Given the First Sunday in Advent, 1849.
Grace be with us, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Text: St. John iv. 47-54.
"There was a certain nobleman whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, 'Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.' The nobleman said unto him, 'Sir, comedown, ere my child die.'
"Jesus saith unto him, ' Go thy way; thy son liveth.' And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.
"And as he was now going down his servants met him, and told him, saying, 'Thy son liveth.'
"Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend, and they said unto him, 'Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.'
"So the father knew that it was at the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, 'Thy son liveth;' and himself believed and his whole house.
"This is again the second miracle that Jesus did when he was come out of Judea into Galilee.”
The sermon which I will give you to-day, beloved, is called the installing or introductory sermon, for the reason that the preacher who gives it is generally a stranger to the people, and places himself before them for the first time that they may become acquainted with him, and judge his spiritual basis by his sermon. Upon these occasions a pastor is expected to give his views and the principles upon which he founds his belief, that the congregation may decide whether to say yes or no to his being installed as their pastor.
With us, beloved, the case is different. I have already for five years preached God's Word to you, and at each yearly recurrence of the Holy Trinity season have made my belief known to you. I am not one who denies to-morrow what I have said today, and my incoming and outgoing for the past five years is also known to you. There is no need then for me to be informed what you expect of me; nor for me to tell you through my installing sermon what I believe, and what I will preach to you. We have looked into each other's eyes and hearts deeper than could be possibly done by one installing sermon; therefore will we without further words return to our text, and devoutly hear what our Saviour says to us. Let us with God's blessing follow the example of the nobleman for the salvation of our souls, and to this end let us pray.
Dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we pray Thee to pour out upon us Thy Holy Spirit. Let me through Him preach Thy Holy Word, let this congregation through Him hear Thy Holy Word, let us through Him be obedient to Thy Holy Word; bless us all through Thy Holy Word, that Thou Thyself may dwell in our hearts through our deeply-grounded faith and love. Oh God, who through Thy grace hast anew bound me to this congregation, have compassion upon us, and let it—if it be Thy gracious will—be a covenant which only death can sever. Amen.
1. True belief seeks all in Jesus. The nobleman of whom the apostle speaks was an officer of King Herod in Capernaum, the city where Jesus dwelt. Fortunate for this nobleman that his home was in Capernaum, for we remember the words of the Saviour, "And thou Capernaum which art exalted unto heaven;” for is it not the greatest cause for congratulation to dwell in a community where God's Word is preached in all its purity, the strong, persuasive sermon of repentance, the convincing sermon of faith, the blessed sermon of heaven, the earnest sermon of sanctification, without which no man can look upon God?
It is a blessed privilege to dwell where God has worked wonders upon men, where they have become changed in heart, and put off the old nature for the new. How much more then to dwell in a place where the Saviour Himself lived, where the Son of God preached, where He performed His mighty wonders upon those who believed in Him; the blind saw, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the sick were healed, and devils were cast out. People could be with this blessed Saviour and touch Him with their hands.
Oh, beloved, I have often thought with tears of longing that I would willingly give years of my life to have lived one year with Jesus in Capernaum, to hear Him preach, and see the great wonders He did. And I yearn with my whole heart, my whole spirit, for heaven; where I shall be forever with Him; Him see, Him hear; yes, with Him speak, whom my soul loves.
Now such a fortunate man was this nobleman; he lived in the city where Jesus dwelt, and thanks be to God he was not one of the unbelieving ones, who, as Jesus warned them, would be brought down to hell. But he was a believer, had listened to His words, had seen His miracles and wonders, and recognized in Him the blessed Son of God who had come to save sinners.
And when we remember that this nobleman was a person in high position and authority, and remember the words of the Scripture that it is difficult for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must rejoice the more that this man did not follow after the world, but shared the belief of the poor, the weary, the heavy-laden, to whom Jesus called that He might give them rest. He belonged to the few who look upon earthly riches as dust, esteeming all lightly that he might win Christ, and in Him have everlasting life.
And notice further, my beloved, this nobleman had the main advantage; he was entering the kingdom through great tribulation; he was being prepared in the furnace of affliction. His loved son was sick unto death, and at a time when Jesus was absent from Capernaum upon His mission of saving souls. His house was a house of mourning, but also of hope, for he was a believer.
Let sickness and death enter the home of a worldly-minded person, let that person be great or obscure, and there we see the weeping of hopeless sorrow, doubt, and despair; for the unbeliever cannot ask comfort of Jesus, whom he has not made his friend.
No doubt this nobleman's heart was filled with anxiety and he had wept; but because of his belief he had prayed to Jesus, and the Saviour had dried his tears, comforted his heart, and refreshed his soul. He knew that Jesus was in Galilee, but could not wait until He would return to Capernaum, but hastened to see Him to secure the help of the one in whom he believed. Men could not help, although they might be the most skillful of physicians, for they were but men, but Jesus is the helper to a believing soul, and Him alone.
