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SERMON ON THE DEATH OF THE REV. M. B. COX.
The Substance of a Sermon preached before the Young Men's Auxiliary
Missionary Society of New York, on the evening of Friday, September 27, 1833, on the death of the Rev. Melville B. Cox, Missionary to Africa. By Nathan Bangs, D. D.
*These all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth,' Heb. xi, 13.
EXAMPLE has generally a more powerful influence over the mind and conduct of others than precept. This has been exemplified in a thousand instances in almost every department of life. That they said and did not was an objection brought by our Savior against the scribes who sat in Moses' seat, and delivered the precepts of the law to the people. A mere precept, which would fall powerless at the feet of those to whom it is given, would be instantly taken up and exemplified in practice when illustrated and enforced by a living example. Hence, when the precepts of religion are proved practicable and useful by the examples of those who have left them upon record, or who deliver them to the people, the most sluggish heart is roused to action, and the most timid mind is encouraged to perseverance in the discharge of duty, however difficult and arduous. In the view of difficulties which have been overcome by those who have gone before us in the spiritual warfare, the soul of the believer gathers strength in the exercise of that
"Faith which laughs at impossibilities,
And cries it shall be done.' How many have been induced to make the most painful sacrifices by looking at the example of Abraham in offering his only son Isaac upon the altar! How many have been stimulated to perseverance in the discharge of duties in the midst of difficulties and dangers by the example of Moses and Joshua ; and to patience in bearing up under the ills and afflictions of life by the impressive example of Job. It is
Vol. V.-January, 1834. 1
on this account that so many illustrious examples of obedient faith, of pious gratitude, of patient endurance under the afflictions of life, as well as of holy boldness in the cause of God, are left upon record in the sacred Scriptures. Nor is the example of the long list of martyrs to the cause of Christ less encouraging to the timid disciples. These form a galaxy of bright examples to induce us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, that we may run with patience the race which is set before us.'
With a view to produce these salutary effects upon the minds of the Hebrew brethren to whom this epistle was written, the apostle, in the chapter out of which our text is selected, enumerates a long catalogue of Old Testament saints, whose faith he exhibits as an example for them to follow. These he calls a cloud of witnesses. These all gave evidence that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and that they sought a better country, that is a heavenly.' And the same God who supported them under their crosses, enabled them to achieve such victories by the omnipotence of that faith which they exercised in His promises, and finally bore them off triumphantly to heaven, will sustain us under similar circumstances, and make " more than conquerors through Him that loved us, provided we hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.' For such illustrious examples of faith, therefore, we ought to be thankful, and make those who lived and died under their influence a motive to stimulate us to diligence, that through faith and patience we may also • inherit the promises.'
Having made these remarks, we will inquire,—
II. What were those promises which they embraced without having received their fulfilment.
III. We will then endeavour to apply the subject to the case before us.
1. What was that faith in which those ancient worthies died? It is allowed, I believe, by the generality of commentators, that the apostle is not speaking of justifying faith, or that faith by which a penitent sinner is justified before God, although this is unquestionably included in it. Abel, Noah, and Abraham, as well as the others here enumerated, undoubtedly had been justified by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, else they could never have exercised that strong faith in the promises of God, of which the apostle here speaks in such commendatory terms. But that we may see more clearly what that faith was of which such excellent things are here spoken, let us look, in the first place, to the apostle's definition of this faith. In the first verse of this chapter he thus defines it: Now faith is the substance (or confidence) of things hoped for, and the evidence (or conviction) of things not seen.' I prefer the rendering UTOOCANIS, confidence* to substance, because it gives a clearer idea of the author's definition of faith. To say that faith is the real substance of the things for which the Christian hopes, unless the word be used figuratively, does not seem to make good sense. What are the things hoped for? Why, all those good things of which the apostle speaks, which were promised to the elders,' but which they never came into the possession of while they lived, and finally, after death, that heavenly country which is the everlasting inheritance of the faithfu). But is faith itself the real substance of these things ? Surely not; but it is a firm confidence in their existence, and of their being attainable by all those who seek after them in God's appointed way. It is, moreover, an evidence of things not seen by the natural eye ; that is, those who have full confidence in the truth of God's promises respecting things yet wrapped up in futurity, that confidence resting upon the veracity of God in his word, though these things are in reality invisible, have as evident a demonstration of their existence, as if they saw them with the natural eye, or as they would have of the truth of any mathematical problem when it is solved before
2. It would seem as if the apostle here anticipated an objection which has often been made, and which is iterated again and again at the present time, namely, that we can be assured of nothing unless we can see it with our eyes. This objection the apostle refutes by the introduction of a number of prophetic promises, which, though these ancient believers did not live to witness accomplished, were nevertheless undeniably true, as was proved afterward by their actual fulfilment in perfect accordance with the Divine promises; and he likewise illustrates his position by an appeal to the creation of the world by the word of God; which event was as invisible, and therefore as unknown to all finite spirits before the event took place, as were those things which were only the objects of faith and hope to Abraham and others.
