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PART III. ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DIVINE GUIDANCE, OR THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE SOUL.

CHAPTER FOURTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO PREPARATIONS FOR PRAYER.


It is harder to trust God for those things which are inward, than for those which are outward. Some of the evils of refusing to trust God for our inward experience. The doctrine of the chapter stated. Conditions preliminary, and necessary to its being realized. First, the mind should be entirely resigned to God’s will; second, should have full faith in God. Statement of the result. Additional remarks.

IT is generally admitted, I believe, that the doctrines of faith, when practically received into the heart, are abundantly efficacious in leading us to put our trust in God, in relation to things of an outward and worldly nature. In some cases our confidence rises so high, that we very willingly and cheerfully leave it with Him, to decide, whether we shall be rich or poor, sick or well, persecuted or befriended, honored or unhonored. In regard to every thing of this nature, we have no doubt, that he will order all things right; and we do not hesitate to trust Him with entire reliance.

2.—It is a much harder thing to trust God for our FEELINGS. It implies a greater self-crucifixion and a higher degree of faith to trust God for our inward experiences, than it does to trust Him for the outward incidents of food, raiment, and dwelling-places, or for earthly friendships and favor. It is true, that all persons, who have a right understanding of Christianity, speculatively recognize their dependence on the Holy Spirit for all right feelings; but it is too often the case, that they contradict their professed belief, by endeavoring to live inwardly by their own works. Their practice and their theory are not coincident.

3.—We will proceed, in the first place, to specify some of the evils of this course. One evil result of attempting to originate and regulate our religious feelings by an exclusive effort of our own, instead of merely acting in concurrence with the antecedent, prevenient, or “preventing” grace of God, is, that, from the nature of the case, we are always and necessarily, by taking such a course, involved in some degree of perplexity. The religious feelings, when they are such as they should be, will receive new modifications, will be subject to more or less of variation in accordance with the particular occasions, on which they arise. It requires, therefore, almost a divine or infinite wisdom, to know the precise kind and degree of feeling, which are appropriate to such occasions; especially as every occasion differs in some particulars more or less minute from every other occasion, and consequently requires its specific state of mind, differing more or less from every other state of mind. To attempt, therefore, to originate and regulate our feelings under such circumstances, independently of the antecedent or “preventing” grace of God, will necessarily be very perplexing; and will be attended with many discouragements. We feel, that our imperfect wisdom is not adequate to an operation, which evidently requires divine wisdom.

4.—Another evil, resulting from this source, is, that, by attempting to originate our own feelings independently of God, we are necessarily forming habits of acting in our own strength. The Savior says, “without my Father I can do nothing.” This is as true of the followers of Christ, as of Christ himself. Absolute dependence upon God for inward, as well as outward results, is one of the first principles of religion. It is a great truth in religion, although apparently contradictory in the expression, that those are strongest in God who have nothing in themselves; and that those, who “have nothing, possess all things.” But that system, which requires us to originate religious feelings in our own strength, is inconsistent with this condition of entire dependence upon God and of inward nothingness. It implies, of course, an undue reliance upon ourselves, and nourishes and strengthens such a reliance; a result not more unscriptural, than it is positively injurious.

5.—Another evil, resulting from the attempt to originate right feelings, by our own inward inspection and our own inward effort, instead of leaving their origination with God operating by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, is, that our minds, by taking such a course, will naturally and almost necessarily be turned away from God. It is a characteristic of the truly holy soul, that it ever has the face of its thoughts and affections turned upward, and in one direction. It is in that position, that, like flowers turned towards the sun, it meets and receives divine influences; which cannot well be done, if it is turned chiefly in the direction of its own movements.—And it may be added here, that this unfavorable position of things, involving, as it obviously does, a combination of undue reliance on our own strength, with a turning or aversion from God to ourselves, will expose us inevitably to temptations from Satan. We are then in the precise position, which is most likely to invite his cruel attacks. He will assault us in various ways. And the result will be, (a result, which the personal experience of Christians abundantly confirms,) that we shall have feelings in a greater or less degree variant from what they should be on the occasions actually occurring; combined with more or less of perplexity, fear, and sorrow. Our language will be, “I do not know that I feel right;” “I wish that I could feel differently;” “I am afraid that I am not acceptable to God in the exercises of mind, which I have had.” It is well known, how often expressions such as these are uttered. And it is not so clearly understood, as it ought to be, how a desire for holy feelings, unaccompanied by a full trust in God for their origination, may lead to these painful results. Such results may always be expected to follow under such circumstances, because the system from which they spring, is founded on unbelief, and is dishonorable to God.

