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



CHAPTER THIRD.


ON RELIGIOUS FAITH AS COMPARED WITH NATURAL FAITH.


These two states of mind greatly different from each other. Related to each other, nevertheless, by certain resemblances or analogies. Analogous in having respectively their appropriate objects. Extract, from Cecil. Analogous in multiplying themselves on their appropriate occasions. Analogous in the relations they sustain to present knowledge. Illustration of this view. Analogous in the fact that they exist in different degrees. Analogous in the fact, that both are influenced by the law of Habit. Analogous in their influence in communicating energy of action. Of the respective sources of their power.

WE proceed now to the subject of religious faith. Natural faith, as we have already had occasion to see, is faith arising naturally on its appropriate natural occasions, directed to its appropriate natural objects, and sustained by the operation of natural causes. Religious faith, if we have a right understanding of it, may be regarded as in some respects a state of mind the same with that of natural faith; that is to say, it may be regarded as the same state, psychologically or mentally considered; but it differs from natural faith in the particulars, that it is directed to religious objects, or those objects to which religious feelings are appropriate; that it is called into exercise on its appropriate religious occasions; and is sustained by religious influences. It is obvious, therefore, that the difference between natural faith and religious faith is a marked and a great one; and that it would tend to great perplexity and error, if they should be confounded together. At the same time it is evident, I think, that in a number of particulars there is a resemblance or analogy existing between them, which it is not only interesting to contemplate, but which may aid in the better understanding of religious faith. A few concise statements will assist in illustrating this analogy.

2.—Accordingly we remark, in the first place, that religious faith, like natural faith, has its appropriate objects; objects, which are in some way connected with religious experience. As natural faith is known in part, by attaching itself to natural objects; so one of the marks or characteristics of religious faith is, that it attaches itself to religious objects. The facts, which we notice in children, furnish an illustration of what has now been said. The life of children, I suppose, may in general be regarded as a life of faith. Not of religious faith, it is true; but still of faith, of natural faith. It is interesting to see, though they know that they are entirely dependent for food, raiment, and a home, what entire confidence they repose in their parents; a confidence, which, in excluding doubt, banishes anxiety. Hence it is that they live in such simplicity and quietness of spirit; and in the language of Scripture, are “careful for nothing.” When the object of this state of mind is changed, and it is transferred from the earthly parent to God, it becomes religious faith. The existence of such faith not only constitutes God our Father; but those who exercise it, become, in the language of the Savior, “like little children.” They have the same simple-hearted confidence. Freed from the anxieties of unbelief, they leave their life and their health, their food and their raiment, their joy and their sorrow, in the divine keeping. The resemblance or analogy between the two states of mind, as represented in these two cases, is essentially complete. And yet one of them is to be regarded and spoken of as an instance of natural faith merely. The other is a religious faith.

3.—I find, in the writings of Richard Cecil, an illustration of the view of the subject just given, which seems to me to be suitable to be introduced here.—“I imprinted on my daughter,” this devout writer remarks, “the idea of Faith, at a very early age. She was playing one day with a few beads, which seemed to delight her wonderfully. Her whole soul was absorbed in her beads. I said—‘My dear, you have some pretty beads there.’ ‘Yes, Papa!’ ‘And you seem to be vastly pleased with them.’ ‘Yes, Papa!’ ‘Well now, throw them behind the fire.’ The tears started into her eyes. She looked earnestly at me, as though she ought to have a reason for such a cruel sacrifice. ‘Well, my dear, do as you please; but you know I never told you to do any thing, which I did not think would be good for you.’ She looked at me a few moments longer, and then summoning up all her fortitude — her breast heaving with the effort — she dashed them into the fire. ‘Well,’ said I: ‘there let them lie: you shall hear more about them another time; but say no more about them now.’ Some days after, I bought her a box full of larger beads, and toys of the same kind. When I returned home, I opened the treasure and set it before her: she burst into tears with ecstasy. ‘Those, my child,’ said I, ‘are yours, because you believed me, when I told you it would be better for you to throw those two or three paltry beads behind the fire. Now that has brought you this treasure. But now, my dear, remember, as long as you live, what FAITH is. I did all this to teach you the meaning of Faith. You threw your beads away when I bade you, because you had faith in me that I never advised you but for your good. Put the same confidence in God. Believe every thing that he says in his word. Whether you understand it or not, have faith in him that he means your good.”

