Sermon 7. Contest between Faith and Sight
"This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." John v. 4.THE danger to which Christians are exposed from the influence of the visible course of things, or the world (as it is called in Scripture), is a principal subject of St. John's General Epistle. He seems to speak of the world as some False Prophet, promising what it cannot fulfil, and gaining credit by its confident tone. Viewing it as resisting Christianity, he calls it the "spirit of anti-Christ," the parent of a numerous progeny of evil, false spirits like itself, the teachers of all lying doctrines, by which the multitude of men are led captive. The antagonist of this great tempter is the Spirit of Truth, which is "greater than he that is in the world;" its victorious antagonist, because gifted with those piercing eyes of Faith which are able to scan the world's shallowness, and to see through the mists of error into the glorious kingdom of God beyond them. "This is the victory that overcometh the world," says the text, "even our Faith." And if we inquire what are the sights which our faith sees, the Apostle answers by telling us of "the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is Truth." The world witnesses to an untruth, which will one day be exposed; and Christ, our Lord and Master, is the "Amen, the faithful and true witness," who came into the world "by water and blood," to "bear witness unto the Truth;" that, as the many voices of error bear down and overpower the inquirer by their tumult and importunity, so, on the other hand, Truth might have its living and visible representative, no longer cast, like the bread, at random on the waters, or painfully gained from the schools and traditions of men, but committed to One "come in the flesh," to One who has an earthly name and habitation, who, in one sense, is one of the powers of this world, who has His train and retinue, His court and kingdom, His ministering servants, bound together by the tie of brotherly love among themselves, and of zeal against the Prophets of error. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" St. John then compares together the force of the world's testimony, and of that which the Gospel provides. "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son;" as if "the spirit, the water, and the blood," spoke for God more loudly than the world speaks for the Evil one. In the very opening of the Epistle, he had set before us in another form the same gracious truth, viz., that the Gospel, by affording us, in the Person and history of Christ, a witness of the invisible world, addresses itself to our senses and imagination, after the very manner in which the false doctrines of the world assail us. "That which was from the beginning, ... which we have looked upon, ... that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you."
2. Now, here we have incidentally suggested to us an important truth, which, obvious as it is, may give rise to some profitable reflections; viz., that the world overcomes us, not merely by appealing to our reason, or by exciting our passions, but by imposing on our imagination. So much do the systems of men swerve from the Truth as set forth in Scripture, that their very presence becomes a standing fact against Scripture, even when our reason condemns them, by their persevering assertions, and they gradually overcome those who set out by contradicting them. In all cases, what is often and unhesitatingly asserted, at length finds credit with the mass of mankind; and so it happens, in this instance, that, admitting as we do from the first, that the world is one of our three chief enemies, maintaining, rather than merely granting, that the outward face of things speaks a different language from the word of God; yet, when we come to act in the world, we find this very thing a trial, not merely of our obedience, but even of our faith; that is, the mere fact that the world turns out to be what we began by actually confessing concerning it.
3. Let us now direct our attention to this subject, in order to see what it means, and how it is exemplified in the ordinary course of the world.
And let us commence with the age when men are first exposed, in any great degree, to the temptation of trusting the world's assertions—when they enter into life, as it is called. Hitherto they have learned revealed truths only as a creed or system; they are instructed and acquiesce in the great Christian doctrines; and, having virtuous feelings, and desiring to do their duty, they think themselves really and practically religious. They read in Scripture of "the course of the world," but they have little notion what it really is; they believe it to be sinful, but how it acts in seducing from the Truth, and making evil seem good, and good evil, is beyond them. Scripture, indeed, says much about the world; but they cannot learn practically what it is from Scripture; for, not to mention other reasons, Scripture being written by inspiration, represents things such as they really are in God's sight, such as they will seem to us in proportion as we learn to judge of them rightly, not as they appear to those "whose senses are" not yet "exercised to discern both good and evil."
4. Under these circumstances, youths are brought to their trial. The simple and comparatively retired life which they have hitherto enjoyed is changed for the varied and attractive scenes of mixed society. Its numberless circles and pursuits open upon them, the diversities and contrarieties of opinion and conduct, and of the subjects on which thought and exertion are expended. This is what is called seeing the world. Here, then, all at once they lose their reckoning, and let slip the lessons which they thought they had so accurately learned. They are unable to apply in practice what they have received by word of mouth; and, perplexed at witnessing the multiplicity of characters and fortunes which human nature assumes, and the range and intricacy of the social scheme, they are gradually impressed with the belief that the religious system which they have hitherto received is an inadequate solution of the world's mysteries, and a rule of conduct too simple for its complicated transactions. All men, perhaps, are in their measure subjected to this temptation. Even their ordinary and most innocent intercourse with others, their temporal callings, their allowable recreations, captivate their imaginations, and, on entering into this new scene, they look forward with interest towards the future, and form schemes of action, and indulge dreams of happiness, such as this life has never fulfilled. Now, is it not plain, that, after thus realizing to themselves the promises of the world, when they look back to the Bible and their former lessons, these will seem not only uninteresting and dull, but a theory too?—dull, colourless, indeed, as a sober landscape, after we have been gazing on some bright vision in the clouds—but, withal, unpractical, unnatural, unsuitable to the exigencies of life and the constitution of man?
