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



CHAPTER EIGHTEENTH.


ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY.


General remarks on the contests of religious sects. Such contests result not from religion, but rather from the want of it. Comparison of those, who are weak in faith, with those who are strong in faith. Results in the two cases. Of some favorable signs of the present period. These views consistent with a proper regard for the truth. Of national dissentions and contests.

THERE is probably no reading, which gives more pain to the truly benevolent and Christian mind than that, which has relation to religious controversy; the humiliating story of the alienations, the mutual attacks and persecutions of religious sects. Men, to whom a candid judgment cannot well refuse the attributes of sincerity and piety, have regarded each other with a degree of distrust and jealousy, which it would be difficult to explain consistently with the principles and claims of religion. If this state of things had ended in distrust, it would have been more tolerable; but it proceeds oftentimes from distrust to hatred, from want of sympathy to positive and aggressive alienation; and does not terminate, till it leads its victim to the rack, the prison, and the place of execution.

2.—We have already had occasion to refer to this subject in a preceding chapter; but it is one of so much importance, that it seems to require a more specific notice. We are aware that the state of things, to which we have referred, has sometimes been ascribed to the Christian religion. And we are willing to concede to those, who make this unfavorable suggestion, that a man who is entirely destitute of religion, cannot be expected to contend for religion. To him it is a matter of great indifference, whether the cause of Christ rises or falls, whether error is prostrated or is triumphant. But place religion in the heart, and though it be but the beginning of religion, the “grain of mustard seed,” it is a necessary result, that this indifference will be changed into watchfulness and solicitude. The person, who is the subject of Christian grace, though in a small degree, knows the difference between religion and irreligion; between a regard to God’s glory and neglect of it; and between the important results, to which they respectively give rise. To be indifferent, therefore, is impossible. But it does not follow, and it ought not to follow, that, because he ceases to be indifferent, he must, therefore, be distrustful, passionate, and cruel. Such a conclusion would be an instance of what logicians call the FALLICIA ACCEDENTIS too gross to impose upon any mind, that is capable of perceiving the relations of ideas. We entirely discard the inference that these things are the result of religion. It is true, they are incidentally connected with religion, but are not its
results. Strictly and truly, they are the results of that, still remaining in the heart, which is not religion. They are the results of those parts of man’s nature, which religion has not yet been able to overcome and subdue. So that the difficulty is not with his religion; but with the small degree of it.

3.—And accordingly we proceed to say, that the spirit of controversy will cease in proportion as holiness advances; not because there will be less love for the truth, but because there will be more faith in God. The man of a small degree of faith loves the church undoubtedly and the interests of the church; but he fears that it will one day fall under the attacks of its adversaries. The man of strong faith loves the church; but he believes that the church is safe, because God is its protector. The man of little faith loves the truth, but he is jealous and pained at every variation from it; the man of strong faith loves the truth equally well, but having confidence in the power of the truth to make its own cause good, he has less anxiety, while he has equal affliction. The man of little faith is a fearful and to some extent a selfish man; and these mental traits naturally react upon and exaggerate his distrust of others. The man of strong faith is necessarily courageous and generous, and has every disposition, therefore, to give even his enemies what is justly their due. The man of little faith, not being able to see far, resorts to what is visible and tangible, to human instrumentality mingled up, as it generally is, with human passion. The man of strong faith, relies with confidence upon what is unseen; and conscientiously rejects all movement, all instrumentality, which has not God for its author.

4.—The results are obvious. History has declared them. On the one hand, we see distrust, jealousy, evil surmise, evil speaking, persecution, imprisonment, and death. The earth has been covered with Christian blood shed by the hands of Christians, simply because they have not been such Christians as they should have been, but were men of little faith. It was not because they had religion, but because they had not enough of religion; not because they had faith, but because they wanted more faith. On the other hand, strong faith, by a natural and unalterable law, gives origin to strong love; that love which, in the language of the Apostle, “suffereth long and is kind, envieth not, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Such faith, resulting in such love, does not give rise to contention, but terminates it. It hushes the voice of suspicion and unkindness; it breaks the chain of the prisoner, and quenches the fire of the stake.

