Rom_3:3-4. What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.
IN every age of the world man has been prone to disbelieve the testimony of God: our first parents fell by questioning the prohibition which God had given them, and doubting the penalty with which it was enforced. Their posterity, born in their fallen image, have but too faithfully copied their example. By unbelief, the antediluvian world were overwhelmed: by unbelief, God’s chosen people the Jews have been despoiled of all their privileges. The same malignant principle pervades also the Christian church. We profess indeed, like the Jews of old, to venerate the sacred oracles; but there is scarcely a truth contained in them, which is not practically, and almost, universally, denied. Yet is this no reason for questioning their divine authority: for God is as immutable in his word, as he is in his nature; and, as his existence would not be affected, though the whole world should be atheists, so neither will one jot or tittle of his word fail, though the world should be infidels. This is the very point on which St. Paul is insisting in the passage before us. Having observed that the Jews were highly privileged in having the oracles of God committed to them, he anticipates the objection which might be urged against him from their unbelief; and allowing the truth of the fact, That they were very generally disbelieved, he denies and refutes the inference that might be drawn from it, by declaring, That their unbelief, however general it might be, could never invalidate the truth of God.
From his words we shall be led to consider,
The prevalence of unbelief—
It is not our intention to expose the errors of infidelity, or the sophistry with which the truth of God has been assailed; but rather to point out that secret unbelief which works in the minds of all, even with respect to the most acknowledged truths. That such unbelief prevails, cannot possibly be doubted, if we observe,
How general is men’s neglect of the word of God—
[The sacred volume lies by us: we have it in our own language, that all may read it; and it is statedly read and explained to us in public. But how few study it! how few regard it! how few are there who do not give a decided, yea, an exclusive preference to books of human science, and even to any worthless novel, or ephemeral compilation! And what is the cause of this? Could they be thus indifferent, if they believed it to be the word of God; the word of God to them? Would any one manifest such indifference towards a will in which he was informed that great estates were bequeathed to him? or even towards a map, which would shew him his way through a trackless desert? How much less then would any disregard the Holy Scriptures, if they really believed them to be the charter of their privileges, and the only sure directory to heaven! They would rather account them more precious than gold, and esteem them more than their necessary food [Note: Psa_119:72. Job_23:12.].]
What contempt men discover for the truths they do hear—
[Men hear that there is such a place as heaven, where the saints shall live in everlasting felicity; and such a place as hell, where the wicked shall lie down in everlasting burnings: yet are they neither allured, nor alarmed. When the ministers of God insist on these subjects, they are considered only as preaching “cunningly devised fables.” But could this be the case, if men believed the testimony of God? Do men feel no emotion at the news of some unexpected benefit arising to them, or some unforeseen calamity impending over them? Do men treat with contempt a sentence of condemnation, or a notice of reprieve? How then could men so disregard the things revealed in the Gospel, if they believed them to be the very truths of God?]
How men expect things in direct opposition to the word of God—
[Unconverted men will as confidently expect to go to heaven, as if the word of God were altogether on their side. The drunkard, the swearer, the sabbath-breaker, the whore-monger, are as persuaded that they shall never come into condemnation, as if there were not one word in all the book of God that declared the contrary. They will never believe that the wrath of God is revealed against such sins as theirs, notwithstanding God so positively declares, that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: 1Co_6:9.].” They do not indeed imagine that any will be finally lost. They can hear of thousands slain in battle, and yet extend their thoughts no further than the grave. The idea that multitudes of them may possibly have died in their sins, and been consigned over to endless misery, seems so harsh, that they cannot harbour it in their minds one moment, notwithstanding God expressly says, that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God [Note: Psa_9:17.].” Could all this be so, if they believed the word of God? Would not their sentiments then be more conformed to it? Would they not be assured, that, however “it should be well with the righteous,” it must and should “go ill with the wicked [Note: Isa_3:10-11.]?”]
How little men are influenced by the things they profess most to believe—
[They profess to believe that there is a God: yet they do not love him, or fear him, or trust in him, or regard him, any more than if there were no such Being. They profess to believe that they have an immortal soul; yet they pay no more attention to its interests, than if it were not to survive the body. They profess to believe that there will be a day of judgment, wherein they shall give account of themselves to God: yet they are not at all solicitous to know how their account stands; they bestow no pains in preparing for that day; they presume that others are happy, and that they shall fare as well as those who have gone before them; and thus they hazard their eternal welfare on a mere groundless surmise. They profess to believe that death will put a period to their day of grace, and that it may snatch them away suddenly, and unawares: yet they live as securely, as if they could call days and years their own: “Soul, take thine ease,” is the constant language of their hearts. Now, whence is all this? Will any one say, that these men are thoroughly persuaded even of the things which they profess most to believe? they certainly are not: they give a general assent to them, because they have been educated in these particular sentiments, and because their reason cannot but acquiesce in them as true: but as for the faith which realizes invisible things, which is “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,” they have no portion of it; they are shut up altogether in unbelief.]
