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



CHAPTER TENTH.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE EXERCISE OF THE JUDGMENT.


Connection of knowledge with religious experience. Inference from this view in relation to the value of a sound judgment Faith, favorable to a sound judgment, in consequence of tranquilizing the passions. Faith, favorable to a sound judgment also, because it frees the mind from the influences of private interest and prejudice. Favorable also, because it is adverse to undue eagerness and precipitancy of spirit. Favorable for the additional reason, that it is adverse to pride of intellect. Faith necessary to the philosopher. Its influence on the power of attention. “Judge not that ye be not judged.”

WE have seen something in the remarks which have been made in some of the preceding chapters, of the mighty influence of faith in the regulation of the affections and the will; but it is worthy of notice, that it has influence in other parts of our nature also; and particularly in giving rectitude to the judgment. Knowledge, which is the result of the action of those perceptive and comparing powers, which we commonly express by the single term, the JUDGMENT, has a closer connection with a correct and thorough inward experience, than is sometimes supposed. True knowledge is the food of the purified mind; that upon which it lives and gains strength. “He, that hath the truth,” says the Savior, “heareth my voice.” False knowledge, if we may call it such, or rather falsehood, under the semblance of knowledge, may be described, on the contrary, as the soul’s poison. Looking at the subject in this point of view, it is not easy to appreciate too highly any thing, which gives precision and steadiness to those powers of the mind, in which knowledge has its source.

2.—In saying that knowledge has a close connection with correct religious experience, it is hardly necessary to add, that we do not mean mere scientific knowledge, nor any of the various forms of worldly knowledge, whatever they may be, which have exclusive reference to worldly objects. We mean such knowledge, including, of course, some knowledge of the divine character and of the principles of the divine administration, as will enable us to form a ready and just appreciation of the will of God, moment by moment. In other words, we mean a knowledge, (which like all other knowledge depends instrumentally upon the perceptive and judging faculties,) of what is precisely right in feeling and action, on every occasion in which we are expected, in the course of God’s providences, either to exercise feeling or to put forth action. If such knowledge is important, as every Christian will cheerfully testify that it is, we repeat again, that it is not easy to appreciate too highly any thing upon which the precision and steadiness of the judgment depends.

3.—In proceeding to the more particular illustration of this subject, we remark, in the first place, that one of the greatest hindrances of correct judgment is inordinate excitement of emotion and passion. Whatever may be the cause of it, it is well known, that, when the passions are excited in a considerable degree, the mind finds it difficult to perceive the relations in propositions, particularly those which are of an abstract nature, and to combine them together so as to deduce the true result. And accordingly if a person has before him some difficult subject for examination, one requiring either by its results or its nature a careful and strong mental effort, we generally find him very solicitous to be freed, during the process in which he is engaged, from all exciting and passionate influences. It is hardly necessary to say here, after the remarks which have been made at various times, that faith in God tends to subdue and calm every thing of this kind. And I think it may be said with truth, that it is a matter of common Christian consciousness, which Christians will verify by their testimony, that when they are in their best religious state by strong faith and by consequent freedom from worldly passions, they are in the best condition to decide promptly and correctly upon all questions, whether moral or prudential, which require their attention.

4.—There are also certain secret or hidden influences, which are as really, though not so obviously adverse to the perception of the truth, as those more marked and violent ones, which have just been noticed; we refer to the secret influences of private interest and private prejudice. Every degree of faith, even the smallest, tends to do away these unpropitious influences; and where faith is strong, especially when it exists in such assured and undoubting strength as properly to regulate the affections and to subdue the will, they disappear altogether. The man of faith is from the very fact of his having faith, a true man, a just, and honest man; and not more strictly honest than truly liberal. He knows that the God, in whom he believes, loves an upright, an honest heart. And he knows also, that the God, in whom he believes, and whose image he bears, is a God of love, and can afford, in the fullness of his mighty resources, to be as benevolent to all beings under all circumstances, as rectitude will allow. He can not only afford to be so, but his nature, (not merely the benevolence of his nature, but the justice of his nature,) will not allow him to be otherwise. And as the natural tendency of belief is to make us like those in whom we believe, and as those who fully believe in God are transformed by the fact of belief into the divine image, their judgment is just on the same principles as that, on which the Savior speaks of his judgment as being just. “MY JUDGMENT IS JUST;” says the Savior. And why? The answer involves a principle, which is worthy of being held in continual and cherished remembrance, as disclosing the invaluable secret of a just judgment in all time, in all places, and in all hearts. “My judgment is just,
because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”

