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THE LIFE OF FAITH A MENTAL DISCIPLINE.
By Rev. HENRY T. CHEEVER, Lodi, New Jersey.
The Life of Faith.
By THOMAS C. UPHAM, D.D. Waite, Peirce, and Company. 1846.
THIS book presents, we may say, the subject of subjects for the present age. It presents it to individual minds-which is the only way, in religion, to reach the age. The want of faith, is the want of the age. The Holy Spirit, which gives to mankind the food of faith, in the Word of God, can alone inspire an appetite anew for that food; otherwise, according to the oriental proverb, men will continue to eat dirt, and will love better the husk of a vain ceremony, than the meat of a living truth. The want of faith is an evil, which many see and deplore, in their way, without at the same time recognizing or acknowledging the true fountain of faith, or the way of return to it. Others see the fountain, but seem to lie indolent or helpless by the side of it. Professor Upham's work is rather employed in analyzing faith, and tracing the various modes of its operation, than in presenting or expounding any theological view of it. He shows the soul resting on its Centre, God, and demonstrates the strength and peace thence ensuing.
The Italian, Mazzini, made an impressive generalizing remark in his recent address to the Pope; a remark, characterizing the fall of the present age in Europe, from the standard of a past one, in regard to the power of religion; a remark, which in reference. to faith, is but too just in regard to the whole Christian world. He said that ours is an age in which the bad scoff and work, the good pray and hope, none believe. Can there then, be the good, who pray and hope, without believing? Undoubtedly there is a belief, which must constitute power; a belief, without which there may be a passive, hoping, resigned obedience, but little aggression or triumph; a belief of which this age is signally destitute, though it be not destitute of religion. There is much religious conviction, much of the religious life, much of the form, but little of the old creative faith.
When this faith is wanting as it respects the word of God, it is wanting in everything. Nothing can supply its place. A resurrection of the forms of Romanism in Protestant communions, and a ritual strictness in fulfilling the observances connected with
them, may seem to some minds, to be the reviviscence of solemn antique devotion; matins and vespers duly attended, the days of the saints recognized, the fasts of the Church maintained, and personal macerations in rough sack-cloth shirts resorted to, may be thought to indicate the return of a reverential, believing spirit. But this, in any communion, is but a sign of weakness. The originality, even of superstition, is all gone, all is mere sheer imitation. An original superstitution has some force; there is force of character displayed in its enthusiastic and fanatical observance; but when the originality has died out, the return to old forms to find the old spirit, or to persuade one's self into the delusion that the hearty old spirit still lives, and once more creates the form, is the most pitiable aspect of weakness. This is the weakness of the present age, seeking to disguise itself, and impose upon itself, by running into forsaken burrows. We think of the pithy remark of a minor prophet, " Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples." The temples are intended at once to disguise the forgetfulness and atone for it.
But nothing can stand in the place of faith; nothing make up for the loss of it; nothing make an age conscious of strength without it. Nor can anything infuse new life and strength, where faith in respect to God's word is wanting, while the affectation of a solemn reverence for successional moulds and rites is rising. These galvanic experiments on old carcasses may astonish and deceive the age for a little while, by solemn convulsions and mechanical twinges; but all things, without the reality of the old creative faith, will sink again into the stillness and weakness of death. A renewed reliance on observances, only tends to increase the dearth of faith in God's word: and certainly that is the present disease of the soul and of the age, however contrary to it may seem the multiplication and diffusion of copies of the Scriptures in good substantial type, paper, and leather. There is more faith in the physical, of which the type, paper, and leather are sensible exponents, than there is in the spiritual, of which the letter can be no exponent without faith in the soul. So this is an age of self-manifestations, self-seeking manifestations, self-delusions, self-exaltations, under old imitated voluntary humilities and will-worshippings, and great reverence for saints and the Church, but very little for God and his Word. Great pretensions and gorgeousness with little strength, great cry but little wool.
In this book on the Life of Faith, Professor Upham says truly, that "the love of manifestations, of that which is visible and tangible, in distinction from that which is addressed to faith, is one of the evils of the present age. Men love visions more than they love holiness. They would have God in their hands, rather than in their hearts. They would set him up as a thing to be looked at, and with decorated cars would transport him, if they could
realise what their hearts desire, from place to place, on the precise principles of heathenism." God's word must come back into its throne of power, in experience, in men's hearts, before it will be otherwise. A renewal of faith in God's word is that alone which can save the age from the rottenness of abandoned superstitions, and restore to it the power of true religion. It is that alone which can bring peace and strength to the age, as to the individual soul.
Every sincere attempt to revive this life of faith, instead of the lies of a combined selfishness and superstition, is to be applauded. Professor Upham's work would do good, if only in turning attention to the subject. But it is a work of intrinsic value, distinguished, not for mysticism, but for the combination of piety and good sense. Baxter's admirable remarks in regard to the Word of God, drawn from his experience under the assault of temptation to unbelief, are quoted by Professor Upham. "From this assault I was forced to take notice that our belief of the truth of the Word of God and of the life to come, is the spring of all grace; and with which it rises or falls, flourishes or decays, is actuated or stands still; and that there is more of this secret unbelief at the bottom, than most of us are aware of; and that our love of the world, our boldness in sin, our neglect of duty, are caused hence. I easily observed in myself, that if at any time Satan more than at other times, weakened my belief of Scripture and of the life to come, my zeal in every religious duty abated with it, and I grew more indifferent in religion than before. But when FAITH revived, then none of the parts or concerns of religion seemed small; and then man seemed nothing, and the world a shadow, and God was all."