* I am aware that u ootaois may, according to its etymological meaning, be rendered substance, as it comes from vro, under, and isnui, to place, or to fix firmly; but even following out this ideal meaning of the word, it might more properly be rendered foundation, or supporter, as it seems to convey an idea, when applied to the mind, of a firm and fixed purpose, which becomes the foundation, or cause, of some important action. But this, and Heb. i, 3, are the only places in the New Testament where unooraois is rendered by our translators otherwise than by confidence, and in the latter place they have translated it person, a meaning it will hardly bear. In 2 Cor. ix, 4, xi, 14, and Heb. iii, 14, this same word is translated confidence. And beside that this rendering is supported by the parallel passages referred to, it makes much better sense than substance. Suppose the apostle were asked the question, What do you understand by faith? which answer would be the most intelligible, It is the substance of things hoped for, or It is the confidence in things hoped for ? Every unbiassed mind must, I think, at once perceive that the latter answer is the least liable to misconstruction. Faith, therefore, according to the definition of the apostle in this passage, is a firm belief or confidence in the promises of God respecting those invisible realities which are not seen by the natural eye, and a moral demonstration to the mind which exercises this confidence of their actual existence.
3. The definition he had thus given of faith the apostle proceeds to illustrate in the instances which he quotes in the subsequent parts of the chapter. In verse 3 he says, “Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.' In this important declaration the apostle overthrows the vain speculations of those who assign the origin of the world to fortuitous circumstances, or to a regular concretion of atoms, by which the world rose gradually out of chaos into its present perfect and beautiful state ; and asserts that we understand this cardinal truth of Divine revelation by faith; that is, we did not come to the knowledge of the fact relating to the creation of the worlds by the power of God by a process of human reasoning, but simply by having a confidence in the declaration of God respecting this origin of all things; and a firm belief in this inspired fact brings an unwavering conviction of its truth and reality.
4. The other instances of faith spoken of in the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th verses, all had respect to facts that were future, and therefore invisible to Abel, to Enoch, and to Noah, at the time the promises were made. And the firm and unwavering confidence which these holy persons had in the promises of God, was that which induced them to comply with His requisitions, to offer sacrifice, to walk with God, and to prepare the ark for the saving of his house ;' and in the exercise of this faith, they all received the abiding and sealing testimony of God's Spirit that their conduct was pleasing to Him.
5. Another remarkable instance of this strong confidence in God's promises relating to future and therefore invisible things, is that of Abraham, who, in obedience to the call of God, went out, not knowing whither he was going-who by faith sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise : for he looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.' Respecting these, the apostle says, that they died in the faith, not having received the promises ; and all this goes to prove and illustrate the main proposition with which the apostle commenced the chapter, namely, that faith is the confidence of things hoped for, and the evidence, or a conviction of the existence, of things not seen; for in the exercise of this well-founded confidence in the promise of God respecting things future and invisible, they obtained a good report among all who have feared God from that time to this, and their example of fidelity and constancy in the service of the invisible God has been held up for the emulation of all generations. This I apprehend to be the faith in which they all died, not having yet received the promises.
II. We will inquire, in the second place, what were those promises which they embraced without having received their accomplishment.
1. It is quite evident that when the apostle says, these all died in the faith, not having received the promises,' he did not mean to include all the persons he had before spoken of, but only Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promises ;' for in respect to Abel, Enoch, and Noah, they unquestionably did receive the promises which God had made to them ; Abel's offering was accepted; Enoch received the reward of his holy obedience in his translation to heaven; and Noah lived to see the fulfilment of the promise of God, in his salvation from the devouring deluge. These, therefore, did not die without receiving the accomplishment of the promises which God had made to them. Though their faith was fixed on the invisible God, and at the time embraced things yet in futurity, they nevertheless lived to witness the fulfilment of the promises respecting the approbation of their God, and that protection and those deliverances which they confidently anticipated ; and finally they received that inheritance which is incorruptible and that fadeth not away.
2. But in respect to Abraham and his immediate descendants, they died without receiving the fulfilment of those promises of God which their faith had embraced. To Abraham God had made promise of the land of Canaan, and that in him and his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Neither of these promises did Abraham live to see fulfilled. Instead of this it was four hundred and thirty years from the time he was called to go out from his kindred before his posterity were settled in the land of Canaan. And in regard to the other grand promise, that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed, it undoubtedly had reference to Christ and His spiritual kingdom.
3. That this was the nature of the promise, and that Abraham so understood it, is manifest from the words of Jesus Christ Himself, where He says, “ Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.' The day of Jesus Christ, the day of His incarnation, of His death for the sins of the world, of His resurrection from the dead, and of His exaltation at the right hand of the Father, in the august character of Governor of the universe-all these things were seen by Abraham afar off; and it was this promise especially that he, as well as Isaac and Jacob, embraced, but died without receiving its accomplishment; and moreover, by firmly confiding in these promises, Abraham was induced to forsake his native country, and to become a sojourner in a foreign land,' declaring himself to be a stranger and pilgrim in the world, seeking for a permanent home in that heavenly Canaan, of which