Take heed, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Though its power is broken like a tree that is blasted by lightning, or felled by the axe, there is still a corrupt root in the heart which retains a principle of life, and is continually sending forth its bitter scions, which is perpetually springing up, and often greatly troubles the Christian, so that he is thereby defiled.
1. It discovers itself by suggesting doubts about the reality of religion, or the truth of fundamental doctrines.
2. It appears in seeking sensible manifestations as the foundation of faith. Faith and sense are two things entirely different. Faith is the life of the Christian on earth. Sense is the life of saints in glory. Faith is a persuasion of the truth of God's testimony, on His own faithfulness pledged in the Word. Sense is the enjoyment of those blessings which are the subject of this testimony. We must first believe and then see; for it is not sense, but faith, which must be our support in this life. But Christians are often disposed to invert this order. They would first see, and then believe.
3. It appears in disbelieving the promise of God when providence seems to oppose its fulfilment. It is no small measure of faith that can bring a Christian to the same exercise with Job: "Though He shall slay me, yet will I trust in Him."
4. Unbelief discovers itself in unbelievers by making them doubt of God's love to them because of their unworthiness or when their love to Him is weak. They measure the extent and duration of Divine love by their own variable exercise; though they may be well assured, that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than their ways, and His thoughts than their thoughts. The love of God to thee, weak Christian, is eternal. For He hath said — yea, He is presently saying, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." It is unchangeable; for the Lord thy God in the midst of thee — rest in His love. Can anything, then, be more unjust to thy God than to doubt the truth of His love to thee because of the weakness of thy love to Him; when He hath at first extended loving-kindness over thee, and hath ever since been compassing thee about with mercy?
5. It often prompts the Christian to deny the whole of his experience because he is at times assaulted with terrors of conscience on account of sin. To conclude from these that all former experience has been a mere delusion proceeds from a mistaken apprehension of the Christian life; as if it were impossible that any who are savingly converted could feel a work of the law on their consciences. True it is that one of the blessings of the covenant of grace, and one of the most eminent fruits of justification, is peace of conscience. But we are not to suppose that this peace is altogether uninterrupted. As it admits of different degrees in different believers, so also of different degrees in the same person, according to the sovereignty of God's dispensation, or the variation of circumstances.
6. Unbelief takes advantage when matters exceed expectation. We have a striking example of this in the conduct of the disciples when Christ appeared to them after His resurrection. "They believed not for joy, but wondered."
7. Unbelief exerts its influence in disposing him to yield to corruption or temptation from a doubt of God's willingness to deliver. It is as if a soldier in the field of battle were to assure himself that he should be overcome; and under the influence of this apprehension should at the very first onset throw down his arms and desert his standard. How unlike is this to the soldiers of Jesus Christ, who must endure hardness, who ought to stand fast, quit themselves like men, and be strong. There is no sin or danger in doubting our own sufficiency. All is wrong with us, till we despair of it, till we see our greatest strength to be mere weakness. But to doubt of the strength of our Head is absolute unbelief; nay, to doubt of it as ours. This is the great reason of our falling.
8. In neglecting duty from an apprehension of danger. Fear is the child of unbelief; and where there is a persuasion of the Divine call, and yet disobedience to it from the fear of danger, it is a greater act of unbelief than the disbelief of the call itself. The rejection of God's call discovers ignorance and blindness of heart; but a refusal of obedience when conscience feels the force and authority of the call is more dishonouring to God because it is a gross abuse of light.
9. It uses every effort to drive Christians away from the exercise of prayer when it is not immediately answered. God could as easily answer the prayer of His people at first as afterwards; but it is His pleasure that they should join hope and patience with their faith. They must be taught submission to His will as to the season. He delights in their holy importunity, and will thus enhance the value of His blessings before He bestows them.
10. Unbelief breaks out in anxious thoughts about temporal subsistence. Like Asaph, they are in danger of fretting when they see the prosperity of the wicked. But there can be nothing more unreasonable. For this prosperity is nowise enviable, as it often proves their destruction.
11. This corruption often discovers itself in fears of death. It is one of the glorious fruits of the death of Christ to deliver His people not only from the power but from the fear of death. But many real Christians are so weak in faith, that all their life, through fear of it, they are subject to bondage. These fears also discover the strength of unbelief. For by indulging them they deny and deprive themselves of one blessed fruit of the purchase of Christ — a deliverance from the fear of death.Lessons:
1. Judge not of the love of God to you by the course of providence. If you take a just and comprehensive view of this it will prove a powerful confirmation of the truth of His Word. But a partial view can only tend to fill you with perplexity.
2. Beware of interpreting the designs of providence by its external aspect. It is denying providence and deceiving ourselves to explain it in this manner. For nothing can be a more uncertain evidence of the real design of God's procedure than its outward appearance. In general its intention is the very reverse of what carnal reason would suppose.
3. Do not imagine that there is any real humility in doubting or denying what God hath done for your souls, whatever evidence you have of His love in a work of progressive sanctification. There is a great ingratitude in such conduct: for whatever self-abasing thoughts you entertain, you ought always to acknowledge the truth of God's loving-kindness towards you.
4. Amidst all doubts, fears, and disquietudes, endeavour to present exercise of faith in Christ. This is the most effectual and confounding reply to all the reasonings of unbelief and temptations of Satan. This is a mean of comfort which has been often blessed to doubting saints when their Christian experience hath been of little use to them, when every other mean hath failed. To one groping in darkness there cannot be so convincing an evidence of the reality of light as to get a view of the sun shining in his strength.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.