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



CHAPTER FIFTEENTH.


ON THE NECESSITY OF CONSECRATION IN CONNECTION WITH FAITH.


Faith implies previous consecration. Reference to an objection which is made to this view. Answer to this objection. The law of progress in religious experience. Practical application of the view presented. Further illustrations of the subject. The fact that additional light and grace depend upon our consecration, in accordance with what we now have, not inconsistent with the freeness or grace of God’s gifts.

I THINK we may regard it as one of the established principles, having relation to the origin and the operations of faith, and which may properly be included under the denomination of the doctrines of faith, that our faith in God will be in proportion, or nearly in proportion, to our consecration to God. In other words, just in proportion as we give ourselves to God to do and to suffer his will without reserve, just in that proportion or degree we shall be likely to have confidence in him; a confidence, which will receive him not only in his more general character as God, but as the God of providence and the God of the promises. It is especially obvious, I think, and beyond all question, that the highest results of faith, Assurance of Faith for instance, cannot be experienced, without a personal and specific consecration; a consecration which is entire and without reserve. The Savior himself may be regarded as fully implying all that has now been said in the instructive and interesting passage, where he says, addressing himself to the Jews, “How can ye believe, who receive honor one from another, and seek not that honor, which cometh from God only?” John 5:44.

2.—It will perhaps be objected here, that consecration to God necessarily implies the antecedent existence of faith in God to some extent; in other words that we cannot give ourselves to God in the act of consecration, without previously believing that God is. This difficulty seems to be fully met by the important fact, that we are obviously created with a belief, or perhaps we should rather say with tendencies to belief, in the God of nature; or in other words are created with such elements and tendencies of mind as necessarily result in the belief of God as the God of nature. There is much reason for thinking with bishop Butler, that natural religion and revealed religion are not in their nature different, but are parts of one and the same great system of truth; although it is true that revealed religion embraces things, which natural religion of itself could never have reached. And one of the most obvious and certain truths of natural religion is, that there is a God. He, who carefully notices the wonderful works of God either within him or without him, and who by his very mental constitution judges and cannot help judging between right and wrong, and who feels either the pangs of remorse in doing evil or the joys of doing and sustaining the right, has an amount of knowledge and experience, which lays the foundation for the additional and deep conviction, that there is a God, that there
must be a God.

3.—God, therefore, himself, in the exercise of that kindness which marks all his dealings with men, has given the preliminary, which the doctrine of faith demands. The divinity stands unveiled before the human mind; revealed both within and without; both in what it knows, and in what it feels. The Bible itself recognizes this view. It does not profess to reveal God, as a being absolutely unknown before. It takes for granted the existence of God, just as it takes for granted the existence of the human soul, and the fact of a conscience in man. And those, who say that they do not believe in God, be they Christian or heathen, if they will only analyze their own thoughts and heart, and will speak truly and candidly, can hardly fail to alter their mode of expression. They will be much more likely to say, that they believe in God’s existence, and at the same time knowingly and deliberately reject him. They believe, and they reject. It would not be possible for men to reject God, a crime which is alleged against all natural men, without first believing that God is. The Apostle has expressed it precisely when he says, in connection with his general doctrine, that the heathen have a knowledge of God independently of Revelation,
“they knew God, but glorified him not as God.” They had faith enough to bring them under condemnation; but not faith enough to renew their hearts in love.

4.—But if we are so constituted, that we naturally and necessarily know something of God, it is still true, that we may know him more. If it is a conceded fact, that we know him in a small degree, it is equally true that we may also know him much. If we may know him as the God of nature, we may also know him as the God of the Bible, as the God of providence, as the God of the New Covenant, as the God of the promises. We may know him as our own God and Father, as ours in prosperity and adversity, as ours in life and death, as ours to-day, to-morrow, and forever.

5.—But let us notice this in particular. The belief in God, which we have from nature, valuable as it undoubtedly is, has the effect merely to bring men under condemnation,
unless it is followed by something further. And this is essentially true also of the incipient steps, the beginnings of a really gracious experience. On what principle, therefore, or in what way is it, that having but little light, whether it be the light of nature or the light of grace, we may reasonably expect to get more? I know of no principle and of no way or method, but that of spiritual correspondence with God according to what we now have; in other words, the way of humbly and unreservedly giving ourselves to God to be his, according to our present light; trusting in him for wisdom and strength, and for all that we need. Every thing, which has relation to our progress in the divine life, seems to depend upon the position which we here take, viz. upon our conformity to this rule on the one hand, or our rejection of it on the other. If we do not give ourselves to God in correspondence with what he has imparted to us, but on the contrary, rejoice in the light which we have as our own light, which is the same thing as to rejoice in ourselves, and thus turn away from God, we can make no advancement. But if, entirely renouncing our own strength and wisdom, and giving ourselves wholly to God, we receive and rejoice in the light which we have as God’s light, and in the deep feeling of our dependence look to God for more, we are in the way of increased light and of true salvation.

