A Doubter Who Hugs His Doubt

From “The Incredulity of Thomas,” Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, 44-47 (1866)

The little history which has occupied us to-day is commonly called, Thomas’s unbelief. The word is a hard one — yet not too hard. We must not seek to clear him of a grave fault whom the Scripture does not clear. But at the same time there was much to mitigate the gravity of it — to explain the condescending love of his Lord to him; to difference his case from that of many a doubter and a sceptic who is never like him brought from darkness into light, from error to truth, but is rather each day entangled more deeply therein.

Thomas doubted in his Lord’s resurrection — but there was no secret desire in his heart, out of which this doubt had grown, that such a resurrection, setting its seal to the mission and divine authority of Christ, might never have taken place. On the contrary, he doubted as one who felt the news too good to be true. Every desire and longing of his heart yearned and stretched toward that thing which yet his understanding for a while was unable to take in.

How different is such a doubter as this, who would give worlds to get rid of his doubt, — for it stands between him and his blessedness, between him and his God — from the doubter who hugs his doubt, who would not be rid of it, if he might, to whom every difficulty which besets revelation is welcome, because it stands between him and that submission which he is determined not to yield to the Gospel of Christ; because it serves him as an excuse, almost as a justification, for the disobedience of heart, it may be also the disobedience of life, which he will not renounce.

Shall Christ work a miracle for such as these? Shall he touch their eyes, that the scales may fall away from them? Shall he offer to them his hands and his side? He will not do so. It were useless if he did it; would only add to their guilt. Were they delivered from one doubt, they would presently entrench themselves in another. In no speculative difficulties, which move in the region of the understanding, but in the disaffection, the alienation of heart and will from God, is the real seat of their unbelief; and only when this alienation is removed, will the unbelief be removed.

Therefore, my brethren, should there be any among us visited with doubts, beset with difficulties in regard of any part of that which God has revealed of himself (and in so vast an assembly we can scarcely hope that some such an one there should not be), it greatly behooves such diligently to examine in what temper they entertain and deal with these perplexities of their spirits.

Are these doubts welcome to you? these apparent- contradictions of scripture to some of the later discoveries of science, or apparent contradictions of one part of it to another, or difficulties of reconciling its statements with your notions of the righteousness of God, greedily snatched at by you, that so you may escape the unwelcome necessity of yielding obedience to its precepts and commands? Be sure that for you, continuing in this temper, there is no blessing in store such as that which overtook him whose memory the church celebrates today.

But are you yearning to believe, to see removed out of your way every obstacle which stands between you and the full affiance of faith; do you long to yield yourself to him, of whom you feel that he alone could satisfy all the deepest needs of your soul, that if there are words of eternal life anywhere, he has those words; if there is truth anywhere, he is that truth.Are your doubts your misery, because they stand be- tween you and this your highest blessedness? Then we dare to hope that this, the blessedness of Thomas, may one day be yours.

We do not indeed dare to say that there is not a sinful element in every difficulty which keeps us from God. There was such, an overweening estimate of self, of the powers of his own mind, with other faults, in that blessed apostle of whom we have been speaking to-day. But still our God is one who does not deal with us after our sins; and to you thus minded, to you, if only you thus reach out after this Savior, he will yet show himself alive by many infallible proofs. He will stand before you — he will show you his hands and his side, his hands wounded, his side pierced for you.

There will be something of a sad rebuke in this showing — a rebuke that you should have stood out so long, that when your brethren were satisfied, you should not have been satisfied — should have refused to accept their testimony, the testimony of the wise and good, the Church of all the ages, that this was the Christ, the Savior of the world — who was dead, and is alive, and now liyeth for evermore; but a rebuke of which the sadness, with all the shame for those doubts entertained too long, shall be swallowed up in joy, in the joy that you have found him at length, him who was all along the desire of your soul, and to whom you are now able at length to say from the depths of a convinced and worshipping heart — “My Lord and my God.”

Richard Trench (1807-1886) was an Irish Anglican archbishop and Biblical scholar, who served as professor of theology at Kings College London and as Dean of Westminster Abbey before becoming Archbishop of Dublin. Among the celebrated preachers of his day, he is probably best remembered for his studies of Jesus’ parables and miracles.

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