21st December 1834
“Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” John 20, 29.
St. Thomas is the Apostle who doubted of our Lord’s resurrection. This want of faith has given him a sort of character in the minds of most people, which is referred to in the Collect for the day. Yet we must not suppose that he differed greatly from the other Apostles. They all, more or less, mistrusted Christ’s promises when they saw Him led away to be crucified. When He was buried, their hopes were buried with Him; and when the news was brought them, that He was risen again, they all disbelieved it. On His appearing to them, He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” (Mark 16, 14.) But, as St. Thomas was not present at this time, and only heard from his fellow Apostles that they had seen the Lord, his time of perplexity and darkness lasted longer than theirs. At the news of this great miracle, he expressed his determination not to believe unless he himself saw Christ, and was allowed to touch Him. And thus, by an apparently accidental circumstance, Thomas is singled out from his brethren, who at first disbelieved as well as he, as if he were an especial instance of unbelief. None of them believed till they saw Christ, except St. John, and he too hesitated at first. Thomas was convinced latest, because he saw Christ latest. On the other hand, it is certain that, though he disbelieved the good news of Christ’s resurrection at first, he was no cold-hearted follower of his Lord, as appears from his conduct on a previous occasion, when he expressed a desire to share danger, and to suffer with Him. When Christ was setting out for Judaea to raise Lazarus from the dead, the disciples said, “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?” (John 11, 8.) When He remained in His intention, Thomas said to the rest, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” This journey ended, as His Apostles foreboded, in their Lord’s death; they indeed escaped, but it was at the instance of Thomas that they hazarded their lives with Him.
St. Thomas then loved his Master, as became an Apostle, and was devoted to His service; but when He saw Him crucified, his faith failed for a season with that of the rest. At the same time we need not deny that his especial doubts of Christ’s resurrection were not altogether owing to circumstances, but in a measure arose from some faulty state of mind. St. John’s narrative itself, and our Saviour’s speech to him, convey an impression that he was more to blame than the rest. His standing out alone, not against one witness only, but against his ten fellow disciples, besides Mary Magdalene and the other women, is evidence of this; and his very strong words, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20, 25.) And it is observable that, little as we know of St. Thomas, yet the one remaining recorded speech of his (before Christ’s crucifixion), intimates something of the same doubting perplexed state of mind. When Christ said He was going to His Father, and by a way which they all knew, Thomas interposed with an argument: “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?” (John 14, 5.) that is, we do not see heaven, or the God of heaven, how can we know the way thither? He seems to have required some sensible insight into the unseen state, some infallible sign from heaven, a ladder of Angels like Jacob’s, which would remove anxiety by showing him the end of the journey at the time he set out. Some such secret craving after certainty beset him. And a like desire arose within him on the news of Christ’s resurrection. Being weak in faith, he suspended his judgment, and seemed resolved not to believe anything, till he was told everything. Accordingly, when our Saviour appeared to him, eight days after His appearance to the rest, while He allowed Thomas his wish, and satisfied his senses that He was really alive, He accompanied the permission with a rebuke, and intimated that by yielding to his weakness, He was withdrawing from him what was a real blessedness. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20, 27-29.)
However, after all, we are not so much concerned with considerations respecting the natural disposition and temper of the Blessed Apostle, whom we today commemorate, as with the particular circumstance in which his name occurs, and with our Saviour’s comment upon it. All His disciples minister to Him; and, as in other ways, so also in giving occasion for the words of grace which proceed from His mouth. They minister to Him even in their weaknesses, which are often brought to light in Scripture, not hidden as Christian friends would hide in piety, that so He may convert them into instruction and comfort for His Church. Thus Martha’s over-earnestness in household duties had drawn from Him a sanction for a life of contemplation and prayer; and so, in the history before us, the over-caution of St. Thomas has gained for us His promise of especial blessing on those who believe without having seen. I proceed to make some remarks on the nature of this believing temper, and why it is blessed.
It is scarcely necessary to observe, that what our Saviour says to Thomas so clearly and impressively, He has implied, in one way or other, all through His ministry; the blessedness of a mind that believes readily. His demand and trial of faith in the case of those who came for His miraculous aid, His praise of it where found, His sorrow where it was wanting, His warnings against hardness of heart; all are evidence of this. “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.” “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” (Matt. 8, 10; 9, 22; Luke 7, 50; Matt. 12, 39; Luke 24, 25.) These will remind us of a multitude of similar passages in especial praise of faith. St. Paul pursues the line of doctrine thus begun by his Lord. In three Epistles he sets before us the peculiar place faith holds among the evidences of a religious mind: and each time refers to a passage in the Prophets, in order to show that he was bringing in no new doctrine, but only teaching that which had been promulged from the beginning. In consequence, in our ordinary language we speak of religion being built upon faith, not upon reason; on the other hand, it is as common for those who scoff at religion to object this very doctrine against us; as if, in so saying, we had almost admitted that Christianity was not true. Let us then consider how the case stands.