It did not trouble the nobleman that his seeking Jesus would excite ridicule; he, a distinguished officer, seeking the poor, despised Nazarene; nor that his friends would be surprised that he, a Pharisee and a nobleman, should believe in Him. He knew this lowly Jesus to be the Son of God, and desired to be honored by Him, rather than by men; so cared nothing for rank, for wealth, nor position, that he might be the most humble disciple of Jesus Christ, and be blessed by Him. When he came to the Saviour no false shame kept him from making his wishes known. He went to him with the firm, resolute confidence of true belief, which had only Jesus in view, and not seeing others; to his dear Saviour, not heeding the opinions of bystanders, for true faith creeps not in the corners and shuns not the eyes of men.
He came to Jesus, and, falling upon his knees before Him, lifted his trembling hands, and in imploring tones said, “Dear Saviour, help my son, he is sick unto death."
Notice, my beloved, he had the true belief; he sought only Jesus, bodily and spiritually his all in all. Prove yourselves if you have the true belief by trusting all to Jesus. Have you want and trouble? Your first way should be to Jesus, where you can pour out all your heart. Are you sick? Go to Jesus and ask help. Do you need strengthening counsel? Ask of Him who can understand. Weary of sin? fall at the feet of Him who will wash you in His blood and blot out all your transgressions.
He has said, “What you ask in my name, that will I give;” stand then in this childlike, intimate, blessed relationship with Him, that He is first with you in all things, because He is nearest your heart. With this true faith and belief you are a happy being, and comfort, help, strength, and peace will never fail you; the Saviour gives them all, and a thousand times more, if you will but ask Him.
But, oh my beloved, the unbelieving has nothing, absolutely nothing, except himself and the world, which the believer also has, and infinitely more; he has the Saviour and heaven. Oh, the world is a delusive world, which the unbeliever prizes and the believer esteems but lightly.
2. True faith finds all in Jesus. This nobleman belonged to Capernaum, and what had he in his need found outside of Jesus? His son was sick unto death; he had skillful physicians, no doubt; but had he paid thousands for their services, it were of no avail without the help of Jesus. Had he comfort in his friends? Those who live, for the world and its pleasures can converse, and smile, and eat, and drink, and play with you, but to comfort you in time of sorrow is not congenial to them; they dread the house of mourning; their only thought is, "We cannot change it;" "Time will soothe their grief," and such poor, weak consolation!
Oh believe me, my beloved, the unbelieving can give no real comfort in affliction when help is most needed, nor has he comfort for himself. I have seen unbelievers, yes atheists, upon their death-beds, and heard them in despairing tones curse their unbelief, because they would then have prayed but could not; their day of grace was past; their hearts were hardened against the Holy Spirit's influence, and they feared the terrible judgment against the obdurate.
Compare them with this nobleman, who in all his need and affliction was not despairing. He could pray to God the all-powerful, could bend the knee with steadfast belief that Jesus could and would help. Would He not help; He, our brother, who so loved us that He with His blood delivered us out of the power of sin and Satan?
The nobleman would not have gone to Jesus had he not believed in Him who said, “To me is given all power in heaven and upon earth;” and shall He not help us in sickness and death, help the people to whom He has given life?
It is true the Saviour put the nobleman's faith to trial when He said, “If you had not seen signs and wonders you would not have believed;” but the nobleman stood the test, he acknowledged humbly that his faith was not as yet perfect, it was weak and small, but it was sincere and true belief that the Saviour could help, would help, must help, because He had said that He would not turn away nor be wearied; and His word could not be broken.
He held Jesus fast; He pleaded as did Jacob, “I will not let thee go unless thou bless me." Lord, help me; help me now, ere my son dies; You will help, You must help, for I trust in You and call upon Your word. Can Jesus withstand such pleading? No! through the prayers of faith the Almighty will turn, because He is loving and compassionate; He spoke to the imploring father, "Go, your son lives."
And behold, my beloved, the truest test of the nobleman's faith. He sees not, yet believes implicitly the word of Jesus. Although he is in Galilee, far from his home, although he cannot know what is transpiring there, yet he is convinced that his son will live, for he has the word of Jesus.
Was he deceived in this belief? He could not be, for faith in the word of the Saviour is heavenly, God-like evidence, and deceives not; and so we find it. Then when prayers had given place to thanks and rejoicings, and he was on his way to Capernaum, certain that he would find all as Jesus had said, he met his servant coming with the joyful message that the boy lived.
And then it is that the poor unbeliever wishes to display his extraordinary knowledge by asserting, with a wise air, “that it is all chance; that it would have happened anyway;" making the helpful, loving Saviour give place to the god of chance.
The nobleman inquired eagerly of the messenger when the change in his son's condition took place, and was told that at the seventh hour the fever left him, and the nobleman remembered that it was the same hour in which Jesus had said: “Go, thy son lives."
You will see, beloved, that he had all he sought in Jesus. Perhaps you will say to yourselves yes, it was so then, but can one who believes now find all in Jesus? Will He yet answer prayer?
