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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 ELEVENTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO A CORRECT VIEW OF THE PROVIDENCES OF GOD.


Of the doubts which frequently arise in connection with events. Positive knowledge not adequate to meet these doubts. God recognized by faith as present in all acts and events. A doctrine of faith that all events are ordered in wisdom and goodness. God glorified in them. Of the happiness of those who have the faith thus to believe. God present in our mental exercises, as well as in outward things.

TO the man, who is destitute of faith, or whose faith is very feeble, the world presents a melancholy aspect. He cannot turn his eyes in any direction without witnessing more or less of violence and crime. He sees the virtuous depressed and the vicious prospered; the assassin holding a sceptre, and the man of prayer perishing on a scaffold. And the inward trouble, which he experiences, is increased by the doubts which this state of things is calculated to awaken within him, of the perfection of the ways of Providence. “Can it be possible,” he says to himself, “that there is a God? Or if there be a God, is it a reasonable supposition, in view of the aspects of the world, that his administration of things is characterized by perfect wisdom and goodness?”

2.—It is obvious, that positive knowledge, which looks only at the present state of things, without the possibility of combining the known with the unknown, cannot subdue the sorrow and rectify the doubts, which thus arise. It can see only what is before it, with its complications of crime and wretchedness, of sin and its punishment, without seeing its relations to God and the universe in all coming time. Human wisdom, therefore, so far as it adheres to the outward and the visible, and
exists in knowledge without faith, necessarily stands confounded. It is the office of faith, to meet the demands of this moral emergency, and to throw its irradiating and calm light over those divine providences, which present knowledge often leave in darkness.

3.—It is the office of faith to assure us in the first place, that God is
present in all things which occur. This great truth we have already had repeated occasion to notice. It will be observed, however, that we do not say, that God is the originator, (certainly not in the absolute sense of the terms,) of all things which take place. Such a view, it is obvious, would imply the establishment of impossible relations, and would make a holy being the author of sin. But I suppose it will be generally admitted, especially by religious persons, that he is in some sense present to all things which take place; that he exercises over all events a degree of control and direction; and that every thing, which takes place, exists either by his control or by his permission. So that we may lay down the general proposition, that whatever is, has God in it; not always in the same sense; but always in some sense. “Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without his notice.” It is hardly necessary to say, that this is not, and cannot be a matter of direct knowledge; but is something received in the exercise of faith, resting on its appropriate foundations; and which, if we have a right view of the subject, cannot be received in any other way.

4.—Faith assures us further, if God is positively present to all events either by his direct aid or his overruling permission, that all events, considered in their relations and results, will be found to be ordered in wisdom and goodness. There are many things, which, as they are presented to our imperfect knowledge, appear disjointed and fragmentary, without any distinct evidences of wisdom in their origin or in their adaptation. There are some things, which are positively evil. The bitter root of sin hath sent forth the dark shade of its branches amid the fruits and flowers of the garden, which God himself has planted. But even sin itself can spread no further than God shall see fit to permit it; and the eye of faith looking at things in their relations and ultimate results, can behold the supreme Architect deducing good from this greatest of evils. If God is good and wise, and is truly at the head and helm of affairs, as no serious mind doubts, then such must be the ultimate result.

5.—Faith assures us again, that God is not only present, but is glorified in every thing, which takes place. This naturally follows from what has just been said of the wisdom and goodness of his doings. If there were any want of his wisdom and goodness, in any thing which occurs, when considered in the whole extent of its relations, this view could not be taken. The defect of the thing, taking place and showing itself within the limits of a responsible government, would necessarily attach discredit to the being, however exalted he might be, who is the head of such government. When we view things out of their relations, (as we always do when we live by sight in distinction from faith,) the mind is necessarily perplexed. But, when faith, embracing things which it cannot see and recognizing facts which it cannot understand, extends the sphere both of facts and relations and makes them complete in God, then we see with entire clearness, that is to say, we have a full and distinct conviction, that God is glorified in every thing, because in every thing, considered in the full extent of its relations there is wisdom and goodness.

6.—The manifestation of God’s glory is the true source of happiness to the universe. We of course speak here of the intelligent and moral universe. The chief source of happiness to moral and intelligent beings is the manifestation of the divine perfections. But God, when contemplated by the eye of faith, is manifested in every thing. God, therefore, is glorified in every thing. And those, who are like God by a correspondence and unity of character, are happy in every thing. In storm and in sunshine, in the earth’s dearth and barrenness as well as its fruitfulness, in small things as well as in great, in all the forms of adversity as well as of prosperity, there is not only a recognition of God’s will, but of his perfect wisdom, goodness and glory. Such a soul is necessarily happy. In its outward nature, if we may so express it, it sympathizes with and mourns over the afflictions of men, but in the sanctuary of its interior nature, which sees every thing good and right relatively to God, it is acquiescent and happy. Its happiness is pure, unruffled, substantial.

