PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On Faith, especially appropriating Faith.
Ir is not until a person has taken the important and decisive step, indicated in the foregoing chapter, that he is in a true position to realize the various results of an unobstructed divine operation upon the mind. It is from that moment, that divine moment, that he begins to learn, in a new and higher sense, the length and breadth, the height and depth of God's inward dealings. Especially is it true, that, from this important period, he begins to learn and to practice the LIFE OF FAITH. Perhaps he had faith before. If he were a Christian, he must of course have known something of justifying faith. In other words, he exercised faith in Christ as the source and the only source of pardon; but he did not realize and understand the nature and efficacy of faith, as a practically sustaining and sanctifying principle; as a principle, through which we are not only forgiven, but are made and are kept holy.
It is not our intention in the present Work, to go very fully into the nature of faith. To do this fully, to consider faith in its nature and its various bearings, would require a volume. If there is any religious principle, which is fundamental, any one which may be regarded as the root and source of origin to the various other Christian graces that cluster around and adorn the Christian character, it is Faith. So far as the subject of faith will come under our notice in the present Work, it will be our object especially, if not exclusively, to consider it in connection with the more general subject of SANCTIFICATION. We are commanded in the Scriptures to "have faith in God;" we are told that "the just shall live by faith" and also that "without faith it is impossible to please God." How important it is, therefore, to have right views of this excellent Christian grace, considered in its relation to sanctification and holy living, as well as in its connection with justification.
There are three leading kinds of faith, saying nothing of some subordinate modifications, viz. historical faith, a general religious faith, and an appropriating faith; each of which is entitled to a brief notice. An historical faith in the Savior is merely a belief that such a man as Jesus Christ, possessing many of the virtuous traits which his biographers have ascribed to him, appeared in Palestine at the commencement of the Christian era. It is not easy to see how a person, who gives credence to any of the historical narrations of antiquity, can do otherwise than receive this belief. This faith, however, does not necessarily involve the existence of religion, or even of good morals. Men of abandoned characters and of essentially infidel sentiments may go as far as this. Voltaire and other distinguished enemies of the Christian system had a belief of this kind.
"Alas," says Jacob Behmen, speaking of the state of things in his times, of which he says, that true faith was never weaker since Christ's time than it is now, "the faith, of this day is but HISTORICAL, a mere assent to the matter of fact, that Jesus Christ lived and died, that the Jews killed him, that he left this world, and is not king on earth in the outward man. A faith, which leaves men, as he further intimates, to "do what they list," and is not inconsistent with a life "of sin and evil lusts."[The Way to Christ, Bk. II, Chap. 3, § 52.]
(2) There is also a general religious faith. A person may not only believe with those who possess an historical faith, that there was such a man as Jesus Christ; but may also believe, that he died for the salvation of men in general. This form of faith, it is true, is important; but it does not and cannot secure all those objects which are ascribed to faith in the Bible. I suppose it may be said with truth, that the devils believe and know, not only that there was such a being as Jesus Christ, but that he died upon the cross for sinners. It obviously does not commend itself to human reason, and still less to the Word of God, to say that a man has saving faith, who merely believes in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, so far as the world receives him in that capacity; but without receiving and believing in him as a Savior in his own case.
A faith of this kind, and which goes no further than this, is practically DEAD. And perhaps it may be said here, that the great sin of the people of our own age is, not that they have merely an historical faith and stop in that, as in some former corrupt periods; but that they too often rest satisfied with a general and abstract faith, which is theoretically applicable to the world at large, without bringing it home to themselves. They believe in the general truth, without making a specific and personal application; and thus serve Satan as effectually, as far as they are personally concerned, as if they had only an historical faith.
(3.) A third form or modification of the great principle of faith, is what may be called APPROPRIATING FAITH. The necessity of this form of faith is evident from even a slight consideration of the subject. The usual understanding is, with the exception of those who hold strictly to a limited atonement, that our Savior has provided a common salvation, adequate to the wants of all; but available only in the case of those who exercise faith. How far this salvation will practically extend; how many individuals will avail themselves of it; why some are taken and others are left, we cannot tell; nor is it very obvious, that it is important for us to know. But certain it is, that no one will accept of the provision which is made, without faith. But what sort of faith? The answer is, It is that which can speak in the first person; that which has an appropriating power; that which can say I have sinned; I have need of this salvation; I take it home to myself. It is not enough for me to say, I believe that Christ died for others; I must also believe that he died for me individually, and accept of him as my Savior. It is not meant by this, that previous to the exercise of appropriating faith, and independently of such exercise, we have a special or particular interest in Christ, separate from and above that of others; and that appropriating faith consists in believing in this special or particular interest. An appropriating faith of this kind, and operating in this manner, might be very dangerous. It is merely meant, that out of the common interest, which is broad as the human race, we may, by means of faith, take individually that which the gospel permits us to receive and regard as our own; and that we can avail ourselves of this common interest, so as to make it personally our own, in no other way.
