PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Considerations on the Life of Faith.
"THE just shall live by faith." "The life, which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." These passages, and others like them, involve the important truth, that the Christian life is a life of faith, in distinction from a life of open vision.
There are various modifications of faith; all of which are important in their appropriate places; and all of which, it is quite probable, have a connection more or less intimate with the life of faith. But the form of faith, which is especially necessary, in order to live the life of faith, is that, which makes God present, moment by moment, in any and all events which take place. The want of this form of faith is one great source of evil. It is owing to a defect here, in a great part at least, that many persons, who believe, to some extent, in God, and in Christ, and perhaps in their own final acceptance, nevertheless make but little progress in sanctification. Adhesive in a general faith, which looks at things in masses, and rejecting that which is particular, they necessarily place God at a great distance; while, on the other hand, that faith, which is specific and particular, brings him near; makes him present and intimate in all our concerns, and establishes between him and our own souls a perpetual and happy relationship. We hope we shall not be misunderstood. We admit that other modifications of faith are important in their place. We know them to be so. But we cannot doubt, that the true life of God in the soul must be sustained, in a very considerable degree, by means of that specific form of faith, which recognizes God, AS PRESENT, NOT ONLY IN EVERY MOMENT OF TIME, BUT AS PRESENT, EITHER PERMISSIVELY OR CAUSATIVELY, IN EVERY EVENT THAT TAKES PLACE.
(1.) — Proceeding now to illustrate this general view in some particulars, we remark, in the first place, that those who are in the exercise of that form of faith, which makes God present in every thing, will perceive and recognize the hand of God in every thing which relates to themselves, viz. in the preservation of their lives and health, in their affairs of business, in their sufferings and joys, in the strength or weakness of their intellectual powers, in their opportunities of acquiring knowledge, in their opportunities of discharging duty, in their inward and outward temptations, in every thing whether it relates to mind, body, or estate, or whether it relates to suffering or to action, which in any way concerns themselves, or which in any way concerns those with whom they are closely connected by family ties.
(2.) — We remark, in the second place, that if we are in the exercise of that kind of faith, which makes God present in all things, we shall be enabled to see distinctly his presence and his operative hand in the movements and acts of those, who entertain hostile dispositions towards us, and who may properly be denominated our enemies. Notwithstanding the suffering, to which the cruel and unjust course of our enemies often exposes us, we shall find no difficulty, if we are in the exercise of this form of specific faith, in recognizing and believing the presence of God in that, as in other things. The mind is in that delightful position, which enables it to think much more of God, than of the instrument, which he employs. Looking up to the great Author, it accepts from his hand with acquiescence and thankfulness the cup of bitterness; while it has mingled emotions of disapproval and pity, (compassion being the predominant feeling,) for the subordinate agent. But it is the distinct and unwavering perception, that God is present, and that it is God who offers it to our lips, which most of all changes and sweetens the draught. It is inexpressibly delightful, in all the trials that come upon us from within and without, to realize, without any misgivings of spirit, that the rod, whatever may be the subordinate agency, is in the hands of our heavenly Father.
(3.) — Proceeding to a further application of these views, we remark again; it is obvious from the Scriptures, that we are required to be "diligent in business;" "whatever our hand findeth to do, to do it with our might;" "to provide for our own households;" and undoubtedly every person must, on Christian principles, regularly and conscientiously, accomplish the appropriate work of his hands, whatever it may be.
But here also, as in every thing else, we must recognize the presence and agency of God. We must do whatever God requires us to do; and must recognize him alike in the fulfillment and the disappointment of our efforts. We must not think too much of the inferior instrumentality of the rain and the sunshine; of the turning of the furrow and of the planting of the seed, although these are important in their place; but placing these and all other secondary acts and causes comparatively under our feet, must endeavor to gain a higher position, and to stand in nearer proximity to the Primitive Agency. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he, that regardeth the clouds, shall not reap." God works in connection with second causes; but not in dependence on them. They are his servants, and not his masters; a sort of dumb expositors of his purposes and will, but in no sense, though blind man seldom looks above them, the originating and effective cause. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good." [Ecclesiastes, 11: 4, 6.] Blessed is the man, who, as he goes about his daily business, tending his flocks with Abraham, or ploughing his fields with Elisha, can see God in trees and flowers and running brooks, in hills and valleys and mountains, in clouds and in sunshine; and can connect him, as an intelligible and effective agency, with everything that has relation to the time and the place, the nature and the results of his labors.