It is a most interesting inquiry, how far, and in what way, this spring of power is under the command, or at the disposal, of the individual, to appropriate in such measure as he pleases. It is the gift of God, but at the same time in an important sense, its degree is at the responsibility of man. The " measure of faith " is the standard of character, according to which, as bestowed by God, the apostle requires that every man think soberly of himself, and not more highly than he ought to think.
What Professor Upham says of the will as connected with faith, or of faith as dependent on the will, is exceedingly important. It is borne out and justified by all the commands of Scripture on the subject, and by the interview of our Blessed Lord with that doubting man, to whom he said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." An answer which seems to have called up to the mind of the distressed and doubting individual, a strong voluntary effort to overcome previous habits of doubt, and a determination to believe, accompanied at the same time, by an act of faith in Christ in regard even to that
determination. "Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief." In some respects, this is one of the strongest exercises of faith on record. Out of weakness the man was made strong.
Intellectually and morally, the enlargement and strength of mind gained by the exercise of faith constitute one of the most interesting and important phenomena of our being. The unity of that being is found only in faith, by which alone the mind and the heart grow on and are expanded together. Faith is the synthesis, as unbelief is the divulsion of our intellectual and moral powers. Unbelief proceeds from the heart, against the reason. Faith proceeds from the heart with the reason. The one sets the being at war in itself, the other at harmony; the one weakens the intellect, the other combines all its powers, and increases its energy. The life of God in the soul of man is the most fervid and sustaining discipline that can be brought to bear upon it. The grand object of all education is perfect intellectual discipline; and it is a question oftener asked than definitely answered: How shall one best discipline his mind, so as to make it the most perfect minister of usefulness and enjoyment? While the design of all mental discipline is to enrich the mind, to bring its forces under control, and to make it capable of original, energetic, patient thought, a religious mental discipline aims at something more; and in a comprehensive sense he only can be said to possess a well disciplined mind, who, in addition to the attainment of useful knowledge, the habit of close attention, and the power of profound thought, has subjected his body to the dominion of reason and conscience, and has cultivated his moral being as a son of God and heir of eternity. The mental discipline of a Christian education comprehends, then, all the requisites enforced by the apostle-"Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity." In such a process, holiness is not merely an aid or single element, but the whole. It is itself the real disciplinarian, or in the accommodated language of Paul : ὁ παιδαγωγος ἥμων εις Χριστον. Holiness, or the life of God in the soul of man, directly quickens, expands, and spiritualises the mind, and indirectly disciplines it in other ways, by affording a healthful stimulus to effort, and to the forming of all good habits, and by imparting to the character that moral strength and energy of will, by force of which the impulses of passion yield to the mandates of reason, and the law of conscience becomes the law of the man. The human mind, in order to make itself great and strong, or to accomplish great achievements, must be swayed by powerful motives, and it is for want of being kept under the constant pressure of strong motives that many minds fail to be well disciplined. Every man needs a ruling passion-without it
the vis inertia of unregenerate human nature cannot be overcome, nor will the mind submit to that long course of self-denial and rigid application to which it must be subjected before it can be said to be well disciplined. Holiness supplies such a motive by subjecting the entire being to the one controlling principle of love to God, and thus re-elevating to its place of authority the rex animi that was dethroned by the apostacy. By acting as a supreme regulator to the mind; by harmonising its powers and clearing away prejudices; by making the intellect and moral sentiments predominant, as they were meant to be over the sentient and carnal nature, by restoring the balance of the mind and bringing back its faculties to a normal state, the discipline of holiness is peculiar and perfect. "Be assured (says a great philosopher), never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word, (by whom not Immortality alone, but Light and Immortality were brought to light,) which did not expand the intellect while it purified the heart."
The practical power of this faith, which is the basis of holiness, to invigorate and expand the common mind, to enkindle thought and feeling, to open up new regions of contemplation, to the dormant, sunken intellect, to rectify its errors, to rebuild its wastes, to restore its integrity, to augment its capacity, to repair the ravages of sin, cannot have escaped the notice of any accurate religious observer. Mark the man who has been but lately awakened to the true object of living, by the Spirit of God in regeneration. A little while ago he was a mere groundling, wholly engrossed in the pursuit of gain, narrow and sordid in his range of thoughts, perhaps earthly, sensual, devilish; his excellent spiritual nature, that might make him a companion of angels, and in communion with God, quite forgotten and uncared for. See him now, when the love of God has been re-lighted within his soul. Observe the impulse and expansion given to his intellect. Mark in his countenance and conversation, the indications of mental activity, now that the scales have fallen from his eyes, and he sees opening before him broad realms of truth, and looks down into intellectual mines, of whose very existence he had till now no conception. He has more thought and emotion now in one hour, than he had before in months. Truths of momentous import, and thrilling interest, brought into contact with his mind, feed, invigorate, and impel it, and he is beginning to be what the inspiration of the Almighty, that giveth understanding, made him for, a living, feeling, praying soul. Still more manifest is the vivifying disciplinary power of holiness, in the intellectual training of the Christian student and minister. The great truths which it is the delightful business of the latter to study in the closet, and exhibit from the pulpit, cannot even be clearly apprehended, much less vividly realized, except by a THIRD SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. 2.