7.—Hence it is that the Psalmist, amid the various afflictions to which he was exposed, some of them of a nature greatly calculated to try his faith, every where expresses his confidence and his joy in God. “I will praise thee, Lord my God, with all my heart; and I will glorify thy name for evermore.” [Ps. 86:12.] Hence it is in the exercise of a strong faith that the Apostle Paul, amid his multiplied perplexities, is enabled to speak of himself as “chastened, and not killed, as sorrowful,
yet always rejoicing.” [2 Cor. 6:10.]

8.—The fool hath said in his heart,
“there is no God.” Those, whose minds have been reached in some degree by divine influences, recognize God’s existence. They acknowledge that he is; and that they are responsible to him. Those, who are Christians, especially those who are Christians in the higher sense of the term, not only recognize but possess him. Faith not only restores God to acts and to events; but restores him to our hearts, and recognizes him in the person of the Holy Ghost, as the immediate author of all holy dispositions. This too is a part of God’s providences, to “work in us, to will and to do of his good pleasure.” It is a high exercise of faith thus to recognize and receive God as the inward operator. This is possession, as well as recognition. God cannot do many mighty works within us where there is unbelief. And without this form of faith, which places him in the centre of the mind’s exercises, we cannot become “one with him.” It was the prayer of the Savior, uttered in behalf of his disciples, “As Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they may also become one in us.”

9.—One of the great works of the Infinite Mind, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is, by means of an inward teaching, developed in the principle of faith,

"To vindicate the ways of God to man."

It is a remark, which is often and justly made, that the Holy Spirit, in his inward communications, always recognizes the laws of the mental structure and of mental operations. It is not possible for this divine Agent, with all his powers of perception and influence, to teach a stone or a block of wood. And this for the simple reason, that matter has not a nature, which is in any sense the correlative of instruction; it is wholly unsusceptible of the powers of perception, of comparison, and belief. Mind, and not matter, must be the subject of his operation: and it can be such a subject only in virtue of its mental nature; and its mental nature, which implies something definable, something fixed, involves the idea of mental law. A nature without law is, to my mind, inconceivable. It is a contingency, if we may so express it, and not a truth; an accident, and not a nature. The mind, therefore, is, what it is, by law. Independently of law, existing in itself, it never can be known. Knowledge is not applicable to that which is without law. Independently of law, therefore, as an essential part of its own nature, it can never be the subject of the divine knowledge or of the divine operation. It is on this ground, therefore, that we assert, that the Holy Spirit, in vindicating inwardly God’s ways and character, makes use of the principle of faith, which is one of the modes of mental operation. He does not speak arbitrarily, but through the agency of this great religious principle. And speaking thus, he has a voice, which, in being adapted to the laws of mental operation, silences the suggestions of skepticism, and gives divine peace to the troubled spirit.



THE HAPPY SHEPHERD.
[I have seen the narrative of a conversation, which purports to have passed between a poor shepherd and M. Bouthillier de Rance, a distinguished Frenchman of the seventeenth century, who renounced a life of opulent ease and of worldly fame for one of poverty and religious seclusion; and who is now more generally known by his religious writings, and in ecclesiastical history, as the Abbe De Rance. The narrative, irrespective of the question of its being founded in fact or not, seemed to me to be interesting, and to be particularly appropriate as an illustration of some of the principles of this chapter. It is for this reason, that it is introduced here.]



“M. de Rance,” says the writer, “having experienced some very severe afflictions and disappointments while yet ignorant of the only source of real consolation, sunk into a deep and settled melancholy. In this gloomy mood he wandered in the woods for hours together, regardless of the weather and seemingly unconscious of every surrounding object.

“On one of the brightest mornings in May, he was wandering in his usual disconsolate manner, amongst the wooded mountains that skirted his estate. Suddenly he came to a deep glen, which terminated in a narrow valley. It was covered with rich green herbage, and was surrounded on all sides with thick woods. A flock was feeding at the bottom and a clear brook watered it. Underneath the broad shade of a spreading oak sat an aged shepherd, who was attentively reading a book. His crook and pipe were lying on the bank near him, and his faithful dog was guarding his satchel at his feet. The Abbe was much struck by his appearance. His locks were white with age, yet a venerable and cheerful benignity appeared in his countenance. His clothes were worn completely threadbare and patched of every different color. His brow was furrowed by time; but as he lifted up his eyes from the book, they seemed almost to beam with the expression of heartfelt peace and innocency.

“Notwithstanding his mean garb, the Abbe de Rance involuntarily felt a degree of respect and kindness for the man. ‘My good friend, (said he with a tone of affectionate sympathy,) you seem very poor, and at an advanced age; can I render your latter days more comfortable?’

