections, as, to the Word of God. As the truth is unfolded by the preacher, you should rise above him—to the God who sends him! Yes, you should rise above the truth he speaks—to the God who is its author. The gospel itself is infinitely momentous, for it is the word of salvation. On the effects which the gospel produces in us, depends our state for eternity. It is the Word of LIFE—the very element in which the Christian is appointed to live and to receive continual accessions of light and purity, until he is presented faultless in the presence of the Divine Glory.

But it is still more solemn to recollect it is the Word of GOD; and which is never heard in an appropriate frame, except when the hearer is saying in sincerity and truth– "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

If there be faith in hearing, all disposition to carp, cavil, and criticize, will be dismissed from the soul, and be considered as much out of place as they would be in a sick man who was listening to directions for the saving of his life, or a condemned man who was receiving instructions how he might avoid an ignominious death. We should hear the Word of God less in the character of judges than of those who shall be judged by it.

A true belief will not indeed receive error for truth, and feed and flourish as well upon poison as upon bread. A true belief can and will discriminate between the doctrines of men and the revelations of God—and it is no less its duty to reject what is false than to receive what is true. But with this discrimination, the believer will unite candor, docility, and meekness. The soul awed by the presence of God—the importance of salvation—the solemnities of judgment—the prospect of eternity—and the scenes of heaven and hell—which it is the business of the preacher to bring before it, will have no time and no disposition to dwell on little imperfections of the composition, manner, and elocution of the speaker—or to condemn a sermon useful as a whole, for a word, a phrase, or a sentiment, not exactly to the taste of the hearer.

Self-application is eminently characteristic of true faith. The believer hears not so much for others as for himself. He does not rightly believe the gospel who does not believe that Christ died for him as well as others; so neither does any man rightly hear the gospel, who does not hear for himself. "What would we think," says Robert Hall– "of a person who, after accepting an invitation to a feast, and taking his place at the table, instead of partaking of the meal, amused himself with speculating on the nature of the provisions, or the manner in which they were prepared, and their adaptation to the temperament of the several guests, without partaking of a single bite. Such however, is the conduct of those who hear the Word without applying it to themselves, or considering the aspect it bears on their individual character." Faith detaches every person from the congregation, places him in a state of isolation, and amid surrounding multitudes makes him hear apart. In the exercise of this grace, the believer says– "God speaks to me by the preacher—that doctrine is my lesson, and I must learn it—that command is my duty, I must practice it—that promise is my encouragement, I must live upon it—that warning is for my admonition, I must give heed to it." It lays up everything in our hearts, either for present or future use.

But it becomes us above all to apply those truths and portions to our case which are specially appropriate; and often-times these are so unmistakable, that we are ready to imagine either that someone had made the preacher acquainted with our case, or that God had given a special direction to his thoughts with a view to ourself . In order to this, however, we must become intimately acquainted with our own sins, weaknesses, needs, temptations, and dangers. No one can be a profitable hearer who has not much self-knowledge. That which is food for one is poison for another. Believers lose their comfort—and unbelievers their souls—because one applies the threatenings to themselves and the other the promises. In hearing, therefore, while the ear is given to the preacher, the eye should be fixed intently upon the heart, to give a right direction to all that is said.

Faith has not only to do with new truths or even new discoveries of received ones—but with old ones also. It is its business not only to make excursions into unexplored countries—but to traverse those already known—not merely to find out new walks and prospects—but to take new pleasure in frequented paths, and to be ever seeing new beauties in these. We appeal to the experience of every real Christian, whether the sweetest and most profitable seasons he has enjoyed have not been those in which he is not conscious of having learned any new truth strictly speaking—but in which he was indulged with spiritual and transforming views of the plain, unquestionable discoveries of the gospel. As the Word of God is the food for souls, so it corresponds to that character in this respect, among others—that the strength and refreshment it imparts depend not upon its novelty—but upon the nutritious properties it possesses. It is a sickly appetite only which craves incessant variety.

