PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Relation of consecration to assurance of Faith.
IT can hardly be necessary to say any thing, in addition to what has already been said, in illustration of the great importance of that state of mind, which is denominated ASSURANCE OF FAITH. He, who truly desires the blessed experience of holiness of heart, will necessarily attach a high value to the possession of Assurance; because holiness, in the gospel or evangelical sense of the term, is obviously identical with perfection of love. And perfection of love, as we shall have occasion to notice more particularly in a subsequent chapter, is the natural result of perfection or assurance of faith.
In respect to the nature of assurance of faith, we may remark here, after an examination of various statements and illustrations on the subject, that it appears to consist essentially in two things; First, in a general but unwavering confidence in God's character, administration, and promises; and, secondly, in a confident belief of our personal acceptance with God through Christ. And accordingly it is not limited to the second particular, as some persons may be inclined to suppose; but the second element, viz. that of a particular or personal acceptance, which probably, in the popular view of it, is the striking or characteristic trait, has its basis in a prevailing or assured faith of a more general character.
With these remarks we proceed to enter on the principal topic of the present Chapter, viz. the relation existing between consecration and assurance.— We have already had occasion, particularly in the third chapter, to refer to the relation, existing between consecration and faith in general. Faith, (especially that faith, which is appropriating and purifying,) and the commission of known sin cannot go together. They are mutually antagonistical and destructive of each other. Just so far as consecration, which implies a fixed determination with divine assistance to resist sin in all its forms, actually exists and no further, is the way open for the principle of faith, especially in its appropriating character, to enter and to take effect in the soul. The Savior himself has explicitly taught us, (John 5: 44,) that those, who, in the spirit of self-seeking, pursue worldly honor, and not the honor which cometh from God only, are unable, in the religious sense of the expression, to BELIEVE.
(1.) — But proceeding from the more general view of the subject to the particular and specific one now under consideration, we remark in the first place, that ASSURANCE of faith, like all other forms of religious faith considered in distinction from natural faith, is the gift of God. No one has it without the divine blessing. But here, as in every other case of God's dealings, we see no other course but to take the position as almost a self-evident one, that there are reasons in the divine mind for every occurrence or fact and also for every modification of the divine conduct; and that God, in imparting the immense blessing of assurance of faith, does not, and cannot act accidentally. In other words, there is some antecedent fact, some preparatory condition, in connection with which this great blessing takes place. Not a meritorious condition, it is true; nothing which lays God under obligation; but still a preparatory antecedent or condition actually existing in the view of the Divine Mind, and as an indispensable part of the divine arrangement. And that condition, as the matter presents itself to our view, is CONSECRATION. Not a consecration in part, but in whole; a solemn and a permanent giving up of the whole being to God. If with any inferior degree of consecration there may be an inferior degree of faith, there cannot be a perfection or assurance of faith, without a consecration corresponding to it. It must, therefore, be a consecration, such as was described in the chapter on that subject, both of body and of spirit, both of persons and of possessions, ENTIRE, PERMANENT, and IRREVOCABLE.
(2.) — We proceed to mention, secondly, some considerations in support of this view, viz. that entire consecration is, and must be, the antecedent condition of entire or full assurance.— Assurance of faith, as the phrase is commonly employed by writers, and as we have already had occasion to notice, is used not only to express an entire and perfect confidence, on the part of those who possess it, in the character and administration of God; but also in their own personal acceptance with God through Christ. They have no doubt, on the one hand, of the truth, mercy, and justice of God; nor have they any doubts, on the other, that they are the beloved children of God; and that, in entire consistency with his truth and justice, are fully accepted of Him. Such is the nature of their assurance. But we hazard nothing in saying, that it is impossible for a man to believe with assurance of faith, that he is fully accepted of God, which is one of the leading elements, though not the only one, in the state of mind denominated assurance, while he is knowingly sinning against Him; which, of course, he must be regarded as doing, so long as he remains unwilling to consecrate himself. It is impossible, among other things, because it is contrary to the natural operations of the human mind in all analogous cases. It is just as impossible, (repeating here an illustration of the subject which has been already employed,) as it is for us to believe that a man, whom, we are injuring and ill-treating every day, and whom we also know to be acquainted with our evil conduct, can regard us as a friend. There is something, in such a case, in the nature of a moral contradiction. The two things cannot go together. And, furthermore, it is impossible, because such a belief, viz. that God does fully and cordially accept of us, while we are withholding the entire consecration of our bodies and our spirits, and are therefore knowingly sinning against him, evidently implies a conviction on the part of the person who is the subject of the belief, that God is not necessarily displeased and offended with sin. A view of things alike contrary to reason, the character of God, and the Scriptures; and therefore not reasonably to be expected in any one.
We are constrained, therefore, to draw the conclusion, (a conclusion so obvious in itself that it clearly does not require much array of argument,) that assured confidence in the character and administration of God, combined with the additional element of assured faith in our present acceptance with Him, cannot exist, except in connection with entire consecration. In other words, we must be conscious of doing all that we can do in the fulfillment of God's holy will; of separating ourselves from every voluntary transgression, of discharging ,with divine aid every known duty; of laying all our powers, possessions, and gifts deliberately upon the divine altar, and without any intention of ever resuming them. The man, who is truly set apart to God in consecration, strives and prays continually, that he may not, in the smallest thing, offend his heavenly Father. He would infinitely prefer death to known transgression, even the slightest transgression.