6.—We are prepared now, in connection with what has been said, to lay down and illustrate the proposition, that we should trust God for our religious feelings, as we would for any thing and every thing else. If this proposition be a correct one, it is evident, that the relation of religious faith to religious feeling is an indispensable and most important one. It is unnecessary to repeat here the promises, on which this doctrine is founded. All internal religious good is involved in the gift of the Holy Spirit; and we know from his own declarations, that God is always ready and willing to grant the Holy Spirit to them that believingly ask Him; even more so, as he himself has illustrated the subject, “than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children.” God, then, will grant us right religious feelings, (that is to say, those feelings which are precisely appropriate to the occasions on which they arise,) if we desire it, and have full faith in Him.

7.—There are, however, certain conditions on the part of men, which are necessary to be fulfilled, in order to secure this desirable result. And one is, that we must be in that state of humble and sincere resignation to God’s will, which will imply, that we have no preference of one feeling over another. It will be understood, of course, that we are speaking of religious feelings, of gracious feelings. Self-will, wherever it exists, stands directly in the way of the divine operation. If, looking at the subject in all its relations, in its relations to God as well as to ourselves, we set up a choice or will of our own, if we have a preference of a particular set or class of religious feelings over another class or set of religious feelings, it is self-evident, that we have no inward desire or prayer, that is to say, we have no
true desire, no true prayer, that God should excite within us just such feelings as he sees best. It is very obvious, that under such circumstances we take the matter out of his hands. We repeat it, therefore, that, in order to have true religious exercises, such exercises as are best for us and are truly appropriate to our situation, we must leave it entirely with Him, without any choice or preference one way or the other. It is not, until we are brought to this state, to the position of true stillness, to the beautiful silence of spirit, in which the soul continually says to itself, in reference both to inward and outward things, “THY WILL BE DONE,” that we can be sure on spiritual principles of the divine guidance.

8.—A second condition, antecedent and prerequisite to the result, is, that we must have entire faith in God, that he will certainly do that which He has promised. Without faith it is impossible to please God. To doubt is to offend him, and to cause the withdrawal of his presence. This is so well understood and so generally acknowledged, that it will be unnecessary to remark upon it, except to say, and to request particular attention to it, that our faith must be strong, entire. “Ask in FAITH,” says the Apostle James, “nothing wavering. For he, that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Let not that man think, that we shall receive anything of the Lord.” In connection with these conditions, the result infallibly follows, viz., that we shall have those gracious or religious feelings, which are appropriate to any given occasion, and which are right and acceptable in the sight of God.

9.—We could almost assert the certainty of this result, independently of the divine promises. Such is the nature of the mind, that it cannot be without feelings of some kind. The feelings have their laws of origin and progress. And accordingly it is a matter of course, if the mind be unoccupied by previous interests and prejudices, if the mind be in a state of indifferency in itself, (that is, in a disposition to follow the right without any unfavorable bias from selfish interests,) this indifferency will be brought to a termination, and will be made to result in feelings, which are suitable to the occasion,
by the occasion itself. The occasion will necessarily determine its action under such circumstances. And the mind, there being no antecedent bias of personal interest, and the occasion will fit each other. And it is a reasonable supposition, therefore, that the mind in the exercise of its feelings, if the occasion be fully understood and fully present, will be right. But, however the subject may appear, viewed in the light of nature, it is certain, that the promises of God, when received into the heart as they ought to be received, will ensure holy feelings. When the promises are believed in as they ought to be believed in, and when there is no influence from prejudice or passion, but a humble and earnest desire, that God’s will may be done within us, we may be sure, that on all occasions which arise and on all their varieties, he will accomplish in the soul whatever he has promised to do, and whatever he sees and knows to be best.

