Stacks Image 905


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



CHAPTER ELEVENTH.


RELATION OF FAITH IN GOD TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE WILL OF GOD.


Importance of a knowledge of God’s will. Difficulty in relation to it. God’s will obvious in its general features, but not so much so in particulars. Not God’s design that men should always have positive knowledge. It is his design that his people shall live by with. Faith in religion takes the place of knowledge, where knowledge does not exist. Explanations and illustrations of the subject.

IT is difficult to appreciate too highly the value, which we should attach to the will of God; a will which is always consonant with the highest rectitude, and always tends to the highest happiness. And it is equally difficult to state too strongly the obligation, which rests upon every individual, to bring every thought and feeling and action of his life into harmony with the divine will. Many persons appear to admit the existence of this obligation in its full extent, while they assert their inability to fulfill it, on the ground, that in particular cases and instances of duty they frequently do not know what the will of God is. They are willing to do what God wills; but their willingness is rendered unavailable by their ignorance. It is true, that a judgment enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit, will do much; and yet much remains to be done. They may know something: and yet much more remains to be known. This exceedingly perplexes them.

The doctrine of faith, considered in certain applications and results, which we shall proceed to point out in this chapter, precisely and adequately meets this difficulty.

2.—We remark, in the first place, that God may be regarded as having clearly made known, in his Word, his Providences, and in man’s mental constitution, the great outlines of his will. It is his will, that we should fulfill the great ends of our being by doing justly, by showing mercy, and by rendering to our Maker under all circumstances the sincere and unlimited homage and love of our hearts. So that the difficulty does not seem to be in knowing the will of God, in the more general sense of the terms; that is to say, in knowing it in its general features and outlines; but in ascertaining what it is, in connection with the duties, trials, and emergencies of
particular occasions. Is it the will of God, that, in my setting out in life, I should adopt this calling or profession, or another that presents itself to my consideration? In the multiplied and apparently conflicting duties which each day presents to our notice, shall I yield to these claims, or those? Shall I go to this place or that? When the urgent calls of necessary business seem to conflict with the claims of the poor and the suffering, shall I go to my farm and my merchandize, or shall I visit the chamber of the sick, and break bread to the hungry? Such are the questions, multiplied to a wonderful extent, which present themselves almost every day in the course of man’s busy pilgrimage.

3.—We proceed to remark further, that in many cases of this kind, where the motives which are presented are various, and the paths of action are divergent, it is not easy for us to know, with
absolute certainty, what course of action will most fully accord with the divine will. Constituted as we are at present, we may well pronounce it impossible to have such knowledge, except by means of a specific revelation given in each case. And we may even go further, and say, it is not the design of our heavenly Father, that, in matters of this kind we should always have a knowledge which is positive, and should always walk in a vision which is open. This is not God’s plan of action. Far from it. Under the administration of an omniscient Being, whose knowledge, because it is omniscient, can never be explored, by created minds, it is a necessary law of all subordinate holy beings, whether they be men or angels or archangels, that they must live and act, in a considerable degree at least, by faith. It is true, that even in this life there is something of what may conveniently be called “open vision;” it is true, that the faith of the present life will in many things be exchanged for a still higher degree of open vision in the life to come; but beyond the open vision, both of the present and the future, beyond the open vision even of the highest angel, there still exists a land unknown, a universe which has not been explored, an ocean of things, and of the relations of things, of being and of action; an ocean wide as the omniscience of God, where created minds have never travelled. And in all this vast expanse, Faith, operating in a different sphere, but not differing in its nature, is the true light of heaven, as it is now, and always must be, the true light of earth. Angels and beings that dwell in the very bosom of God, walk by it.

4.—We repeat, therefore, that Faith is the one great law of the life of holy beings. Like the law of attraction, which is universal and reaches every particle of matter, however minute and however remote, it reaches and keeps in its position every moral being that is united to God as its centre. But it is hardly necessary to add, that the very nature of faith implies, that it is antagonistical to open knowledge. God, therefore, in a multitude of cases does not design, (and such is the difference between the finite and the infinite, that he cannot design,) that we should live by such knowledge.

5.—What, then, shall be done? If God does not reveal his will as a matter of positive knowledge, how can we be expected to walk in it?
The doctrine of the life of faith precisely meets these inquiries.

