Stacks Image 905


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



CHAPTER FIFTEENTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO ENERGY OF ACTION.


Faith favorable to right action. This view sustained by a reference to the results of natural faith. Of religious faith in distinction from natural. It has resources of its own. Faith in the promises imparts energy to action. Faith favorable to energy of action, because it is favorable to rectitude of purpose Practical illustrations of the subject. Differences between natural energy and Christian energy.

IT is not unfrequently objected to the doctrine of living by faith, even by those who admit its wonderful power in inward crucifixion and in producing inward silence, that it is unfavorable to energy of outward action. The objection is sometimes carried so far, in the controversies which have taken place on the relative position and importance of faith and works in the Christian life, as to imply, that it is even unfavorable, not only to energy of action, but to any action whatever. And I suppose it may be very properly admitted, that faith, taking deep root in the heart, is not favorable to hasty and unpremeditated action; is not favorable to impetuous and violent action; is not favorable to unprincipled and unjust action; is not favorable to anxious, distrustful, and troubled action; but at the same time it cannot be said with any good reason, that it is unfavorable, in any of its bearings, to right action. The contrary is the fact. Assuming, therefore, that, in speaking of action, we mean such action as God approves, or right action, we cannot doubt that faith in the heart is favorable to an energetic course of conduct.

2.—And in support of this opinion, we remark in the first place, that this view is sustained by the analogy of natural faith; that is to say, by the corresponding law and facts in natural faith. It is hardly necessary to say here, after what has already been said in another place, that men are strong naturally, other things being equal, in proportion to their natural faith. It would be difficult to point out any arduous enterprize among men, which has been brought to a favorable issue, without some degree of confidence or faith; faith in the rectitude of their principles, faith in their personal resources, faith in the practicability of their object. It is faith, which enables them to lay their plans, to surmount opposition, to triumph over difficulties. Multitudes of facts and illustrations, if it were necessary, might be adduced in support of this view. And on the other hand, it is equally obvious, whenever we carefully notice the conduct of men around us, that, as soon as faith fails, energetic action fails. The want of natural confidence is attended by the want of natural energy. This is the general and almost invariable result.—It is the same in religious things, as in natural things. Religious faith gives birth to religious action; that is to say, to those kinds or forms of action which depend on religious principles; and the energy of the action corresponds to the degree of the faith. So that the relation between the degree of action and the degree of faith seems to be an universal law.

3.—But we remark again, that religious faith has sources of support of its own; sources of energetic action which are peculiar to itself. “WE BELIEVE,” says the Apostle Paul, “AND THEREFORE WE SPEAK.” Faith always has its object. And the inquiry naturally presents itself, what was it, which the Apostle Paul believed, that thus opened his heart of love, and his lips of eloquence, and sent him forth a preacher through the world? He believed in God’s moral government; he believed in God’s commands; he believed in the immortality of the soul; he believed in man’s fallen and depraved condition; he believed in the advent of Jesus Christ, in his crucifixion, and in his sacrifice for sin; he believed in the presence and power of the Holy Ghost he believed in the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and the retributions of eternity. Having faith, as he did, in these great truths, truths sublime in themselves and deeply operative and renovating in their application, he found a motive, an impulse to the highest action, which he could find no where else. It was religious truth, the truth believed in and the truth felt, which was the inspiration of his life of labor;
“while we look,” he says, “not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things, which are seen, are temporal; but the things, which are not seen are eternal.” [2 Corinthians 4:13.]

4.—But besides the great truths to which we have referred, we are not to forget that there are the Promises, to which the faith of every Christian attaches itself; and which in this way become a source of energetic action. But this is a topic, as we may reasonably suppose, which is too familiar to the Christian mind to require comment. The strength, derived from the promises, is the theme of every devout tongue. The promises support the poor in their poverty, the sick in their sickness, the tempted in the season of their temptation. It is faith in the promises, (we do not say exclusively but certainly in a very high degree,) which erects churches, and which sustains from age to age religious ordinances. It is faith in the promises, which applies the waters of baptism, and which breaks the bread of the sacrament. It is faith in the promises, which supports both the private Christian and the minister of the Gospel in their arduous labors for the good and the salvation of their fellow-men. It was faith in the promises, which gave encouragement and support to the labors of Brainerd in the wilderness and of Harlan Page in the city; and which at the present day sustains the hearts of missionaries from various denominations of Christians, on the frozen shores of Greenland and on the burning sands of Africa. Suited to every situation and to every duty, they are the support alike of him who suffers and of him who acts; and their beneficent influence is as diffusive as the occasions both of action and suffering.
“Exceeding great and precious promises are given to us,” says the Apostle Peter, “that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world through lust.”

