THE VALUE AND IMPORTANCE OF FAITH.
Heb. xi. 6.—" But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
There are two points of inquiry respecting faith which I next propose to consider: ■— one is, the place which faith occupies in the system of revealed religion; and the other, the reason why such a degree of prominence has been given to it.
I. The place which faith occupies in the system of revealed, religion.
No one can mistake as to this. It is declared to he indispensable to salvation; the whole question of life or death is made to depend on it; it is necessary in order to avail ourselves of the benefit of the death of Christ; the opposite of faith, i. e. unbelief, is condemned in the most unambiguous manner, and it is solemnly declared that the want of it shall for ever exclude from the kingdom of God. It is unequivocally stated in the New Testament, that where there is not faith there is no true religion, and that no one can approach God with any hope of acceptance without it. It is made one of the conditions of salvation which are never dispensed with; and whatever else a man may have, if he have not this, it is declared that he cannot be saved.
The following passages of the New Testament will show tho place which faith occupies in the Christian system, and, though familiar, seem necessary to be repeated in order to prepare for the remarks which I have to make in explanation of the subject. " He that believefh, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned," Mark xvi. 16. " He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God," John iii. 18. " He that believeth hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him," John iii. 36. " If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins; and where I am, thither ye cannot come," John viii. 24, and vii. 34. So the text: " Without faith, it is impossible to please him ; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Such passages settle the question in regard to the prominence which faith occupies in the system of revealed religion, and show■ that, in that system, the whole subject of man's salvation is made to depend on it. It is one of the two indispensable things on which the salvation of any of the race is made to rest.
IVow to this view of the importance of faith in a system of religion, I need not say that numerous objections at once occur to many minds. The prominence given in Christianity to faith has been a standing objection urged by infidels against the system ; and even in minds not inclined to scepticism there are difficulties which are not easy to be removed. Mr. Hume, in his Essay on Miracles, remarks with a sneer, that " our most holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason;" and then proceeds to show that it is not sale to subject it to any severe test of reason.
The most material objections, and those which involve real difficulty in regard to the prominence given to faith in the system of Christianity, are the following :—
(1.) That it is an arbitrary arrangement; that faith in itself has no such essential prominency and importance as to make it proper to select this as a condition of salvation; that as a mental exercise it has no peculiar dignity or value over other mental exercises which should have lod to its selection; and that, in itself considered, there is no more reason ■why faith should have been selected as a condition of salvation than why, for example, hope, or fear, or love should have been.
(2.) That salvation should not be mado to depend on any mere mental operation; that the rewards of heaven and hell should be apportioned rather to the character aud conduct than to any mere state of mind, that we judge of men, not by what they believe, but by what they do; that the retributions of this world necessarily, in courts, in families, in holding offices, and in the measure of prosperity which men enjoy, or the reverses which they experience, are not determined by what men believe or do not believe, but by what they rfy or fail to do; and that there is a propriety that the same rule should be observed in the retributions of the future state.
(3.) That faith, as a mental operation, is beyond our control; that we are so made that we cannot help believing where proper evidence is presented, and cannot make ourselves believe where there is not; and that as men have no control over their faith, they are not responsible for their belief.
(4.) That it is no matter what a man believes, provided his conduct is right; and that one mode of faith can no more affect the interests of society, or a man's own soul, than another ; and that the grand question is, not what are a man's opinions on speculative matters, but what is his character.
(o.) It would probably be added, that faith stands in quite strong contrast with reason, and that to represent religion as depending on faith is to undervalue the rational nature that God has given us, and that it is in fact making credulity a virtue, and diminishing the respect which our Maker has taught us to show to our own rational powers.
I could perhaps make these objections appear stronger by expanding them, but I have not designedly diminished their force, or concealed the point of difficulty. It will be seen at once that they are capable of being made to be weighty objections, and that the public defenders of the Christian system are not at liberty to pass them by unnoticed, or to treat them as though they were worthy of no regard. As interested themselves in the questions of religion, as well as in relation to their office as guides of others, they are bound to meet them in a frank manner, and to inquire whether they can be removed.