10.—If these views are correct, as they seem to us to be so, they relieve us from some practical embarrassments. A person proposes, for instance, after the fatigues and perplexities of the day, when the mind is somewhat distracted perhaps and diverted from things of a serious nature, to attend a religious meeting in the evening. As he approaches the place of worship, and as he engages in the introductory services, he desires to have suitable religious feelings. What course shall he take? The common course seems to be, to excite or “get up,” as it is sometimes expressed, a degree of feeling more or less, by a voluntary effort; by suddenly bringing before the mind a variety of motives calculated to excite feeling, sometimes by that sympathetic quickening which results from bodily movement and excitation, by the charms of music which are addressed in the first instance to the outward senses, and other methods of this kind. We do not feel prepared to condemn these methods, without proper distinctions and qualifications. If these methods are employed, in order to originate religious feelings of themselves, which in all probability is sometimes done without a person’s being fully conscious of his own intentions, they are not to be approved. If they are employed merely to aid in putting the mind in a suitable position for the existence of feelings,
originated by the Holy Spirit, a different view may be taken of them. But it is an obvious remark here, that the methods, which may vary with persons and occasions, are of less consequence than the principle, which is permanent and unchangeable. The principle is this; the mind should be religiously quiet; that is to say, it should, on religious considerations, cease from itself, from its selfish interests, its fears in relation to God’s veracity, its prejudices, all inordinate passion; every thing, in short, which is inconsistent with leaving itself, in submissive and deeply confiding repose, in the hands of God. Renouncing itself, and believing that God will do more and better for it than it can ask or think, it should become, and it should continue to be, a “little child.” The sincere prayer of the heart should be, “Lord, give that spiritual bread, which Thou seest best for me at the present time. I have nothing of my own; I know nothing; and Thou hast taught me to cease from my own desires and to put my trust in Thee. I am in Thy hands, as clay in the hands of the potter. Grant to me on this occasion those spiritual exercises, which will most glorify thyself.”

11.—The result of these principles and of these methods of proceeding will always be, that God will be present in the heart. But it ought to be added that he will be present, and be present only
in his own way; not in the creature’s way, not in the way of our antecedent thoughts and anticipations, but in his own way. Remain, therefore, quiet and resigned in spirit, antecedent to the divine operation; and remain in the same state, whatever may be the nature of the religious exercises, which may follow. If your mind be raised in thankfulness to God, it being the work of God, it is of course well. If it be exercised with sorrow for sinners, as the feeling though different has the same divine origin, it is equally well. If it be turned in the direction of personal humiliation and penitence, the result will still be in accordance with the previous supplication, viz., that God should do as He sees best. Even if, contrary to what would be human expectation in the case, we are assailed with heavy temptations, and find that the grace of God is merely manifested in giving us support under them, we may still know assuredly that it is all well; and that God is glorified in us. If there is dissatisfaction of mind, if there is any thing the opposite of entire resignation of spirit, it will be a proof of a want of sincerity and resignation in the previous state of mind; that is to say, it will be a proof, that we were not sincere in praying, that God’s will might be accomplished.

12.—These views will be found to be supported, not only by the Scriptures in passages too numerous and familiar to be specified, but by many judicious writers on Christian experience. Mr. Fletcher of Madely, a man of learning as well as great piety, in writing to one of his correspondents, says to him; “use no
forced labor, to raise a particular frame; nor tire, fret, and grow impatient, if you have no comfort; but meekly acquiesce, and confess yourself unworthy of it. Lie prostrate in humble submission before God, and patiently wait for the smiles of Jesus.” [Benson’s Life of Rev. John Fletcher, p. 99.] Certain it is, if we have fully consecrated ourselves to God, and if we patiently look to him for gracious exercises, fully believing in him as the God of the promises and a God of truth, we shall have those feelings which he sees to be best, and which, whatever human wisdom might suppose in the case, will in reality be best. The common experience of Christians, every where and every day, confirms this position. We have heard it related of a pious old man, wholly uneducated but a man greatly taught by the Spirit of God, that he was in the habit of entering on his devotions, not by saying in the usual form, “let us pray,” but by saying, “let us ask God for a prayer.” This, certainly, was in accordance with the views and dispositions of the disciples when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And it may safely be added, that it is in accordance with every passage of Scripture, which requires us to renounce ourselves and to put our whole trust in God.

