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PART II. THE POWER OR EFFECTS OF FAITH IN THE REGULATION OF MAN’S INWARD NATURE.



CHAPTER FIRST.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD.


Of the tendency in the human mind to seek manifestations. Of the development of this tendency in heathenism. Further illustrations of it. Impossible for God to manifest himself to the full extent of his existence and nature. Hence all beings, angels as well as men, must live by faith. Additional remarks.

UNBELIEF attaches itself to that, which is seen. Faith attaches itself to that, which is not seen. Accordingly those, who do not live by faith, must live by sight; that is to say, must live, not merely by what God is, but by what he manifests himself to be; not merely by the reality of God, which is one thing, but by the manifestation of God, so far as he can be comprehended by our limited faculties, which is another and a very different thing. And hence it is, that just in proportion as our faith is strong, we rest upon the reality of God, though clouds and darkness may be upon it. And just in proportion as our faith is weak, we desire a manifestation; something which we can see, something which we can touch.

2.—And as unbelief is the great characteristic of men in their original state, it may always be said with great truth, that it is natural to the human mind in that state to seek for manifestations. And this tendency, if we have formed a right estimate of it, always remains there, and continues to exert an influence, just in proportion as the mind itself remains unsanctified, either in whole or in part. It is true that man, even in his unrenewed state, often professes to regret his alienation from God, and to desire the restoration of union with him; but he first wishes
to know what God is. And we are willing to acknowledge, that this is right, and is what it should be. But the difficulty is, that he seems in his unbelief, (and the same is true of the Christian just so far as unbelief remains,) to have but little reliance on any knowledge of God, which is not visible and tangible. In other words, as we have already intimated, he must have a manifestation.

3.—It is this tendency, which explains, in part at least, some of the facts of Heathenism. In all heathen nations we find the ideas, which they entertain of their divinities, embodied in various images; which, encircled and sanctified as they are by the traditions of many generations, become to them a divine or “deific” manifestation. Behold, “these be the gods, Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Their gods are before them, their Baals and Ashtaroths, their Brahmas and Vishnoos; not conceptively or as an object of the imagination, but
visibly; not revealed to faith, but to sight; and they fall down and worship.

4.—In souls, not truly and wholly consecrated to God, in other words, in souls in which faith has not become the controlling and absorbing principle, there are very likely to be some remains of this natural and unspiritual tendency. The facts of ecclesiastical history, both ancient and modern, abundantly show this to be the case. It is not enough, that God wrought miracles and sent prophets in times past, that he appeared in the clouds of Sinai, and in the burning bush of the wilderness. These things, to minds in which faith has not had its perfect work, are mere reminiscences of the past; they have become historical; they are revealed to faith, and not to sight. And hence they are looking in various directions, seeking a sign, some burning bush, some chariot of fire, some shaking of the stones of the temple and some rending of its mysterious veil, some opening in the heavens where God shall be seen visibly in a human form on a great white throne; each one, influenced by his own associations, and delineating in his own imagination the mode of his manifestation, and the time and manner of his coming.

5.—It cannot be doubted, that this subject is one of considerable practical importance. And one remark, which we have to make in relation to it, is this. There may, undoubtedly, in the proper sense of the terms, be what may be called a manifestation of God; that is to say, a manifestation, which has relation to God; a manifestation, which indicates the fact of his existence and some of the attributes of his character. But God himself, including
the mode of his existence, as well as the fact of his existence, God, in the fullness and extent of his being, never can be manifested. This, we think, however repugnant it may be to our first thoughts, is self-evident. It is entirely obvious, as it seems to us, that the finite never can comprehend the Infinite; and perhaps we may go further and say, that it never can make any real, any assignable approximation to it. Let it be supposed, that God manifests himself to the full extent of the capacity, which the creature possesses to receive the manifestation, it is still a manifestation only so far as the creature is able to receive it. It is only a SIGN of God, a mark, an indication; but not really and truly the thing signified. There are still heights and depths beyond. We admit, that it is a manifestation of that which a finite creature can comprehend; but it is not a manifestation, and never can be, of that, which is above comprehension, of the ALL in ALL.

6.—We say, therefore, that there is, and can be no manifestation, which either does or can exclude the principles and the applications of FAITH. Out of the limits of the Trinity, beyond the pale of that intercommunion which exists in the persons of the Godhead itself, all holy beings, whatever their rank and whatever name they bear, live in the same manner. Faith is as truly necessary to the inward life of an Angel or of a Seraph, as it is to that of a redeemed sinner here on earth. They see further, it is true; and it is probably the case that the manifestation of God corresponds to the increased length and breadth of their vision; but beyond their power of sight and of all present knowledge, enlarged and bright as it is, there is still a region undiscovered, a vast land unknown. A land, where even angelic minds have never travelled, and which can be reached and explored only by faith.

7.—When we take the view of the subject, which has now been given, no language can express the value, which we should attach to this wonderful principle; it being impossible, in the nature of things, for God so to manifest himself as to exclude its necessity and importance. And we may add, if all beings, angels as well as men, must live in this way, must live by faith alone, must live so
now and live so forever, then it is hazardous to desire any other method of living. Satan understood the nature and tendency of such desires, when, in support of his fatal proposition to Eve, he said, “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Be content, then, to acknowledge, that there are some things in God, which the human mind never can fully know. And this being the case, be willing to live by believing; and neither think nor desire to live in any other way. Be willing to see every outward light extinguished, to see the eclipse of every star in the blue heavens, leaving nothing but darkness and perils around, if God will only leave in the soul the inner radiance, the pure bright lamp which faith has kindled.

8.—It will be noticed in what we have said, that we admit the doctrine of limited manifestations. God may manifest himself to a certain extent, and he does so. He manifests the fact of his existence by the works, which he has made. He manifests also, in the same manner, some of the incidents or attributes of his existence, such as his wisdom, his power, and goodness. And it is certainly possible for him, departing from the usual method of his proceedings, to manifest himself, even at the present time, in special or supernatural sights and sounds, in displays and visions of heaven and of earth, which shall be impressive to the outward senses. But what we contend for is, that such manifestations do not constitute, and cannot constitute the real knowledge, or rather the knowledge of the nature of the I AM; but are only a
sign, adapted to the nature of our capacities, that the I AM is; that he has certain attributes; and that there is yet something beyond what the eye sees and the ear hears and the intellect knows; a region of existence, vast, unmeasured, infinite, which belongs to faith. Thomas, the doubting disciple, believed, as far as he could see, and only because he could see. Jesus said to him; “Thomas because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they, that have not seen, and yet have believed.

9.—The love of manifestations, of that which is visible and tangible, in distinction from that, which is addressed to faith, is one of the evils of the present age. Men love visions, more than they love holiness. They would have God in their hands, rather than in their hearts. They would set him up as a thing to be looked at, and with decorated cars would transport him, if they could realize what their hearts desire, from place to place, on the precise principles of heathenism; because, being weak in faith, they find it difficult to recognize the existence, and to love and to do the will of an
“unknown God.” But this was not the religion of the Apostle Paul. “As I passed by,” he says to the Athenians, “and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you.” We must be so humble, so sunk in the depths of our own nothingness, as to be willing to receive, worship, and love the God unknown; and who, because he is infinite, and man is finite, always must be unknown in a great degree; except in the MANIFESTATION OF HIS WILL. It is in his will, believing that his will is righteous, that we may meet with him, may know him, may rejoice in him, may become one with him. “BELIEVE in the Lord your God; so shall you be established.”