Impartiality is essentially included in the faith of hearing. There is a vast variety of subjects in the Word of God. It is a garden of many flowers, all beautiful in their season—a feast of many dishes, all pleasant and nutritious; and though one flower no be more admired than another, and one food more relished than another, yet all will be regarded with approbation and delight.

Yet how many there are who have their favorite topics, and can endure no other. Some are all for doctrinal statements, and esteem as cold legality all preceptive preaching; while others are all for duty, and revile as antinomianism the exhibition of the doctrines of grace. Some would have only the mild persuasion of the gospel, while others would have the preacher clothe himself in the terrors of Sinai, and deal in thunder. Some would have the privileges of true believers only dwelt upon, and others want the sins of worldly professors constantly denounced. This is fancy, not faith. The wisdom that comes from above is without partiality and without hypocrisy. As it is a symptom of a diseased state of body to be able to relish only one sort of food—it is not less so of the mind to have a taste for only one sort of instruction. Faith, like the bee, sucks honey from every flower, whatever be its form, its color, or its fragrance.

Thirdly. Faith has something to do AFTER hearing.

It perpetuates the remembrance of what we have heard. We cannot be saved by a forgotten word. And we know and believe the truth in vain—if we do not remember it. This we are taught by those solemn expressions– "By which you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain." 1 Cor. 15:2. The apostle James aptly describes, by a most appropriate figure, the faint and transient impressions produced by sermons on those who hear them, when he compares them to the hasty glances which a person takes of his face, when he passes rapidly before a mirror– "If any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass—for he beholds himself, and goes his way, and immediately forgets what manner of man he was." 1:23-24. He does not stay long enough before the mirror to see what in his person needs to be removed, or in his dress to be adjusted; and therefore soon forgets what he was in appearance, and what he needs to do with himself for a becoming appearance.

So is it with the hearer of the Word, without a true belief of it. He catches from the sermon a hasty and imperfect view of his moral self—but he pays no particular attention to his character, conduct, and requirements, passes from before the moral mirror, and forgets all he heard. Under sermons he is perhaps impressed and convinced; but there is no faith, and the impression is soon effaced. It was emotion, not conviction, that was produced—mere sensibility, not believing choice. Now nothing will keep up the recollection and perpetuate the conviction—but a firm belief of its truth. "Yes," says the man who believes– "it is all true—the solemnities of public worship are over—the voice of the preacher is hushed—the tones and words of impassioned eloquence are gone; but the solemn truth remains—sin and salvation are what they were, and all they were, when so vividly described from the pulpit. I believe it—Lord help my unbelief." Such a man looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein. He stands long before the mirror of the sermon; attentively considers his character and conduct as reflected from it; sees what needs to be altered, supplied or improved. He carries away an accurate knowledge and vivid recollection of what he heard. "He being not a forgetful hearer—but a doer of the Word, this man shall be blessed indeed."

Faith expostulates with our hearts on what we have heard. It preaches the sermon all over again to the individual alone. Ah! here is the reason why sermons are preached in vain. As soon as the service is over, instead of breaking up in solemn silence and retiring, each one too full, too serious, to engage in idle talk—many begin to converse with each other about the most trivial matters in the house of God, and all the way home; and then, instead of retiring to their closets to pray over in secret what they have heard in the sanctuary, they all gather round the fireside in gleeful mood to enjoy themselves, now that the sermon is over. Not so all. Here and there, a devout and spiritual mind, full of the subject, steals away to her chamber to muse upon, and pray over, and apply it all. "No," she says– "I cannot forget such truths; they are truths, and I believe them. I have seen and felt them afresh today. My conviction of them is strengthened. O God, I thank you that your servant was enabled to bring them before me with such light and power. Let them abide in me continually, and influence me in everything."