Beloved, I ask you: Has Jesus ceased to be what He was then? Is He not now the powerful, loving, the same truthful, trustworthy God He has always been? So certain as Jesus is the same almighty, loving, truthful God, so certain am I that He hears and answers prayer, for I have experienced it a hundred times. Therefore, should the whole world stand against me and say, “I believe it not," so would I not strive against the world, for the unbelieving cannot comprehend it any more than the blind can comprehend light, who have never seen it.
If a thousand of the blind should say there is no light and no sun, is it worth while for those who see to strive with them? No, they know what they know, and are still. But if the whole world should say they believe not that God answers prayer, so should I say that they cannot take from me what I have, through faith, experienced.
And truly I envy not the unbeliever who in his blindness has no Saviour to hear and answer his prayers; I deplore the folly of the poor man. But I rejoice that I have a living Saviour from whom I can have all I seek, help in need, strength in weakness, comfort in affliction, forgiveness of sins, knowledge of the everlasting life, examples for all right living, a peaceful death, and the certainty of a home in heaven.
3. True belief imparts life through Jesus. We see this in the few words given, “And the nobleman believed with his whole house.” A dead belief has no working power; all in it and about it is dead. But the true belief is active, and makes all about it alive. If we are true believers, whether as teachers and preachers, or learners and listeners, noted or obscure, rich or poor, man or woman, old or young, if we have the true belief we cannot and dare not remain alone in it; for by doing so is evidence that it has no godly, living strength. A true believer, said Jesus, is one from whom flows the stream of living water; the Holy Spirit that in him is burning through the living Word; the joyful knowledge of the blessing of God; the blessed change which the true belief surrounds his very life.
My beloved, this is the living faith which the nobleman enjoyed. Alone? No, with his whole house, for ho testified with joy to his wife, his children, his servants, what he had seen, and heard, and experienced. He admonished them, bade them, implored them, with proof of the power of the Holy Spirit, “Believe on the Lord Jesus; He alone is the Saviour of sinners; He alone can heal."
Perhaps at first his household was indifferent to the matter; possibly his earnest words were met by dark frowns, maybe angry words. Or possibly they would not listen; in which case he prayed for them, and continued to walk humbly with God, which must at length overcome the hardened heart, and cause the most obdurate spirit to change. And so it was that the whole house believed, and were blest of the Lord. And, oh, how blessed must it have been; husband and wife, sons and daughters, men and maid servants, all united in their love for the Saviour.
The nobleman was the house-pastor; the others his house-congregation, with whom he knelt at the home altar, leading them on the way to heaven. In this example of a Christian household there could be no strife, no word of anger, all peace and love. His wife and children love him with redoubled love; his servants obey him more promptly, for he is not only their employer but their loved leader to their Saviour and their eternal home.
And remember this stream of living water did not cease with the believing of his own family. He was a man in authority, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of eyes were turned to their superior. Now they see his sincere belief in Jesus, his humble trust and love for the Saviour; they take heed of his Christian walk and conversation; they feel that he is enjoying a higher, purer life, and it has its influence upon them, and they in turn influence others.
And so, beloved, will it be with us if we have this true belief, the true loving faith. Not alone, but with his whole house, he came, and we know not how many others were brought through his influence. And you are doing one thing or the other; if unbelieving, you are on the way to everlasting destruction through the sins of the flesh, and are influencing others. But if you have turned to Jesus in belief and faith, with the knowledge of the way that leads to heaven, can you sit idly by while the members of your household, your relatives, your friends and neighbors, are in the broad way? You cannot, if there is a spark of love in you; you cannot, or their blood will be upon your head; you must strive for their salvation, letting no inconvenience, no weakness hinder you, nor angry look or word deter you from speaking. You must witness, warn, pray, implore, admonish. If they will not listen, but like dogs turn and lend you, then be silent; but pray the more zealously, the more untiringly, and walk humbly, patiently, lovingly; holding fast to your belief, knowing you will see your good work; that your love will overcome. It must come to pass, for Jesus is with you and striving for you.
And then, oh blessed one, when you in that new day stand before Jesus, not alone, but your whole house, your relatives, your friends and neighbors, whom your words and Christian living have influenced, are with you, then indeed are you blessed. You will be together in that happy home, of which it is written that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." Let us pray.
Oh, Lord, we thank Thee that Thou in Thy great mercy hast shown us what true belief is. And because we now have seen that without this true belief we are of men the most miserable upon the earth, and without this true belief cannot be blessed, so pray we to Thee our almighty, loving, and true God, give us this true belief that we may seek all through Thee, find all in Thee, make all about us living through a living, active faith.
Oh, Lord, I have preached Thy word, through which faith comes; I am here a steward of Thy holy baptism, through which thou givest the Holy Spirit; I am steward of thy holy sacrament, through which Thou strengthenest us with Thy body and blood. Therefore do I pray to be made doubly strong in the faith which Thou hast given me; make these people to whom I have been called to preach true and faithful in their belief. Let us keep Thy pure word, Thy sacraments, and let us together partake of these precious means of grace whereby we shall be blessed, and help others to blessedness. Hear our prayer for Thy mercy's sake. Amen.