II. We are conducted, then, to the second and main point to be considered—the reason why such prominence has been assigned to faith in the system of revealed religion.
I begin this part of my subject by observing, that a word, though susceptible of an easy and unobjectionable explanation, may by long usage, or by certain associations, have had certain ideas attached to it which may greatly injure its use in an argument. Instead of suggesting only what is essential in the meaning of the word, it may suggest, either with that or without it, certain other things which may greatly impair its force, and leave a very erroneous impression. Thus the word faith, when suggested, may havo in many minds a near alliance to credulity; in the same minds, or in other minds, it may be understood as something in contradistinction to reason, as implying that faith is not based on reason, or would not be sustained by it; and when the word is used, thero may be conveyed with it the idea that it is something wholly separate from reason, and that the thing in relation to which faith is exercised is something which could not be supported by reason. This was evidently the aspect in which the word was suggested to Mr. Hume's mind when he said, " Our most holy religion is founded on faith, Not on reason."
There will be some advantage, therefore, and no injustice in any way, in conducting the argument, in taking a word which involves all that is essential in faith, without the danger to which. I have referred. I propose, therefore, to make use of the word confidence; a word which expresses all that is essential in the idea of faith, and which is not liable to the disadvantage already referred to. Confidence, it is clear, may be founded on good and substantial reasons. Indeed, it cannot exist without something that is regarded as a valid reason in any particular case, for we always connect with that word the idea that there is good reason, in the instance to which it is applied, why confidence should exist. If a man has confidence in the ability of a mercantile house to meet its engagements, it is supposed to be because he has good reason for it. The same thing may be true indeed of faith, and should be in all true faith, but the word does not always suggest that idea. I propose, therefore, in illustrating the value and importance of faith, in a system of religion, to make use, in general, of the word confidence instead of the more usual word.
The question then is, What is the value of confidence in a community; or, in other words, Is there any such value to he attached to it as to justify the primacy and importance attributed to faith in the Bible ? What important part does it perform in the world 1 What evils result from the want of it?
Faith, or confidence, if a virtue at all, or if of value at all, is a social or relative virtue. It is true that we sometimes speak of having confidence in ourselves; but it is under the influence of that common fiction of the mind by which we regard ourselves as two persons, or as having antagonist feelings and principles; as when we speak of the reason and the passions as in conflict, and struggling for the mastery, and identify ourselves with one of them as at war with the other, Rom. vii. 17—23. But when we speak of having confidence, with strict propriety, it is of confidence in another—another person, a government, a bank, a debtor. Faith, then, might be distinguished, if it were necessary to go further into an examination of this point, from many virtues which terminate on ourselves, and which pertain only to ourselves. The point of examination now is, its value in the relations which men sustain, or in social interests. All that I can say will be merely to vary a very simple idea, or to apply one thought to different things; but it will, I trust, conduct us to the conclusion which it is desirable to reach in order to confirm the statement in my text.*
* Some of the remarks and illustrations on the subject of faith in this discourse have been made substantially in a different connexion in a previous sermon in this volume, but they seem so appropriate to the design , of this discourse that it was not found convenient to omit them.