“The old man looking at him steadfastly, but with the greatest benignity, replied, ‘I humbly thank you, Sir, for your kindness; did I stand in need of it, I should most gratefully accept it; but blessed be God, his mercy and goodness have left nothing even to wish.’ ‘Nothing to wish! (replied M. de Rance, who began to suspect his Shepherd’s garb to be a disguise.) I shall suspect you of being a greater philospher than any I know!—Think again.’

“‘Sir,’ replied the Shepherd mildly,—‘this little flock which you see, I love as if it were my own, though it belongs to another; God has put it in my master’s heart to show me more kindness than I deserve. I love to sit here and meditate on all the mercies of God to me in this life; and above all, I love to read and meditate on his glorious promises for that which is to come. I will assure you, Sir, that while I watch my sheep, I receive many a sweet lesson on the good Shepherd’s watchful care over me and all of us. What can I wish, Sir, more?’

“‘But, good man,’ returned the Abbe, ‘did it never come into your head, that your master may change, or your flock may die? Should you not like to be independent, instead of trusting to fortuitous circumstances?’

“‘Sir,’ replied the Shepherd, ‘I look upon it that I do not depend upon circumstances, but on the great and good God, who directs them. This is what makes me happy, happy at heart. God in mercy enables me to lie down and sleep secure, on the immutable strength of that blessed word,—
“All things work together for good, to them that love God.” My reliance in my poverty is the love of God; if I were ever so rich I could not be more secure; for on what else, but on his will, can the most nourishing prospects depend for their stability?’

“The Abbe felt some emotion at this pointed observation; he however smothered it and said, ‘Very few have your firmness of mind.’

“‘Sir,’ answered the man, ‘you should rather say few seek their strength from God.’ Then steadily fixing his eye on M. de Rance, he added, ‘Sir, it is not firmness of mind; I know misfortune as well as others; and I know, too, that where affliction comes close, no firmness of mind only, can or will carry a man through. However strong a man may be, afflictions may yet be stronger, unless his strength be in the strength of God. Again, Sir, I say, it is not firmness of mind, but it is a firm and heartfelt conviction founded on Scripture and the experience of God’s mercy in Christ.—
It is faith, and that faith itself is the gift of God.’

“The man paused, then looking at M. de Rance with great interest, he added, ‘Sir, your kindness calls for my gratitude. Permit me to show it in the only way I can. Then I will add, that if you do not know this gift, he calls you to it as much as me. I see by your countenance, that though so young, you have known sorrow. I could sincerely wish, that you might read on mine, that though at so advanced and infirm an age, I enjoy the blessings of peace. Yet though you are probably learned, whilst I am unlearned, I believe the secret of true happiness is the same to all. Let me then show my gratitude, by telling you what the teaching of God, or his word and providence, has taught me. I was not always blest with the happiness I now enjoy. When I was young I had a farm of my own, I had a wife whom I dearly loved, and I was blessed with sweet children. Yet, with all these good things I was never happy; for I knew not God, the Supreme good. With every temporal blessing I never reaped pure enjoyment, for my affections were never in due subordination. My eyes being turned to the channel of temporal blessings instead of God their source, I was in constant anxiety, either to grasp more, or lest I should lose what I had already got. God had compassion upon me, and sent misfortune to lead me to him. I once had a son, the pride of my heart; a daughter, and she began to be the friend and comfort of her mother. Each was grown up, and began to yield us comfort beyond our fondest hopes; when each we had to watch through a slow and lingering disease. Blessed be God, that taught them to live the life of his saints and gives them now as the angels in heaven to behold his glory face to face. They were taught but not of us; it was the work of God; of that God whom as yet we knew not. Their deaths—but, oh! how unspeakably bitter did that pang seem, which came in mercy to call us to God and give us spiritual life! Till we fainted under the stroke, we did not remember that our insensible hearts had never yet been thankful for the blessing, whose loss we were ready to repine at; we can now in mercy say that we know afflictions do not spring out of the dust. Blessed be God, I can now from my very heart thank him, for uniting me for all the ages of a blissful eternity, with those dear and angelic spirits towards whom I only thought of the short intercourse of time. Oh! how short my views; how long his love. Surely his mercy, and the fruit of it, endureth forever. This was our greatest affliction; besides, I have, through a variety of events, lost my relations, and my possessions, and I now, in my old age, serve in the house where I was once master. Yet, I find indeed, that “TO KNOW THE ONLY TRUE GOD, AND JESUS CHRIST WHOM HE HAS SENT, IS INDEED LIFE ETERNAL.” A man’s life does not consist in the abundance which he possesses, but in that peace which passes all understanding, and which the world can neither give nor take away. I desire to live by Faith day by day, and trust to the Lord to provide for the morrow. In short, Sir, I have found by experience, that every worldly good without God is empty, and that God without any worldly good, is as of old, all sufficient!’

“This discourse struck M. de Rance to the heart. It was as a ray of light from above. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”