And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old…
That its object is marvellous is quite true; and it is also true that no mind will form itself to a habit of faith without the influences of Divine grace. But to say that such a faith as that of Abraham, which led him to believe God's word when opposed to his own experience, is a strange principle and irrational, is absurd.
I. FOR WE ACT ON TRUST EVERY HOUR OF OUR LIVES.
1. We trust to our memory, and our confidence in it is so strong that no man could persuade us to reject its testimony.
2. We trust our reasoning powers. Who of us would doubt, on seeing strong shadows on the ground, that the sun was shining, though our face happened to be turned the other way?
3. And we trust our memory and our reasoning powers in this way, though they often deceive us; because on the whole they are faithful witnesses, and because in all practical matters we are obliged to decide by not what may be possibly, but what is likely to be. There is a chance, e.g., that our food today may be poisonous, but it looks and tastes the same, and we have good friends round us; so we do not abstain from it, for all this chance.
4. But it may be said that such belief is not what is meant by faith — that to trust our senses and reason is to trust ourselves — and though these do sometimes mislead us, yet we can use them to correct each other; but it is a very different thing to trust another person, which is faith in the Scripture sense of the word. But reliance on the word of another is no irrational or strange principle of conduct in the concerns of this life. For what do we know without trusting others?
(1) Are there not towns within fifty or sixty miles of us which we have never seen, but in which we fully believe? What convinces us? The report of others — this faith in testimony which, when religion is concerned, is called irrational.
(2) Consider how we are obliged to confide in persons we never saw, or know but slightly; nay, in their handwritings, which, for what we know, may be forged.
(3) It is certain that we all must sooner or later die, and men arrange their affairs accordingly. Yet what proof have we of this? because other men die? how does he know that? has he seen them die? he can know nothing of what took place before he was born, nor of what happens in other countries. How little, indeed, he knows about it at all, except that it is a received fact.
(4) We constantly believe things against our own judgment; i.e., when we think our informant likely to know more about the matter under consideration than ourselves, which is the precise case in the question of religious faith. And thus from reliance on others we acquire knowledge of all kinds, and proceed to reason, judge, decide, act, form plans for the future. But it is needless to proceed; the world could not go on without trust. The most distressing event that can happen to a state is the spreading of a want of confidence between man and man. Distrust, want of faith, breaks the very bonds of human society.
5. Now, shall we account it only rational for a man to yield to another's judgment as better than his own, and yet think it against reason when one, like Abraham, sets the promise of God above his own short-sighted expectation?
II. THE MAIN REASON FOR DISBELIEF. It may be objected, "If God had spoken to us as He did to Abraham, it were madness to disbelieve; but it is not His voice we hear, but man's speaking in His name. How are we to know whether they speak truth or not?"
1. Whatever such may say about their willingness to believe, in a great many cases they murmur at being required to believe, dislike being bound to act without seeing, and prefer to trust themselves to trusting God, even though it could be plainly proved to them that God was speaking to them. Their conduct shows this. Why otherwise do they so frequently scoff at religious men, as if timid and narrow-minded, merely because they fear to sin? Clearly, it is their very faith itself they ridicule. To trust another implicitly is to acknowledge one's self to be his inferior; and this man's proud nature cannot bear to do. It is therefore very much to our purpose to accustom our minds to the fact that almost everything we do is grounded on mere trust in others, and that visible dependence reminds us forcibly of our truer and fuller dependence upon God.
2. Unbelievers condemn themselves out of their own mouth. Our obedience to God is not founded on our belief in the word of such persons as tell us Scripture came from God. We obey God primarily because we feel His presence in our consciences bidding us obey Him. Now, if they trust their senses and their reason, why do they not trust their conscience too? Their conscience is as much a part of themselves as their reason is; and it is placed within them in order to balance the influence of sight and reason and yet they will not attend to it; for they love to be their own masters, and therefore they will not attend to that secret whisper of their hearts, which tells them they are not their own masters, and that sin is hateful and ruinous. Nothing shows this more plainly than their conduct. Supposing a man says to them, "You know in your heart that you should not do so"; they get angry; or attempt to turn what is said into ridicule; anything will they do, except answer by reasoning. Their boasted argumentation flies like a coward before the stirring of conscience; and their passions are the only champions left for their defence. They in effect say, "We do so, because we like it"; perhaps they even avow this in so many words. And are such the persons whom any Christian can trust? Surely faith in them would be of all conceivable confidences the most irrational. For ourselves, let us but obey God's voice in our hearts, and we shall have no doubts practically formidable about the truth of Scripture. Our doubts will be found to arise after disobedience. And if we but obey God in time faith will become like sight; we shall have no more difficulty in finding what will please God than in moving our limbs, or in understanding the conversation of our familiar friends.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: