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



CHAPTER FOURTEENTH.


OF FAITH CONSIDERED IN SOME OF ITS RELATIONS TO REASONING.


Faith a principle which is entitled to maintain itself firmly in its position. Illustration of the subject. The stronger our faith, the less likely we are to be perplexed by the suggestions of human reasoning. Illustrations of this view. Faith and reason not necessarily and really, but only apparently in opposition. Faith may be regarded as a higher reason. Practical remarks.

FAITH implies the previous existence, in a greater or less degree, of perception and human reasoning. And such being the circumstances of its origin, it may properly be regarded as a principle or state of mind, entirely suitable to a reflecting and rational nature. But it ought to be remarked further, that, when faith, for its appropriate and adequate reasons, has attached itself to its appropriate objects, it does not allow itself to be driven from its position by any adverse suggestions, even when such suggestions are sustained by the imposing authority of thought and of deduction. This is particularly true of religious faith.

2.—We illustrate the subject thus. We believe in God. That is to say, we believe in the fact of his existence. What we perceive, and what we feel, and what reason teaches us, leaves no doubt, that God is. To God, considered as an object of belief, faith attaches itself with the greatest firmness. Once having taken its position, it remains unchanged; in other words, it is, and it continues to be a fixed and controlling principle of the mind, notwithstanding reason may suggest many doubts as to the mode of his existence and the manner of his operation.

3.—And in connection with this general view, I think we may lay down the principle, that the stronger our faith is, the less we are likely to be perplexed by such reasonings as have been indicated. We may suppose, in illustration of what has now been said, a case of this kind. A person, who has full faith in God, is afflicted by some great calamity. Reason is ready to inquire, why it is so, or suggest many doubts as to its justice. But strong faith, having its source in appropriate and adequate grounds of origin, and resting in the general idea of God’s truth and justice and goodness, repels all such suggestions at once; and maintains the soul in quietness and Christian strength.

4.—Abraham had faith in God; that is to say, under the influence of the light which God had given him, light which had been addressed to him as a perceptive and rational being, he believed that God is, that all things are under his control, and that in all his dealings he is perfectly just. His mind, in the exercise of faith, rested fully and firmly in the general proposition of God’s existence, superintending providence, and holiness. Nevertheless, it is entirely reasonable to suppose, that, when he was called, in God’s mysterious providence, to the fearful and afflicting office of sacrificing his own son, human reason, in distinction from that higher reason, which is embodied in a well established faith, took occasion to suggest a multitude of doubts and inquiries. But he remained unshaken. Faith, holding on to the general proposition of God’s wisdom and goodness, at once rejected all suggestions, that were inconsistent with them.

5.—Many are the instances in the Bible, many are the instances in all periods and ages of the church, in which faith and reason have thus come in conflict. Job was a man of faith. He also, when his property and children were taken, and when he was exceedingly afflicted in his person as well as in other respects, had his inward trials undoubtedly; resulting from the inability of human reason, in its ordinary operations, to reconcile the apparent dealings of God with the goodness and justice of his character. But faith, in the severe inward conflict to which he was subjected, prevailed against reason; and he was enabled to say, “The Lord gave; and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

6.—It is not uncommon for Christians to eulogize faith in distinction from reason; and not unfrequently they speak of faith as a higher authority than reason. We are aware, that expressions of this kind, which are often on the lips of eminently pious and devoted people, suggest trials and doubts in the minds of some,
as if they implied an abandonment of reason. And it is not surprising that they should, when the expressions are taken in their literal and obvious import. But a little reflection on the subject will help to remove this difficulty. As Christians we do not, and we cannot abandon reason. The abandonment of reason would involve the abandonment of Christianity itself. We abandon reason, only when it is perversely applied; and when we ought to abandon it. We abandon it in its support of particular facts and particular propositions; and then only when such particular facts and propositions come in conflict with some more general facts and propositions, in which our faith is fully established. Abraham did not doubt, he could not doubt, that God is good and holy. His mind, in connection with the antecedent evidence, of which he had the experience both inwardly and outwardly, rested firmly by faith in this general proposition. He did not doubt in the least. Accordingly being established in this general truth by faith, he had nothing left but to reject at once all suggestions adverse to it, which human reason might bring in the shape of particular facts and particular propositions. In other words, believing in God as a God of all knowledge as well as of holiness, he thought it better to distrust human reason, which is limited, than to distrust God’s reason, which is universal. He felt, that he himself in his blindness might be wrong; but that God, in whom “is no darkness at all,” could not be otherwise than right.

7.—These considerations obviously analyze and adjust the conflict, or rather the supposed conflict, between faith and reason. Faith and reason, when the matter is rightly understood, are by no means the opposites of each other. True faith and right reason always have harmonized, always will harmonize. The conflict, which from time to time takes place, is in appearance and not in reality; is relative and not absolute. It is true, that faith, resting upon reflection and reason, sometimes places itself in the attitude of opposition, and will not permit reason hastily and erroneously to undo its own work. And this is a state of things altogether true and right. It is entirely consistent and right, that religious faith, resting for adequate reasons, in general religious propositions of a high and controlling nature, should sustain this sublime position, a position which may be regarded as the result of a higher and more universal reason; and should reject at once and forever all the adverse suggestions of that other and subsequent reasoning, which moves in a lower sphere and with a narrower vision. It is a state of things, which may be regarded as represented in the simple statement, that faith, considering the grounds and circumstances of its origin, is God’s reason against man’s reason, is strong reason against weak reason, true and right reason against false reason.

8.—In connection with what has been said, we remark further, that the sooner we establish ourselves by a strong unwavering faith in those general religious truths, which, occupying a higher position, sweep over and control particular and subordinate cases, the better it will be for us. Being thus established, the mind is at once placed in a position of hope and strength, and is relieved from a multitude of perplexities. When human reasonings have become consolidated in firm faith, the soul is not only relieved from assaults and perplexities from below, but seems to have power, such as it could not otherwise have, with that which is above. On such a soul the love of God, in particular, seems to be gently but richly shed abroad and infused from on high, instead of being laboriously wrought out and forced upward from beneath. No longer continually wearied with efforts originating in itself; but reposing in childlike quietness, of which faith is the true parent, it is purified and refreshed with the dews of divine grace unceasingly descending.

9.—“The ship’s navigation ceases,” says a certain writer, “when it enters the port. Thus the soul, after the fatigue of MEDITATION, [a word which he uses as synonymous with perceptive and reasoning acts,] finding itself in the calm of CONTEMPLATION, a state of mind resulting from the highest faith, ought to quit all its own reasonings, and remain peaceful and silent with its eye fixed simply and affectionately upon God.” [Molinos, Introduction to the Spiritual Guide.] A state, which, in being closely united to God, is separated from all entangling alliances with that, which is not God; and which is followed by a sweet and peaceful rest, such as a condition of doubts and fears can never be acquainted with.