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The selfishness of the human heart subdued by faith. Explanation of the nature of selfishness. The operation of faith, in the subjection of unholy or selfish desires, two-fold. Of faith as operating by love. The object of the Gospel to sanctify, as well as to redeem. The heart cannot be sanctified by works without faith. Reference to the experience of Martin Luther.

WE proceed now to the consideration of some topics, which are more strictly appropriate to the leading object of the SECOND PART of this Work. In considering the Power or Effects of faith in the regulation of Man’s Inward Nature, our attention is first directed to a striking passage in the writings of John. “Whatsoever is born of God,” says the Apostle John, Second Epistle 5:4, “OVERCOMETH THE WORLD. And this is the victory, that overcometh the world, even our faith.” The term world, as it is employed by the Apostle in this passage, is obviously of wide import; including the world inward, as well as the world outward; the human heart, as well as the objects around us, to which the inward state gives their character and their power. And, accordingly, the victory over the world, whatever else the expressions may be supposed to indicate, includes especially and emphatically the victory over ourselves. Perhaps we ought to say, it is the victory over whatever sin has rendered inordinate and evil in ourselves. In other words, and still more definitely, it is the victory over SELFISHNESS; a victory, which places us in such a position, that the world, in the variety of its enticements and temptations both inward and outward, cannot reach us and touch us to our hurt. And this victory is by faith.

2.—Selfishness shows itself, in a special manner, in the inordinate action of the
desires. Desire, it is well understood, is a distinct tendency or principle of the human mind, known by the circumstances of its origin and by its being distinguished in our consciousness from every other state of mind; but it is worthy of notice, that it exists, and that it exhibits itself under different and important modifications. In its connection with the wants and laws of the physical system, it assumes, for instance, the well known modification of the Appetites; a class of natural principles, which are necessary and right in their origin, but which are frequently perverse and debasing in their application. The desire of personal happiness, the desire of society, the desire of knowledge, the desire of esteem, and others which might be mentioned, are other modifications of the same general principle; less closely connected with the physical nature than the appetites are, and distinguished for this, and for other reasons, as the Propensive principles or the Propensities. But these, as well as the appetites, are subject, under the influence of inordinate self-love, to a perverted action; not so gross perhaps and so debasing, but still not less real and not less sinful. Our natural Affections also, the affection of parents for their children and of children for their parents and other similar affections, (a still higher and more noble class of natural principles than those which have just been mentioned,) have desire for their basis, and may very properly be regarded as its modifications. Each and all of these principles or classes of principles are liable to assume an inordinate and wrong position; and in point of fact it cannot be doubted, that they do frequently and almost continually go astray under various circumstances and in various degrees. But it seems to me, so far as a judgment can be formed in the case, that they never assume a wrong position, that they never become perverted and sinful, except under the influence, (an influence as secret and extensive, as it is baleful,) of the vice or crime of selfishness. Even when these principles err by undue weakness as well as by excess, which is sometimes the case, the result can be traced to the influence of the same inordinate love of self, operating in a different direction, but destroying by what it takes away as well as by what it gives.

3.—Selfishness is the great evil of our nature. In the natural mind, or the mind which has not true faith in God, and which in not having faith in God necessarily makes man its God, it not only exists in the highest degree, but exists always. It reigns there, as if in its own kingdom, and on its own throne. And the history of the church generally, as well as of individual man, conclusively shows, that, if it is ever overthrown and removed from its position, it must be done in the way indicated in the passage from John, which we have quoted. “And this is the victory, that overcometh the world,
even our faith.” It is faith, which possesses this wonderful power. It is faith in God, inspired by the operation of the Holy Ghost, which begins the contest with the dreadful evil, that naturally exists within us. It is faith, which sustains us in the progress of this trying and oftentimes doubtful conflict; it is faith, which ultimately gives the triumph.

4.—The operation of faith, in the subjection of irregular and unholy desires, under whatever name they may appear, may be regarded as two-fold, DIRECT and INDIRECT. The method of its direct operation is this. Faith attaches itself to all those scriptural declarations, which promise assistance in the struggle for inward and spiritual victory, and having entire confidence that God will be true to his declarations, it gives great decision and energy to the inward purpose. The man, who has this faith, feels strong. He may be a man, who in the indulgence of his Appetites has been the slave of great sensuality, but in the exercise of faith, he feels strong; not in himself, but in God. And although he has experienced the mighty power of the principles, against which he is to contend, he has no doubt, that success will follow. In this position of mind, victory, with the divine blessing, is a matter of course.

5.—But this is not all. “Faith works by love.” If we have strong faith in God, we shall have great love to him. If our faith be assured or perfect, our love will correspond to it in degree. Now the natural tendency of love to God is to regulate and restrain all unregulated and unrestrained love of that, which is not God. The soul sees very clearly, that all such unregulated and unrestrained love of the creatures, whether it be the love of a man for himself or of others with a selfish reference to himself, is offensive to God; so that the love of God and the unregulated and wrong love of the creatures are antagonistical in their very nature; and the former love, if it exists in the highest degree, always implies the entire regulation and purification of the latter.

6.—So that with these two sources of influence combined, viz., the direct influence of faith, and that influence, which, operating by means of love, is indirect, the soul, by the expulsion of selfishness, may be restored to its true position, and in the possession of the purity and fullness of love, may become right with God. It is here, in particular, that we find the source of power and control over the Appetites. They can be truly said, when the subject is rightly considered, to be subdued and to be kept in their place by faith, and by faith alone. But this result, in its full extent, cannot take place by the ordinary action of faith; but only by a high degree, perhaps by that degree alone, which is denominated ASSURANCE.