God deals with us, (certainly for the most part) as individuals and not in masses. When he requires men to repent of sin, to exercise gratitude, to love, and the like, the requisition is obviously made upon them as individuals as separate from and as independent of others. It is not possible to conceive of any other way, in which obedience to the requisition can be rendered. Nor is it conceivable that the remedial effect of the atonement should be realized in any other way than this. How is it possible, if I, in my own person, have suffered the wound of sin, that a remedy, which is general and does not admit of any specific and personal appropriation, should answer my purpose? Furthermore, in dying for all, in other words, in furnishing a common salvation, available to all on their acceptance of the same, Christ necessarily died for me as an individual, since the common mass or race of men is made up of individuals, and since I am one of that common mass or race. And indeed we can have no idea of a community or mass of men, except as a congregation or collection of separate persons. In dying for the whole on certain conditions, he necessarily, therefore, on the same conditions, died for the individuals composing that whole.
It would seem to follow, then from what has been said, that the faith, which we especially need, is a personal or appropriating faith; a faith which will disintegrate us from the mass, and will enable us to take Christ home in all his offices to our own business and our own bosoms. We must be enabled to say, if we would realize the astonishing cleansing and healing efficacy there is in the gospel of God that he is MY God, of the Savior that he is MY Savior. We must be enabled to lay hold of the blessed promises, and exclaim, these are the gift of MY Father, these are the purchase of MY Savior, these are meant for ME.
It was thus, that patriarchs, prophets, and apostles believed. This was the faith of those consecrated ones, of whom the world was not worthy, recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Hear the language of the Psalmist as an illustration of what is to be found frequently in the Scriptures. How precise, how personal, how remote from unmeaning generalities. "I will love thee, O Lord, MY strength. The Lord is MY rock, and MY fortress, and MY deliverer; MY God, MY strength, in whom I will trust; MY buckler and the horn of MY salvation, and MY high tower." And it is worthy of notice, that the first word of the Lord's prayer has this appropriating character; "OUR Father, who art in heaven."
It is here, in connection with this form of faith, that we find the great and effective instrument of progress and of victory in the Interior Life. If we possess an appropriating faith, and if our faith be operative and strong as it should be, we shall not only gain the victory over the various temptations which beset us in the present life, but shall find ourselves rapidly forming a new and wonderful acquaintance with God. In the present life a strong and operative appropriating faith is the key which unlocks the mysteries of the divine nature, and admits the soul to a present and intuitive acquaintance with its exceeding heights and depths of purity and love. No man, who has not this faith or has it not in a high degree, can be said to live in true union with the divine mind, with God and in God. Hence we consider it important to say distinctly, in endeavoring to sketch some of the traits and principles of the interior or hidden life, that those persons will have no true and experimental knowledge of the things which we affirm, who merely believe generically and not specifically; in other words, who believe for others rather than themselves; who, in the exercise of a sort of discursive faith which embraces the mass of mankind, cannot be said to possess it individually and personally, and for their own soul's good. Let us, then, begin to learn the great lesson of faith; of faith in its general nature; of faith in its various modifications; and particularly the indispensable lesson of appropriating faith. Well has Martin Luther somewhere remarked, that the marrow of the gospel is to be found in the pronouns MEUM and NOSTRUM, MY and OUR.
Faith is better to us, far better, than mere intellectual illumination, better than any strength of joyous emotion; better than any thing and every thing else, except holy love, of which it is the true parent. The fallen angels, in their primitive state of holiness, had illuminations, great discoveries of God and of heavenly things, and great raptures. But when their faith failed, when they ceased to have perfect confidence in God, they fell into sin and ruin. Our first parents fell in the same way; because they ceased to have confidence in God; because they ceased to believe him to be what he professed to be, and that he would do what he declared he would do. Their previous glorious experiences, their illuminations and joys, availed nothing, as soon as unbelief entered. Unbelief in them, and unbelief in their descendants, has ever been the great, the destructive sin. And faith on the other hand, an implicit confidence in God, a perfect self-abandonment into his hands, ever has been, and from the nature of the case ever must be the fountain of all other internal good, the life of all other life in the soul.
And it may be remarked here in addition to what has been said, that God, in his infinite mercy, knowing the ruinous effects of unbelief, seems determined to try and to strengthen the belief of his people during their present state of probation. His word declares, that they must walk by faith in the present life. All his various Providences point in the same direction. He, who attempts to walk in any other way, will find himself inconsistent, changeable, subject to unsuitable elevations and depressions; and in many respects falling short of what a Christian ought to be. Not that faith is the only Christian principle, or the only Christian grace. By no means. But it is the fundamental principle; the prerequisite and preparatory element; especially of that Love, which purifies the heart, and is the FULFILLING OF THE LAW.