« AnteriorContinuar »
"please him” if you have no confidence in him? Can a child a son--a daughter-though learned, and accomplished, or graced with polished manners, though admired for beauty, or praised for talent, or distinguished for eloquence, can such a child 6. please” his father, can he be worthy of his love, if he has no just confidence in him-if he treats him with cold neglectif he never relies on his promises, or respects his principles ? Sinner! the source, the root, the germ of all the evil in your soul, is the want of confidence in God. The evil will be arrested, the ruin which is coming on you will be stayed, the moment you are brought back, through the great Mediator, to exercise faith in him who made you—and not till then. Without that, dissociated from him, you are destined to a degree of wretchedness and woe, compared with which all the evils produced by want of confidence in a family, a commercial community, between .nations, or under a human government, are trifles not to be named !
FAITH AS AN ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLE OF ACTION.
2 COR. v. 7.-"We walk by faith, not by sight.”
In the first discourse on the subject of faith, I illustrated the inquiry why faith is made an indispensable condition of salvation ; in the second, I considered the value and importance of faith.
Faith enters so much into the Christian system, is regarded as so essential an element in our conduct as religious beings, and is designed to accomplish so important effects on our character, that, in every point of view in which it can be regarded, it demands our careful and prayerful consideration. It seems to be supposed that there is some foundation for the importance attached to it in our very nature, or that man is so made that it is designed that faith shall be an important element of his conduct, and shall exert an important influence over him. If there were not something in man that laid the foundation for this, the prominence given to faith in the Bible would seem to be unauthorized, and the purpose of making so much out of it would seem to be an attempt to institute an arbitrary arrangement, and to separate religion from all other principles of action. I propose, then, in order to explain the prominence and the value assigned to faith in the Bible, to consider it as an elementary principle of conduct; or to inquire into the influence which it is adapted to exert on man. I shall refer to it, not exclusively as a Christian virtue—for the object is to inquire why it should be incorporated among the Christian virtues at all ; but as a state of mind--a principle of conduct-a law of our being. Our aim is to ascertain what place it is designed to occupy in the mind of such a being as man, and placed in the circumstances in which he is; and the bearing of all my remarks will be to illustrate the power of that principle stated in the text, " We walk by faith, not by sight.”
In order to illustrate the subject properly, it will be necessary to consider two points :--1. What the principle is; and, II. Its influence'as an element of conduct.
I. The first inquiry is, What is the principle referred to? It is of the highest importance to settle this, because, either by inadvertence or design, faith is so often confounded with other things, that its value as an element of action is by no means appreciated, and on this account religion is charged with that which, if true, would make it unworthy the serious attention of mankind. A very common impression is, that faith is synonymous with credulity, and that in proportion as we exalt faith as as principle of action, we undervalue reason. Let us then inquire, and see whether we can ascertain precisely what the state of mind is, when we say in any proper sense, that a man by faith.” Perhaps we can bring out the state of mind which it is proposed to consider, by placing it in contrast with other things.
(1.) It is to be distinguished from credulity, and indeed in many respects is the opposite of credulity. Credulity is a weakness of mind by which a person is disposed to believe, or yield his assent to a declaration or proposition without sufficient evidence of the truth of what is said or proposed; a disposition to believe on slight evidence, or no evidence at all.”— Webster. Credulity relates to the belief of reported or alleged facts; believing them when there is no sufficient testimony or evidence, and is the opposite of clear and thorough investigation ; faith, as an element of action, refers not so much to what are now facts, as to what may be; not so much to what has been in the past, as to what may be or will be in the future. Credulous men believe in things which are said to have occurred, or which are alleged to be occurring at the present, which are of little importance in themselves, and which are fitted to exert no good influence on the character; faith has relation, as an element of conduct, to things to come, and to those things which are deeply to affect our character and destiny. Children, in an amiable sense, are credulous for they act on the principle of our nature, which teaches us, and prompts us to believe, until we learn to distrust by painful experience. Whatever is reported to them, they believe--for they have not yet learned to distinguish truth from falsehood, and indeed have hardly learned as yet that there is any such thing as falsehood. Men in the infancy of society are credulous for they are then much like children ; and amidst the multitudes of things which are before their minds, and the numerous questions which present themselves, and under the influence of an imagination easily excited, they have not yet learned to separate the true from the false, and believe them all alike: stories of preternatural apparitions, and the influence of the stars, and portents, and omens, and the deeds of demi-gods, all together. Hence, all early history is made up of marvels--like the books with which it has been so much the fashion to entertain children. The dupes of superstition are credulous ; for they connect certain things with religion, and they have settled it in their minds that all that is connected with religion is true. Hence they can believe that the blood of St. Januarius is liquified at certain seasons of the year, and that the “house of the Virgin" was borne miraculously through the air from Palestine to Italy; hence they can believe in the virtue of climbing up the steps on Pilate's staircase, and that the " seamless coat” of Christ was discovered by St. Helena, after lying for centuries unknown, and then again, that it was as marvellously preserved in the cathedral at Treves. Infidels, though it may seem to be a paradox, are credulous men. Lord Herbert, among the best of them, was among the most credulous of men ; and I take the liberty to affirm that, as a body of men, none have been more distinguished for credulity than those who have been reckoned among infidels. Faith, as a principle of action, is wholly distinguished from this. A man who has faith, and is greatly influenced by it, may be a credulous man; but his credulity pertains to other things connected with his mental organization, and not to his acting by faith.