Faith disposes those who have it, to converse with others about what they have heard. When we have been informed of some great and important news, which concerns others as well as ourselves, we are naturally inclined to talk of it with those who have a joint interest in it. This conversation between Christians about the sermon, however, will refer far more to the theme of the discourse, than to the ability of the preacher. Strong impression perhaps in some cases, will dispose to musing rather than to speaking, even as deep rivers flow in silence. The heart, in others, will be too full to repress its emotions. But in either case it will be lifted far above the region of criticism, mere admiration, or taste.

The tongue, if it speaks, will echo the solemn truths the ear has heard. "Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" So said the two disciples who had conversed with the Savior on the way to Emmaus—and so say the profited, as well as pleased hearers of a sermon to one another, when it is over. Listen to the discourse of two different groups of hearers on their way home, or after they have reached it. "What an eloquent sermon!" exclaims one person. "And what a beautiful voice!" replies the other. "And how graceful his action!" adds a third. "What genius, what imagery, what splendid diction! What an intellectual treat. He is unquestionably the greatest preacher of the day. Such new ideas—such a philosophical view of his subject." There is not much faith in all this. These hearers would have said it all after hearing a public lecture, and have had just as much piety too.

But now listen to the remarks of another circle. "Well," says a serious and thoughtful individual– "if we are not profited by such clear and full exhibitions of momentous truth—such solemn admonitions—and such faithful warnings—the fault will be our own." "Yes," replies another– "we must be more in earnest in the pursuit of salvation; the great themes of revelation never stood out before me in such transparent reality—nor came upon my heart with such power before." "Nor," says a third– "was I ever so deeply convinced either of the evil of sin, or the necessity of an atonement, or of the glory of the gospel to meet the case of the condemned sinner." "I have thought until now," adds a fourth– "that I fully felt the value of a Savior—but the brightness of his glory has come over me today with new splendor." This is faith, not fancy—piety, not mere taste.

Better, far better, not speak at all—but go home in silence, than to enter upon all kinds of general and trifling conversation as soon as the service is over. Men soon talk away the good impressions they have received. Convictions are thus stifled in the birth, and good resolutions fall into oblivion. In the olden time it was customary for the saintly father, at the hour of evening prayer, to recapitulate the sermons which the family had all heard, or to call upon them for some account of these discourses. Alas, how has this, and some other exercises of domestic piety, fallen into neglect in our days! Why do not the heads of families still act thus with their households? How it would benefit themselves by riveting what they had heard upon their own memories, and how it would benefit their children, to go over at home in a friendly manner, the sermon which they had heard in the sanctuary. Parents, how this would tend to impress them with your own convictions, of the truth of what you had heard. Alas, alas, how rarely do some families receive from their parents any remarks upon the sermons they have heard—but in the way of cavil, criticism, or censoriousness! Who can wonder that such children look with contempt upon the preaching thus held up to ridicule, and prefer a novel or a play—to sermons they have been thus led to despise.

Faith will immediately and anxiously reduce to practice what it has heard. Nothing in Scripture is purely speculative. There is no mere 'science of religion'. All Scriptural revelation, not excepting the most sublime mysteries, is practical, and furnishes motives to the practice of some duty, or the exercise of some grace. The doctrine of faith is designed to produce the obedience of faith. If this is true of the Word of God itself, it is equally true of hearing it. The Word of God is preached not only that it might be heard—but done; and it is only a solemn mockery of God—a dreadful impertinence—an aggravated insult, to hear sermons with apparent seriousness, without even an intention to comply with their directions. Will hearing sermons without practicing them carry you to heaven? No! Not any more than hearing a lecture upon medicine will cure your disease; or hearing a discourse upon the elements of food satisfy your hunger. Here then is the action of faith—it goes straight from hearing the sermon to reduce it to practice. The sermon reveals to us our corruption—this instantly sets about mortifying them. The sermon makes known a neglected duty—this goes and performs it. The sermon calls for a sacrifice of something dear to us—this instantly makes the surrender. We have all just as much belief during and in the sermon, as we have of obedience to its requirements afterwards, and no more.