Every religious mind, under every dispensation of Providence, will be in the habit of looking out of and beyond self, as regards all matters connected with its highest good. For a man of religious mind is he who attends to the rule of conscience, which is born with him, which he did not make for himself, and to which he feels bound in duty to submit. And conscience immediately directs his thoughts to some Being exterior to himself, who gave it, and who evidently is superior to him; for a law implies a lawgiver, and a command implies a superior. Thus a man is at once thrown out of himself, by the very Voice which speaks within him; and while he rules his heart and conduct by his inward sense of right and wrong, not by the maxims of the external world, still that inward sense does not allow him to rest in itself, but sends him forth again from home to seek abroad for Him who has put His Word in him. He looks forth into the world to seek Him who is not of the world, to find behind the shadows and deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense, Him whose Word is eternal, and whose Presence is spiritual. He looks out of himself for that Living Word to which he may attribute what has echoed in his heart; and being sure that it is to be found somewhere, he is predisposed to find it, and often thinks he has found it when he has not. Hence, if truth is not at hand, he is apt to mistake error for truth, to consider as the presence and especial work of God what is not so; and thinking anything preferable to scepticism, he becomes (what is sometimes imputed to him by way of reproach) superstitious. This, you may suppose, is the state of the better sort of persons in a heathen country. They are not vouchsafed the truer tokens of God’s power and will, which we possess; so they fancy where they cannot find, and, having consciences more acute than their reasoning powers, they pervert and misuse even those indications of God which are provided for them in nature. This is one cause of the false divinities of pagan worship, which are tokens of guilt in the worshipper, not (as we trust) when they could know no better, but when they have turned from the light, not liking “to retain God in their knowledge.” And if this is the course of a religious mind, even when it is not blessed with the news of divine truth, much more will it welcome and gladly commit itself to the hand of God, when allowed to discern it in the Gospel. Such is faith as it exists in the multitude of those who believe, arising from their sense of the presence of God, originally certified to them by the inward voice of conscience.
On the other hand, such persons as prefer this world to the leadings of God’s Spirit within them, soon lose their perception of the latter, and lean upon the world as a god. Having no presentiment of any Invisible Guide, who has a claim to be followed in matters of conduct, they consider nothing to have a substance but what meets their senses, are contented with this, and draw their rules of life from it. They truly are in no danger of being superstitious or credulous; for they feel no antecedent desire or persuasion that God may have made a revelation of Himself in the world; and when they hear of events supernatural, they come to the examination of them as calmly and dispassionately as if they were judges in a court of law, or inquiring into points of science. They acknowledge no especial interest in the question proposed to them; and they find it no effort to use their intellect upon it as rigidly as if it were some external instrument which could not be swayed. Here then we see two opposite characters of mind, the one credulous (as it would be commonly called), the latter candid, well-judging, and sagacious; and it is clear that the former of the two is the religious temper rather than the latter. In this way then, if in no other, faith and reason are opposed; and to believe much is more blessed than to believe little.
But this is not all. Everyone who tries to do God’s will, is sure to find he cannot do it perfectly. He will feel himself to be full of imperfection and sin; and the more he succeeds in regulating his heart, the more he will discern its original bitterness and guilt. Here is an additional cause of a religious man’s looking out of himself. He knows the evil of his nature, and forebodes God’s wrath as its consequence; and when he looks around him, he sees it reflected from within upon the face of the world. He fears; and, in consequence, seeks about for some means of propitiating his Maker, for some token, if so be, of God’s relenting. He cannot stay at home; he cannot rest in himself; he wanders about from very anxiety; he needs some one to speak peace to his soul. Should a man come to him professing to be a messenger from heaven, he is at once arrested and listens; and, whether such profession be actually true or false, yet his first desire is that it may be true. Those, on the contrary, who are without this sense of sin, can bear the first news of God’s having spoken to man, without being startled. They can patiently wait till the body of evidence is brought out before them, and then receive or reject, as reason may determine for them.
