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ON FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.
To inform and cultivate our understandings respecting the fundamental truths of the Christian religion, is obviously a very important duty for ignorance on these subjects is the fruitful parent of error and corruption, and unless our acquaintance with Christianity comprehends a correct view of its principal features, we shall never form a right estimate of its incomparable value. It cannot however be too strongly enforced, or too constantly remembered, that all true religion is directed to practical ends. Having, therefore, in the preceding Essays, been engaged in contemplating what may be termed the theory of the scheme of the Gospel, we may now proceed to consider those principles of disposition and action in ourselves, by means of which Christianity is carried forward to its legitimate results, the happiness of man, and the glory of God. The principles to which I allude are faith and obedience.
Extraordinary as is the religion of the Bible, in a number of important particulars, there is scarcely any circumstance by which it is more clearly distinguished from the corrupt theology and the inferior moral philosophy, of even the wisest of the heathen, than by its doctrine of faith. The sacred writers have been at very great pains to impress on an unregenerate world, lying in wickedness, a practical lesson, of which, I believe, we shall find but very faint and uncertain traces in the writings of Plato, of Aristotle, or of Cicero-namely, that belief or faith, considered as a motive or principle of action, is of indispensable importance to our virtue and peace in this world, and to our eternal happiness in the world to come.
Such a doctrine, although well adapted to our actual condition, is in fact opposed to the pride of the heart of man, and therefore to the dictates of merely human wisdom. Since, indeed, there is an obvious association between faith and credulity, or, in other words, between believing and believing too much or too easily, and since credulity is a constant ingredient of enthusiasm, it is no matter of surprise that persons who have never thought, except in a very superficial manner, on the subject of religion, should attribute to the serious believer in Christianity the character of fanaticism, and should conclude that those who are endeavouring " to walk by faith" are in fact committing themselves to the guidance of their own fancy.
A very little reflection, however, on the analogy subsisting, in this respect, between the known system of nature and providence, and the revealed provisions of the Gospel, will presently convince us of the unreasonableness of such a conclusion, and will, I trust, prepare the reader for an impartial and deliberate view of the scriptural account of faith, as of a principle absolutely essential to the present and eternal well-being of the soul of man.
Faith or belief is declared by the apostle to be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; (Heb. xi, 1;*) and in its most general sense may, perhaps, be correctly defined as a reliance of the mind on the truth of that which is probable, but not known. Nothing is known (to speak with entire precision) but that which is self-evident, or absolutely demonstrated. Since, therefore, among the innumerable propositions, which, in the natural course of our life, are practically presented to our regard and attention, there is but a very small proportion indeed, to which such a description can be applied; it is easy to perceive, that, to walk by faith, in a plain though subordinate sense of these terms, is the universal and inevitable lot of humanity. Were I the most solitary of hermits, or cast, like the shipwrecked mariner, on an uninhabited island, I could not live at all, did I not, in a multitude of instances, exercise the principle of faith. I must be led about by probabilities. Although both my senses and my experience might possibly deceive me, I must, for life's sake, rely on their evidence, and act in pursuance of their dictates.
But it is in social and civil life, more particularly, that the principle of faith is called into action, and every one, who has reflected on the subject, must be well aware, that were it not for the willing admission of those things which are not philoso
* ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων. Ff
phically certain, but only in various degrees probable, and more especially for a due reliance on testimony, the whole frame-work of society would be disorganized and subverted. Faith is an indispensable link in that mighty chain of divine wisdom and providence, which binds together man to man, family to family, and nation to nation: and, without it, there could be no order or union in the intellectual part of God's visible creation. Such being the state of the case, there can be nothing opposed to true reason and philosophy in the perfectly corresponding fact, that, under the moral and spiritual government of God, and in order to that religious life which is alone productive of eternal happiness, men are required to bring the same principle into action, and to regulate their dispositions and conduct not merely by their knowledge of that which is certain, but more especially and more extensively by their belief of that which is probable.
Although, however, the subjects of our belief, both in things temporal and things spiritual, are with more philosophical precision described as probabilities than as certainties, and although this almost universal necessity for our acting on that which is probable, rather than on that which is certain, affords one among many humbling proofs of the narrow limits of our intellectual powers, it ought by no means to be forgotten that, for all practical purposes, knowledge and belief are often found to be nearly tantamount. Both one and the other are grounded on evidence, and where evidence, though short of mathematical demonstration, is nevertheless conclusive, belief assumes the character of that strong yet easy and familiar persuasion of the mind, which is frequently and not unreasonably described as knowledge. Well might the apostle Peter say to his Christian friends, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the KNOWLEDGE of God, and of Jesus our Lord:" 2 Pet. i, 2. Well might the afflicted Job exclaim, "I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth!" xix, 25: comp. Heb. x, 26, &c.
