« PredošláPokračovať »
upon man, requiring a certain state in him, but it was made necessary by that feature in the revelation itself in which that was wholly and primarily original. That feature is, that the salvation offered by Christianity is gratuitous. It is a gift. It is wholly free. It is not for those who merit salvation. It knows of merit, but not in those that are saved as the ground of their salvation. It presupposes sin, and is a salvation from that and its consequences. It is in this freeness of the salvation which it offers that Christianity is wholly original. As compared with all religions originated by man, it is an entire change of method-a reversal of all that could have been conceived by him. Conscious of having merited the divine displeasure, and feeling his need of salvation, man would naturally inquire what he must do, and would attempt some mode of propitiation. He would offer some gift, build some temple, go on some pilgrimage, submit to some penance.
That this has been the uniform course of human thought and action, all history shows. It never could have been supposed by man, and no shadow of such a thought enters into any heathen religion, that God would, of himself, wholly self-moved, so do all that was needed, all that could be done for salvation, as to leave nothing for man to do but to accept what had been done and provided as a free gift. But this is Christianity. The proclamation of the fact that God has done this is the Gospel—the glad tidings, and that proclamation is to all. “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life frecly.”
Is there, then, no condition but that of acceptance ? In one sense, no. Whoever accepts the provision made and freely offered will be saved. The condition is the acceptance of the gift—that, and nothing else. But here we meet with a second feature of Christianity by which it is distinguished from all heathen religions. The salvation it proposes is a salvation from sin and its consequences. It is a holy salvation. This makes it impossible that the gift should be accepted unless sin be forsaken. If any choose to call this forsaking of sin—that is, repentance-an additional condition, they can do so; but it is no arbitrary condition. There is a natural impossibility that it should be otherwise. “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter ?" The same mind can no more be dominated by two supreme and opposite principles than the same space can be occupied by two bodies. You have a casket filled with stones. I offer to fill it for you with gold ; but the casket is yours, and you must make the gift possible by emptying out the stones. By refusing, if you do refuse, to accept the only condition which renders the gift possible, you refuse to accept the gift.
But whatever may be said of repentance in the aspect just spoken of, it is certain that Christianity understood itself in its great feature as a holy religion when it gave faith its high position. The reason is that faith is not only receptive, but assimilative. Not only was man to receive eternal life as a gift, but his character was to be transformed into the likeness of the character of Christ. But without faith this would have been impossible. Faith is not love, but it is the basis of it; and by a natural law we are transformed into the image of any one in whom we confide and whom we love. Faith, with that which springs from it, is indeed the only assimilating and elevating bond by which moral beings who are higher and purer can draw those who are below them up to their own position.
In both its great aspects, therefore, first as a gratuitous religion, and second as a holy religion, it was necessary that Christianity, if it understood itself, should give to faith, strange as it must have seemed, the prominence and the function it did. As gratuitous it was wholly new. The reception of a gift being a personal act and perfectly simple, this feature of Christianity disconnected it, in its essence, from rites and ceremonies and priestly intervention ; and so it became the new wine that needed new bottles. It became a free, untrammelled, spiritual system ; and in such a system, appealing to the individual heart and conscience and acting through them, it is through faith alone that there could be either a reception of the gift, or that assimilation to Christ which must insure individual perfection and become the bond of a perfect social state. Thus did Christianity stand forth at once in its completeness-a completeness that precluded all idea of improvement or of development. To the provision made by God for a free salvation nothing could be added ; nothing to the simplicity and reasonableness and adaptability to the whole race and to men in every condition, of the mode by which men were to avail themselves of that provision. Accepting by faith the provision made by God, men would enter at once into new relations with him, and by the continued exercise of faith they would be brought into complete conformity to him. In that conformity is social unity, in that is salvation.
What, then, is this faith, so long held in abeyance, adopted at length and made thus prominent by Christiąnity, and capable of producing such effects? Perhaps we may best reach its nature by referring to those characteristics of it which rendered its adoption necessary in the Christian system. Of these, one already mentioned, is its receptivity. This is referred to in the opening of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. So receptive is it of those things of which we are assured by the testimony of God, that that assurance, which is faith, becomes equivalent to the very substance of things only as yet hoped for; and, resting as it does on the divine testimony, there is in it evidence-a demonstration, as the original word imports-of those unseen things which it would have been iinpossible for us to know without revelation. It has already been mentioned, too, as another characteristic of faith that it is assimilative; or, if not directly and necessarily so, yet that it is the underlying condition of all assimilative processes. As receptive, faith involves the action of the intellect; as assimilative, of the affections.