(1.) I begin with a reference to the value of confidence in a family. It can hardly be necessary to do much more here than simply to refer to the subject. All of us feel that the welfare of a family depends wholly on this; and that if it were destroyed, happiness would at once flee from our dwellings. All the good order, the prosperity, the happiness of a family depends on the confidence that a husband and wife repose in each other; in the confidence that children have in their parents; and perhaps in a not less degree in the confidence which parents have in their children. Every hour that we live in these relations we are dependent on that confidence for our peace of mind; and in relation to our domestic comfort and order there is nothing that could be substituted for it. Every hour of happiness that any of us have had in the marriage relation has been identified with that, and at any moment our happiness would have been destroyed effectually if that had not existed. There could have been no substitute for it. No prosperity abroad; no success in business ; no honours lavished upon us in the world; no sudden gains; no pleasures derived from literature, science, or the arts, could have been a substitute for this, or could have mitigated the pangs which would have existed in the bosom at the very idea of " infidelity," or a want of confidence, in this relation. The happiness and success of a parent depend wholly, too, on the confidence^which his children repose in him. No parental government can answer the purpose where this is not secured; there can be no domestic peace where this is not found. It is not on force that we rely in governing our families and making them happy; it is in the confidence which our children shall have in our wisdom, our integrity, our ability to give them the advice which they need, our qualifications to govern in the little community of which we are the head. If that cannot be secured in a family, there is nothing else that can be permanently substituted in its place. And, as already remarked, perhaps to a not less degree is domestic happiness dependent on the measure of just confidence that we repose in our children. If we have no confidence that they will act rightly; if we cannot trust them out of our sight; if we feel when they go out of the door that they will visit some place of infamy, regardless of our commands, whatever else they may have, whether learning or talent, it is plain that peace will be a stranger to our bosoms, and that slumber will not visit our eyelids.
Now if these things be so, it will be seen that the most effective mischief which any man could do, or could desire to do, in a family, would be simply to destroy this mutual confidence. If I had the power, and wished to strike the most deadly blow at the heart of a family, I should do nothing more. I should go and take away all the confidence of a husband in his wife, and of a wife in her husband, and fill their minds with distrust and jealousy—and by doing this I should take away all peace from their bosoms, and sleep from their pillows. Or I should go and destroy all confidence in the bosom of sons or daughters towards a father; and teach them to feel that he was not worthy of their respect or love—and I should thus introduce insubordination and disobedience into the most peaceful dwelling on earth. Or I should go and destroy all the confidence of a father in his sons or his daughters ; and I should make him restless and sad whenever they were out of his sight; and I should fill his bosom with the keenest anguish at the feeling that all his hopes had been blasted, and I should transform all his cherished and happy prospects in regard to their future character into dark and gloomy forebodings, and I should so torment him by a simple want of confidence as to make him wish that neither he nor they had been born, and long for the hour when he should find rest from his mental tortures in the grave.
(2.) Let us apply this remark to the relations sustained in a commercial community. Let a man reflect but for one moment how much the prosperity of such a community depends on mutual confidence, and he cannot be insensible to its value and importance. Let confidence in a commercial house be shaken, and iow many interests are affected by it at once! Let confidence in a bank be shaken, and there may not be an interest in that community which is not affected by it. As when the storm shakes an old oak that has stood for generations, the admiration of men, the far-distant fibres of the roots, fine and tender, that run under the ground hidden from human view, shall be torn and rent, so it is when confidence in such an institution is shaken. There are a thousand interests which you would not have supposed would have been affected, that feel the shock. For such a shock affects not merely the commercial world—the men whose business may be dependent on its stability. In that bank shall have been confided the little property of hundreds or thousands of widows and orphans. He who had had the ability to lay up what it was hoped would make old age or the day of sickness comfortable, had entrusted it there. The professional man that had saved from his hard earnings what he felt he should need when the infirmities of age should forbid his longer toil, had felt that he had made competent provision for declining years, and had deposited it there. The father who had a beloved daughter, for whom he would make some provision as an expression of his love, and who had sought to calm his own
mind when he reflected that he might be taken away, and he no longer able to he her protector and friend, had deposited what he meant for her there. When confidence fails in such an institution ; when it reels, ready to fall; when it comes down a mass of ruins, and no one can tell where the millions entrusted to it are scattered, there are thousands and tens of thousands of hearts that are made to bleed, and a blow is struck that vibrates through a community, reaching remote points that you would not have supposed could be affected by such a shock.
To commercial men, it is needful only to advert to this point. Well do they know that the entire prosperity of the community depends on confidence, and that when that is gone, all is gone. To see this in its full force, all that would be necessary would be to recall to recollection past events in our own community, and in our own land. From the minds of those who then lived, and especially from the minds of the multitudes who were Bo deeply interested, those scenes will never pass away while life lasts. Confidence in banks, and commercial houses, and in the solvency ol distant debtors, seemed almost universally to have failed, and the whole land was agitated and convulsed, not because we were poor, or because our soil had ceased to be fruitful, or our air was pestilential, or our resources had departed, or because " grim-visaged war" frowned upon us, but because confidence was gone.