7.—Now we desire it to be kept in mind, that the great objects of that atoning and remedial system, which is revealed in the Gospel,
are not secured by forgiveness alone. Christ died not merely to save sinners, but to sanctify them; not merely to rescue them from hell, but to make them, by the purification of their natures, the fit heirs of heaven. Salvation is a state, not a locality. It does not consist in dwelling in the new Jerusalem; but in having the right inward state; that is to say, in being fit to dwell there. A soul, that is truly and permanently saved, is a soul, that is made truly and permanently holy. And the hope of salvation, (even in that inferior and secondary form, which consists in freedom or salvation from suffering,) can be sustained only by the consciousness of possessing a heart, which, in some degree at least, is made right with God.

8.—It is to this great result, therefore, and to this great work, that every individual is called. “Be ye holy,” says God, “for I am holy.” “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The law of God’s holy nature would not allow him to command less or to require less. His mighty heart of love is fixed upon the one great object, that all other hearts, that all other moral beings throughout the universe may be in unison with himself, and bear his own image. It is this, still more than mere forgiveness or pardon, great and wonderful and costly as that is, which constitutes salvation. And if it is a great work, considered in reference to its results, it is great also, considered in reference to the difficulties, which perplex it.

9.—But difficult as it is, God, operating by the Holy Spirit in the production of faith in the heart, can accomplish it. Human nature, instigated by distrust of God or by confidence in its own efforts, has attempted the work in other ways, and by other instrumentalities, but always in vain. It has found all its toils and all its sufferings useless, its fastings, its pilgrimages, its macerations, its many tears, its fixed purpose of being better and of doing better, of no avail when unattended by faith. They are nothing, and perhaps we may say, are worse than nothing, except when they are yielded as subsequent in time and in cooperation with faith. Undoubtedly some persons have made the attempt, (ecclesiastical history, especially that part of it which exists in the shape of religious biographies and memoirs, furnishes abundant proofs of it,) to gain the victory over their inward sins, and to sanctify themselves by a system of works, who have been ignorant, in a great degree, of the true principles of the Gospel on this subject. They have made the attempt, therefore, as it is probable, with a considerable degree of natural sincerity; with a real desire, according to the light which they possessed, to become what the Lord would have them to be. And God, who always regards real sincerity of feeling, even when it is perplexed by ignorance, has in many cases blessed them. But the result invariably has been, that they see at last, and acknowledge at last, that any system of human effort, which does not consist in simple cooperation and union with the antecedent presence and operation of the grace of faith in the heart, is without avail. So that the first great work of man, the first indispensable work, indispensable for sanctification as it is for forgiveness, indispensable now and indispensable moment by moment
forever, is to BELIEVE.

10.—The statements made in relation to the early life and religious experience of Martin Luther, may perhaps throw some light upon this subject. Earnestly desirous of living to God sincerely and wholly, it is said of him, that he “gave himself up to all the rigors of an ascetic life. He endeavored to crucify the flesh by fastings, macerations, and watchings. Shut up in his cell, as in a prison, he was continually struggling against the evil thoughts and inclinations of his heart. Never did a cloister witness efforts more sincere and unwearied to purchase eternal happiness.”—At a somewhat later period, he was in the city of Rome; and although he had received some greater light than at the period, to which we have just referred, he seems not as yet fully to have understood, how we can be forgiven and sanctified by faith in Christ alone. “One day,” says the writer of his life; “wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the Pope to any one, who should ascend on his knees what is called
Pilate’s Staircase, the poor Saxon monk was slowly climbing those steps, which they told him had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. But, while he was going through this, [as he supposed] meritorious work, he thought he heard a voice like thunder speaking from the depth of his heart: THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. These words, which already on two occasions had struck upon his ear as the voice of an angel of God, resounded instantaneously and powerfully within him. He started up in terror on the steps up which he had been crawling; he was horrified at himself; and struck with shame for the degradation, to which superstition had debased him, he fled from the scene of his folly.”

11.—This remarkable passage of Scripture, THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH, “had a mysterious influence,” the historian of the Protestant Reformation further remarks, “on the life of Luther. It was by means of that word, that God then said,
Let there be light, and there was light.—It is frequently necessary, that a truth should be repeatedly presented to our minds, in order to produce its due effect. Luther had often studied the Epistles to the Romans, and yet never had justification by faith, as there taught, appeared so clear to him. He now understood that righteousness, which alone can stand in the sight of God; he was now partaker of that perfect obedience of Christ, which God imputes freely to the sinner, as soon as he looks in humility to the God-man crucified. This was the decisive epoch in the inward life of Luther. That faith, which had saved him from the fear of death, became henceforward the soul of his theology; a strong hold in ever danger, giving power to his preaching and strength to his charity, constituting a ground of peace, a motive to service, and a consolation in life and death.” [D’Aubigne’s Reformation in Germany and Switzerland, Bk. 2d.]

12.—If the views, which have been presented in this chapter, are correct, it is not necessary that we should retire from the world, as if we were unequal to the contest which presents itself. It is not necessary, after the manner of some devout persons of other ages, to shut ourselves up in cloisters or to seek some solitary cave of the desert, in order to gain the victory: Mingling in the world, in the midst of our families, in the discharge of the ordinary duties of life, it will be with us according to our faith. We may have God with us, if we have faith to have him with us. And having God with us, who is ready to bear the banner and fight the battles of those who trust in him, we are enabled here, and are enabled every where, in the market and the forum as well as in the solitary place, in our workshops, amid our farms and our merchandize, in seasons of joy and of sorrow, to keep our hitherto rebellious tendencies in subjection. The injunction of the Apostle becomes a practical reality. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”