These, lying between the intellect and the will, are manifested chiefly through them, and so the transforming power of faith through the affections, though of the utmost importance, need not be dwelt upon here. A third characteristic of faith not yet mentioned, and one which necessitated its adoption by Christianity, is that it is a principle of action. Here it involves the will, and asserts its highest claims. As receptive, it involves the will --for reception is an act--but not in the same way. It involves it as demanding energy-as acting, not merely in its function of receiving, but also of doing and giving. It is to the illustration of the power of faith as a principle of action in this aspect of the will that the body of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews is devoted. It is there shown to be the great and the only legitimate principle of religious heroism. “By it the elders obtained a good report."
We find, then, adopted into the system of Christianity, and necessary to its working, a somewhat called faith, receptive, assimilative, and operative. Was this something new, or was it previously known and then made conspicuous by being brought into new relations? It was not new, for the New Testament ascribes to it the heroism of the ancient saints. Was it then something peculiar to the religion of the Bible, or was it a broad principle common to the race ? Certainly to the race, since Christianity addresses all men and assumes that they know what faith is, and that they are capable of exercising it. What principle, then, is there common to the race, and so related to those three great constituents of our nature, the intellect, the sensibility, and the will, as to be at once receptive, assimilative, and operative ? Such a principle we find in confidence in a personal being, and that is Faith. This, at least, is generically the faith of the New Testament, and nothing else is.
Let us test this. Of course the confidence or trust of one personal being in another may be of every degree, according to the ground of it in the person trusted, and to the relations in which they are placed. Suppose, then, the relation to be that of physician and patient, with entire confidence on the part of the patient. He will then believe what the physician may say, will take any remedy he may prescribe, and will do whatever he may be directed to do in the way of regimen or change of climate. This he will do despite the opposing judgment of friends, or of physicians of an opposite school, or even, as in the case of Alexander the Great, despite an accusation of an attempt, through the remedies given, upon his life. He will, as Alexander did, put the note containing the accusation under his pillow, and looking the physician in the eye, swallow the draught he presents, and then hand him the note. That would be confidence in a personal being ; that would be faith. The whole would be comprised in an original act which might be called either an act of receptivity or of commitment. He might be said to receive the physician as his physician in all that he offered himself to him for, or to commit himself wholly to him for all that he needed to have done. Take, again, the case of a traveller, and one who offers himself as a guide. If the traveller accept the guide in full confidence, the forest may be dense and pathless, he may be "turned round so that the south shall seem to be north and the east west, and their course to be the opposite of what it should be, yet will he move on without faltering. And that is faith. So with the soldier and his commander. With full confidence on the part of the soldier, he will endure every hardship and face every danger. So, too, with the man who lends money or deposits treasure on the simple word of another, or perhaps without even a word. But the example most in point for our purpose would seem to be that of the parent and child. Recognizing the parent as his natural guardian, and confiding in his goodness and superior wisdom, the child denies itself indulgences it craves, performs tasks it dislikes, and executes commands the reason of which it does not understand. It belongs to his condition in the natural order of human beings that he should do this, and in all ages the propriety and beauty of it, its necessity even, have been recognized. And this again is faith. In this case, if the parent and child be what they should be, there will be assimilation. In the cases above mentioned this may not have been. There was receptivity or commitment as we may choose to call it, and also a principle of action, but not necessarily assimilation. This may not have been needed. But where it is needed, as in the parental relation rightly constituted, and in Christianity, it will be involved in faith as above defined. It will, however, come in directly, and not as an act of will. “Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image."
In each of the instances above mentioned, it will be seen that there was a conjoint action of both the intellect and the will—of the intellect, in a belief involving some interest requiring action; and of the will, in choice and volition with reference to that action. Is, then, the essential element of the faith to be found in the action of the intellect or of the will ? Of the will certainly, so far at least that the action of the will cannot be dispensed with, and the faith remain. True, mere belief is sometimes called faith in the New Testament, but in such a way as to show that that does not include all that is needed to constitute the faith it contemplates and demands. It speaks of mere belief as a dead faith, and of a faith fully