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Hebrews vi, 12.
be-followers of them, who through faith and patience, inherit the
“PRECEPTS teach, but examples move :" This is a remark often made, and confirmed by experience. We have reason to be thankful, that so many shining examples of piety and virtue are set before us, in the holy Scriptures. To imitate these, as well as later ones, is our duty: To this the apostle exhorts in my text“That ye be followers of them, who through faith and patience, inherit the promises.” In these words, three things are observable, which I shall endeavor to illustrate and improve, at this time.
I. A summary description of the life which the saints of God have lived.
II. Their happiness at the end of this life.
III. An exhortation to us, to imitate them, in a holy life, that we may be happy with them after death.
I. The words give a summary description of the life which former saints have lived, in their way to heaven, viz. a life of faith and patience.
The apostle perhaps might have his eye particularly on the ancient patriarchs and prophets, of whom he speaks in the 11th chapter of this epistle; and whose example he, on several occasions, recommends to imitation. But to live a life of faith and patience, is not peculiar to them: All the saints, in every age of the church, who are gone to heaven, have done the same; though these virtues do not shine equally bright in all. In these two virtues or graces, with their genuine influence, we may com
2 Cor. v.
prise most of the peculiar excellencies of the Christian life. I shall speak of them distinctly.
1. All saints, in their way to heaven, live a life of faith.
Without this, the Christian life is not begun. The apostle observes, “ that we become the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.” Gal. iii. 24. Faith is a condition of the gospel covenant: Without it, none are interested in it, and the blessings which it contains. John i. 12. "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Faith is also the principle by which the Christian life is supported, and carried on. The apostle describes the life of every true Christian, as well as his own, when he says, “ The life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Gal. ii. 20. And when he says, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”
7. All the truths of divine revelation properly constitute the object of that “faith by which the just do live.” Our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ is often mentioned, as the object of the Christian's faith, as all evangelical truths centre in him. But every part of the sacred oracles hath influence, to form the life of a saint, when he exercises faith upon it.
His faith, in what God reveals, concerning himself, tends 10 produce a reverential fear of him; a supreme love to bim; a hearty confidence in him; and a constant care to please, honor, and obey him.
His faith in the record which God hath given of his Son Jesus Christmas the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person-as having undertaken to redeem sinners of mankind -as having become incarnate, for that purpose—as having obeyed the law of God, and fulfilled all righteousness—as having "humbled himself unto death, even the death of the cross, suffering the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”-as having arisen from the dead, and ascended up to heaven-as “ever living to make intercession for us," at the right-hand of God—as being the constituted judge of the quick and dead, who will dispense everlasting rewards and punishments, in the last day, to all men, according to their true character— The Christian's faith, I say, in this record which God hath given of his Son, leads him daily to look to and depend upon him, as his teacher; his atonement; bis lord and master; his pattern and example ; his intercessor; and his final judge. And this is the manner in which a Christian ought to live.
His faith in what the word of God reveals, of the character and office of the Holy Ghost; that he enlightens and instructs; that he renews and sanctifies; that he quickens and strengthens; that he supports and comforts, the souls of sinners ; engages him daily to depend upon this divine Agent, for light, strength, holiness, and comfort; in the way of his duty. This leads him daily to implore his influences, and to lay open bis mind to his agency; that he may improve in every branch of a Christian temper; that he may bear much fruit; and so be ripened for glory. Further
His faith is exercised on those passages, in God's word, which represent the evil of sin,—the vanity of this world—and the unsatisfying nature of its enjoyments. This puts him on his guard against sin, and makes him earnestly desire the entire extirpation of it from his heart: This weans bis affections from the world; and produces a happy indifference to its most flattering enjoyments. Again.
The Christian's faith is exercised on the glories of the invisible and eternal world, as held forth in the holy Scriptures. He looks up to the heavenly paradise, which is the peculiar residence of God, and his Saviour; where holy angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, dwell; where there is no sin, sorrow, or temptation; where there is a “fullness of joys, and pleasures for evermore.". This makes him heavenly-minded-makes him solicitous to secure a title to the “inheritance of the saints in light,” and a meetness to go and take possession of it: He looks forward, with a holy satisfaction and desire, to the approaching period, when he shall be admitted into the “high and holy place, into which nothing enters that defiles."
The Christian's faith also acts upon the promises of the gospel : Those that secure to him guidance and support, in this ensnaring world—strength to overcome his enemies, to perform duty, and to bear afflictions—freedom from the sting of death—and admission into the kingdom of glory. Faith in such promises, gives him courage to encounter difficulties; steadiness in the service of God; an elevation of soul above the world; and transporting joy and comfort, in the prospect of that happiness, which God has prepared for them that love him.