4.—We remark again, that religious faith, like natural faith, while it attaches itself to a particular object, may at the same time multiply itself in connection with many occasions, and situations, which have a relation to the object. Natural faith, for instance, attaches itself to man as one of its objects; but it is not man on one occasion merely or in one situation merely, but on many occasions and in many situations. We exercise trust or belief in man as the head of the family, as a neighbor and friend, as a citizen, as a man of skill in his art or calling, as one able and willing to fulfill his personal contracts, as a magistrate; and on other occasions and in other situations, which it is unnecessary to specify. Our faith in God, in like manner will multiply itself on its appropriate occasions. We exercise belief or faith in God, as the sustainer of the laws of nature, as a God both of rectitude and of goodness in the fulfillment of those laws, as the author of Revelation, as the fulfiller of the covenants made from time to time with his people, as present in all his providences, however dark they may appear to human sight, as unalterably true to the declarations he has made and the promises he has given.

5.—We remark, in the third place, that religious faith, like natural faith, exists, not perhaps in opposition to, but in distinction from present knowledge. That is to say, in the exercise of faith, we do many things both in nature and religion, of the results of which we do not possess, at the present time, any certain foresight. If faith did not carry us beyond the reach of our own understanding, beyond the line of human reason, beyond what we can now perceive, it would not be faith; and those, who might walk within the circle described by that measurement, could not be said to walk by faith, but by sight.

6.—The daughter of a celebrated physician was once attacked by a violent and dangerous fever; but she exhibited great resignation and tranquillity. She said, she was ignorant of what might effect her cure; and if it were left to herself to prescribe, she might desire remedies which would be prejudicial. Shall I not gain every thing, she added, by abandoning myself entirely to my father? He desires my recovery; he knows, much better than I do, what is adapted to the restoration of my health; and having confidence, therefore, that every thing will be done for me which can be done, I remain without solicitude either in reference to the means or the result. — This was an instance of natural faith; believing without knowing; and entirely peaceable and tranquil, while trusting itself in the hands of another. Religious faith, in like manner, trusts itself in the hands of God; knowing nothing and enduring all things, in the full confidence that it will be well in the end.

7.—Another remark, which we have to make on the subject, is this. Natural faith and religious faith are analogous to each other, in the circumstance that they both exist in different degrees. There are natural men, as we have already had occasion to intimate, who are weak in natural faith; men irresolute in purpose and action; men, who do nothing comparatively, because they do not believe, that they are able to do any thing. It is just so in religion. There are men weak in religious faith, just as there are men weak in natural faith; and who in religious things exhibit the weakness which characterizes the others in natural things. And on the other hand, as there are men strong in natural faith, and strong in natural action; so in religion there are men, in whom faith is not merely a guiding light, but a principle of movement. It is so strong in them, that it constitutes a life; and they may be said to live by faith.