(2.) By many, faith is sometimes contrasted in a strange manner with a habit of scepticism and of doubt, and with an implied advantage in favour of the latter. It is supposed by them, that, as a habit of mind, a disposition to doubt, to be cautious, to be slow in admitting evidence, and to refuse assent in cases where so many yield so readily, not only stands in strong contrast with the state of mind required in the gospel, but is a better state of mind. Such a man, therefore, supposes that while he retains this disposition of mind to examine everything in an impartial manner, and to admit the full influence of all reasonable doubts on his mind in any case, he cannot be a Christian.
Yet, if I understand the matter, this is not a just view of the case at all. The faith of the gospel is not opposed to the most candid and thorough investigation of any subject; and the state of mind here referred to, and placed in contrast with it, is not distinguished from the faith of the gospel by a habit of bolder and more independent thinking. The difference between them is not in regard to the freedom of inquiry; it is in regard to the influence of hope and of desire. Give to a man who is a sceptic the influence of the hope which the gospel proposes ; create in his heart a desire for that on which faith rests, and in view of which it acts, and that same man will be no more cautious and independent than he who lives by faith. It is the absence of this, and not independence of thinking, which distinguishes him; for while he has no desire to know God, to live for ever, to be holy and pure in a future world, he is of course sceptical. He cares nothing about the evidence on the subject. He neither examines it, nor will he allow it to make any impression on his mind. His mind, therefore, is not better, in the sense that it is more candid, and cautious, and independent; but worse, in the sense that it is a mind that does not feel or appreciate the influence of hope, and of desire for that which is of the highest value and importance.
(3.) Faith, as an element of conduct, I need hardly say, is distinct from acting under the mere influence of the senses. 66 We walk by faith, not by sight." Most men act only from a reference to the senses, or in the light only which the relations of the senses cast on objects. They say, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," 1 Cor. xv. 32. “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst,” Deut. xxix. 19. If they do not live under the influence of the senses, in the lowest meaning of the term—that of gross corruption--yet they aim to give what they would regard as the due influence to the information derived from the senses, or the inlets of knowledge from the external world. They become
matter of fact" men; their thoughts range only through the circle of the questions which arise about “profit and loss;" or they make close calculations by measurements of heights and distances, and abide by them. They give no scope to the fancy-to hope-to those generous impulses which would carry them out of the range of mere calculation. Now this is well as far as it goes; and is the basis of many of the excellent rules of economy, and a restrainer of extravagance. But it may make the mind exceedingly narrow, and prevent the development of some of its noblest powers. Man is made to be something else besides a mere creature of sight and of hearing; he is capable of being much more than an ingenious measuring and calculating machine. Faith, as an element of action, does much more -is much more expanding and noble. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, though heathens, admitting the influence of this principle, furnished a striking illustration of the power of faith. They opened their eyes on distant worlds, and supposed there were many other things than the sight reveals; and though the gods which they supposed to have a dwelling-place in the groves, and by the fountains, were the work of imagination, yet they acted out the principle of our nature which longs to find other