In a word, (for I have not time to go over all the particular objects of a Christian's faith, he exercises that faith, which is “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,” (Heb. xi. 1.)—a faith which views things hoped for, as substantial, real, and important: and things not seen, as certain, and evident; and so gives them a powerful influence on the heart, affections, and practice.
Such is “the faith by which the just do live,” and in the exercise of which, they make their way through this world to eternal glory : It is not indeed exactly equal in all, either as to the extensiveness of its object, or as to the strength and constancy of its exercise. The more strong, lively and constant its actings are, upon the proper objects of it, the greater advances saints will make in other graces; the more exemplary and fruitful will their lives be; the greater their joy and comfort, in religion ; and the speedier their ripeness to receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.
2. The life which saints live in their way to heaven, is a life of patience.
Patience, as well as faith, is a grace of the Spirit; produced at first, and continued, and strengthened, in its exercise, by his influences. No Christian is destitute of it, though all have it not in the same degree of persection. Every one has need of it, and meets with many things to try it, though not every one equally. There are two ways especially, in which it may be greatly tried. By passing through sore afflictions—and by having his hopes deferred.
All true Christians have their patience more or less exercised, by the afflictions which they meet with, in this life. Their Christianity will not exempt them from troubles, while they sojourn in this vale of tears; it may increase them. They are called to “ take
and follow Christ, who was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” They are taught not to expect to escape “persecution, if they will live godly in Christ Jesus ”not to expect “to enter into the kingdom of God," but “through much tribulation.” I know not what kind of troubles they are not liable to, in common with other men : they certainly are to pain, and sickness of body; to losses and perplexities, in their worldly affairs; to slanders and reproaches, to wound their reputation; to bereavements, by the death of near friends and relatives; and what is worse than their death, to have them conduct so as to deprive them of all comfort in them, and almost, of all hope concerning them. Some have their patience extraordinarily tried. Such are mentioned in the 11th chapter of this epistle: To these the apostle might have special reference. As their trials are not equally great, so their patience is not equally perfect under them. But of all real Christians it may be said, that they sincerely and habitually desire to be “ patient in tribulation.” They implore the influences of the divine Spirit, to make them so. Their faith serves to promote their patience-their faith in the wisdom and goodness of God's providence, and in the fidelity of his promises, which declare, “ that all things work together for good to them that love him." Rom. viji. 28. “That the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be rewarded in them." Rom. viii. 18.
The patience of Christians may be tried, by the accomplishment of their hopes and prospects of eternal blessedness being deferred.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Prov. xiii. 12. This
trial is peculiar to Christians of considerable attainments in grace and piety. It bears a near proportion to the clearness of their views of the heavenly inheritance, and of their own interest in it. The more relishing the joys of the future state are to them, the more ardent will their desires after them be. When their life is greatly embittered by bodily infirmities—when many of their pious friends are removed to heaven before them--when they find their active service for God to be nearly done; and think themselves laid by, as a vessel of little more use—when they have long thought themselves just entering the haven of everlasting rest, but find themselves driven back again to sea; their patience is greatly tried. They may be ready often to cry out, “ How long, O Lord, how long before thou wilt call me out of this sinful, afflicted state ; and call me home to thyself !” But their faith in the wisdom and goodness of their heavenly Father, who knows the fittest time to accomplish all their hopes, and who will not fail to do it in that time, will tend to quiet their minds, and give them a waiting frame : It will lead them to say as Job, “ All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” Job xiv. 14.
In the exercise of such faith and patience, have the saints of God passed through life, to his kingdom of glory. All have not shone equally bright herein. We may find the genuine exercise of these graces in the history of the apostles and prophets, contained in the holy Scriptures. We have seen it, in the saints of the present day. None pass through life without some degree hereof. There is no other path, in wbich saints have travelled to heaven ; and this will conduct them thither ; which leads me, in the second place,
II. To consider the happiness which they have found at the end of such a life: They inherit the promises. These words intimate, that saints immediately enter on a state of blessedness after death ; and express the nature of their happiness.
The saints' immediate entrance on a state of blessedness, after death, is a point, which, though called in question by some, yet seems to be fully confirmed in the holy Scriptures. Our text has often, and I think with justice, been mentioned as one of the passages that prove it. The words of our Saviour to the penitent thief on the cross confirm it. “ This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke xxiii. 43. Lazarus is spoken of, as being conveyed immediately to a state of happiness in the invisible world, upon his death. Luke xvi. 22. The apostle Paul speaks of being present with the Lord, as immediately consequent upon his being absent from the body. 2 Cor. v. 5. And those that die in the Lord are spoken of, as being blessed at present, in Rev.