8.—We proceed to remark again, that the analogy or resemblance between natural faith and religious faith may be observed in another important particular. It is an important law of natural faith, that it acquires strength by repetition or habit. Of the existence of the law of habit, and of its extensive applications, probably no persons, who are acquainted with the operations of the human mind, will have any doubt: and in accordance with this law, every new exercise of confidence or faith in any one of our fellow men, tends to increase the confidence or faith already existing. Religious as well as natural faith may be increased by the same law and in the same manner. In other words, every new exercise of faith in God and in his great precepts and promises, which is the true idea of religious faith, increases the strength of the principle of faith. This is, practically, a very important view; and especially to those who are desirous of living a truly holy life. I am aware that the increase of religious faith, as well as its origin in the first instance, is the gift of God. But God very properly requires us to observe the laws of our mental nature, and to do what it is our privilege to do. Accordingly the blessing of God, manifested in the increase of religious faith, seems to me, as a general thing, to conform to this view; and that those and those only who, in observance of the natural law, diligently exercise the faith they already have, can reasonably expect to have more, either by natural increase or by special grace. And, indeed, the doctrine which has now been advanced will apply to all the Christian graces, since God no where gives encouragement, so far as we can perceive, that he will add to the possessions of him who misimproves even his one talent. “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Matthew 13:12.

9.—We remark further, that religious faith, in perfect analogy to that which is natural, brings personal and mighty energy to its possessor; and places in his hand, in the sharp contest with sin and Satan, the shield of victory. It does this, among other things, and on the same principle that natural faith does, by giving exceeding power to his religious volitions or determinations. The man, who has no faith, is necessarily powerless. He is smitten by the irreversible law of nature, as well as by the present and special frown of God. He lies prostrate upon the ground, a mere imbecile, useless and impracticable alike to good and evil; but he, who has faith, acts, and acts vigorously. Faith diffuses a calm but effective energy through the whole man: especially is this true of religious faith. Natural faith gives power in the subjection of natural enemies; religious faith gives power and victory over enemies that are spiritual. Natural faith is patient, persevering, and successful in ascertaining natural truths, and in extending the boundaries of natural knowledge. Religious faith sits patiently at the fountains of religious instruction; and holding inward intercourse, and being powerful with God, it obtains knowledge of those higher things of a moral and religious nature, which even the angels desire to look into. Natural faith passes over natural barriers, over barren wastes and tangled forests, over valleys and mountains, over rivers and oceans; but religious faith, coming in conflict with religious or spiritual obstacles, resists and conquers all hindrances, whatever they be, which stand between the soul and the possession of the true spiritual kingdom; contending against sin original and sin practical, against temptations from within and temptations from without, against Satan invisible and Satan embodied in human agency, and crying with the victorious voice of the one in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord.” Natural faith unites together families, stretches abroad the connecting links of neighborhoods, constitutes corporations, and in the greatest extent of its power lays the foundation of states and nations. Religious faith, distrustful of its own power of vision, looks at things with God’s eye; and viewing them in the higher and divine light, expands the limits of social connection and identifies them with the limits of the universe. It places God at the head. It unites in the sweep of its broad view not only individuals and families, not only neighborhoods and nations, but the inhabitants of distant worlds, and all higher orders and classes of beings into one, binding all to the great centre, and constituting universal harmony.

10.—If natural faith is powerful, as we have seen that it is, religious faith is much more so; aiming at higher objects, and producing greater results. And this is what we should naturally expect from the supports, on which they respectively rest. Natural faith rests upon natural things: that is to say, it is faith in man; in man’s wisdom and man’s capability. Religious faith rests upon religious things; that is to say, it is faith in God’s wisdom and God’s mighty resources. The man who possesses religious faith, may be said to have the power, of adding the infinite to the finite. He relies on the divine promises, in the occasions on which they properly apply, as things in a PRESENT fulfillment; and thus incorporates with his own comparative and acknowledged weakness, the mighty energy of a present God. And besides all this, God bestows especial honor upon those, who possess religious faith. They and they only can properly be regarded as his own, his chosen and adopted children. Their names are written upon his heart of infinite love. Every element of his nature is pledged in their behalf. And hence we should not be surprised, when we consider what power faith has in itself by its natural law, and also that it takes hold of the infinite God, and enlists in our behalf his mighty heart of love, that the Holy Scriptures are sprinkled over, as it were, with illustrations and declarations of the immense efficacy and of the wonderful triumphs of this divine principle:


"Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
"And looks to that alone;
"Laughs at impossibilities,
"And cries, IT SHALL BE DONE."