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



CHAPTER FIFTH.


FAITH THE FOUNDATION OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE.


Of the relations of priority and influence existing in religious principles. Faith the leading principle or the foundation of the religious life. Faith in God the foundation of knowledge, as well as of religion. Incident in the Life of Mr. Berridge. Reference to the Concordance. Further proofs of the general doctrine, that faith is the foundation of religion.


IT would be a natural view of the subject, independently of any thing said in the Scriptures, that some principles of the religious life have greater influence, and are more fundamental in their character, than others. Such a view would be natural, because we find this relation of comparative priority and influence existing in all other cases. In the external world, for instance, in the forms and operations of outward things, the great principles, which originate and sustain the life of nature, have their relations of time, place, and influence in the economy of the human mind also, it is easy to see, that its principles exist and operate in gradations of subordination and ascendency; and that those, which are subsequent in origin and inferior in position, will depend for their action upon those, which are first in time, or first in efficacy.

2.—It is thus in religion. It will be found to be true, as we have already alleged, that some principles of the religious life have greater influence, and are more fundamental in their character than others. And of this important class of religious principles, it is equally true, that some one will be found to take the precedence, in place and in influence, of all the rest; not only belonging to what may be denominated the first series or class; but, as compared with all the others, being the first in it. And this principle is Faith. It is faith, which stands foremost in place, and foremost in influence; a principle upon which all other principles rest, as upon their true, natural, and strong foundation.

3.—It is a singular fact, and one which has not been often noticed, that faith in God is not only the foundation of all religion, but is also the foundation of all knowledge. If we do not believe in the credibility of those powers, which God has given us, and consequently if we do not believe in the goodness and truth of God as the author of those powers, we cannot believe in any thing. All knowledge, on this supposition, necessarily fails, because it is destitute of an adequate basis. But while we assert, that there can be no well established knowledge without faith in God, we can assert with still greater confidence, that there can be no religion without it. Religion, without faith in God as its basis, is an impossibility. At the same time in taking the position, that Faith is, and must be the foundation of religion, we ask as religious men, no more for religion, than philosophers ask, and are obliged to ask, for philosophy.

4.—In reading the life of Mr. John Berridge, a worthy minister of the English Episcopal Church, who had long preached the doctrine of works as the great source of hope and safety, I noticed, that his biographer, in connection with the fact of his having made some anxious inquiries and having experienced certain peculiar exercises of mind, remarks, that he “saw the rock, upon which he had been splitting for nearly thirty years.” And the writer adds, “immediately he began to think on the words
faith and believe; and looking into his Concordance, he found them inserted in many successive columns. This surprised him to a great degree; and he instantly formed the resolution to preach Jesus Christ, and salvation by faith.” [See the Christian World Unmasked by the Rev. John Berridge, with the Life of the author prefixed, Boston Ed.]

5.—We introduce this short extract, chiefly on account of its reference to the Concordance. If any person will take the trouble to look into the Concordance, and carefully notice the terms FAITH and BELIEVE, and others related to them either by meaning or etymology, he will see at once the large space, which they occupy. And by referring to the passages, as they stand in the Bible, he cannot fail to be deeply struck with the important position, which Faith holds in scriptural history and in theology. He will find, that faith is not only the beginning of the religious life, but is its great support from beginning to end; that by faith we are justified from the sins of the past; and that faith is equally necessary to keep us from sin in time to come. Looking at the subject, therefore, in the light of the Scriptures, we feel abundantly justified in what has been said, viz.: that faith is the great foundation of the religious life.

6.—But this is not all. If we will take the trouble carefully to analyze our religious feelings, and to trace them in their origin and their relations, we shall find this important truth, sustained by additional evidence from that source. If, for instance, we should undertake to enter into an examination of the nature and operations of the principle of LOVE, we could not fail to see, that it requires the antecedent existence of faith in the beloved object as the basis and the condition of its own existence. In other words, there cannot be love without faith going before. Take almost any other Christian grace, such as the spirit of submission, of gratitude, or of prayer, and it will be found that they sustain intimate relations with other states of the mind, particularly with faith; and that in reality they cannot possibly exist without faith. When they are closely examined, all the Christian graces, however divergent and remote they may now appear, will be found to converge to one centre, and to rest upon one foundation. A remark, which furnishes a reason for the remarkable and important saying of the Scriptures, that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

7.—We may add further, that what has been said is confirmed by individual experience; particularly the experience of eminent Christians. There may have been remarkable experiences without much faith; experiences characterized by visions and by strong emotions, and which have been the subjects of much attention and conversation; but there has not been, and there cannot be, a sound and thorough scriptural experience, one which will truly renovate the soul and will carry a person victoriously through the trials and labors of life, without strong faith as its basis. So that it can be truly said of all those eminent men in different countries and different ages of the world, who have done most and suffered most for the cause of true religion, like the worthies mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, that they lived and died in faith. They had other eminent Christian graces, it is true, but it was strong faith, which gave a character to their lives and actions.

8.—Those, who are familiar with the life of Rev. Richard Baxter, a man not more eminent for personal piety than for abundant religious labors, will recollect, that he was sometimes tempted in a remarkable manner by doubts in relation to the Bible and some of the leading truths contained in it. These trials naturally led him to reflect upon the nature of faith and its relation to other Christian graces. In connection with a temptation to unbelief, such as has been referred to, he remarks as follows: “From this assault, I was forced to take notice, that our belief of the truth of the Word of God and of the life to come is
the spring of all grace; and with which it rises or falls, flourishes or decays, is actuated or stands still; and that there is more of this secret unbelief at the bottom, than most of us are aware of; and that our love of the world, our boldness in sin, our neglect of duty, are caused hence. I easily observed in myself, that, if at any time, Satan, more than at other times, weakened my belief of Scripture and of the life to come, my zeal in every religious duty abated with it, and I grew more indifferent in religion than before.” “But when,” he adds, “FAITH REVIVED, then none of the parts or concerns of religion seemed small; and then man seemed nothing, and the world a shadow, and God was all.”

9.—We close these remarks with referring to a few familiar passages. “Behold, his soul, which is lifted up, is not upright in him;
but the just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:3.—“And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye, that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, according to your faith be it unto you;” Matthew 9:28, 29.—It is said of Barnabas, that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith;” Acts 11:24.—“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God;” Romans 5: 1, 2.—“Therefore we are always confident, knowing, that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, and not by sight;” 2nd Corinthians 5:6, 7.—“The life, which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me;” Galatians 2:20.—“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, is evident; for the just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11.—“For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world; and this is the victory, that overcometh the world, even our faith; 1 John 5:4.—The Apostle, speaking of the ancient saints, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah, says, that “these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off; and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13.