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It may be objected, that many are firmly persuaded of the truths of revelation, or at least, acknowledge these truths without a doubt, who exhibit, and obviously feel little, of their practical influence. There are some also, and I believe not a few, whose faith, as far as it consists in a conviction of the understanding, embraces every doctrine and duty of religion. But its influence is only occasional and partial. They almost every day resolve, but soon forget their resolutions, and are overcome by temptations. They feel that they are thus daily accumulating sins, in a conviction of which, they experience the pangs and the terrors of guilt; and as they are not sensible of weakness, or of deficiency in their faith, they scarcely dare even to hope for improvement. But examine faith as a principle of action in the common affairs of life, and you will perceive that it affects conduct no further, than it obtains an ascendancy over the affections; and through them, a control of our wills. The husbandman who ploughs his field, and sows his grain, acts by faith. He believes, for he cannot know, that by these means he will obtain a harvest. Happily, however, he feels, and he feels strongly, that the support and comfort of himself and his family are essentially connected with these plans and labours. His love of property therefore, his love of life, and of a comfortable subsistence, and his love of his family, all co-operate to affect his will; and to induce him, in the belief of a harvest, to prepare his ground, and to sow his seed. And equally in religion, it is only through the affections that the convictions of faith can give a determination to the will, and thus secure a conformity of conduct; for it is with the heart man believeth anto righteousness.
Nor do these expressions imply merely, that faith, to be ef fectual, must be sincere. Sincerity, without doubt, is indispensible to the efficacy of faith; but sincerity alone will not secure its efficacy. What wonderful effects, for example, may we reasonably believe would be produced, by a due application only of the doctrines of the omnipresence of God, and of our individual accountableness? Yet who will say, that this due application always follows the sincere belief of these doctrines? For what is sincerity, applied to belief? Does it import any thing more, than that our belief is unmingled with doubt? He who neglects to cultivate his ground, and wastes the time for successful labour in indolence, or squanders it in vice, believes as sincerely that a crop might be secured by industry, as he does, who actually toils to obtain it. But while his affections are otherwise engaged, his sincere belief is even more unproductive, than his uncultivated fields. And so is it
with our religious faith. We must feel our happiness, our very life, to be concerned in it. In the heart, in the affections, is that spring, which sets in motion all our desires, and produces all our actions. Hence said our Lord to the Pharisees, "how can ye, being evil, speak good things; for of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.'
The sentiment is deeply laid in the principles of our nature. When we greatly love an object, we pursue it, while there is a reasonable hope of its attainment. If we cease from the pursuit, while the object may be obtained, it is because some other object has obtained a stronger hold on our affections. And if we cease from fearing that which we once dreaded, and have still equal reason to dread, it is either because our attention and concern are diverted for a time by some other object, in which we have become more interested; or because our hearts have become too much hardened, easily to receive again the impression, by which our fears were excited. If, for example, I believe that I must account to God, and my affections are actually fixed on the things above, I shall certainly seek the objects I hope for in heaven, by endeavouring faithfully to conform my dispositions and conduct to the known will of God. If I relax in my endeavours to act as an accountable being, in the same proportion has some other object taken possession of the affections, which were attached to God and to heaven. Or if I cease from dreading the divine displeasure, (the feeling of having incurred which, once humbled me to the dust, when I knew that I had offended,) it is because I have become more interested in some other object, than the approbation of God; or because my heart resists the impressions, of which it was once so susceptible. The language of the New Testament is conformed to these obvious principles of our nature. From the good treasure of a good heart, good proceeds; and evil from the treasure of an evil heart; for as a man thinketh in his heart, whether it be good or evil, so is his character here; and so reason, as well as revelation teaches us, will be his condition hereafter.
But let us not be misunderstood, in attaching this importance to the affections in religion. Let it not be supposed that religion consists only of certain feelings, or of certain affections. The affections are indeed but a part of our moral constitutions.
* See Luke viii. 15. Acts xi. 2, 3. Rom. vi. 17. Heb. x. 22. Heb. xiii. 9.
But they are a most important part. We see their wonderful influence in the common affairs of life. What is the spring of patriotism, but love of country? What are the bonds of domestic life, but conjugal, parental and filial love? What is it that characterises the worldly minded man, but his supreme love of the world? And what, through all the classes of the vicious, peculiarly distinguishes them, but love of the peculiar causes, in which they seek their happiness? Hence, in religion, love is the first and great commandment, because we shall seek the objects and blessings of religion, only when we love them. Faith in the mind will be as ineffectual as the winter's snow upon the ground, till, warmed by the affections, it penetrates the thoughts, and spreads its fertilizing power, and awakens desires of piety and virtue, which spring up, and thrive, and bear the imperishable fruits of obedience to God. Faith, without the affections, has been compared to the sun, without its life-giving heat; and it is as true that the affections, without the principles of an enlightened faith, become a consuming fire to the soul. But it is the glory of our religion, that in requiring faith, it fixes it upon the noblest objects that can engage the interests of immortal beings. The objects of our faith are the objects of the love of angels, and of holy spirits, in the abodes of the blessed; objects, of which not one will be disappointed, who sincerely loves, and earnestly seeks them.
