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



CHAPTER FIFTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO THE REGULATION OF THE PROPENSIVE PRINCIPLES.


On the regulation of the desire of life. On the regulation of the desire of society. On the regulation of the desire of knowledge. On the desire of the favorable opinion or esteem of others. Of faith in its relation to the principle of veracity. The desire of our personal good or happiness. General remarks.

THE Appetites, which always attract especial attention as having usurped a dominion over man to which they are not entitled, are tendencies or desires, which are closely connected with the necessities of our physical system. In the remarks which have been made in a former chapter, we have seen in what manner they may be regulated and purified. The propensive principles, which are more closely connected with the necessities of the mental nature, and are generally regarded as sustaining a higher rank, are liable to be perverted, as well as the appetites; and need continually the purifying influences and the restraints of sanctifying grace. And if faith, by its action either direct or indirect, can purify and subordinate the lower principles, which are so often perverted and are known to be so violent in their perversion, there is no reason to suppose that it has less of regulating and sanctifying efficacy in its application to other and higher parts of our nature.

2.—The desire of life, that is to say, the desire of the preservation and of the continuance of life, is not, in the proper sense of the terms, an Appetite; but it is obviously an implanted principle of our nature, which may properly be denominated a PROPENSITY. He, who has faith, may be said, just in proportion as he has it, to take his “life in his hands,” as the Scriptures express it, and to hold it at the divine pleasure. The anxieties, which afflict others, and which often render their lives a burden, do not, in a great degree, trouble those, who believe. Admitting, as they cannot well do otherwise, the correctness of the common remark, that in life we are in the midst of death, and admitting all that can be justly said of our constant exposure to various sufferings, they leave the issues of their earthly being in his hands, who gave it, without disquieting solicitude. The season of danger, even when the natural instincts take the alarm, is not a season of distrust and unholy fear; and when in the course of divine providence, the hour of dissolution comes, it comes rightly and well. “Is not the life,” says the Savior, “more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

3.—The social tendency, another strong Propensive principle, requires to be sanctified. Man does not and cannot regulate, as he ought to regulate, his intercourse with his fellow-men, without faith in God. He must have faith in something. And, so far as we can judge in the case, it is obviously a law of his nature, that he will attach to men all that faith, which he withdraws from God. Without faith in God, he will be likely in many cases to make his fellow-men the object of his idolatry; and will bestow upon them, unwisely and wickedly, that confidence and affection, which ought to be given somewhere else. Or it may be that without faith in God, he may make
himself the object of his idolatry, and may thus in some cases not only withhold from God what is due to him, but may also withhold a proper degree of social interest in those around him. Whether we seek the society of others too much, or avoid it too much, we shall find in either case, that the evil influences of selfishness are at the bottom, and that we are violating a moral and religious duty. Faith, which in its applications and results makes us do what God would have us do, furnishes, in this case as in others, the only safe regulating principle.

4.—The desire of knowledge is another principle, coming under the same general class of mental tendencies, which requires regulation; but which never can be regulated without faith. As those, who are desirous of making God’s law the rule of their conduct, we are at liberty to know only what God would have us know. It would certainly be absurd to suppose, that the principle of curiosity, one of the most powerful principles in our mental constitution, operating for the most part during all the moments of consciousness, and involving in its action immense consequences both to ourselves and others, is permitted to act without being responsible to law, and without incurring either guilt or merit. In this thing, as in other things, we must trust ourselves with God; believing that he will furnish opportunities of knowledge, and will give strength in the pursuit of knowledge, whenever his providence and his law impose duties which render knowledge desirable and necessary. Remain, therefore, in the attitude of waiting upon God, who gives light to the understanding, as well as renovation to the heart. Neither yield to fear on the one hand, nor to the suggestions of eager desire on the other. As christians we ought not to desire, and we certainly do not need any light, which comes from the world or from a worldly spirit; but the illumination, which comes from God’s wisdom and God’s will, is indispensable. And it is so, because it is precisely that kind and degree of light, which is adapted to the situation in which his providence has placed us. And this light he will never fail to give us, if in humility and consecration of heart we are willing to trust him for it.

5.—The person, who is in the exercise of a high degree of faith, has right views and right feelings in relation to the opinions of his fellow-men. He is not likely to attach either too high or too low a value to such opinions. It is well understood, I suppose, that God has implanted within us a Propensive principle, which may properly be described as the DESIRE OF ESTEEM; in other words has given us a natural regard for the opinions of men. The Scriptures also, in recognition of this principle, frequently speak in such a way as to imply the high estimation, which they place upon a good name, “a good report,” or a good reputation among men. It is no part of Christianity, therefore, always and absolutely to disregard their opinions. But there are times in every man’s life, when, if he is faithful to truth and to duty, he may reasonably expect to be erroneously estimated, and to be the subject not only of wrong opinions, but of wrong and false accusations. But he, who places a calm and full trust in God, will fear no evil. He can say with the Apostle,
“It is a small thing to be judged of man’s judgment.” When we are troubled at every little misapprehension of our conduct, and are in a hurry to set it right, lest, perchance, our good name should suffer; or when in solitary inactivity we repine over the cruelty and injustice of our fellow-men, we give unhappy evidence, that unbelief, the fruitful source of so many and great evils, is still lingering and nourishing in our bosoms. He, who in the exercise of belief has abandoned his heart to God, is strong in the consciousness of the divine protection, and is not afraid, when called to it in the discharge of his duty, of being either despised or persecuted.