But in ascribing the answer to inquiries of this kind to Faith, inquiries which constantly arise in connection with the duties and the trials of life, we should remember, among other things, that a life of true faith is a life of
entire consecration. And in this state of consecration, which always and necessarily implies a freedom from prejudice and all personal influence, we come and present the case of difficulty, whatever it may be, before God. With simplicity or singleness of heart, in other words, with the single motive of doing his will, we supplicate his direction. And while we are thus seeking the divine guidance, we also exercise those powers of reflection and judgment, which our heavenly Father has given us for the express purpose of being faithfully and conscientiously employed on their appropriate occasions. Under these circumstances, let us decide as we will, let us turn to the right or the left, let us advance or retreat, it is our privilege and our duty to believe, that we take the right course: in a single word, that we are right, because the Lord guides us.

6.—In adopting this view, and in making these remarks, it will be naturally understood that we mean the right course in
the moral sense of the terms. The prayer for divine direction, offered up in the spirit of consecration, which implies a heart wholly given to God, and offered up also in entire faith, which receives the promises of God without wavering, necessarily involves the result, that the course taken, whether it be conformed to natural wisdom or not, and is attended with the best natural results or not, is morally the right course, and is entirely acceptable to God. A man in that state of mind may commit a physical or prudential error; he may perhaps take a course which will be followed by the loss of his property or an injury to his person, but he cannot commit a moral error. That is to say, he cannot commit an error, which, under the adjustments and pledges of the Gospel, will bring him into a state of moral condemnation, and will have the effect to separate him from God and God’s favor. The mistakes of judgment, if any such exist, are compensated by the rectitude of the heart. The humble and sincere uprightness, which exists there, taken in connection with the arrangements and promises of God, cannot fail to rectify and to make every thing well in the end.

7.—It is the prayer of faith, therefore, involving, of course, an act of an entire consecration to God, which possesses the wonderful prerogative of leading us into the
right, without knowledge, and even against knowledge. And hence it is, on the principles which have been laid down, that God, who always requires us to do what is right, so often shuts up the avenues of knowledge in particular cases of conduct, that we may do right by faith without knowledge. Faith is God’s light in the soul; and he may be said, in a multitude of cases, to extinguish the light of knowledge, that he may kindle up the light of faith.

8.—We are aware, that it may appear extraordinary to some persons, to speak of doing right by faith without knowledge. But delay a moment, and notice the precise import of these expressions, which obviously convey a great truth. What, then, is their true meaning? It is precisely this. In those cases, where we are destitute of positive knowledge, we must form the best judgment we are able, looking to God with sincerity and singleness of purpose and in full faith also, that he will guide us aright. And the judgment which is formed under such circumstances, although it rests upon faith, and never in itself ascends above probability, yet becomes practically, and in the moral sense, KNOWLEDGE. That is to say, it answers the purpose of knowledge; and without being knowledge really, it is knowledge virtually.

9.—And we may now go further, and say, that in acting in accordance with the results which we thus obtain, we always and necessarily accomplish the will of God. We know his will, while in a certain sense we may be said to be ignorant of it; because it is his will, that we should live and act by faith without knowledge. “I adore all thy purposes,” says Fenelon, “without knowing them.” This is the great work of holiness, to do the will of God, while we know it, and can know it, only in part. Living by faith without knowledge, is living in the truest divine light. What did Noah know, when he entered into the ark; when he sailed on the tops of mountains, with nothing around him but clouds and storms? He knew nothing, but he
believed. What did Abraham know when he conducted his son Isaac to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed? Like Noah, he knew nothing of what was before him, but he had faith in God. In acting by faith, which took him from the control of self and placed him under the control of God, he necessarily accomplished the will of God, and it was “accounted to him for righteousness.” When we are led in the way of faith, we are led by God himself; and it is impossible for God, by means of spiritual operations, to lead his people in a way, which is contrary to his own will. And being in his will, though it be a blind way to human sight, we are not profitless. “The blinded beast,” says Molinos, “that turns the wheel of the mill, though it seeth not, neither knows what it does, yet it does a great work in grinding the corn.”

10.—These principles afford great consolation. Oh, the blessed simplicity of holy living; not more wonderful in its results, than in the simple nature of its methods! God always accomplishes the greatest results by methods, which men despise for their simplicity. Go on, therefore, beloved in the Savior, in this safe and living way of faith. Your way may be dark to human vision; but faith will make it light in the Lord. The uncertainties of God, when enlightened by faith, are far better than the knowledge, which the world can give without faith. Thou art blindfolded as to outward vision, but still there is an eye that sees for thee. Follow the safe way of the true light! Other lights, on the right hand and left, may arise to dazzle and bewilder. It is the light of Faith only, which God kindles, and which leads to the blessed source, from which it came.