Stacks Image 905


PART I. SOME OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL AND SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES AND DOCTRINES OF FAITH.



CHAPTER SECOND.


ON NATURAL FAITH AS A SOURCE OR PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL ACTION.


Of natural strength in connection with natural faith. The connection of strength or decision of character with the will. The energy of the will’s action depends in part upon faith. Evidences of the connection between strength of faith and energy and success in action. Evidence of this connection from inventions in the arts, from literature, and from great active enterprises. The existence and importance of this principle beginning to be recognized by philosophical writers.

IT is a religious maxim, that a man is according to his faith. It is not less time, though perhaps in a diminished or mitigated sense, that it is also a philosophical or natural maxim. Certain it is, that faith, in the natural sense, is the foundation, to a considerable extent, of activity and energy in the natural man. In many things, though not invariably, the natural man will be found to be, in the result of what he proposes to undertake, very nearly or precisely what he believes himself to be. The measure of his strength will be found in the measure of his faith.

2.—It should be added, however, in order to a correct estimation of this matter, that strength or energy of character cannot be well explained without a reference to the will. And in accordance with this remark, the common idea of an energetic man is, that he is a person of a strong or energetic will. There are diversities in the constitution of the will, it is true; and as a result of this, there are diversities in personal energy; just as there are diversities in other elements and traits of character. Some men, in consequence of possessing original strength of will, are naturally more decided, more energetic than others. But other things being equal, in other words, on the supposition of there being no such constitutional differences between them as have been indicated, that person, as compared with others, will be the most energetic, who has the strongest faith. The believing man will be the strongest man.

3.—And it may be added here, that there is a natural or permanent law at the foundation of this statement. It is this. To will to do a thing implies and requires, as an antecedent condition of its own existence, a belief in the possibility of doing it. In other words, we are so constituted, as is well understood I suppose, that it is not possible for us to put forth a volition, a determination, to do a thing, which at the same time we believe it impossible to do. And as a principle flowing out of this law, and making a part of it, we may add further, that, where our belief in the practicability of a thing is weak, our strength of purpose, our volition, will be proportionably weak. Such, at least, is the natural tendency; although it is possible for it to be counteracted by other mental efforts made with a view to counteract it. This, then, is the law of our mental constitution in relation to natural faith. A strong faith, other things being equal, makes a strong will. A weak faith, on the other hand, other things being equal, makes a weak will. And accordingly even among men, who have not experienced the grace and power of religion, the strong man, as compared with other men, who possess naturally the same traits of mind, is the man of strong faith.

But this is not all. Faith pours vigor into the affections, as well as into the will. It gives energy to the action of the heart. It is an enemy of debility; it makes those, who possess it, mighty in the power of love.

4.—We continually see the evidence of the truth of this general position, in the efforts of men, in various situations in life. We can hardly turn to any art or calling, to any scientific, moral, or political movement, without seeing it. Every where we find it to be true, that faith gives power. The history, for instance, of mechanical inventions, and of scientific improvements generally, furnishes an illustration of the subject. The labors of many persons, labors to which we are indebted for many of the most astonishing results in the mechanic arts and in the sciences, have been perseveringly and successfully prosecuted under circumstances of want, of opposition, and of ridicule. Nothing seemed sufficient to stop their efforts. And the inquiry naturally arises here, what was the secret of this remarkable perseverance, of this great energy, under circumstances exceedingly trying? Whatever incidental influences may have existed, one thing is certain, that one great element of their energy and perseverance was FAITH. They had faith in the value of the object; they had faith in the possibility of its being ascertained and realized; they had faith also in their ability to accomplish what they had undertaken to do. This was the secret, (we do not say exclusively, but certainly in a very great degree,) of their indomitable strength. When, therefore, at distant periods, we find individuals, arising perhaps from the humblest walks of life, and accomplishing by their almost unaided efforts great results in science and the arts, the Franklins and Fultons of their generation, we may be assured, that the element of natural faith, if not of any other and higher kind of faith, has sustained and invigorated the conceptions and efforts of natural genius.

5.—I think we hazard nothing in saying further, that faith is the basis, or rather is the source, the wellspring of whatever is most valuable in literature. Where there is no faith, it results unavoidably, that there is no true feeling, no genuine “emotionality,” no deep and abiding sympathy with whatever is true in morals, or beautiful in nature. In other words, a man without faith is a man, to a considerable degree at least, without true affection; one who looks upon nature and upon his fellow-men to trifle with them, and to sneer at them, and not to trust and to love them. Having no sympathy for others, he can command no sympathy for himself. The man without faith, therefore, in literature as well as in other things, is a man without abiding power; and we could almost say, that he is a man without any real power whatever, except, as in the case of Voltaire and others of his class, the power, which involves of course the faculty of a sharp external observation, of the mere artist, and the power of ridicule; neither of which either constitutes or implies the existence of those elements, which can command, for any length of time, the love and the homage of mankind. Such a man is no Homer, no Shakspeare, no Cervantes. He cannot with any justice be regarded as the possessor of that creative faculty, a faculty having its very life in belief, which can give birth to imaginary creations of men and nature, of thought and action; creations, which, in being true to life around and life within, are not the less real for being imaginary. He may understand perspective; he may be a connoisseur; he may be unexceptionable and complete in whatever is addressed to the outward eye, in whatever is comprehended under the term artistic; but his work, after all, will stand forth in the eyes of men just what it really is, a marble statue, well sculptured, well proportioned, and well in every other respect, except that the principle of life, the immortal spirit, is not there.

6.—Faith is the basis of all great, active enterprises. If a man cannot think well, nor write well, without faith; so in all difficult enterprises, which imply physical as well as mental effort, he cannot act well. Without faith there would have been no Parthenon, and no Pyramids of Egypt. Without faith there would have been no Thermopylae, and no memorable Marathon. Hannibal could not have passed the Alps without faith. Cincinnatus could neither have ploughed nor have left the plough; could neither have sowed for the harvest, nor trained soldiers for victory, without faith. Columbus could not have crossed the ocean without faith. And we speak here, not of religious, but of natural faith. Cortes could not have conquered Mexico without faith. Park, and Ledyard, and Cooke, and Bruce could not have explored unknown countries without faith. The English Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, whatever faults or crimes may have accompanied any or all of them, could not have been accomplished without faith. The same may be said of all great civil and political movements. A mere sneerer, the man who sits in his easy chair, believing in nothing and laughing at every thing, could have done nothing of these things. No oceans are crossed by him; no nations are conquered; no boundless forests are subdued; no rude barbarism is tamed; no new civilization is planted and reared up, at the expense of toil and blood, in mighty triumph.

7.—It is one of the favorable signs of the times, that the existence of this important element of our nature begins to be generally recognized. Philosophy, though lingering long, has at last come to the aid of religion. She endeavored to solve the problems of human nature, without admitting this principle; but found herself unable to do it. Men of literature, men of philosophic inquiry, unite in acknowledging, not merely the existence of faith, but its mighty influence, even when considered out of its religious relations. As men of observation and thought, they see clearly, that there are a multitude of facts in human history, both individual and national, which preclude altogether any satisfactory explanation, except on the ground of its existence and its great power. And these men, men whose testimony is weighty, and whose concurrence every good man would desire, begin to look, in consequence of the advance of their philosophy, with a more favorable eye on religion. They found the Bible filled with declarations in relation to faith, which they did not understand; declarations which they found no where else, and which they hesitated to receive. But it is now no longer a matter of surprise, that a principle should effect so much in religion, which is seen and acknowledged to be so powerful in nature.