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PROGRESS IN RELIGIOUS CONVICTION
‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’
All religious conviction proceeds from God and cannot proceed from man, because whatever there is in man that is good is put into him by God.
I. The first stage— repentance.—The first stage in the progress of spiritual conviction is repentance; a man has to find out that he is in the wrong before he can be set right. The foundation of all spiritual conviction rests in a knowledge of one’s sins, because we shall never desire new things until we have found out our inability to do good or to act rightly without the grace of God. We must know our true selves to bring about this change; to reach this stage in spiritual conviction.
II. The second stage— faith.—We will pass on to examine the most glorious passage in spiritual conviction, which I trust every member of this congregation will be able to lay to heart. ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Why is faith absolutely necessary? The reason is given to us in this very chapter: we are told that without faith it is impossible to please God. No words can be stronger. Is it not true that faith is the one thing? I know that we must do the work, and we must wrestle and fight and pray, but there is one thing needful when we have been convicted of our sin, and that is faith in the blessed work of our Saviour.
III. The third stage— assurance.—Let us take the words just as they stand! ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for.’ What is substance? There is a great deal of difference between a mere speculation and reality. Substance is reality. We say that, as we are met together in the name of the Lord Jesus, He is present with us. Perhaps some of you say that you hope he is present. I can go farther than that; I can say that He is here. He is here in the spirit and we are in the body, and so cannot see Him; there is the necessity for faith. Jesus said, ‘Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ Yes, He is with you, He is with you always. We get at the reality by means of faith.
Rev. H. Lionel James.
‘I think some of you have heard the story of the little maid that the parson came across in his house-to-house visitation. She had heard nothing about the progress of spiritual conviction, and she scarcely understood what it was to pray. This good minister taught her a little prayer, and it was just this: “Lord, show me myself, for Jesus Christ’s sake, Amen.” She promised to repeat this prayer, and the minister told her that the Lord would answer it. When he visited that part of his parish again, and called at the farm-house, he found that the little girl had learnt that she was a sinner, and that she had changed her mind as to herself. That is the true meaning of repentance.’
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
‘But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.’
It was exactly when these Hebrews were most sorely tempted that they were so carefully reminded that it was by faith, and faith alone, that ‘the elders obtained a good report.’ And in this eleventh chapter of the Epistle we have a long list brought before us of heroes who lived in the times of old, of men who were not stronger than we are, but were of the same nature as ourselves, and yet were able to fight the battles of God and to overcome the world, because they were so sure and certain that God was with them, and they ‘endured as seeing Him Who is invisible.’
I. In this way, or some way like it, God is teaching every soul of man who lives upon the earth.—All men have to travel by the same path, all men are called upon to turn away their eyes from the things which are seen and temporal, and to fix the eye of their spirit upon those things which are not seen and eternal. And it is through much tribulation that they enter into the kingdom of God.
II. When the earth is calm, and when for a while wars have ceased in all the world, then we begin to fancy that things can go on of themselves. But when we hear of wars and rumours of wars, when nation rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and violence and confusion seem to fill the world; when our own land is full of contention and party spirit, and men have words of peace upon their lips and yet are backbiting and devouring one another, and when we think of these things, does it not sometimes seem to us as if God had nothing to do with it, as if these tumults and commotions upon earth were outside the range of God’s government altogether? But it is not so. The one sense of safety in all trouble is in the grasping of the fact that ‘the Lord reigneth.’
III. Yet once more. Our faith may not be shaken by the wars and confusions of the world—nor by the strife of jarring opinions and sects. But there is another temptation which is a thousand times stronger, because it is so much closer to our own selves. The confusions and the discord of the outer world may enter into us. The mire and dirt which our own hearts cast up may hide God from our eyes. Or what is still worse, the coldness and indifference of the world may enter into us, and we may not care for anything except the things which we see around us. Nay, brethren, the coldness and indifference of the world does enter into us, and it is the root of all our unbelief. It is only now and then that men care to know anything about God. It is only now and then that they think of Him, and they fancy that it is only now and then that He thinks of them. Brethren, is it not so with you? Do you dare to say that you are diligently seeking Him?
A PREPARED CITY
‘Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.’
What are the special qualities of the town through which the Divine can make itself known? What are the materials which it can be put to use?
I. First of all, I think, the heightened personal vitality which the crowded town quickens into activity.—The man in us, the personal self, discloses through the town strange and exciting possibilities which lie hidden until the stress of multitudinous life awakes them. And these possibilities as they expand under the incessant pressure and growth of intercourse become to us a revelation of what the personal vitality of God might mean, if only one could enter into it more fully. This heightened vitality shows itself first in the quickened capacity for emotion. Yes, there is danger in it; yet in itself a rise in capacity to feel is a rise in the spiritual scale. Feeling, passion, impulse—these belong to the deep realities of human character. They are in our primal and most essential being. And they belong to the very central self by which we adhere to God. In raising the power of feeling, the town has raised our capacity to understand and commune with God.
