“How can these things be?”
[John iii. 9.]
Such being the necessary mysteriousness of Scripture doctrine, how can we best turn it to account in the contest which we are engaged in with our evil hearts? Now we are given to see how to do this in part, and, as far as we see, let us be thankful for the gift. It seems, then, that difficulties in revelation are especially given to prove the reality of our faith.
What shall separate the insincere from the sincere follower of Christ? When the many own Christ with their lips, what shall try and discipline His true servant, and detect the self-deceiver? Difficulties in revelation mainly contribute to this end.
They are stumbling-blocks to proud and unhumbled minds, and were intended to be such. Faith is unassuming, modest, thankful, obedient. It receives with reverence and love whatever God gives, when convinced it is His gift. But when men do not feel rightly their need of His redeeming mercy, their lost condition and their inward sinfulness, when, in fact, they do not seek Christ in good earnest, in order to gain something, and do something, but as a matter of curiosity, or speculation, or form, of course these difficulties will become great objections in the way of their receiving His word simply. And I say these difficulties were intended to be such by Him who “scattereth the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”
St. Peter assures us, that that same corner-stone which is unto them that believe “precious,” is “unto them which be disobedient, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence,” “whereunto also (he adds) they were appointed.” [1 Pet. ii. 7, 8.] And our Lord’s conduct through His ministry is a continued example of this. He spoke in parables that they might see and hear, yet not understand,—a righteous detection of insincerity; whereas the same difficulties and obscurities, which offended irreligious men, would but lead the humble and meek to seek for more light, for information as far as it was to be obtained, and for resignation and contentedness, where it was not given.
When Jesus said, … “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you … Many of His disciples … said, This is a hard saying: who can hear it? … and from that time many … went back, and walked no more with Him … Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Here is the trial of faith, a difficulty. Those “that believe not” fall away: the true disciples remain firm, for they feel their eternal interests at stake, and ask the very plain and practical, as well as affectionate question, “To whom shall we go,” [John vi. 53-68.] if we leave Christ?
At another time our Lord says, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent (those who trust reason rather than Scripture and conscience), and hast revealed them unto babes (those who humbly walk by faith). Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” [Matt. xi. 25, 26.] Now what do we gain from thoughts such as these? Our Saviour gives us the conclusion, in the words which follow a passage I have just read. “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given him of My Father.” Or, again, “No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him.” Therefore, if we feel the necessity of coming to Christ, yet the difficulty, let us recollect that the gift of coming is in God’s hands, and that we must pray Him to give it to us.
Christ does not merely tell us, that we cannot come of ourselves (though this He does tell us), but He tells us also with whom the power of coming is lodged, with His Father,—that we may seek it of Him. It is true, religion has an austere appearance to those who never have tried it; its doctrines full of mystery, its precepts of harshness; so that it is uninviting, offending different men in different ways, but in some way offending all. When then we feel within us the risings of this opposition to Christ, proud aversion to His Gospel, or a low-minded longing after this world, let us pray God to draw us; and though we cannot move a step without Him, at least let us try to move.
He looks into our hearts and sees our strivings even before we strive, and He blesses and strengthens even our feebleness. Let us get rid of curious and presumptuous thoughts by going about our business, whatever it is; and let us mock and baffle the doubts which Satan whispers to us by acting against them. No matter whether we believe doubtingly or not, or know clearly or not, so that we act upon our belief. The rest will follow in time; part in this world, part in the next.
Doubts may pain, but they cannot harm, unless we give way to them; and that we ought not to give way, our conscience tells us, so that our course is plain. And the more we are in earnest to “work out our salvation,” the less shall we care to know how those things really are, which perplex us. At length, when our hearts are in our work, we shall be indisposed to take the trouble of listening to curious truths (if they are but curious), though we might have them explained to us. For what says the Holy Scripture? that of speculations “there is no end,” and they are “a weariness to the flesh;” but that we must “fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” [Eccles. xii. 12, 13.]
Sermons Parochial and Plain, 1, sermon 16