In this state of mind, it is easy to see, that there is a natural basis for the exercise of faith, particularly the faith of personal acceptance, in the highest degree. In such a state of things, when the obstacles, which previously existed, are removed, the soul. naturally turns to God; naturally relies upon him. It becomes easy to believe, when before it was found very difficult. The Holy Spirit enters and operates without obstruction in a mind, which is in this position. The promises are readily received. Such a soul feels, that it would be sin to doubt; and thus with the divine blessing, it rises superior to every degree of hesitation, and enters into the rest of assurance.
(3) — Perhaps it should be added further, in order to meet an inquiry naturally arising in the minds of some, that faith in the highest degree or assurance of faith, although we have reason to think it never fails to follow the act of Consecration sooner or later in the case of minds not unfavorably affected by some physical or mental disorder, does not always immediately follow such consecrating act. There are various incidental causes, which sometimes operate to check and diminish the exercise of assurance of faith for a time, notwithstanding the dedicating or consecrating act; such as a general ignorance on the subject of faith, and particularly previous habits of unbelief, the unfavorable influence of which does not always cease at once. And it is not irrational to suppose, that there may also be reasons existing in the mind of God, but unknown to us, why he should see fit to delay temporarily the bestowment of this great gift, especially in that particular, which relates to our personal acceptance and safety. Accordingly it is said in Hebrews 10: 36, 37, "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God,ye might receive the promise; for yet a little while, and he, that shell come, will come, and will not tarry." But God does not delay, even for the "yet a little while" arbitrarily and without reason, although we may be ignorant what that reason is. I believe it is a common and correct opinion, that the delay exists only so long as God sees best for the person himself. In other words he delays, in order to wean him more effectually from all reliance upon any thing but simple, childlike trust in the divine word; and thus to prepare him for the reception of the blessing under the most favorable circumstances. There is perhaps some hidden tendency, which is scarcely known to the individual himself, such as a disposition to look for some specific sign or manifestation, or something of that nature, which remains to be smitten and crucified; and which, there is no doubt, will be crucified and taken out of the way, as soon as the person himself learns, in connection with God's continued dealings with him, where and what it is. But I do not suppose that God will thus withhold himself, even for a moment, from one who is fully prepared for him in all respects; and who in connection with the fact of entire consecration, is truly willing, irrespective of joys and sorrows, of human aid and opposition, of the light of vision, and of the terrors of darkness, to live in that simple and mysterious way of FAITH ALONE. —" Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and TOUCH NOT THE UNCLEAN THING; and I WILL receive you and WILL be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty?"
And permit me here to inquire of the individual, who has had the patience and kindness to accompany the writer thus far, whether he has been able to apply the truths and principles, which have been brought to his notice? Do you believe, that God requires you to be holy; that he has made provision for your sanctification in the present life; and that there is any reasonable prospect, with divine assistance, of attaining to this desirable state? Have you felt, with the sincerity and depth of feeling appropriate to the case, the obligation to be holy? Relying upon the sanctifying results of that same great expiation on the Cross, which is the foundation of your hope of pardon for past sins, have you deliberately and decidedly brought all and laid all upon the altar of God, as a sacrifice offered and consecrated to him? Have you believed in God, that he is true to his word, which declares him to have an open arm for the returning sinner; and that, from the moment of your laying all upon his altar, you have been, and are now accepted? Is your faith not only of that personal or appropriating character, which applies God's word and promise to yourself, but is it a strong faith? Is it, as the faith of every Christian ought to be, the FAITH OF ASSURANCE? Like that of the individual, who has already been referred to, who sealed the truth of his hope, by dying in the fire at the stake, "above self in a higher self, above the form in the power, above the letter in the life."
Permit me to say, my brother, in the spirit of sincere humility and kindness, that the way, in which you are called to walk, is what it is represented to be in the Scriptures, "a straight and a narrow one." But it is a way, which must lead somewhere; and it is obvious, also, that it must be a way, which differs from every other way. I appeal to you to say, under the guidance of an enlightened Christian conscience, whether it is not in the direction, or very nearly in the direction, indicated by these questions most solemnly and deliberately do we affirm our conviction, that, in order to know God by an inward communion with him, all must be laid upon the divine altar with a renunciation without limits; and that he, who brings the offering, must believe with a faith unwavering, that God accepts it. ls it in your power, relying either upon Scripture or upon reason, to indicate any better way? If not, then delay no longer; cease to feed on husks that you may eat spiritual bread; renounce the life of self that you may possess the life of universal love; be all to God, that He may be all to you.
I sat me down in earth's benighted vale,
And had no courage and no strength to rise;
Sad to the passing breeze I told my tale,
And bowed my head and drained my weeping eyes.
But Faith came by, and took me by the hand;
And now the valleys rise, the mountains fall;
Welcome the stormy sea! the dangerous land!
With Faith to aid me, I can conquer all.