Doubt, When it Left Him Doubting

From “The Skepticism of Pilate,” Sermons on Bible Subjects, 318-319 (1855)

This was Christ’s rule — “If any man will do his will. …” A blessed rule; a plain and simple rule. Here we are in a world of mystery, where all is difficult, and very much dark — where a hundred jarring creeds declare themselves to be The Truth, and all are plausible. How shall a man decide? Let him do the right that lies before him; much is uncertain — some things at least are clear. Whatever else may be wrong, it must be right to be pure — to be just and tender, and merciful and honest. It must be right to love, and to deny one’s-self. Let him do the Will of God, and he shall know.

Observe — men begin the other way. They say. If I could but believe, then I would make my life true. If I could but be sure what is truth, then I would set to work to live in earnest. No — God says, Act — make the life true, and then you will be able to believe. Live in earnest, and you will know the answer to ” What is Truth? ”

Infer the blessedness of belief. Young men are prone to consider skepticism a proof of strong-mindedness — a something to be proud of. Let Pilate be a specimen — and a wretched one he is. He had clear mindedness enough to be dissatisfied with all the views he knew; enough to see through and scorn the squabbles and superstitions of priests and bigots. All well, if from doubt of falsehood he had gone on to a belief in a higher truth. But doubt, when it left him doubting — why, the noblest opportunity man ever had, that of saving the Savior, he missed; he became a thing for the people to despise, and after-ages to pity. And that is skepticism. Call you that a manly thing?

To believe is to be happy; to doubt is to be wretched. But I will not urge that. Seventy years and the most fevered brain will be still enough. We will not say much of the wretchedness of doubt. To believe is to be strong. Doubt cramps energy. Belief is power: only so far as a man believes strongly, mightily, can he act cheerfully, or do anything that is worth the doing.

I speak to those who have learned to hold cheap the threats wherewith priests and people would terrify into acquiescence — to those who are beyond the appeal of fear, and can only yield, if at all, to higher motives. Young men! the only manly thing, the only strong thing, is faith. It is not so far as a man doubts, but so far as he believes, that he can achieve or perfect anything. “All things are possible to him that believeth.”

Frederick W. Robertson (1816-1853) was an English Anglican priest, one of the most famous preachers of his age. After serving parishes in Winchester and Cheltenham, he served for the final six years of his short life at Holy Trinity Church, Brighton, where he attracted great crowds with sermons famed for their deep insight into the spiritual life. Many were published after his death, including Sermons on Bible Subjects, first published in 1855.

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