(4.) — It is important also, in the experience of a holy life, to extend the principle of the recognition of God's presence and agency, to all public and national events, as well as to those of a more private nature. In republican governments, and in all governments of a constitutional character, there are almost constantly before the public questions of great interest, which, when viewed out of their relation to the Divine Mind, are calculated to excite in the Christian, as well as in others, a degree of anxiety. When he beholds conflicting parties and nations, when he witnesses the wild political commotion and uproar, which has characterized almost every age of the world, the heart of the good man would faint within him, if he he did not know and feel, that the hand of the Lord is in it. And yet the faith even of Christians, when exercised in relation to public events, is exceedingly weak; so much so as hardly, in the comparative sense, to have an existence. It is very different, in this matter from what it should be. Nothing but a strange and blind unbelief could thus exile God from a participation in national movements. There has no political event ever taken place; there has been no fall or rise of empires; no building up or overthrow of parties; no aggressions of war or pacifications of peace, without the presence of the hand of the Lord either for good or for evil, for punishment or reward. Such is the doctrine of the Scriptures, as well as of reason. Their language is, "The kingdom is the Lord's; and he is the governor among the nations." Ps. 22: 28. "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice." Prov. 8: 15. God says of Cyrus, the Persian king and conquerer, "He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, thy foundation shall be laid." Isa. 44: 28. And He adds in the next chapter a remarkable passage, which shows, that kings and rulers, who have no realizing sense of the divine superintendence and presence, may yet be the instruments in his hands for the accomplishment of his purposes. "For Jacob, my servant's sake, and Israel, mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me."
Oh, that we might learn the great lesson, (the lesson absolutely indispensable to him, who would experience the highest results of the inward life,) of beholding God, either in his direct efficiency or his permissive and controlling guardianship, as present in all things, whether high or low, of whatever name or nature. Without taking this view of his presence, we deprive ourselves of that great Centre, where the soul finds rest. We are tossed and agitated by passing events. Every thing is perplexed, mysterious, and hopeless.
In conclusion we would remark, that a life of faith is necessarily a life of PRAYER. It must be obvious, that the faith, which makes God present at all times, and in all events, and yet without inspiring a sentiment of communion and sympathy with the Divine Mind, would be of no avail. When, therefore, we speak of believingly recognizing the presence of God in all things, we do not mean a recognition, in which there shall be no feeling, no sentiments of filial dependence, no gratitude and love. Far from it. God is made present by faith, in order to be loved and communed with. The spirit of true communion with God, which is only another name for the spirit of prayer, naturally flows out, as it seems to us, of the spirit of constant and specific faith; and naturally and necessarily forms an important part of the life of faith. True prayer always has relation to the existing state or tendency of the soul. Or rather it is, for the time being, the very state of the soul itself, and nothing else. And the existing state of the soul, it is hardly necessary to say, always and necessarily has a connection, more or less intimate, with the existing development of things. Connecting, therefore, the existing state of the soul with the existing state of things around it, and the development of things with the presence and agency of God, we are at once brought into correspondence and communion with God, in relation to the things, in which we are now most especially interested, and concerning which God is most pleased to know our filial trust, and to hear our humble supplications. Accordingly it is, in our apprehension, a true doctrine, that every returning day brings with it its special burden of prayer; in other words, something which it is especially proper for us to introduce to the notice of our heavenly Father for his direction and blessing. And this is true, not only of every day, but of every hour and every moment. And thus it is, that those who live the life of faith, may not only be said to recognize God in everything, and to be in communication with him in every thing; but to look for guidance and the divine blessing in every thing and "TO PRAY WITHOUT CEASING."