5.—The time has arrived in God’s providence, when good men, in the increase of their faith, begin to see the propriety of imitating the example of the Savior, and of sitting down, in the spirit of benevolence and sympathy, even with the “publican and the sinner.” Not on the ground of a common character, but on the ground of a common humanity; not because the sin is not hateful, but because the sinner is an object worthy to be saved. The experiment has been tried of making Christians by separating Christianity from humanity, by means of argument embittered with contempt, by denunciation, by fines, by imprisonment, and by torture; it has been tried by those who were oftentimes very sincere undoubtedly; but it has failed as it ought to fail, and as it always will fail. A new era, characterized by a higher confidence in God, has opened upon the world. It is incipient, but it has come. We see but the faint glimmer of the dawn; but it is rapidly increasing to noon-day effulgence. The unbeliever and the Christian can live under the shield of the same civil constitution, can recognize in each other the rights of conscience, can walk in the same road, can labor in the same field, can sit at the same table, and can sympathize and aid in their common trials and duties. And we cannot hesitate for a moment to say, that the spirit of forbearance and love, which is beginning to characterize the present age of the world will present in behalf of Christianity its most triumphant argument, and will win more extensive and more glorious trophies to the cross of Christ, than have honored any previous period.

6.—We would not have it understood, as we suppose it cannot be understood, that we regard it unimportant to maintain and defend the truth. Far from it. The doctrine of faith does not require this. Belief can never rest upon negations; it always has an object; it always implies something believed in. And it is no discredit to any man or any body of men to assert candidly and frankly what it is which they believe. It is their duty to do it. But what we mean to say, is, that the truth itself rejects all defenses and supports which are not made in a
true spirit. It does not need, and it cannot accept any such aid. Every thing, which is not done deliberately, justly, and benevolently, is done falsely. Any thing and every thing in human action, which is not prompted by the principle of love and is not regulated by right, embodies a falsehood. It is not, strictly speaking, a natural falsehood, but it is a moral falsehood. It is not a falsehood in mathematics, but it is a falsehood in life. It has that in it, which is inconsistent with the nature and order of things. And therefore, having the element of death in itself, it communicates disease and death to every thing it touches. There can he do greater or more injurious error than to suppose that the truth requires or desires to be sustained by a false spirit. Love the truth, maintain the truth, propagate it; but not at the expense of the truth itself, not at the expense of the best and truest elements of man’s nature, not at the expense of honor, of Christianity, and of everlasting life. The truth has power; but it is the truth, when sustained and announced by a true spirit, which has the highest power, the power to overcome all its enemies. It is the truth thus announced and thus supported, which shall harmonize every discordant interest, which shall bring to the true standard every erring intellect, which shall demolish every idol temple and make every hill and valley vocal with the Savior’s name.

7.—The principles, which are involved in these remarks, apply to other forms of distrust and contention. All jealousy, all contention, all strife both of individuals and nations will cease, whenever and wherever men have full faith in God. “It is better to trust in the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man can do unto me?” [Psalm 118:6, 8, 9.] When nations have faith, that is to say, when the great mass of the people which compose nations, have faith, such faith as the Gospel of God contemplates, but which has been as yet realized only in part, then wars will cease. “Vengeance is
mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” The nation that has so much faith in God, as to proclaim itself governed by the principles of justice, of forbearance, forgiveness, and good will, and which, in accordance with this announcement, shall cease to place its chief confidence in battlements and armies, will find itself stronger in the panoply of peace, than other nations are in the munitions of war. It will be surrounded by a wall, not made of iron or brass, but stronger than either; which swords cannot pierce and balls cannot batter down; the mighty rampart of a world’s admiration and affection. More than all, it will be surrounded by that invisible and protecting arm, mighty though unseen, which always follows in the line of God’s promises. “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” [Romans 12:19, 20.] “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them, which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:44, 45.]