It is the part of faith, if we have received any benefit, to ascribe it all to God's grace. It is neither to yourself—nor to the instrument, that the honor of a successful and profitable attendance is to be ascribed. There was indeed your own attention, and the minister's instruction, and they were necessary to your benefit; but it was by God's grace that both were made effectual. Set the crown on the head of your Divine Lord, and not on that of the minister. Preachers are neither to be under nor overvalued. Honor them—love them—pray for them—be grateful to them; but do not idolize them!

Such is the course you should follow if you would profit by the means of grace; and will follow if you hear with faith. O Christian, consider how much of the power and happiness of the divine life in your soul depends upon the hearing of sermons. Unhappily, multitudes allow themselves to be too dependent on these means, to the neglect of the private perusal of the Scriptures. It were much to be wished you would be more conversant with the Bible; that you would make this the man of your daily counsel; and secure leisure for studying the Word of God for yourself. That you would dig for treasure yourself in that unexhausted, inexhaustible mine of wealth—but as some have not time, and others but little ability, and all too little inclination, it is of immense importance you should know how to improve by the sermons which you have opportunity and disposition to hear, and therefore you should take all suitable opportunities for hearing them.

A few words may be added on the subject of the exercise of faith as regards the Lord's Supper. In the observance of this solemn and impressive ordinance, there is ample room for the exercise of all the great principles of true religion. No institute of the gospel has been more misunderstood or more abused than this. It is of infinite consequence that it should be cleared from all the mistakes by which ignorance and superstition have beclouded and corrupted it. We remark then that the person by whom it is observed should be a genuine believer in our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless this be the case, it cannot be done in faith at all. None but a true believer can enter into its design. All else must "eat and drink judgment to themselves, not discerning the Lord's body." It is not a converting ordinance—but a strengthening and edifying one. It is poison, not food, to an unconverted man. The partaking of it in an unregenerated state, ministers to delusion, and wraps the soul up in perpetual unbelief. There can be no exercise of faith in this ordinance if there is not a principle of genuine belief already in the soul. Let none therefore be urged to observe the Lord's Supper, who have not first committed their souls into the Lord's hands, to be redeemed by his blood, and regenerated by his Spirit.

And then not only must the person partaking of the Lord's Supper be a true believer—but his observance of the Supper must be an act of his belief. It must itself be an exercise of faith. It must not be a mere formality and bodily ceremony; but while the senses are conversant with the material elements, the mind must be taken up with the authority, nature, and design of the institute.

It should be observed with an intelligent and deep conviction of its Divine appointment and obligation. "I must needs keep this feast," says the Christian– "because Christ has enjoined it. He, and not man, instituted it. There is nothing of human device in it. I yield to his authority who said, 'Do this in remembrance of me.' The rite has come down associated with the practice of the church of God in every age—apostles, martyrs, and reformers have observed it—but it is not on that ground that I continue the custom—but because I have faith in Christ, and not because I yield to ecclesiastical authority. He had a right to set up this ordinance—he did set it up—and I submit to his authority, and obey his commands."

The believer recognizes its purely symbolical and commemorative nature. He does not sink into the revolting absurdity and degrading superstition of Romish or semi-Romish notions on this subject. It is true the Papist boasts of his greater faith in embracing the profound mystery of transubstantiation. He tells us he exceeds all men in faith, for he believes not only what is above reason—but against it. He discredits the testimony of the very senses, and believes that that which has the taste, and smell, and other elements of bread, is still not bread in its substance. He boasts of the greatness and strength of his faith. This however is neither faith nor reason—but an abject credulity, a miserable delusion, an absolute renunciation of the human faculties, which, by pretending to cleave close to the literal import of our Lord's words, perverts their meaning, and makes them preposterously absurd.