13.—These principles and directions are practically very important. They keep the soul in communion with God, and they keep it in inward rest. But we wish to add this indispensable remark, which has already been implied in part in what has been said; viz., that they apply only to those,
who have given up all. Those, who have laid all upon the altar in the spirit of an everlasting consecration, and who at the same time fully believe in what God has promised, will find them always true, and always available. To those, who take any other course, they will not apply. They will not even be understood by them. To such persons we know not what principles to propose, nor what directions to give. There can be no philosophy of practical religion, (there can be much said and written upon it undoubtedly, but there can be no true philosophy of it,) except on the principle, of entire consecration; and simply because, as it seems to us, it is impossible that there should be any such thing, deliberately and intentionally, as a half-way religion.

14.—The doctrine, which has been laid down, is important among other things, because it strikes directly at the life of nature. Any system of religious experience, which does not imply in its results the entire crucifixion of the Old Adam, a crucifixion, deep, thorough, and unsparing, is, and must be false. It is not enough, therefore, to say, that we will renounce ourselves and trust God in some respects and not in others; making an election from our own impulses; assigning a part of the administration of our affairs to God, and reserving a part to our own strength and our own wisdom. And accordingly it is not enough for a man to say, that he will trust God for food, for raiment, for health, and other things of an outward nature, while he fears and refuses to trust him for the origination, by a divine influence, of his inward religious exercises. Trust, in both cases, is necessary; in both cases is indispensable. There is no true and effectual crucifixion without it. And we may add, in this case as in all others, that the deeper trust implies the higher crucifixion. To renounce ourselves entirely and to trust God with an entire reliance for our inward exercises, for what may be denominated our
spiritual bread, implies, beyond all question, a greater depth and reality of self-crucifixion, than to trust him merely for our temporal bread.

15.—This doctrine meets fully and emphatically, although it might appear to be otherwise on a slight inspection, all those Scriptural demands, which require us to labor, to use efforts, “to strive to enter in.” The state of mind, which we have been describing, is far from being a stupid and inactive state, although it dare not, and will not rashly lay its hand upon the Ark, and assume to itself what belongs to God. But we may well ask, what soul gives better evidence of earnestly desiring, of earnestly striving, and even “
agonizing” to do the will of God, than that which resolutely crucifies all the suggestions of nature and all the movements of self, in order that God may accomplish his own will, and may truly take up his abode in the soul as “the one all in all.”

16.—These views are favorable to consistency of Christian life. They are the true preventive of the alternating system in religious experience, the system of elevations and depressions, or inordinate heat and inordinate cold. Whether we are on the mount of inward joy, or in the furnace of inward affliction, or whatever other diversities of experience we may be called upon to pass through, we can always say, if we live in the manner which has been described, “IT IS ALL WELL,” because we know that the will of God is accomplished in us.

17.—We observe in conclusion, that the view which has been given, more than any and all others, tends to glorify God. “The husbandman,” says Molinos in his Spiritual Guide, “sets a greater esteem upon the plants which he sows in the ground, than on those that spring up of themselves, because the latter, springing up in ground unprepared and without appropriate care and nourishment, never come to seasonable maturity. In the same manner God esteems and is better pleased with the virtue which he sows and infuses into the soul, (as being sunk into its own nothingness, calm and quiet, retreated within its own centre, and without any election,) than all the other virtues which the soul pretends to acquire by its own election and endeavors.” [Spiritual Guide of Michael de Molinos, Chap. 6.] In order to rectify human nature, and to make us what we should be, we must go out of, and above human nature, even to God himself manifested in Christ, the great Sower of the true Spiritual seed.
“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in God is thy help.”