From this view of faith, it is apparent, first, that as a cause, it is equal to all the moral effects ascribed to it in the New Testament.
Religious faith comprehends all that is unseen in the doctrines of religion; all that is hoped for in its promises. The universal and constant presence of God; His moral government; our responsibility; His mercy revealed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, on the conditions of the gospel; and a life of eternal union with Himself, and with the good; of everlasting improvement, and of eternally increasing happiness; and indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, if we are disobedient. These are among the objects of which faith gives an equal assurance, as if they were all exposed to the judgment of our senses. And here too are objects of desire and of dread; here are interests, compared with which, all others are as the dust of the balance. See then with what fidelity men pursue the objects of their affections, when those objects are to be seen, and felt, and tasted. And will faith in religion, working by love, will confidence, made perfect by the support of the affections, will the dependence of the heart for its hap
piness on the pardon of sin, the eternal favour of God, and the everlasting glories of heaven, be less efficacious? This was the faith which was so triumphant in the days of our Lord and his Apostles; and which, thanks to God, we believe is at this day the treasure, and support, and joy, of unnumbered disciples. With this faith, if we may not remove mountains, we may do that which is infinitely more for our interest and happiness; we may overturn our habits of vice, and destroy their very foundations. If it will not shield us from the natural evils of life, it will do more. It will enable us to bear them without a murmur. It will prepare us for moral enjoyments, pure, substantial, and eternal.
2. From this view of the nature of that faith, to which the gospel promises its great rewards, it is apparent, why the belief of the doctrines of our religion is so often without influ pon those who receive them. The truth is, many believe these doctrines, as the rise and fall of the tides is believed by those, whose business is not concerned in them; and who consequently feel no immediate interest in them. Their hearts have little or no concern in their faith. Their affections are on other objects than the favour of God, and the salvation of their souls; and where their hearts are, thither will tend all their actions. This is so plainly a law of our nature, that if our religion had taught us nothing more of faith, than that it must be a principle of holy living, to secure its acceptance in the sight of God, the inference would have been as clear as is the expression, WITH THE HEART, MAN BELIEVETH UNTO
3. In this view of the subject we have a rule, by which we may ascertain whether ours is a living, a sanctifying, and a purifying faith. If it be, our treasure is with God in heaven, and there are our best affections. If it be, then the objects of our faith, at the same time, are the objects of our highest interest. Then we believe, and therefore endure and enjoy, as seeing Him, who is invisible. Faith sanctifies the heart, by bringing the affections into the service of God; and the affections, strongly fastened upon the objects of faith, secure its influence upon all our dispositions and conduct. Then only is ours a living faith, when it works by love; for then only will it possess the power, by which we shall be enabled to overcome the world.
Reader, would you possess this faith? Give your affections then to the objects, to which reason, if its voice be heard, not less than religion will excite you. Dwell upon these objects, till your soul kindles with desire of possessing them; till you
feel how comparatively worthless is every possession, every promise of this world. Survey them, as they are seen by the bright light of the word of God; and while you read his word, feel that its interests, its promises, may be yours, if you will obey him. In communion with God, raise your soul to that happy world, in which He resides in his glory; and fix your attention upon his character, upon the character of the friend and saviour of repenting sinners, upon the holy and happy society of the blessed, upon an eternal enjoyment of God and heaven. How can you doubt in what consists the treasure, the supreme good of an accountable and immortal being? How can you give up your heart to the uncertain, the perisha ble interests of this world, while God, and Christ, and heaven, and eternity, are soliciting your cares, your affections, and your labours! Come Faith, and open the eyes of the blind, and shew them the regions of immortal blessedness. Pour upon their minds thy celestial light, and warm their hearts with thy holy fire. Come Faith, and take possession of our hearts, and be the guide of our affections, till, having accomplished thy work, the vision of God will open upon our souls; and what we now believe, will be known, and possessed, and enjoyed for
WHAT IS RELIGION?
WHY has God spoken to man by authorized messengers, at sundry times and in divers manners, from the first ages of the world to the promulgation of Christianity? What has been the object of the communications which we have received from the Deity? What is the design of Revelation? Or, to put the question in the form in which we shall attempt to answer it, what is Religion? We shall found our reply upon two propositions, which we may readily take for granted, as few will feel a disposition to dispute them, or acknowledge it if they do. The first is, that God created us to be happy. The second is, that the highest, truest, and only source of constant happiness, is virtue. If either of these fundamental propositions be denied, we can proceed no further. If they can be proved to our satisfaction to be false, we shall be obliged to renounce all our opinions and views concerning God, religion and human nature, and adopt entirely new ones, though we cannot at pre sent even conjecture what they would be. At present, there fore, taking them as the foundation of our sentiments respecting New Series, Vol. I.