The same remark might be made here which was made respecting the peace of a family. If I had the power, and were disposed to inflict the deepest evil on a community, I should do no more than destroy tliis universal confidence. I should go into the commercial world and breathe suspicions, and start rumours, and insinuate doubts, and circulate reports, and unsettle the confidence of one commercial house in another, and of one bank in another, and of one part of the country in another, until I produced universal distrust; and just so far as I succeeded, I should spread universal ruin. A"o foreign war, no spreading pestilence, no change of the seasons, would produce deeper distress iu this land; for what commercial operation is there that could be continued for a day, if confidence were gone 1
(3.) Let us apply this remark to the intercourse of nations, and see if we can find an illustration of the value of confidence or faith there. Nations never have been entirely independent of each other; as society advances, they are becoming lesS and loss so. They may bo independent in their government and laws, and so far as any direct foreign interference is concerned; but they are so iu no other sense. They are adjacent to each other, and the prosperity of one affects the prosperity of another; or they are distant, and are dependent for a thousand things which can be produced in the one, but which cannot be produced in the other. Formerly, when men had fewer artificial wants, and when the facilities of commerce were less, they were far more independent; for Assyria, and Persia, and ancient Germany, arid Gaul, were far less dependent on other nations, and would feel the effects of any change in other nations, far less than Great Britain and the United States, or even France and Russia, would now. The tendency of things is to increase the dependence, and to make the nations of the earth one great brotherhood.
There have been two ways of endeavouring to secure a safe and prosperous intercourse among nations :—by the force of arms, and by treaties of commerce and of peace ; by the dread of the sword, and by mutual faith. The ancients relied mainly on the former; and seemed to regard a treaty as secure only so i■ar as there was dread of the armed legions, or the war-galley. Rome had little confidence in the fidelity of the nations that were reduced to her control as provinces, except as they understood that if they were not faithful, the Roman legions would soon thunder at the gates of their cities.
The course of events, the tendency of society, is leading the world to repose on another kind of security in the intercourse between nations. We indeed endeavour to blend the two things still—to intimidate, and to secure confidence, and there is a sort of reliance on both; but there is a growing sense that the former is unnecessary, and that our main dependence is on the latter, What merchant is there that sends a ship from one of our ports to Calcutta, or Canton, who ever thinks of the armed vessels that float in distant seas as a reason why he may commit his property safoly to the chances of commerce ? What is it that holds the commercial world together, and renders commerce safe ? Is it our navy, our army, or is it the faith of treaties? You may say, perhaps, that those treaties would not be regarded if an armed power were not at hand to enforce them ; but that remains to be seeu. The truth is, that the nations are depending more and more on what is for their mutual interests, and on the faith of treaties; and are looking with more and more jealousy on any armed interference, and more aversion on any effort to secure commercial advantages by superior force of arms. The world is to be held together by confidence, and not by the terror of arms; and the sacredness of plighted faith is to take the place of the sword.
Let any intelligent man reflect how much at this moment the commerce of our own country and of the rest of the world is secured by treaty, by plighted faith, and be will see the force and the value of the observations which I am making. There is almost no nation—none with whom a treaty would he of value—with whom such a treaty of commerce does not exist. There is almost no land, no port even, where we have not a consul—not an armed man at the head of embattled legions; not a man with the emblazonments of war—the epaulette and the sword,—but a simple, plain, unostentatious citizen—usually of plain dress and plain manners—the fit representative of a peaceful treaty, and the exponent of the faith of nations. What is right to be done in the land where he is, it is presumed will be done; if wrong has been committed toward any of the citizens of his own land, he presumes there will be a disposition to redress it; and though he may feel indeed, and be assured, that the entire power of his country would be ready to enforce what is right if it is denied, yet how rare a thing it is that there is any allusion to such power in regulating commercial intercourse.