5.—Again, the principle of faith has a tendency to establish us in rectitude; and a conviction of being in the right always and necessarily gives strength. Those, who are in the exercise of full religious faith, are
“coworkers with God.” God is their guide. They enter into all his plans, all his purposes. And, although they may not see the end from the beginning, although they may not understand in all respects the way in which they are led, they know that he, who leads them, cannot and will not lead them to do that which is morally wrong. The knowledge, that we are wrong, makes us weak. Every wicked man knows it to be so. The conviction, that we are right, gives us strength; as every upright, every truly holy man can abundantly testify. They, who live by faith, live with God; under God’s eye, and in the enjoyment of his favor. Just so far as they thus live, they feel themselves to be right. And we repeat, that right now, and right always, more than any thing else, is the source of unconquerable power. And consequently in all the varieties of their conduct, whether they are called upon to endure or to act, to do great things or small, they are not subject to those misgivings and perplexities of purpose, which attend those who feel that the course they take is of doubtful rectitude.

6.—It is hardly necessary to delay for the purpose of citing particular instances to show, that faith gives energy. The Bible is full of such instances. The history of the church, in all ages of the world, is full of them. Of the long record of those, who have lived and died in the faith, who have believed in God as their God, there has not been one who has been a sluggard; not one who has lived or has wished to live in the indulgences of the victory without being willing to endure the perils of the conflict. It seems to us impossible that it should ever be so. What does a life of faith imply? What relations does it establish? It implies evidently, not only that we believe in God in the more general sense of the terms; but believe that God is
our God. It establishes us in the delightful relation of sons and daughters; and in the full belief of this relation. And it is a matter self-evident, that no one can believe this, who does not seriously and sincerely give himself to God, to act for God with all his powers of action whenever and wherever God calls him to action.

7.—And accordingly we ought to remember that the life of faith calls us to that action and that suffering, which the will of God imposes, and not always and not necessarily to that action or that suffering, which attracts the notice and admiration of men. The man of true energy does the thing, be it more or less, be it this or that, which the will of God requires him to do. The beggar, who strolls from door to door, and who solicits and receives his scanty pittance from those he meets, may really exhibit an energy of purpose, unknown and unhonored though he may be, which in other situations would lead to admiration and fame. The poor man, who from the situation in which God has placed him, is obliged to spend his time in the discharge of some menial office, as he repeats from dawning day till setting-sun the ceaseless round of his labors, may exhibit an energy of purpose as real and as great, as that which has characterized the most devoted missionaries in heathen lands. And though no human eye may regard him, no human tongue may applaud him, he may be as acceptable in the sight of God. The man in the ordinary situations of life, with neither poverty on the one hand nor riches on the other, but who as a man and a citizen, as the head of a family and as a member of the church, is called upon, every hour, to respond to some new claim of trial or of duty, and who in meeting these claims is summoned continually to the exercise of reason, of faith, and of patience, may really possess and exhibit all those requisites of character, which in other situations would have made him a Paul or an Apollos, a Howard or a Schwartz. We do not mean to say, that faith makes noisy men; it does not undertake to furnish every man with the requisites of speech and of action which are adapted to the Forum or the Senate; it does not make men, who will act without occasion of action, or who will act in discordance with the occasion; but makes men who will do what God calls them to do, promptly, faithfully, and unremittingly. And such are not mere semblances or effigies, but men of energy in the true sense of the terms.

8.—We ought perhaps to say, in bringing this subject to a conclusion, that a distinction may very properly be made, in a number of particulars, between natural energy and Christian energy. Natural energy, being based upon natural principles, partakes of the nature of the principles from which it springs. Christian energy, being based upon Christian principles, partakes of the nature of its heavenly origin. And accordingly natural energy is, in many cases, the result of passion; Christian energy is the result of calm reflection. Natural energy conforms to things, as they are viewed in the natural light, and is therefore variable. Christian energy conforms to things as they are viewed in the divine light, and is therefore invariable. The energy of nature is sometimes cruel and malignant; the energy which springs from union with Christ, is always conscientiously and strictly just, and is never unkind. The one is energy for the creature; the other is energy for God. The one moves in the track indicated by human reason; the other moves in the mysterious but sure line of God’s providences. The one is founded on the shifting sands, on the “hay and stubble” of man’s fallen nature; the other is founded on the rock, which no storms can wash away, the ROCK OF AGES.