It is a remark of the author of the Imitation of Christ, that some men will “suffer but a
certain degree of evil, and only from particular persons.” The man, who, by the annihilation of self, and in the exercise of strong faith, is truly abandoned to God, makes no distinctions of this kind. He submits himself to the blow of the smiter without any reserve; giving thanks to God that he is accounted “worthy to suffer,” by any instrument or in any degree. He has nothing to say, when the will of the Lord has once manifested itself, as to time or place, degree or agencies. He takes the cup, with all its bitter ingredients, just as his heavenly Father has mingled it. He adopts the language of the Savior, “The cup, which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it?”

6.—Among the Propensive tendencies may properly be reckoned the principle of Veracity; that is to say, the disposition, which is evidently natural to the human mind, to utter the truth. It would not be easy to exaggerate the importance of this principle; but it is well known, that there are influences at work, originating in selfishness and in unbelief, which frequently pervert its action. But if unbelief is the enemy of the correct action of this important principle; faith, on the other hand, is its strong friend. I think that it is one of the striking evidences of a man of strong faith, that he both speaks the truth, and has confidence in the truth. In his intercourse with men, he does not speak rudely and unkindly, but he tells his simple, unvarnished story in a simple and true spirit. “His yea is YEA, and his nay, NAY.” He may sometimes speak with emphasis; but never with exaggeration. He may regard, as he ought to regard, the proprieties both of language and of manner; but he cannot, as a man of true faith in God, attach to his statements any embellishments of word or any devices of action, which will alter, even slightly, the aspect of the reality of things. And accordingly, believing in God as a God, who has declared of himself, that he cannot lie, and deeply desirous of bearing the divine image in this respect as well as in other respects, he utters his words in humble but unchangeable sincerity and uprightness; and although he is conscious that they are unsustained by the artifices of unbelief, he knows equally well who will make them good in the end.

7.—Another of the Propensities, which may be regarded as implanted or connatural to us, is the principle of SELF-LOVE; in other words, the desire of our own happiness. It is natural and right to desire our own good or happiness; it is unnatural and wrong not to desire it. But in the natural man, the man who is without true faith in God, this desire is exceedingly apt to exaggerate itself and to become inordinate. The man of faith, subordinating all his desires of personal good to that standard which God has established, is willing and desirous to trust all his happiness, whether it relate to the present or the future, with that great and good Being, who never does otherwise than right. He may be a wanderer from his country with Abraham, he may be sold into exile with the young but believing Joseph, he may undergo all the deprivations and sorrows of Job, of Jeremiah, and of Daniel, and yet find a consolation and support in faith, which is as wonderful as on any natural principles it is inexplicable.

He, who has truly resigned or abandoned himself to God in the exercise of faith, will remain calm, peaceful, and thankful, under interior as well as exterior desolation. The common forms of Christianity will, in general, be found capable of supporting what may be called outward desolation, such as the loss of property, reputation, health, and friends. But a state of interior desolation, in which we have no sensible joys, no inward illuminations, but on the contrary are sterile alike of edifying thoughts and quickening emotions, and are beset continually with heavy temptations, (a state to which the people of God are for wise reasons sometimes subjected,) is, generally speaking, far more trying. In this state, as well as in that of exterior trials, the mind that has abandoned all into the hands of God, will wait, in humble and holy quietness, for the divine salvation. Faith remains; a firm, realizing, unchangeable faith. And the language of the heart is, under the keen anguish which it is permitted to experience, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

8.—In concluding the remarks of this chapter we wish to say, that there is one great principle, existing in connection with the higher forms of religious experience, which is worthy of special notice; and which may possibly throw light upon, and may help to explain some of the statements, which have now been made. It is a principle which it is hard for the natural mind to receive, and which it is hard for any mind to receive, in which the natural life remains in much degree of strength. It is this. Every thing which occurs, with the exception of sin, takes place, and yet without infringing on moral liberty, in the divinely appointed order and arrangement of things; and is an expression, within its own appropriate limits, of the divine will. And consequently, in its relations to ourselves personally and individually, it is precisely that condition of things which is best suited to try and to benefit our own state. On a moment’s reflection, it will be seen that this important principle raises us at once above all subordinate creatures, and places us in the most intimate connection with God himself. It makes the occurrences of every moment, to an important extent, a manifestation of God’s will, and consequently, in every such occurrence it makes God himself essentially present to us. Every event, coming within the range of our cognizance, necessarily brings God and our souls together. And it naturally follows from this view, that every thing which takes place, whatever it may be, inasmuch as it is a revelation, within its appropriate limits, of God’s presence and God’s will, should be met in the spirit of acquiescence, meekness, and entire resignation.

9.—But it is impossible, as it seems to us, to possess that humbled and acquiescent state of mind, which is requisite to meet God as he thus manifests himself, moment by moment, in his providences, without faith. It is the nature of unbelief to look at every thing in the light of second causes, which necessarily excludes God from any present and immediate agency. Faith restores God to events, and makes him present in all things that take place. Faith identifies every thing with God’s superintendence, and makes every thing, so far as it is capable of being so, an expression of his will, with the exception already mentioned, viz., of sin. And even in regard to this, faith proclaims the important doctrine that sin has, and ever shall have, its limits; and that Satan, and those who follow him, can go no further than they are permitted to go. To say, therefore, that a man is entirely acquiescent in the will of God, and is united in the will of God, is nearly the same thing as to say that he is a person of strong faith. There is a difference, it is true. Nevertheless, strong faith, or rather assured and undoubting faith, cannot fail to be followed by this state. Such faith not only makes God present in every thing, but works in us a disposition to regard him in every thing, and to submit to him in every thing.