Suppose, now, all this were to come to an end. Suppose no further reliance could be placed on treaties and international compacts. Is there any form of mischief that could be done in this world so great as to disturb this confidence between nations, this faith in compacts ? If it were done, if it were felt that there were no reliance to be placed on any treaty hereafter, even with all the armed force that you could send, is there a vessel that would leave this port, or any other part of our land, to bring back the productions of distant climes ? Could the commerce of the world survive such a destruction of confidence ?
(4.) We may apply the remark respecting the value of confidence, or faith, to the administration of a government. We have seen its value in a family, in the commercial world, in the intercourse of nations. It is an obvious remark that it is of no less value in the administration of a government, in the enacting and execution of the laws, in a judicial transaction. Peace and harmony, and iu connexion with them all forms of prosperity, depend wholly on the degree of confidence that shall he reposed in the administration of a government, or the decision of a court. You may be certain, indeed, that a sheriff or a marshal has power to summon an armed force to his aid, but you are not induced by that to pay your taxes or your custom-house duties, or to submit to the judgment of a court. You calmly acquiesce, because you have confidence in the general working—the eqnitableness of the institutions of your country. Such confidence may be reposed in a judicial opinion that a nation shall acquiesce in it, though conflicting claims of the highest order may be involved ; the laws of states may have come in collision; and property to an amount which no one can estimate may he at stake.
Our whole land is dependent every day on confidence in the government; on confidence in the judges; on confidence in the general virtue of the people; on confidence in the excellence of our institutions. There is not a wheel of the government that could move for a moment if it were not for this. No one of us would entrust a letter to the mail, no one of us would carry a cause heforo any constituted tribunal, or even submit it to an arbitration.
(5.) Wo are prepared now to apply the remark to th6 main thing pertaining to the subject before us—the government of God. The demand in the Bible is, that man shall repose confidence in his Maker, for " without faith it is impossible to please him." The inquiry which we have had in view has been, What is the reason why faith under his government has such a primacy, and is of so much value ?
Now it is obvious that the value of confidence is as great in God's government as in any other, and may be as great in the universal family, embracing all worlds, over which he presides, as in the much smaller families with which we are conversant. But it should also he added, that to an extent elsewhere proportionably unknown the government of God is one of confidence, not of force. With all power in his arm, and with all resources to bind, and fetter, and restrain, and punish, at his command, still that which he most relies on in his administration is not force, but love and confidence. It is in every way probable that that is the only thing on which reliance is now placed in heaven in controlling the pure and happy minds there, and that vast as they know the power of God to be, they are not restrained by that, but by the all-controlling influence of affection. They have confidence in God—in his wisdom and his goodness—in the equity of his laws and in the principles of his administration; and this is all that is needed to preserve order, and harmony, and peaceful obedience in heaven. For
Love is the golden chain that binds
The happy souls above.
The thing, too, on which reliance was placed in Paradise to secure obedience was confidence. There was no force employed there. There were no walls built around it which man could not overleap. There were no cherubim with flaming swords to prevent the egress of man, as there were, after his apostacy, to forbid his return. As long as confidence in God remained, man was happy. WLen that failed, he was ruined; and the want of confidence in God was there, as it ever has been since, the source of all the woes that man has ej ptrienced. With strict philosophical accuracy, all the woes which have come upon the race have arisen from a want of confidence in God as the just moral Governor of the world. Man has no confidence it his law, in his goodness, t in his truth, in his promises, in his threatenings. m his qualifications for empire. He has no such confidence in him as to submit to his teachings; to bow reverently to his will where his dealings are mysterious; to resign himself to him in his trials; to embrace his promises, when he offers heaven to him; to feel alarm, and to turn from his sins, when he threatens the punishment of hell. Even now, with all our external sources of trouble and woe, with all the sorrows and ills of poverty, want, sickness, bereavement, and dreaded death, this would be a happy world if man had confidence in God; for the moment you can infuse into the bosom of a sufferer, no matter whether in bereavement, on a sick bed, or in any other form of woe, confidence in God, that moment you have soothed the anguish of the soul, and diffused through the bosom peace and joy.
