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



CHAPTER TWELFTH.


ON THE LAW OF HABIT IN CONNECTION WITH FAITH.


All exercises of the human mind have their laws. Of the law of habit. Of willing or resolving to believe. Illustration of the subject from personal experience. Explanations of the belief, which exists in connection with volition. Results of habits of belief. Strive to believe.

THERE is no exercise of the human mind, whether natural or spiritual, which has not its laws of origin and progress. This remark is applicable to Faith, as well as to every other inward principle.

2.—One of the most general laws of our mental nature, is the law of habit. We have already had occasion to refer to this law in a former chapter; but have something further to say here. The law of HABIT, in its application to the principles of the mind, may be expressed by saying, that it is the facility and strength of action, resulting from frequent exercise or repetition. The perceptive powers, the memory, the power of reasoning, the affections, all invigorate themselves under the influence of this mighty law. The same can be said of faith. Faith unexercised, becomes weak; faith, in frequent exercise, becomes strong. He, who believes frequently, will believe energetically; while he, who puts forth the act of belief only at distant intervals, will find the impotency of his faith corresponding to the infrequency of its exercise.

3.—And, in accordance with this general view, it is related of some pious persons, who have distinctly seen the connection between a strong faith, and the life of God in the soul, that they have endeavored to sustain and strengthen acts of faith,
by acts of the will. Taught by an experience, which had already cost them much, that, in the language of an English poet,


—— "Our doubts are traitors,
"And make us lose the good we oft might win,
"By fearing to attempt,"


they have determined to meet and resist the treachery of unbelief by the religious patriotism, if we may so express it, of a fixed resolve. Their language has been, “I will believe.” “I am determined not to doubt.”

4.—In reading some account of the experience of a pious person, who is said to have died in the triumphs of faith, I find the following expressions: “I have given God my undivided heart; believing that he does accept of it, and believing that the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. Like a stone which the builder takes, and puts on the foundation, so do I lie on Christ’s blood and God’s promises; giving God my soul and body a living sacrifice, and covenanting with him never to doubt more. My language is, I
will believe. I will sooner die than doubt.” And we may add, it is very proper, and it seems to us indispensable on the part of those, who wish to live the life of faith, that they should not only watch against unbelief, but that they should resolve against unbelief.

5.—This course is sometimes objected to. It is said, and in a general view of the subject is said very correctly, that belief ought to rest upon
evidence, and not upon volition. The objection, however, is divested of validity, when it is understood, that the act of volition is not designed to have an influence independently of evidence, but in accordance with it, and in its support. Such have been the results of long-continued habits of doubting, that the faculty of belief, when exercised upon religious subjects, seems to have lost its appropriate power. It has become in a degree paralyzed, and its assent fails to be given, where it obviously ought to be. Under such circumstances it is obvious, that an act of the will may not only be proper, but that it is necessary. The mind, in consequence of having become in some degree disordered, stands in need of the aid, which a purpose or resolve of the will is calculated to give.

6.—A person, for instance, has been the subject of that inward experience, which may be supposed to constitute him a religious person; and as such a person, he has given himself to God in an act of sincere and permanent consecration. He has an inward conviction, in accordance with what is really the case, if he be truly a devout and sincere man, that he has placed all upon the divine altar. And he knows from the Scriptures, that God is pledged to receive all who are in this situation; and that, in accordance with his promises, he will be, and that he is now, a friend and father to them; and that all such persons are, and will be, so long as they continue in such a state of entire consecration, encircled and blessed in his paternal love. All this he knows to be true, because statements and promises of this kind, and to this effect, are abundantly announced in the Scriptures. But it is true, notwithstanding, that he finds a great difficulty in taking these promises home to himself. They are written, but they are not received; they are applicable to his own case, but they are not applied. He has so long disbelieved, that the very faculty of believing, as already has been intimated, may be said to be struck with a palsy. It certainly seems incapable of moving and acting effectually, until it is encouraged and aided by some accessory influence. And a portion of this influence is a volition, or firm resolve, embodied in the declaration, “I
will believe,” which I understand to be the same thing with saying, and nothing more than saying, “I will no longer yield to doubts, which I have found to be unreasonable, and which I know to be destructive. The evidence of God, to which Satan, taking advantage of my former evil habits, would blind me, shall have its effect. I will receive it.”

7.—The results of personal experience sustain the views which have been taken. Those persons, who have been inwardly convinced, that the promises of God ought to control their belief, and those who have endeavored to secure this result by resolves or purposes calculated to diminish the effects of former habits of unbelief, have found themselves blessed in it. The susceptibility of belief, which had been weakened and almost prostrated in its action, has in this way become invigorated. And not only this, it is continually increasing its facility and strength of movement by each repeated exercise. The powerful law of habit lends its aid. So that the exercise of faith, which once seemed the most difficult thing, is now found to be easy.

8.—If these views are correct, it seems to be a proper and important direction, STRIVE TO BELIEVE. Make efforts to exercise faith. Resist, as much as possible, the dreadful influence of long-continued habits of unbelief; not in order that belief may be yielded to that which is not the truth; but that the truth, liberated from such unpropitious and erroneous influences, may have its appropriate and just effect.