The intelligent Christian knows that the bread is still bread, the wine still wine, and nothing more; and that they are to be used as symbols of truth, the truth of the body and blood of Christ given for his salvation. He rejects the Lutheran notion of consubstantiation, which means the presence of the real body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine, as well as the Popish figment of transubstantiation. Nor does he entertain any notion of what is called "the mystical presence" of Christ with the elements. He does believe, and it is his glory and felicity to believe, that Christ's presence is with him in the act of receiving the bread and wine; but he has no notion, and therefore no belief, of that presence in the elements. Whatever is in the bread and wine, he really and physically eats and drinks, and the idea of eating and drinking the presence of Christ, is to him very revolting. Besides, of what use would it be to him in a spiritual sense? What is eaten and drank goes into the stomach, and by the process of digestion and assimilation into the body—not into the soul.

It is not then the bread and the wine which are the objects of faith—these are objects of sense; nor is it these that do good to the soul of themselves—but the truths they represent. It is only truth which can sanctify; and the elements of the Lord's Supper are no farther beneficial to the recipients of them, than as they are regarded in the light of symbols of truth. There is neither mystery nor obscurity in the Lord's Supper. It is the simplest thing imaginable; and its simplicity is its glory. It is an emblematic representation and commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ's human nature upon the cross for sin. It is an auxiliary to our faith through the medium of our senses—it is a stirring up of our memories to remember Jesus Christ. "Do this in remembrance of me." This is what it means and all it means, so far as Christ is concerned. Men who are enamored by the fabulous and mysterious—who desire to make it an instrument of priestly power—who are prone to fantasy and superstition, have labored hard to make it something more, and in the attempt have destroyed its beautiful simplicity, as a representative and commemorating ordinance. Hence they have exhibited it as the mysteries of our holy religion; the channel of sacramental grace; the unbloody sacrifice of the mass; and have so wrapped it in obscurity and surrounded it with superstitious ceremony, that while some have been repelled from it as what is peculiarly solemn, others have observed it as the very means of salvation.

But what does the intelligent Christian say? "I believe in the sole authority of Christ to appoint rites and ceremonies. I believe that he has instituted this as a perpetual memorial to the world, of his death—and to quicken my lively remembrance of this great event, in obedience to his command, I observe it for this purpose; and according to his promise, I expect his presence and his grace in the observance." What more can we need, or want or wish than this? Is not the penitential, believing, loving, joyful, obedient remembrance of Christ the highest state of mind to which a Christian can rise this side of heaven? For people who love the sentimental, the imaginative, the poetic, the mysterious, this will not be enough; but for those who understand the religion of the New Testament to be the influence of truth received through the aid of the Holy Spirit by faith—it is all that is necessary for a life of godliness.

Faith, and not fancy, is the proper state of mind at the time of receiving the Lord's Supper. There is much misconception on this subject in the minds of many good people. Instead of allowing their understanding, during the time of celebration of the Supper, to be conversant with the truth there represented, they are employing their fancy in conceiving of the fact there set forth. What I mean is this, instead of the mind, and heart, and conscience being refreshed by faith in the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin, they are all the while endeavoring to picture him personally to the imagination, nailed to the cross, with the blood streaming from his temples, his hands, his feet, and his side; and thus work up the emotions by this scene of sufferings. They bow, in fact, before a crucifix, though the crucifix is in the imagination instead of being suspended upon the wall. Everybody is aware of that power of the mind to call up before it by conception an absent scene, or person, or object; and this can be done in reference to the crucifixion, as well as any other object.

Now it is not the design of the Lord's Supper to do this—but to establish us in the belief of the truth that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," and to keep up our hope of his second coming—and our work of faith at the Lord's table is, to rest with blessed confidence and peace on this sure foundation.