The following extract from a letter on Experience is copied from a tract published in Boston in 1810, and entitled, "The Life of Faith; A Letter found in the Study of the late Rev. Mr. Belcher of New England, [probably Rev. Samuel Belcher of Newbury, Mass.] Being an answer to the question, HOW TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD, SO AS TO LIVE IN HEAVEN.
"I will tell you familiarly what God hath done for my soul, and in what train my soul keeps toward himself. I am come to a conclusion to look after no great matters in the world, but to know Christ and him crucified. I make best way in a low gale. A high spirit and a high sail together will be dangerous, and therefore I prepare to live low. I desire not much and pray against it. My study is my calling; so much as tends that way (without distraction ) I am bound to plead for, and more I desire not. By my secluded retirements I have the advantage to observe how every day's occasions insensibly wear off the heart from God, and bury it in self, which they who live in care and cumbers cannot be sensible of. I have seemed to see a need of everything God gives me, and want nothing that he denies me. There is no dispensation, though afflictive, but either in it, or after it, I find that I could not be without it. Whether it be taken from or not given to me, sooner or later God quiets me in himself without it. I cast all my concerns on the Lord, and live securely on the care and wisdom of my heavenly Father. My ways, you know, are, in a sense, hedged up with thorns, and grow darker and darker daily; but yet, I distrust not my good God in the least, and live more quietly in the absence of all by faith, than I should do, I am persuaded, if I possessed them. I think the Lord deals kindly with me, to make me believe for my mercies, before I have them; they will then be Isaacs, sons of laughter. The less reason hath to work on, [that is, the more entirely reason is perplexed and is at a loss what measures to adopt,] the more freely faith casts itself on the faithfulness of God. I find that, while faith is steady, nothing can disquiet me; and when faith totters, nothing can establish me. If I tumble out amongst means and creatures, I am presently lost, and can come to no end; but if I stay myself on God, and leave him to work in his own way and time, I am at rest, and can sit down and sleep in a promise, when a thousand rise up against me. Therefore, my way is not to cast beforehand, but to walk with God by the day. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I find so much to do continually with my calling and my heart, that I have no time to puzzle myself with peradventures and futurities. As for the state of the times, it is very gloomy and tempestuous. But why do the heathen rage? Faith lies at anchor in the midst of the waves, and believes the accomplishment of the promise through all these overturning confusions and seeming impossibilities.
"Upon this God do I live,who is our God forever, and will guide us unto death. Methinks I lie becalmed in his bosom, as Luther in such a case, [viz. when beset with troubles.] I am not much concerned; let Christ see to it. I know prophecies are now dark, and the books are sealed, and men have all been deceived, and every cistern fails; yet God doth continue faithful, and faithful is he that hath promised, who will do it. I believe these dark times are the womb of a bright morning.
"Many things more I might add, but enough. O brother! keep close to God, and then a little of the creature will go a great way. Maintain secret communion with God, and you need fear nothing. Take time for duties in private; crowd not religion in a corner of the day. There is a Dutch proverb, "Nothing is got by thieving, nor lost by praying." Lay up all your good in God, so as to be able to overbalance the sweetness and bitterness of all creatures. Spend no time anxiously in forehand contrivances for this world. They never succeed. God will turn his dispensations another way. Self contrivances are the effects of unbelief. I can speak by experience. Would men spend those hours they run out in plots and contrivances in communion with God, and leave all to him, by believing, they would have more peace and comfort. I leave you with your God and mine. The Lord Jesus be with your spirit."
"God of my life, whose gracious power,
Thro' varied deaths my soul hath led,
Or turn'd aside the fatal hour,
Or lifted up my sinking head!
"In all thy ways thy hand I own,
Thy ruling Providence I see;
Assist me still my course to run,
And still direct my paths to thee."