II. And, secondly, this heightened vitality shows itself in the will.—The energy of the human will is evoked by the town. Through the town man calls upon his creative activities for ever-increasing endeavour. He challenges himself to higher achievement. He can never come to arrest. ‘That which he has done is but the earnest of what he will do.’ Every fresh attainment suggests a better. Always he searches after a new thing to do. And the emulation of many vitalises the energy of each. Ever he will strive to fashion some new life more true to his desire. Ever he reviews his handiwork, only to criticise, to improve, to extend it. His will-power has never exhausted itself; it has more to do; it summons out fresh forces to fulfil its need. So the town breeds energy of will. And in this emergent and unconquerable energy man can win some faint insight into the Eternal energy, with which, from the beginning to the end of the days, ‘the Father worketh hitherto, and the Son worketh also.’
III. And, thirdly, both this heightened emotion and this heightened energy reveal the possibilities of an intenser co-operation, a closer bond of brotherhood.—The town creates sympathy, companionship, communion. And as the heightened emotions draw men together into affectionate companionship, so the heightened energy of will gathers men together into the great brotherhood of labour. They knit themselves together into unions, into federations, into associations. And it is the town which makes all this possible. It forms the temper in which combination becomes an instinct. And in doing this it is offering us a glimpse into the union of the Three Persons in One Substantive Life which is the innermost secret of the innermost revelation of God Himself in His essential Being, in His everlasting fellowship, in His unwithering joy.
Here are the elements, then, through which the religion of the town can complete the religion of nature. God speaks to us through the town.
—Rev. Canon H. Scott-Holland.
SAINTS OF GOD
‘Of whom the world was not worthy.’
This chapter contains the roll of ‘the sacramental host of God’s elect,’ who suffered many things for Him, but they glorified Him in and through all they suffered.
I. They were the favourites of the Lord.—Called by His sovereign love, redeemed by the precious blood of His Son, enlightened and sanctified by His holy Spirit, they were made His children, adopted into His family, exalted to be His heirs. So He fulfilled His pledge to them ( 2 Corinthians 6:17-Job :).
II. They were lights of the world.—Their Father was called ‘the Father of Lights,’ and having such intimate fellowship with Him, they ‘walked in the light, even as He is in the light.’
III. They were the blessings of the world.—Such emphatically were Enoch, and Abraham, and Job, and Joseph, and Moses, and Daniel, and the Apostles; and such, indeed, were all the saints with and after Him. They were ‘steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.’
SAINTS IN THE WORLD
The saints of old trusted in Jehovah, and possessed his mind, and hence were fearless and patient. They developed their superior virtues when made to pass through the fire.
I. They were slighted by the world.—Though they endeavoured to benefit the world, the world cared neither for their motives and efforts, nor for their persons; nay, they were reckoned ‘the off-scouring of all things,’ and left destitute to wander in deserts and on mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
II. They were persecuted by the world.—This was inevitable, for they who slight and despise those who are better than themselves are sure to annoy and ill-treat them. Such verily is the testimony of this chapter ( Hebrews 11:35 ; Hebrews 11:37). But all this practical hatred, all this evil usage, though very hard to bear, was charged with blessedness to them (St. Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:12). When earth was shut against them, heaven opened to them.
III. They were martyred by the world.—Martyrdom came into the world when the world was young. ‘The first man that died,’ says Bishop Hall, ‘died for religion’; and then he asks, ‘Who dare measure God’s love by outward events when he sees wicked Cain stand over bleeding Abel, whose sacrifice was first accepted, and then himself was sacrificed?’ Ever since then the saints have suffered in battalions; yet, ‘they counted not their lives dear unto them’; and though they died in torments they always died in triumph.
THE STRENGTH OF THE SAINTS
These saints of whom the world was not worthy, and who suffered persecution and death, were sustained by invisible means.
I. They were strengthened by Divine faith.—By this they saw the precious things of God in the light of His own Word and by the illumination of His own Spirit.
II. They were animated by Divine grace.—When this first entered their soul, it did not lie dormant there, as it is not a sleepy habit, but an active principle. Less grace was discovered to them than to us. They knew a portion only, but accomplished much by the little they knew.
III. They were cheered by the Divine presence.—The ark of the covenant of the Lord cheered the desponding Israelites. If the mere symbol of the Divine presence gladdened the Hebrew warriors, how much more must the Divine presence Itself have inspired those saintly ones ‘of whom the world was not worthy’!
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent