PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Relation of Assurance of Faith and Perfect Love.
IN the preceding Chapter we have endeavored to explain the relation of Consecration to Assurance of faith. But assurance also, as well as consecration, has its relationships. In particular, assurance or perfection of faith and perfection of love are closely and inseparably connected. And it becomes an interesting, and in many respects an important inquiry, What is the precise relation which they sustain to each other?
(1.) — Accordingly, we proceed to remark, in the first place, that they hold the relation of ANTECEDENCE and SEQUENCE. Assurance of faith naturally and necessarily precedes assurance or perfection of love. We are aware, that some theologians, and theologians too, not wanting in powers of thought, have exhibited a disposition to reverse this order, and to place love first in time; thus making love the foundation of faith, and perfection of love the foundation of assurance or perfection of faith. But it must be acknowledged it is difficult to see, how such a position of things as this can commend itself either to the light of reason, or to the plain language and statements of the Scriptures. How is it possible, looking at the subject in the light of nature merely, if we have no confidence in God, no faith in his character, that we should love Him? What are the principles of natural love? Undoubtedly this important affection of the human heart has its principles or laws both of origin and progress. And it becomes, therefore, a proper and interesting inquiry, in what way it arises, and in what way it supports itself in common life? And in answer to this inquiry an obvious remark is, that, with the exception of its purely instinctive action, it always has its foundation in confidence or faith in the object beloved. If we have no confidence in another's character, no faith in his truth, his honor, or his gratitude, but instead of believing in him as possessed of good and interesting traits, are obliged to regard him as characterized by what is mean, false, and evil, it seems to be impossible on natural principles, that we should love him. It is true, we may, in certain respects, be interested in such a person; we may exercise towards him the love of pity or benevolence; but we cannot exercise that form of love, which alone is appropriate to God, viz. the love of COMPLACENCY. Faith, therefore, must precede love. And this, which is the law of natural love, is also the law of religious love. And I think it is obvious from what has been said, that we may go further and say, that faith not only sustains to love the relation of antecedence, but sustains also the relation of a CAUSE; not of an absolutely efficient cause, which would exclude voluntariness of action; but of what is variously called a conditional, occasional, or preparatory cause. So that we may not only say, that in point of fact, and in the order of nature, faith goes before love; but may properly add, that without the antecedence of faith love cannot exist.
(2.) — As connected with what has been said, we observe further, that it is a law of the affection of love, not only that it will follow faith, but that it will be in proportion to faith. It will be recollected, that we are speaking now of the love of complacency, of which God and all holy beings, are the appropriate objects; and not of the mere love of pity or benevolence, of which other beings and those of a very different character, may be the objects. We repeat, therefore, that love not only depends on faith, in some measure as an effect depends on a cause; but, corresponding also in amount or degree, it will be in proportion to faith. If faith is weak, the corresponding exercise of love will be proportionally weak; if faith is strong, the degree of love will be proportionally strong; if there is an assurance or perfection of faith, there will be an assurance, that is, an assured state or perfection of love. This is the connection, if we have a right view of it, and the permanent law of the two states And this relationship and this permanent law of the states of mind under consideration is abundantly recognized in theological writers, as well as in the Scriptures. Archbishop Leighton, after remarking in his Commentary on Peter, that there is an inseparable intermixture of love with belief, and that they are mutually strengthened, the one by the other, proceeds to observe as follows. " Many directions, as to the means of begetting and increasing this love of Christ, may be here offered; and. they, who delight in number, may multiply them; but surely this one will comprehend the greatest and best part, if not all of them. BELIEVE AND YOU SHALL LOVE; BELIEVE MUCH AND YOU SAHLL LOVE MUCH. Labor for strong and deep persuasions of the glorious things, which are spoken of in Christ, and this will COMMAND love."
(3) — We remark again, that these two states of mind, the relation of which to each other has thus been briefly indicated; are identical in their results, in relation to sin. It is entirely evident, that perfect love, when actually in exercise, is inconsistent with the commission of any known transgression. It is the same, as must be evident not only from the statements of those who have been in this state of mind, but also from a slight reflection on the subject itself, with assurance of faith.
Assurance of faith, considered as expressive of a definite religious state of mind, has reference both to God and to the subject of it; to God, among other things, as true to his word both of threatening and of promise; and to the subject of it, as being fully forgiven and accepted in God through Christ. It is not possible, that the man, who sins voluntarily and knowingly against God, can, at the same time of thus sinning, have full and assured faith in either of these respects. Full faith in God, as true to his promises and threatenings would, either through the impression of strong love and gratitude, or of terrible fear, extinguish all desire and purpose of knowingly doing wrong. And full faith in God, as fully forgiving and receiving us to his favor, is obviously and utterly inconsistent with the fact of knowingly sinning against him at the same time. He, therefore, who is in the enjoyment of assurance of faith, although he may be the subject of various involuntary infirmities and errors which result from our fallen condition, and which require confession and atonement, will never voluntarily and knowingly do any thing against the will of his heavenly Father. And these views, it is hardly necessary to add, are entirely in accordance with those passages of Scripture, which not only speak of faith as peculiarly acceptable to God, but as working by love, and as PURIFYING THE HEART.
Dr. Increase Mather, who held an eminent rank for learning and piety among the early congregational ministers of New England, has the following expressions in a Sermon on Assurance, which agree with what has now been said. "They, that pretend to assurance of the love of Christ, and yet have no care to observe some of his holy commandments, do but deceive their own souls, and the Lord will reject their confidences. Where there is an eminent Assurance, if built on Scripture promises, there is eminent HOLINESS."
Mr. Ebenezer Erskine, a pious minister of the Scotch Presbyterian Church of the last century, has the following statement in his Discourses on Assurance of Faith, which obviously involve the idea of the incompatibleness of faith and the commission of known sin. "It is impossible for a person, living in the love and practice of sin, to draw near to God with the confidence of faith; for, in the very act of drawing near, the heart is purified by faith in the blood of Jesus; or, as it is expressed in the latter clause of the text, [referring to Heb. 10: 22,] he hath his heart sprinkled from an evil conscience, and his body washed with pure water. In believing we cease to do evil, and learn to do well. Faith, apprehending the mercy of God in Christ, turns the soul from sin unto God; so that it is as impossible for a person to draw near to God with the confidence of faith, while he lives in the love and practice of sin, as it is for a person to come to you, and go from you at the same instant of time. While the heart is in league with sin, it is departing from the Lord. How then in this case, [that is to say, when the heart is in league with sin,] can the sinner draw near to God, far less can he draw near with ASSURANCE of acceptance."
I might refer here to the statements of Rev. Andrew Gray, also many years since an acceptable minister of the Scotch church. In one of his published sermons having relation to the subject under consideration, he gives a number of evidences or marks of Assurance; one of which has reference to the connection existing between assurance of faith and the sanctification of the heart or holiness. He maintains by argument and by references to the Scriptures, that purity of heart or holiness is the natural result of assurance of faith: that those who possess such assurance are a people especially set apart, are "bought with a price," and are no longer at their own disposal; and that persons, who profess to have assurance of faith, but without a correspondent holiness of heart and life, are under a great delusion.
In view of what has been said, as our limits do not admit of a more minute investigation of the subject, we come to the conclusion, that the doctrine of assurance of faith and the doctrine of perfect love, although in reality distinct, may yet safely and properly be regarded as but different views of one great phasis of experimental Christianity, viz. that in which the soul is without present condemnation, and is in the experience of free, accepted, and full communion with God. Or perhaps we may express the same thing, and rather more definitely, by saying, although they are distinct, they are so closely connected, that the one, wherever it exists, necessarily involves the other; and that either of them involves the idea of evangelical holiness. If there is assurance of faith, it is necessarily followed by perfection of love, and the existence of perfect love, a state of mind which is otherwise expressed by the terms and phrases, sanctification, christian perfection, and evangelical holiness, necessarily implies the antecedent existence of assurance of faith.
But it will be asked, perhaps, by some, whose early habits of thought and association will naturally prompt the inquiry, if there be this close relation between assurance of faith and perfect love, so that they may be regarded as, in effect, identical and interchangeable, why not retain and employ the former mode of expression to the exclusion of any other. Undoubtedly particular denominations of Christians, and individuals also, influenced by peculiarities in theological views, by early associations, or some other cause, will, on some occasions, give a preference to those forms of expression, which most readily harmonize with such peculiarities and associations. Nor do we suppose, that this is to be regarded as ground of complaint. Nevertheless, there is no necessity of our being limited to one mode of expression; and in the present case, where the inward experience, although always essentially the same, presents itself in different aspects, sometimes as perfect faith and sometimes as perfect love, there is evidently some advantage in not being so. Those, who know by personal experience what this state of mind is, will appreciate this remark, among other things, because a familiarity with different forms of expression, aids very much on many occasions in opening the way to a free and united communion with those, who are in the same state of mind in other Christian denominations. They feel the need of this communion; they cannot do otherwise than seek it and find it; and on both sides it is a great satisfaction to understand the blessed import of the expressions which they reciprocally use. And besides, as language is the natural sign or expression of things, it seems obvious, that there is something due on the part of language itself to that natural and eternal relationship, which exists in the case under consideration. Faith and love are twin sisters, born together, and forever inseparable. And the hearts where they have entered and taken possession, by whatever names of sect they may be characterized, are as closely allied and as dear to each other, as the divine and heavenly graces which animate them. He, who has assurance of faith, can never disclaim the relationship which he bears to him, who has perfection of love. And language, whose office it is to suit the word to the thing with entire impartiality, should never be wanting in acknowledged terms both to express the things themselves, and also to recognize and sanction the relationship and union between them.
"Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought, or hoped, or known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heaven are still my own.
"Let the world despise and leave me;
They have left my Savior too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me,
Thou art not, like them, untrue;
And while Thou shalt smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate, and friends may scorn me;
Show thy face, and all is bright."