Faith in the Lord's Supper has special reference to Christ as our sacrifice for sin, not to the exclusion of other views of his person and work—but still it pre-eminently relates to this. This view implies other views. His humanity alone died, or could die upon the cross—but without the Divinity to which that humanity was mysteriously and inseparably united, there could have been no atonement. The atonement, rather than the example of Christ, is the subject of commemoration; yet in making that atonement, Christ exercised the deepest submission to his Father's will, and the most exemplary patience; and it was these dispositions of his mind that united with the agonies of his body to make a propitiation for our sins. So that there can be no separation of one view of Christ's person and work from the other—they are all united and form a glorious whole. Yet they may, like the colors of the rainbow, be viewed separately, though thus combined.

It is therefore the death of Jesus—the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood upon the cross, we are here called upon to commemorate. The Lord's Supper is a standing, glorious, delightful embodiment of the great doctrine of the atonement. It is the exhibition of that fundamental truth in a most impressive form to the senses. It is a visible, material comment upon that passage– "Whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood." How sweetly does the Christian meditate in this ordinance, or should do so, on sin pardoned and God glorified. There, mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace embrace each other.

Nor does faith leave out of consideration any of the other collateral objects and designs of the Lord's Supper. It is not only a memorial of Christ's first advent—but a pledge of his second. "You thus show forth the Lord's death, until he comes." The bridegroom and husband of the church has, for wise and ever gracious purposes, left his bride and spouse in the wilderness—but he has given her not only a promise—but a pledge of his return to take her to himself. He has gone away into the heavens—but he will come again without a sin offering—unto salvation. "Meet," said he to her– "meet often at my table, and think and talk of me, and keep up the expectation of my second coming." This is one part of our business and object, to think of Christ's re-appearance. In this exercise of belief, both at the Lord's Supper and at other times, Christians generally are very deficient. We do not think enough of Christ's second coming. What would be said of the wife, who, when her husband was away in another country, could be happy without him, and be contented to think rarely about him? On the contrary, how the loving wife longs in such circumstances for her husband's return. "O when will he come back," is her frequent exclamation. Wife of the Lamb, church of the Savior, where is your waiting; hoping, longing for the second coming of your Lord? Is this your blessed hope, as it was that of the primitive church? O Christian, are you not lacking here? Every morsel of that bread you eat at the sacramental table; every drop of wine you drink, is the voice of Christ saying to you– "I will come again and receive you to myself," and should draw forth your longing desires, saying– "Come Lord Jesus! Even so, come quickly!"

And then it is a joint participation—hence it is called the communion of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are to believe in the universal Church—the body of Christ. "We being many are one bread, (loaf,) and one body—for we are all partakers of that one bread," (loaf.) There in that one loaf, yet consisting of many parts, is the emblem of the unity of the church. The Lord's Supper exhibits this, and the believer receives it, and rejoices in it. To him it is matter of inexpressible pleasure to be able to say– "One Lord, one faith, one hope. We are all one in Christ." He breaks through the barriers of sectarianism, and embracing all who partake of like precious faith, and the common salvation, says– "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." It is said, faith works by love—and never does it work more powerfully in this way than at the Lord's Supper. Who that really believes can indulge malice there? In what truly regenerated heart can wrath dwell there?

If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce joy; for it is a feast, and joy becomes a feast. If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce penitential humility, for there we are reminded that though reconciled, we were once enemies to God by wicked works. If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce love, for everything says to us– "See how he loved you!" If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce holiness, for there it is declared– "He gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce devotedness, for how forcibly and pathetically are the apostle's words addressed to us there– "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body and your spirit which are his." If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce hope, for there we are reminded that when he who is our life shall appear, we also shall appear with him in glory. If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce brotherly kindness, for these are the members of the same body, redeemed by the same blood, the objects of the same love, and those who are to be our friends through eternity. If faith is in exercise at the Supper, it will produce charity, for there is represented to us the propitiation not only for our sins—but the sins of the whole world. Yes, what grace is not cherished, or what corruption is not mortified, by a believing observance of the Lord's Supper?

Such are the exercises of faith in the Supper of our Lord.