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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 inforced, 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 more 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 inpartial and deliberate view of the scriptural account of faith, as of a principle absolutely essential to the present and eternal wellbeing 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
3 ελπιζομένων υπόστασις, πραγμάτων έλεγχος του βλεπομένων.
THE KNOWN LOT OF MAN.
of those things which are not philosophically certain, but only in various degrees probable, and more especially for a due reliance on testimony, the whole framework 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 in 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 :" II 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 conneth to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him ;" Heb. 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 existy. 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