The prevalence of unbelief being thus unquestionably proved, we proceed to point out,
The folly of it—
A just view of this subject will soon convince us, that the very men who glory in their unbelief, and say, “Wisdom shall die with us [Note: Job_12:2.],” are indeed influenced by the most foolish and fatal of all principles: for, with respect to unbelief,
It cannot avert the evils which it affects to despise—
[Unbelief can never make void the truth of God. It did not in the days of old. When Satan said to our first parents, “Ye shall not surely die,” and they credited his testimony in preference to God’s, did their unbelief avail them? was the threatening less certain? Did God forbear to inflict it? Did not their souls die that very day, being instantly separated from God, which constitutes spiritual death, and becoming obnoxious to his wrath, the chief ingredient of eternal death? Did not their bodies also, though, for the peopling of the earth, and for other gracious purposes, they were suffered to continue awhile, become impregnated with the seeds of death, whereby they were in due time reduced again to their native dust?
When the unbelieving Jews rejected their Messiah, were the purposes of God at all frustrated? Yea, were they not rather furthered and accomplished by their unbelief? and were not the whole nation, except a little remnant, broken off from their stock, and the Gentiles, whom they regarded as accursed, engrafted on it?
So we may now ask of unbelieving sinners, “What if ye do not believe? shall your unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Will God cease to he an holy, sin-hating, sin-avenging God, because ye presume to think him even such an one as yourselves? Shall sin no longer be debasing, defiling, damning, because ye choose to esteem it light and venial? Shall death wait your pleasure, because ye think ye have made a covenant with it, and put it far from you? shall the judgment-day lose its solemnity, and the account you are to give be made less strict, because you take it for granted, that all shall then be well with you? Shall hell be divested of its horrors, because you will not believe that there is any such place, or because you are averse to hear of it? Shall the nature and blessedness of heaven be altogether changed, in order that it may, according to your conceits, be the residence of the wicked as well as of the righteous? In short, is it reasonable, is it probable, is it possible, that the truth of God should be made void, merely because you do not choose to believe it?]
It enhances and insures the evils, whose very existence it presumes to deny—
[The Apostle tells us what should be the fixed principle of our minds, “Let God be true; but every man a liar.” But unbelief reverses this; and gives, not only to the testimony of man, but even to his most groundless conjectures, a greater weight than to the most solemn declarations of Jehovah. What an affront is this to the Majesty of heaven! Is there a man on earth that would not take offence at such an indignity, especially if it were offered to him by those whom he had never deceived, and for whose sake alone he had spoken? Let it not then be thought, that, to treat God as though he had no veracity, is a light matter; for surely it must greatly provoke the eyes of his glory.
Besides, unbelief, while it thus incenses God against us, rejects the only possible means of reconciliation with him; and consequently rivets all our guilt upon us — — — Judge then whether they, who yield themselves up to its influence, be not “blinded by Satan,” and victims to their own delusions [Note: 2Co_4:4. Isa_66:4.]?]
By way of improvement, let me commend to your attention the grand object of a Christian’s faith—
[It is to little purpose to have general notions of the prevalence and folly of unbelief, if we do not apply them particularly to that fundamental doctrine of Scripture, That we are to be justified solely by faith in the Lord Jesus. This is that, which is emphatically called, The Gospel; concerning the necessity of believing which, nothing more need be urged, than that assertion of our Lord, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned [Note: Mar_16:16.].” The point for us now to determine, is, Do we indeed believe in Christ for the justification of our souls? We are continually apt to mistake the nature of saving faith; and, for want of right views of that, we put away from ourselves all that is spoken respecting unbelief, as though we had no experience of it, no concern about it. But it has been already abundantly shewn, that if we believe only in the manner that the generality of Christians do, we have no true faith at all. Examine then, Have you clear and lively views of Christ as the Saviour of sinners? Are you deeply convinced of your own sinfulness, and your consequent need of mercy? Have you renounced every other hope? and do you rely simply and solely on Christ’s atonement? Finally, are you deriving virtue from him for the healing of your corruptions, and for the bringing forth of all the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory? This, and this alone, is saving faith; and he, who thus believes, shall be saved; and he, who does not thus believe, shall be damned. Let not any object, and say, “What is there in this faith that should save us, or in the want of it that should condemn us?” Our only inquiry must be, Has God suspended our salvation on the exercise of a living faith, or not? If he has, we have no more to say, than, “Let God be true: but every man a liar.” To dispute against him is to dispute against the wind. The wind will not stop its course for us: yet sooner should that be done, yea, “sooner should heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of his word should fail.” If then no objections of our’s can ever disprove the truth of God’s word, or prevent the execution of it on our own souls, let us guard against that principle of unbelief, which operates so powerfully, so fatally, within us. Let us remember where our danger lies: it is not in giving too much weight to the declarations of God: but in softening them down, and accommodating them to our vain wishes or carnal apprehensions. Let then the fore-mentioned record abide upon our minds. Let us be persuaded that he, whom God blesses, shall be blessed; and he, whom God curses, shall be cursed. In other words, Let us rest assured, that life is to be found in Christ alone; and that “he who hath the Son, hath life; and he who hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1Jn_5:11-12.].”]