PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On the Joy of Faith in the want and desolation of all things else.
"IN the world ye shall have tribulation" is a declaration of the Savior, confirmed by individual and general experience. Even the most devoted Christians are not exempt. The tribulations, to which the people of God are subject, are internal, as well as external; sorrows of the mind as well as sufferings of the body. Sometimes they are very great. There are some occasions, on which all those subordinate consolations, of which God generally permits his people in a greater or less degree to partake, are taken away. There is left to them neither the vivacity of health nor the consolation of friends; no pleasures of social intercourse; no prosperity in worldly business; no rest from outward persecutions; no cessations from the bitter temptations of the adversary. This, it will be said, is an extreme case; but it is only extreme cases, of which, in the present chapter, we propose to speak. There is reason to suppose, that many souls, whom God designs to bring to the highest degree of purity in this life, especially if they are disposed to resist and do not render themselves up easily to his great purpose, will be called upon to pass through some heavy and perhaps extreme trials. Such trials seem oftentimes to be rendered necessary. Necessary not in the nature of things, but on account of the corruption of the natural heart. The possession of internal purity implies the entire crucifixion of self; and this is an operation which the natural heart finds it hard to submit to. Hence it is, that earthly joys are temporarily dried up; that human consolations are taken away; and "the axe is laid at the root" of all the sources of self-seeking and self-enjoyment; in order that the soul may experience the truth and the severity of inward crucifixion.
It is at such a time, and amid these various and unmitigated trials, that the soul sustains itself by FAITH; by what is variously called in different writers, but generally as I suppose with the same meaning, "simple faith", "pure faith", or "naked faith." And there seems to be a marked propriety in these forms of expression; because faith, as the sustaining principle, stands at such times alone. All human supports are removed. On every side there appears discouragement and darkness; and it is by faith and faith only, that the soul is enabled to retain its religious integrity. It is under such circumstances, that faith becomes, as it were, a superior and guiding faculty of the soul; upon which the others, especially the various inferior principles, seem to rest. While the subordinate principles of our nature, the natural desires, and the various forms of natural affection, are assailed by their appropriate temptations, and sometimes in a very severe and terrible manner, they derive from the sublime principle of faith, which stands in its central position of strength and grandeur, a defensive and repulsive power, which makes them more than conquerors.
But the principle or truth, which we wish particularly to impress upon the reader's mind, in these remarks, is this. When all earthly comforts are dried up, and when faith alone remains as the sustaining principle of the soul, there is an interior consolation, deep and tranquil, flowing out from faith itself. This is a circumstance which is often overlooked. But it is a great truth contrary to the opinion of some who do not fully understand the nature of the divine operation in the soul, that there is a JOY IN FAITH. The life of faith, though it may be destitute of every outward support and comfort, is not so desolate in itself, so wanting in every thing that brings inward happiness, as some seem to suppose. It is true, sustained in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and seeking nothing but unity with the divine will, it never aims at consolation as an ultimate object. It thinks more of what God is, than of what he gives. And thus God himself, the great original of all good, becomes the fountain of the soul's joy. And the joy, which is thus experienced, is necessarily a pure joy, uncontaminated by any mixture of self. Ask those pious persons; who in the exercise of faith are endeavoring to lay all upon the altar of God, but who, nevertheless, are called in the course of his wise but mysterious dealings and providences to pass through the extremity of interior and exterior desolation, if they are sustained by anything in the nature of consolation, and they will readily answer in the affirmative. Their language is, if they have nothing else, they have the consolation which flows from believing. If the sweetness of every other fountain is closed, they still have the joy of faith.
This is one of the unalterable conditions of faith, especially when it exists in a high degree, viz. that it is attended with a pure and tranquil consolation; consolation so sure and permanent, that we can never be deprived of it, whatever else may be taken away. The soul is led up, as it were, into the mountain of God's protection. In the attitude of calm repose, it remains established on that sublime height with the sunlight of heavenly peace for its companion, while there is nothing but darkness and the roaring of tempests in the valleys below. Such was the pure and sublime consolation, which our Savior experienced, when his heavenly Father had withdrawn from him the manifestations of his love, and left him in extreme and inexpressible desolation of spirit He still possessed, though apparently and terribly forsaken, the consolation and the joy of faith. He could still recognize the bond of union, and still appropriate, as it were, his Heavenly Father to himself, and say, "My God" "My God."