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Vol. II. PITTSBURGH, JUNE, 1833. No. 1.
BY ANDREW WYLIE, D. D.
PRESIDENT OF INDIANA COLLEGE.
THE NATURE OF FAITH.
John 14:1. Ye believe in God: believe also in me,
Nothisg can be plainer from the word of God than the importance of faith.
We are said to be justified by faith—to have access by faith into the grace wherein we stand—to live by faith—to be saved by faith.
On the other hand, it is written, that without faith it is impossible to please God, and that he that believeth not shall be damned.
There is, however, a faith which is not genuine, which, the apostle James tells us, the devils possess, which is without works, which is dead being alone, which will not save the souk
It is important, therefore, that the nature of true faith be well understood. And though more, perhaps, has been published from the pulpit and the press on this subject than on any other within the whole compass of theology; yet, I believe it still needs to be discussed; not only because certain opinions continue to be propagated concerning it which are exceedingly false and dangerous, but because it has, by the orthodox, generally been treated so much at large that the simple, elemental nature of faith has been lost sight of, amidst the multitude of remarks which it has been thought necessary to make in order to illuminate its diversified operations.
Faith, in the New Testament, is generally represented as having a special reference to Christ . It is so in the text: and elsewhere we read, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son of God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."
The object of faith is always a person. The credit which we
five to the truth of any statement is in consequence of our condence in the person who makes it. Where this confidence is wanting there can be no faith in the statement of a person, though it should be confirmed with an oath: for, according to the ancient saying, it is the man that gives credibility to the oath, and not the oath to the man. We may, indeed, consider a statement as true, though made by one in whom we place no confidence, because we have sufficient evidence, independently of his authority, for the truth of the facts contained in the statement. But we do not, in this -case, believe either the man, or his statement. His authority goes for nothing. We know the truth without him: his testimony does not make us the more certain, nor would the want of it render our certainty less.
The confidence which we place in a man, whom we believe, when he states things as matters of fact, regards only his veracity and the accuracy of his judgment; his veracity principally, though not exclusively. For he may be deceived, as was the case with Jacob, when he exclaimed that his beloved son Joseph had been torn to pieces by wild beasts. The. declaration was no lie, though the thing was not true.
Faith in relation to matters of fact has been called historical; and it is plainly resolvable, as we have just seen, into confidence in the veracity and accuracy of the narrator. This may be considered the simplest form of faith, because the attributes which it contemplates in its object are the fewest possible.
When statements are made which respect not the past but the future, other attributes, besides veracity and accuracy, are necessary to entitle the person making them to our confidence. Take, for instance, a promise. When we consider a pronaisej as entitled to our regard, we do so, because we repose confidence in the promiser, that he is sincere in making the promisej that he is faithful and will stand to his engagements, that he will live till the time for their fulfilment, and otherwise will be able to make good his engagements. Could there be a concurrence] of all these conditions, in the case of any promise made to us by mortal man, we might have full faith in such promise. And here, also it is manifest, that the object of our faith would be not the promise in itstlf considered, but th« person making it: that is to say, we expect with certainty that the promise will be fulfilled, because there are in the character of the person promising all those attributes which are necessary to warrant such expectation.
But the promise may be so modified as to depend on something to be done on our part. The promise itself may be a part of a plan in which our concurrence may be necessary. This concurrence may be of different kinds and degrees. The author of the promise may require of us nothing more than merely to commit ourselves to his guidance and protection; or he may require us to be actively employed in certain things necessary to be done, and to be done by us, for the execution of his plan. The plan he may think it improper, in the mean time, to disclose to us; as is the case of the commander of a fleet sailing under sealed orders. In such a case, in addition to all the other attributes of character necessary to justify our faith in the author of the promise as before supposed, wisdom and goodness would be requisite. We must believe that he is kindly affected toward us, and that the concurrence which is required on our part is, in all its extent, necessary and proper. Here it is manifest, that our confidence must be, in part, implicit. We do not understand the plan, in which our concurrence is required: but it is enough for us that its author does, and that he has been moved, in proposing it to our acceptance, by a sincere regard for our welfare. But still, there is yet a further condition behind, which is necessary to our actual concurrence. The part required of us may be contrary to our prevailing inclinations: it may make it necessary that we should forego pleasures which we relish; interests which we value highly; honors which we hold dear—or that we should encounter opposition which we have not the heart to encounter. On this supposition, we will dislike the plan proposed, and be secretly dissatisfied with the author of it . We will not give lam our confidence. His promises are now a nullity. We may think them true: but they are not good; they are clogged by hateful conditions. Here we are unbelievers, not for want of evidence but want of will. The sole reason why we have not faith in the author of the plan proposed, and in the promises which it involves, is that our heart is not right with lam—there a not a coincidence.in our views and feelings.'
To illustrate this matter, let us suppose the case of a slave in some one of our Southern seaports. The captain of a vessel about to sail for Africa offers to purchase his freedom, and to give him a gratuitoos conveyance to the land of his fathers, and a happy settlement there: — but he is unwilling to accept the offer. And the reason is, his mind has become debased with his condition. He is in the employment of a master who uses him as the instrument of dishonest gain and of sinful pleasures, in which the slave, to secure his fidelity, is allowed to participate. He, therefore, does not desire greatly to be free. He hears the proposals of the benevolent captain: but, having no experience of such goodness in his own heart, he is slow to trust to the appearance of it in others: and besides, he cannot rise to the dignity of the privileges set before him. Therefore he has no faith in the captain, and does not close with his proposals. Suppose him now, by some means, to undergo a renovation of character, — to put off the slave, and, in heart and desire at least, to become free. He will consider the matter in a different light. The generous spirit which begins to breathe and move within him will seek its like in the breast of the captain, whose benevolence he will think to be real, and the deliverance which it proposes desirable. Still, perplexing doubts might arise in his mind. "The land of my fathers," he might say, "is far distant: a dangerous navigation is to be tried: is the vessel sufficient? are the crew competent?" These, and a thousand more, perplexing thoughts might arise in the mind of the poor slave, which, by any knowledge he possessed, he could never remove, and which, indeed, no knowledge, in his case, could remove, but that which could be gained in no other way than by making the experiment. But there is one thing which he might possess, and which would serve him instead of all the knowledge he could desire; and that is, confidence, unshaken confidence, or trust, in the sincerity, the veracity, the skill, the goodness, the ability of the captain; or, in other words, faith in him.
The examples of faith recorded in the sacred Scriptures strongly support the position assumed and illustrated in the foregoing remarks. Let the examples of Noah and of Abraham serve as a specimen. When God revealed to Noah his intention to destroy the race of man from off the face of the earth, by a deluge, the prediction was accompanied by a command to build an ark, and an implied promise of safety, by that means. This information was given, not to increase his knowledge, but to influence his conduct: and unless he had put confidence in the truth, power, and goodness of God, his conduct would not have been influenced by it — he never would have built the ark.