5.—One of those things, which are unfavorable to sound judgment, is an undue eagerness, a precipitancy of spirit, which looks earnestly and interestedly to the end without a suitable consideration of the intermediate steps; a state of mind, which the French spiritual writers happily denominate by the single term, “
empressement.” Christian faith not only removes that undue excitement, which has already been mentioned, and which may arise from a variety of causes; but is also, as it seems to us, the best and only sure corrective of this unseemly and dangerous urgency; this ZEAL of NATURE, if we may so designate it, in distinction from the pure and calm zeal of grace. The truth is hidden in God; IN him, of him, and FROM him; in him because God is true; of him, because all things that come from God are characterized as they come from his hand by being made in the truth; from him, because all beings that desire and seek the truth, must look to him for it. To the truth, therefore, God can never be indifferent; neither to its nature, nor its dissemination, nor its results. And he, who has faith in God as the source of light to all that seek light, as the giver of truth to all that humbly seek the truth, will find no difficulty in being patient, in delaying his conclusions when there is a want of adequate evidence, in reflecting, comparing, and praying for divine guidance. The perceptive and judging powers, exercised under such circumstances, can hardly fail to ascertain the truth. Not the absolute truth always, which implies a knowledge of all possible facts and relations; in other words, not the whole or all possible truth always; but the TRUTH; that kind of truth and that degree of truth, be it more or less, which God in his beneficence and wisdom sees to be precisely fitted to our intellectual capacities and our moral wants; that truth, which the Savior declared to those who believed on him, should make them free. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which BELIEVED on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31, 32.

6.—One of the favorable effects of faith on the exercise of the judgment is, that it is adverse to the pride of human intellect. When we speak of faith in God, we mean God as he is; not a God who is dwindled down to the compass of man’s imagination, but
God as he is; God illimitable, God omnipotent, God who reveals himself in every thing that is made, but who in every thing that is made indicates also that there is something not revealed, and something which cannot be revealed. The pride of human intellect cannot stand in the light of such a presence. The man of true religious faith, the man who has faith, not in the idol of his own imagination, but in God as he is, reverting from the Infinite Mind to his own mind, begins at once to feel that he has no intellectual strength, no true wisdom, no purity of love, and no foundation of hope, except what he derives from a divine source. “The most enlightened of men,” says Robert Hall, “have always been the first to perceive and acknowledge the remaining obscurity, which hung around them; just as, in the night, the further a light extends, the wider the surrounding sphere of darkness appears. Hence it has always been observed, that the most profound inquirers into nature have been the most modest and humble.”

7.—Philosophers need faith. And some of them, who have sustained a distinguished rank, Pascal, Leibnitz, Boyle, Newton, Locke, Edwards, Cudworth, and others, have not hesitated to recognize this need. They need faith, not merely that they may in this manner obtain strength to prosecute their inquiries; but that they may possess that true humility, which has just been mentioned as characteristic of profound inquirers, and which, checking the arrogance of nature, will enable them to stop at the right point. The person, who has faith in God as God, not merely as a being exalted but as a Being
Infinite, sees clearly, and may be said perhaps to have a sort of instinctive perception or feeling, that there is something in God which man does not know, and which it is not possible for him to know. And as a consequence of this, inasmuch as God is in every thing and as every thing is dependent on God, there is something in every object of inquiry, a line of demarcation, a limit between what can be known and what cannot be known, which baffles forever the efforts of human cognition. No matter what the object is. It may be the simplest thing in nature; it may be the vernal leaf or the summer flower, the morning dew or the noon-day sun-beam. The known and the unknown lie there together; that which may be comprehended by the finite, and that which can be known only by the Infinite. The philosopher, who has faith, being taught of God, understands this. But the philosopher, if we may call him such, who has not faith, dashes proudly against the barrier, which constitutes the limit of human knowledge, and proposes, with a hardihood but little short of blasphemy, to explain on philosophical principles the process of making or unmaking God himself. But he has gone beyond his strength. His problems and his theories, his flights of fancy and his concatenated reasonings, all lie overturned and in broken fragments at his feet. He stands confounded. And others see, and happy will it be, if he himself sees, that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.

8.—The doctrine of religious faith involves the doctrine of
living by the moment; that is to say, of giving to the present moment the whole amount of our present powers, on the obvious ground of its involving the whole amount of present duty. In other words, a living faith, resulting as it does in a holy heart and life, tends to prevent mental dissipation, and to fix the mind upon one object, the appropriate and all important object, namely, that which the present moment brings before it. Such a mind necessarily forms the habit of strict and profound attention. It is not perplexed in its action by a frequent tendency to fly off from its present inquiries, and to bewilder itself in other subjects which are not connected with them. It is superfluous to say, that such a state of mind is exceedingly favorable in the investigation of the truth. The mind, that is capable of fully giving its attention, other things being equal, will be much more correct in its judgments than other minds.

9.—We will only add, without further prosecuting a subject which is equally interesting and important, that faith in the heart is the true regulator of that disposition, so widely prevalent, and oftentimes so unjust and so dangerous, of judging the characters of our fellowmen. The judgment of men’s conduct and characters, if it be a just and full judgment, implies the additional fact of a judgment of their
motives. But if men are baffled in their inquiries into the nature of a tree or plant, of a drop of water or a grain of sand, ought they not to distrust their powers and to be slow in their decisions, in a matter so remote from direct observation and involving so many elements, as the judgment of human motives. If there be any one thing, which may properly be described as God’s prerogative, it is that of judging the heart. The man, who has faith in God, will not be hasty in passing a judgment upon the characters of his fellow-men, because faith is the natural and only effectual extinguisher of those various rivalships and jealousies, which are the frequent and injurious sources of hasty judgment. Nor is this all. He will not judge in this hasty manner also, because he feels that God’s command, to which faith gives a practical import and power of which it would otherwise be destitute, is binding upon him. “JUDGE NOT, THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED; for, with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”