I will ask your attention, in view of the reasoning pursued in this discourse, only to one thought of a practical nature suggested by the subject. It is, that infidelity, or unbelief, as a speculative or practical matter, is not a harmless thing. It is often supposed to be so. It is regarded as a mere matter of speculation; a thing in reference to which the utmost freedom of the mind may be innocently indulged; a thing in which you do others no wrong, for you deprive them of no property by it, and suppose that you do nothing to sap the foundation of their happiness.
But if the views suggested in this discourse are correct, nothing can be more unfounded than this opinion. Is that a harmless system which, if it came into your family, would unsettle all the confidence which you have in your wife, and all the confidence which your children have in you as a father 1 Is he an innocent man who would unsettle all confidence in a commercial house, in a bank, in a lawyer, in a physician, in a bench of judges 1 Would that be an innocent system which would breathe suspicion in the community on the character of every minister of the gospel, and every professor in a college, and every teacher in a school ? And if you may suppose that a man of capital should establish a system of agencies all over the land, and have them wholly under his control, and that the design should be by a well-arranged scheme of operations to destroy all confidence, say in every merchant, and every monied institution, would you sav that that was a harmless system of operations ? And suppose that a man should come into your family and unsettle all the confidence of your children in God, and in the principles of virtue and sound morals, and in that holy volume which you regard as the foundation of all just views of morals,—shall we regard him as a harmless man, and his opinions as a matter of no consequence? Or suppose, hy an extended system of agencies, hy the facilities of the press, by his power of scattering pamphlets and hooks all over the land, he should pursue an extended scheme of operations to destroy all the confidence of man in God as a moral Governor, and in his law, and in the principles of virtue, and in the foundations of morality; that should tend to destroy the confidence which the poor, the afflicted, the oppressed, and the dying repose in God their Saviour; which should leave them to suffer without support, and to feel that they are " in a forsaken and fatherless world," and to die without hope,—will you say that such a system is harmless ? Why more so than when your malignant agent establishes a system with a view of unsettling the confidence in every merchant and monied institution throughout the land? Is confidence in the foundations of morals, and confidence in God as the righteous moral Governor of the world, of less importance than in a man or in a bank? The perpetrator of the deepest mischief in this world is the man who lives to unsettle confidence. Let my enemy come, if he wishes, and take the little property which my hands have earned; let him come and strike me on one cheek and on the other; let him take my coat and my cloak also; let him turn me out from my happy and peaceful home, a penniless wanderer on the face of the earth;— but let him not come and destroy the confidence which my wife reposes in me, and I in her; let him not come and unsettle the foundations of moral principle in which I have endeavoured to ground my children; let him not seek to alienate our confidence in each other and in our God. Poor, and penniless, and cold, and naked, and with no certain dwelling-place, I should wander with my family with one source of pure happiness, undisturbed, if they trusted in me, and I in them, and all in God; but in the most splendid palace that imperial wealth could build and adorn, I could never be happy if confidence in them, and in my Maker and my Saviour, were Wasted and destroyed.
Nor is unbelief, as a practical personal matter, more harmless. Sinner, it is not an innocent thing that you have no confidence, no faith in the God that made you. You wrong him; you wrong your own soul. There is no being that is so worthy of your confidence as he; none that has so high a claim. And how can you "please him" if you have no confidence in him? Can a child— a son—a daughter—though learned, and accomplished, or graced with polished manners, though admired for heauty, or praised for talent, or distinguished for eloquence,— can such a child please" his father, can he he worthy of his love, if he has no just confidence in him—if he treats him with cold neglect—if he never relies on his promises, or respects his principles 1 Sinner! the source, the root, the germ of all the evil in your soul, is the want of confidence in God. The evil will be arrested, the ruin which is coming on you will he stayed, the moment you are brought back, through the great Mediator, to exercise faith in him who made you—and not till then. Without that, dissociated from him, you are destined to a degree of wretchedness and woe, compared with which all the evils produced by want of confidence in a family, a commercial community, between nations, or under a human government, are trifles not to be named I