This, therefore, seems to be the law of inward progress, viz. WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, OBTAIN MORE. Be faithful to what is given, and the giver will add to his gifts. A law, enforced by the penalty already alluded to, viz. that the gifts of nature without the additions of grace, and the incipient gifts of grace without grace superadded, so far from essentially benefitting us, will only add to our condemnation. Or, as the Scriptures express it,
“whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

6.—We will suppose, that the reader of these pages is a Christian. God has given you, in addition to the unavailing light of nature, (unavailing if it remain merely what it is,) the light of grace; so that you can say that you have some faith in God and some communion with him. It is an interesting inquiry, how you shall increase it? The Savior has given the answer on various occasions and in various forms of expression; but all to the same import, viz., improve what you have, and you shall have more. Just in proportion as ye seek not honor, one from another, but the honor which cometh from God only, ye shall have faith, and shall find that faith increasing. “If any man be a worshipper of God,
and doeth his will, him he heareth,” John 9:31. “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” Matthew 25:23. Be all to me according to the light, which I have condescended to give you; and I will be all to you in return.

7.—In other words, the human ability must correspond without reserve, and to its utmost extent, to the divine light, whether it be more or less. Knowledge to the extent, in which we are able to conform to what we know, furnishes the basis of obligation. It is a principle of moral philosophy, which is well understood and is considered as very obvious, that our obligations can never be less than our ability and our knowledge. “He, who knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” In other words, the person, who does not correspond to God in accordance with the obligation which God imposes, will not be likely to have the disposition, and certainly will not have the right, to plead the divine promises, and is clearly the subject of God’s marked disapprobation. But to correspond, in the utmost extent of our ability, to all that we actually know and to all that we are now able to know of our duty, is essentially the same thing, perhaps we may say, is precisely the same thing, as to consecrate ourselves entirely to God.—Consecration therefore, as it seems to us, consecration without reserve either as to time or object, is the indispensable condition of inward religious advancement.

8.—Whether, therefore, you have much religion, or little religion, or none at all, follow the divine light; whether it be the light of nature, which only shows us our state of condemnation; or the light of restoring and redeeming grace, which leads us to the Cross, that we may be pardoned there; or the light of that grace, which sanctifies the heart, by exploring its secret recesses and by bringing all into subjection; be it each or all, be it more or less, correspond with all your powers to all that is given, and God will give more. This, if we rightly understand it, is the law of increase in spiritual things, the law of light added to light, of grace, added to grace, of glory brightening in the front of glory.

9.—We find here an answer to the question, often proposed with intense interest, why is it that there are so few cases of assured faith and hope? why is it that there are so few persons, who, under the influences of sanctifying grace, have reached the state of assured or perfected love, and of constant communion with God? The answer is, it is because by not corresponding to the light and grace which they had, they lost that, which they might have had. They would not take the cup of consecration, which they knew to be bitter to the natural taste, and therefore they did not, and could not receive the inward healing, which, in connection with God’s plan of operation, it might have imparted. It is impossible in the nature of things, that a person can have strong faith in God as a father and friend, or that he can love him with unmixed love, when he is conscious that by not consecrating himself he is violating a religious duty. Belief will always sink, and consequently love, which has its foundation in belief, will always sink in proportion to the weakness or defect of the consecrating act.

10.—But it will be inquired perhaps with some solicitude, whether this doctrine, which denies advancement in religion without consecration, and which thus implies an act of the creature, does not exclude grace? In replying to this question, we feel obliged to say, that we cannot perceive any reasonable grounds of distrust and anxiety here. It is certainly difficult to see, how an act of correspondence on the part of the creature to God’s intentions and acts of mercy, is inconsistent with what we variously denominate grace, freeness, or gratuity on God’s part. Man, considered as a moral and responsible being, could not do less than what is implied in such correspondence, without rejecting God. There is, and can be no alternative. He must either correspond with God by a reception of what God proposes to give and by a full and harmonious cooperation, or he must reject. And it is virtually impossible, as it seems to us, for God, while the creature rejects what he offers, to give more, or to continue for any length of time that which he has already given. But the act of correspondence, which is thus rendered indispensable on man’s part, if he would experience the continuance and the increase of the divine favor, being obviously nothing more than an act accepting what God offers, or perhaps more definitely and truly an act of consent to enter into harmony with the divine operation, it does not, and cannot detract from the free and gratuitous nature of the divine gifts. It is self-evident, that the mere reception of a gift, by an intelligent approval and cooperation on the part of the recipient, can never alter its nature as a gift.

11.—What a motive is presented by the views of this chapter, to a full correspondence with God; in other words, to a consecration, immediate, unreserved, and perpetual. An act so obviously necessary, and yet which so few are ready and willing to perform; the omission of which so fully accounts for the prevalence of inward darkness and the want of inward growth. Give yourself to God in all things, if you would have God give himself to you. True, the act of consecration, in its relation to the world, and the things of the world, may be like the cutting off of the right hand or the plucking out of the right eye; it may be attended, as it undoubtedly will be, with the painful sundering of earthly ties, but it is the only condition, so far as we can perceive, on which we are able to advance from the lower to the higher degrees of faith and love, and ultimately to possess the fullness of God, as our present and everlasting portion.