In social and civil life, while the subjects of our faith are almost infinitely various, the objects to whom it is directed are usually our fellow-men, whose testimony we are in the constant habit of receiving as true. In the religious life, the subjects of faith are also both numerous and diversified; but the final object of it is one and unchangeable: it is God alone. The faith by which the just man lives, and which the Scriptures represent as necessary to our peace and salvation, is faith in God, the Creator and supreme Governor of the universe. "Without faith," says the inspired writer already quoted, "it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must
believe that he is, gently seek him :"
and that he is a rewarder of them that diliHeb. xi, 6.
It is well worthy of remark, that the gracious Being who has endowed mankind with the noble faculty of reason, is ever found to deal with us as with reasonable creatures; and proposes nothing to our belief, of the truth of which he does not, at the same time, afford us a sufficient and satisfactory evidence. It is almost needless to remark, that this observation is eminently and irresistibly applicable to that fundamental proposition of all true religion-that God exists. That every effect has its cause is self-evident. Since, then, the visible world is full of effects-since those effects must be all traced to causes-since the causes to which they are traced are themselves also effects, and must be attributed to an anterior train of causes, and so on-it necessarily follows, that there must have been a first cause of the whole, uncreated, and from eternity. That this first cause is intelligent we learn from the innumerable evidences of design, with which all creation is filled. And, further, we conclude, from the perfect harmony of that design, that he is one; from the infinite skill and power displayed in its execution, that he is all-wise and omnipotent; from the actual happiness so abundantly bestowed on his creatures, that he is good; and, lastly, from the evident tendency of his providence, even here, that he is a moral governorone who rewards the righteous, and punishes the wicked.
Now, as we cannot please our neighbour, or avail ourselves of his kind dispositions and intentions towards us, except we trust in him, so it is impossible that we should be acceptable to God, or enjoy his favour and protection, unless we exercise towards him that religious faith, of which he is the only proper object
-unless we place on him the reliance of our soul, as on an infinite, all-wise, all-powerful, and merciful Being, who is able and willing to supply our spiritual need, to strengthen us to walk in the way of righteousness, and to bestow upon us the blessing of a happy immortality.
When we reflect on the various attributes of that perfect and infinite Being who created all things, visible and invisible, and who exercises an absolute dominion over the works of his own hands, and recollect our own condition of helplessness and dependence, we cannot fail to perceive how just and reasonable are the principles on which such a reliance is required of us. "Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength," is the voice of sound sense, of enlightened reason, and of true philosophy. Above all, however, it is the voice of inspiration, and therefore the voice of
God himself. When the Lord Jesus was conversing with his disciples, and displaying to them his miraculous powers, he enjoined them to "have faith in God;" (Mark xi, 22;) and this fundamental precept of the practical code of Christianity was in perfect correspondence with the principle recognized through all preceding ages of the world, among the Lord's children-namely, that "the just shall live by faith;" Hab. ii, 4. Never, indeed, were the psalmists and prophets of ancient Israel more eloquent, than when they proclaimed the duty of ceasing from man "whose breath is in his nostrils," and of trusting with the whole heart in the God of mercy, wisdom, and truth. "As for God, his way is perfect," said David in his song of public thanksgiving: "the word of the Lord is tried he is a buckler to all them that trust in him; for who is God, save the Lord? and who is a rock, save our God?" 2 Sam. xxii, 31, 32. Again he says, "The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate"- They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion which cannot be removed, but abideth forever :" Ps. xxxiv, 22; cxxv, 1. And the prophet Jeremiah, after describing the cursed estate of him who "trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm," thus depicts the peace and prosperity of the faithful believer in the only true God: "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit:" Jer. xvii, 7, 8: comp. Job xiii, 15: Ps. xl, 4: Prov. xxix, 25: 1 Tim. iv, 10, &c.
From these and a variety of similar passages, it is abundantly evident, that the childlike affiance of the soul of man in its almighty and merciful Creator is well-pleasing to God; and is the appointed means of drawing down on the frail, dependent, unworthy creature, the blessings of forgiveness, grace, and salvation. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, and independently of the deeds of the law, faith is justifying in the sight of God.
This doctrine is declared, in terms at once very general and very explicit, by the apostle Paul: "Therefore," says that inspired writer, "we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also; seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.,, •, What shall we then say