Further still, let us suppose two persons of strong mind, not easily excitable, sound judging and cautious; and let them be equally endowed in these respects. Now there is an additional reason why, of these two, he who is religious will believe more and reason less than the irreligious; that is, if a man’s acting upon a message is the measure of his believing it, as the common sense of the world will determine. For in any matter so momentous and practical as the welfare of the soul, a wise man will not wait for the fullest evidence before he acts; and will show his caution, not in remaining uninfluenced by the existing report of a divine message, but by obeying it though it might be more clearly attested. If it is but fairly probable that rejection of the Gospel will involve his eternal ruin, it is safest and wisest to act as if it were certain. On the other hand, when a man does not make the truth of Christianity a practical concern, but a mere matter of philosophical or historical research, he will feel himself at leisure (and reasonably on his own grounds) to find fault with the evidence. When we inquire into a point of history, or investigate an opinion of science, we do demand decisive evidence; we consider it allowable to wait till we obtain it, to remain undecided; in a word, to be sceptical. If religion be not a practical matter, it is right and philosophical in us to be sceptics. Assuredly higher and fuller evidence of its truth might be given us; and, after all, there are a number of deep questions concerning the laws of nature, the constitution of the human mind, and the like, which must be solved before we can feel perfectly satisfied. And those whose hearts are not “tender,” (2 Kings 22, 19.) as Scripture expresses it,-that is, who have not a vivid perception of the Divine Voice within them, and of the necessity of His existence from whom it issues,-do not feel Christianity as a practical matter, and let it pass accordingly. They are accustomed to say that death will soon come upon them, and solve the great secret for them without their trouble,-that is, they wait for sight: not understanding, or being able to be made to comprehend, that their solving this great problem without sight is the very end and business of their mortal life: according to St. Paul’s decision, that faith is “the substance,” or the realizing, “of things hoped for,” “the evidence,” or the making trial of, the acting on, the belief of “things not seen.” (Heb. 11, 1.) What the Apostle says of Abraham is a description of all true faith; it goes out not knowing whither it goes. It does not crave or bargain to see the end of the journey; it does not argue with St. Thomas, in the days of his ignorance, “we know not whither, and how can we know the way?” it is persuaded that it has quite enough light to walk by, far more than sinful man has a right to expect, if it sees one step in advance; and it leaves all knowledge of the country over which it is journeying, to Him who calls it on.
And this blessed temper of mind, which influences religious men in the greater matter of choosing or rejecting the Gospel, extends itself also into their reception of it in all its parts. As faith is content with but a little light to begin its journey by, and makes it much by acting upon it, so also it reads, as it were, by twilight, the message of truth in its various details. It does not stipulate that the text of Scripture should admit of rigid and laboured proofs of its doctrines; it has the practical wisdom to consider that the Word of God must have mainly one, and one only sense, and to try, as well as may be, to find out what that sense is, whether the evidence of it be great or little, and not to quarrel with it if it is not overpowering. It keeps steadily in view that Christ speaks in Scripture, and receives His words as if it heard them, as if some superior and friend spoke them, one whom it wished to please; not as if it were engaged upon the dead letter of a document, which admitted of rude handling, of criticism and exception. It looks off from self to Christ; and instead of seeking impatiently for some personal assurance, is set by obedience, saying, “Here am I; send me.” And in like manner towards every institution of Christ, His Church, His Sacraments, and His Ministers, it acts not as a disputer of this world, but as the disciple of Him who appointed them. Lastly, it rests contented with the revelation made to it; it has “found the Messias,” and that is enough. The very principle of its former restlessness now keeps it from wandering. When “the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know the true God,” wavering, fearfulness, superstitious trust in the creature, pursuit of novelties, are signs, not of faith, but of unbelief.
Much might be added in conclusion, by way of applying what has been said to the temper of our own day, in which men around us are apt almost to make it a boast that “theirs is a rational religion.” Doubtless, this happens to be the case; but it is no necessary mark of a true religion that it is rational in the common sense of the word; nor is it any credit to a man to have resolved only to take up with what he considers rational. The true religion is in part altogether above reason, as in its Mysteries; and so again, it might have been introduced into the world without that array of Evidences, as they are called, which our reason is able, and delights to draw out; yet it would not on that account have been less true. As far as it is above reason, as far as it has extended into any countries without sufficient proof of its divinity, so far it cannot be called rational. Indeed, that it is at all level to the reason, is rather a privilege granted by Almighty God, than a point which may be insisted on by man; and unless received as an unmerited boon, may become hurtful to us. If this remark be in any measure true, we know what to think of arguing against the doctrines of the Gospel on the ground of their being irrational, or of attempting to refute the creed of others by ridiculing articles of it as unaccountable and absurd, or of thinking that the superstitious have advanced a step towards the truth when they have plunged into infidelity, or of accounting it wrong to educate children in the Catholic faith, lest they should not have the opportunity of choosing for themselves in mature years. Dismissing such thoughts from the mind, let us rather be content with the words of the Apostle. “The preaching of the cross,” he says, “is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nought the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. 1, 18-21.)