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Those obstacles which lie in the way of our spiritual improvement, are, unbelief, a worldly life, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.
We begin with the sin of unbelief, which is the great impediment to the salvation of our souls.
1. The essence of this condemning sin consists in discrediting and rejecting the testimony of God. Now, that He is every way deserving of the entire confidence of his rational creatures, cannot be disputed, without the utmost impiety. His unalterable veracity and righteousness render it “impossible that God should lie.” He can be under .no temptation to deceive us ; and therefore we may safely believe, and implicitly receive, as undoubted truth, whatever he has revealed : and we should subinit to it with reverence and godly fear.
It were to be wished that the Lord of Hosts should be thus honoured by all : yet it is but too obvious, that many either do not believe his word, or, at least, act as if their faith was merely notional ; since it has no practical influence upon their behaviour towards God and man. So that if they are not avowed unbelievers in principle, they really are so in practice ; and this will at last subject them to the same condemnation as if they had made an open avowal of infidelity **.
Unbelief is a sin which is common to the offspring of Adam, and is one of the leading features of that depravity which they bring with them into the world ; and which they evince, by rejecting the revealed word of God as the standard of faith and practice, by distrusting his promises, defying his threatenings, and disobeying his commands.
· Mat. xxv. 30. Luke xii. 45, 46.
2. This is the most grievous affront that can be offered to God, whose honour is thereby called in question. It is a direct attack upon his fidelity; as if He had falsified his word, broken his covenant, and, consequently, was utterly unworthy of the least credit or respect.
The criminality of such conduct will appear more glaring, if it be considered that we receive the testimony of mankind when it is supported by sufficient evidence; and to reject it under such circumstances, is justly thought to be carrying our incredulity to an unwarrantable length. If, then, we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, and is unquestionably entitled to the highest credit. He, therefore, that believeth not God, hath made him a liar ; because he believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son."
Unbelief, then, insults God, by taxing him with positive falsehood, disbelieving his testimony, and treating him as if he was not worthy of the same degree of credenoe which we attach to the report of our fellow-creatures. And must not this be regarded by Jehovah as a crime of the deepest dye? Can the Majesty of Heaven feel no concern whether His word be doubted or believed? Can He allow the imputation of falsehood, without considering himself dishonoured, and without punishing the aggravated offence ? No; he will surely visit “ the unbelievers" with the same wrath reserved for abandoned sinners bb. The word of truth avers, “ He that believeth not shall be damned."
The punishment denounced against unbelief, proves there is great guilt, malignity, and enmity, connected
1 John v. 9, 10. bb Rev. xxi. 8. • Mark xvi. 16.
with it. Indeed, it is always reproached as a most heinous sin, and as the fruitful parent of every other transgression which unregenerate persons commit.
In the time of our Lord, it was that particular sin which hindered men from receiving the Gospel. Hence, on one occasion, it is said, "He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbeliefcc;" and, on another, “ He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart."
3. The mischievous effects occasioned by unbelief were not peculiar to the age in which Christ lived. It is still the deadly bane which poisons the souls of men, and incapacitates them for a life of faith and godliness. Unbelief hardens the heart, and shuts men's eyes to the misery and danger of their sinful condition. Those who are under its controul fancy themselves so “whole, that they have no need of the Physician.” Through this awful conceit, the provisions of the Gospel are despised as totally superfluous. Now, what is this, but to impeach the wisdom of Heaven, and to make the sacrifice of Christ of none effect?
Further ; unbelief is not a solitary offence: it engenders every evil thought and deed; for it makes the soul deaf to all the rebukes of conscience and the word of God. If men really believed that the Lord would fulfil the threatened vengeance of his word against their iniquities, they would not dare to commit them with such fearless unconcern. A realizing view of His hatred to sin, and love of righteousness, would make them desirous “ to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord.” But, whilst the veil of unbelief remains untaken away from their minds, it is not surprising if they should still go on wickedly, adding sin to sin, until the measure of their guilt is filled up, and their destruction is completed.
cc Mat. xiii. 58. a Mark xvi. 14. * 2 Cor. iii. 14--18. " Ezek. xviii. 30.
4. The consequences which unbelief involves are truly alarming. It brings the unbeliever into a state of actual condemnation; and places him under a sentence of death, which will be assuredly executed hereafter, if he does not repent, and believe and obey the Gospel. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
The unbeliever is accursed of God, whose indig. nation resteth on him. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Awful words ! But much more terrific is the state which they represent. Can any one, who is held by the chains of unbelief, read such a declaration, and not tremble? And should not all, who feel its dreadful power in alienating their hearts from God, supplicate his grace to counteract it, lest it should prove their ruin"?
5. Unbelieving Reader, canst thou hear these things without the most painful emotion? Canst thou be easy in the indulgence of this sin ; whilst it not only exposes thee to the Divine anger throughout eternity, but causes it, even now in this life, to light and remain upon thy devoted head? Oh, be secured from this impending misery, by fleeing to “ Jesus Christ, who is an Advocate with the Father, and who is also the propitiation for our sinsi!" Faith in His blood can effectually remove the foulest stains of guilt which thy unfaithful heart has contracted. « Wilt thou not be made clean? When shall it once be ii ?"
I John ii. 18.
6. Christian, be on your guard against an unbelieving state of mind ; for this sin is a principal cause of that unfruitfulness which is found amongst those who profess to be the disciples of Christ. Be mindful of the solemn caution given to you by St. Paul: “ Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any
of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day ; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end."
Resist, then, the most distant approaches to this sin ; lest, if it be cherished in your bosom, it should gain such an ascendancy, as to carry you out to lengths of iniquity that will drown you in perdition.
7. Sincere inquirers after God pray for the removal of unbelief; because it will prove a serious obstacle, as long as you are under its influence, to your prosperity in a religious course. The graces of the Spirit, “love, joy, faith, hope, meekness, peace, longsuffering, temperance, goodness, and gentleness", cannot flourish in a faithless heart.
Means, such as God has appointed, should be used, in dependence on his grace for the cure of your unbelief. Meditation on his sacred word, with prayer for a right understanding of it, and a firm conviction that the curses which it threatens and the blessings which it promises will be punctually fulfilled-together with an honest determination to act, in all respects, conformably to its sacred directions—will be found eminently serviceable for check
* Heb. jïi. 12–15. "Gal. v. 22–24.