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Now we shall leave the difficulty where we found it—and instead of devising explanations for other men and other ages, let us try to ascertain in how far the rebuke of the Saviour is applicable to ourselves.
But ere we proceed, let us, in explanation of the term faith, advert to the wide distinction which obtains between the popular imagination of what it is, and the Apostle's definition of what it is. The common conception about it is, that it consists in a correct apprehension of the truths of theology -or soundness of belief as opposed to error of belief. It appears to be a very prevalent impression, that faith lies in our judging rightly of the doctrines of the Bible-or that we have a proper understanding of them. And, in this
And, in this way, the privileges annexed to faith in the New Testament, are very apt to be regarded as a sort of remuneration for the soundness of our orthodoxy. Heaven is viewed as a kind of reward, if not for the worth of our doings, at least for the worth and the justness of our dogmata. Under the old economy, eternal life was held out as a return to us for right practice. Under the new economy, is it conceived by many, that it is held out to us as a return for right thinking. Figure two theologians to be listed, the one against the other, in controversy.
He who espouses error is estimated to be a heretic, and wanting in the faith. He who espouses truth, is estimated to be a sound believer, so that his faith resolves itself into the accuracy of his creed.
. It is not, Do this, and you shall live--but it is, Think thus, and you shall live, —and this seems to be the popular and prevailing imagination of being saved by faith, and being justified by faith.
Now look to the apostolical definition of faith, as being the “substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen"-or as being that, which substantiates or realizes the things that we hope for, and which makes plain to our conviction the things that we do not see. It is the assured expectation of that which we hope for, and the assured conviction of that which we do not see and lest any obscurity should be left to hang over this his description of faith, he exemplifies it by the history of many prophets and eminent worthies who had gone before him. In the reading of this catalogue, we find, that with all the instances, there was such a living power and truth given to the things that are distant and unseen, as caused them to overbear the impression of things that are visible, and of things that were at hand. The faith of these excellent ones, gave that character of certainty to invisible things, as made them to have the like influence upon conduct, that they would have had, though they had been so many near and besetting realities which the eye of sense could apprehend. And thus it is, that one of the patriarchs was moved to obedience by
things not seen as yet,” and that another went forth looking to a “city which hath foundations,” and that a third cherished the hope of a most unlikely fulfilment, resting it alone on the faithfulness of a divine Promiser, and that all of them declared plainly, by their movements, how they sought a country. Abraham, by the offering up of Isaac, earning the triumph of hope over sense; and Isaac speak
ing with assurance of the things that were to come; and Moses having " respect unto the recompense of reward, and enduring as seeing him who is invisible;" and many more who braved the most appalling cruelties, in hope of a better resurrection. In each of the instances, the Apostle's definition was bodied forth, as it were, on the believers' history. The leading character of their faith, was just the assured expectation of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen. There was no quarrelling about orthodoxy. There was no settlement of any controversial question. The faith did not lie in the mere rectitude of any speculative opinion. It lay in a simple and undoubting anticipation of what an invisible God told of certain invisible things that were to come. And thus the future had the same practical ascendency over them, that the present has over other men. They walked by faith, and not by sight. They looked beyond the things that were seen and temporal, to the things that were unseen and eternal.
Now let us take this view of faith let us look to it, not as the mere acquiescence of the understanding in the dogmata of any sound or recognized creed, but as that which brings the future and the yet unseen of revelation so home to the mind, as that the mind is filled with a sense of their reality, and actually proceeds upon it. Conceive it to be that which places the unseen Creator by the side of what is visible and created, and so gives the predominancy to his will over all those countless diversities of influence, wherewith sense hath enslaved the vast majority of this world's generations. Or conceive it to be that which places eternity by the side of time, and so regards the one as a mere path or steppingstone to the other; that the man whom it possesses actually moves through life in the spirit of a traveller, feels his home to be heaven, and all his dearest hopes and interests to be laid up there; walking, therefore, over the world with a more light and unencumbered footstep than other men, just because all its adversities to him are but the crosses of a rapid journey, and all its joys but the shifting scenery of the land through which he is travelling, and visions of passing loveliness. Keep by this definition of faith, and bear it round as a test among
all the families of your acquaintance. Go with it to the haunts of every-day life, and see if it can guide you to so much as one individual, whose doings plainly declare that he is pressing onwards to an immortality, for the joys and exercises of which, he is all the while in busy preparation; and we fear, that even in this our professing age, faith is scarcely and rarely to be found ; that nearly a universal species are carried through life in one tide of overbearing carnality; that the present world domineers over almost every creature that breathes in it; and were the Son of man now to descend in the midst of us, we know not how few they are who would meet and satisfy his inquiries after faith upon the earth.
For let there first pass under our review, that mighty host who live in palpable ungodliness, who, if you cannot say of them that they are against God, are at least without God in the world; who spend their days, not perhaps in positive hostility, but certainly in most torpid apathy and indifference towards the Father of their spirits; who, feelingly alive to all the concerns of time, are dead and insensible to all that is beyond it. These indisputably are children without faith. Eternity is a blank in their imagination. They are alike unmoved by its hopes and by its fears, and it offers as little of influence to move them, as does that dark and unpeopled nothingness which lies beyond the outskirts of creation. The thought of a distant planet that rolls afar in space, carries in it no practical operation on their business or their bosoms. And the thought of some distant misery or happiness that may cast up in eternity, has just as little of practical operation over the minds of the vast majority of this world. That which lies between, acts as an insuperable barrier between the things of faith and their principles, whether of feeling or of action; and so it is that they can fetch, from the region which lies on the other side of the grave, no moving force which might practically tell on their hearts or on their history upon this side of it.
It were certainly premature and presumptuous to make these affirmations of all; but we leave it to your own observation, whether it does not apply, and in its full extent, to many
friends or familiars in society--to many, and very many, who daily throng our markets, and sit around our boards of festivity, and labour from morning to night among the cares of family management, and exchange the calls, and the salutations, and the inquiries of civil companionship; and whether in the pursuits of science, or merchandise, or amusement, are severally busy, each with a world of his own, from which God is shut out, and in which eternity is forgotten.