5. For consider how little is said in Scripture about subjects which necessarily occupy a great part of the attention of all men, and which, being there unnoticed, become thereby the subject-matter of their trial. Their private conduct day by day; their civil, social, and domestic duties; their relation towards those events which mark out human life into its periods, and, in the case of most men, are the source of its best pleasures, and the material of its deepest affections, are, as if purposely, passed over, that they themselves may complete the picture of true faith and sanctity which Revelation has begun.
6. And thus (as has already been said) what is primarily a trial of our obedience, becomes a trial of our faith also. The Bible seems to contain a world in itself, and not the same world as that which we inhabit; and those who profess to conform to its rules gain from us respect indeed, and praise, and yet strike us withal in some sort as narrow-minded and fanciful; tenderly to be treated, indeed, as you would touch cautiously any costly work of art, yet, on the whole, as little adapted to do good service in the world as it is, as a weapon of gold or soft clothing on a field of battle.
7. And much more, of course, does this delusion hang about the mind, and more closely does it wrap it round, if, by yielding to the temptations of the flesh, a man predisposes himself to the influence of it. The palmary device of Satan is to address himself to the pride of our nature, and, by the promise of independence, to seduce us into sin. Those who have been brought up in ignorance of the polluting fashions of the world, too often feel a rising in their minds against the discipline and constraint kindly imposed upon them; and, not understanding that their ignorance is their glory, and that they cannot really enjoy both good and evil, they murmur that they are not allowed to essay what they do not wish to practise, or to choose for themselves in matters where the very knowledge seems to them to give a superiority to the children of corruption. Thus the temptation of becoming as gods works as in the beginning, pride opening a door to lust; and then, intoxicated by their experience of evil, they think they possess real wisdom, and take a larger and more impartial view of the nature and destinies of man than religion teaches; and, while the customs of society restrain their avowals within the bounds of propriety, yet in their hearts they learn to believe that sin is a matter of course, not a serious evil, a failing in which all have share, indulgently to be spoken of, or rather, in the case of each individual, to be taken for granted, and passed over in silence; and believing this, they are not unwilling to discover or to fancy weaknesses in those who have the credit of being superior to the ordinary run of men, to insinuate the possibility of human passions influencing them, this or that of a more refined nature, when the grosser cannot be imputed, and, extenuating at the same time the guilt of the vicious, to reduce in this manner all men pretty much to a level. A more apposite instance of this state of soul cannot be required than is given us in the celebrated work of an historian of the last century, who, for his great abilities, and, on the other hand, his cold heart, impure mind, and scoffing spirit, may justly be accounted as, in this country at least, one of the masters of a new school of error, which seems not yet to have accomplished its destinies, and is framed more exactly after the received type of the author of evil, than the other chief anti-Christs who have, in these last times, occupied the scene of the world.
8. The temptation I have been speaking of, of trusting the world, because it speaks boldly, and thinking that evil must be acquiesced in, because it exists, will be still stronger and more successful in the case of one who is in any situation of active exertion, and has no very definite principles to secure him in the narrow way. He was taught to believe that there was but one true faith, and, on entering into life, he meets with numberless doctrines among men, each professing to be the true one. He had learned that there was but one Church, and he falls in with countless religious sects, nay, with a prevalent opinion that all these are equally good, and that there is no divinely-appointed Church at all. He has been accustomed to class men into good and bad, but he finds their actual characters no how reducible to system; good and bad mixed in every variety of proportion, virtues and vices in endless combinations; and, what is stranger still, a deficient creed seemingly joined to a virtuous life, and inconsistent conduct disgracing a sound profession. Further still, he finds that men in general will not act on high motives, in spite of all that divines and moralists profess; and his experience of this urges him, till he begins to think it unwise and extravagant to insist upon the mass of mankind doing so, or to preach high morals and high doctrines; and at length he looks on the religious system of his youth as beautiful indeed in itself, and practical perhaps in private life, and useful for the lower classes, but as utterly unfit for those who live in the world; and while unwilling to confess this, lest he should set a bad example, he tacitly concedes it, never is the champion of his professed principles when assailed, nor acts upon them in an honest way in the affairs of life.
9. Or, should he be led by a speculative turn of mind, or a natural philanthropy, to investigate the nature of man, or exert himself in plans for the amelioration of society, then his opinions become ultimately impressed with the character of a more definite unbelief. Sometimes he is conscious to himself that he is opposing Christianity; not indeed opposing it wantonly, but, as he conceives, unavoidably, as finding it in his way. This is a state of mind into which benevolent men are in danger of falling, in the present age. While they pursue objects tending, as they conceive, towards the good of mankind, it is by degrees forced upon their minds that Revealed Religion thwarts their proceedings, and, averse alike to relinquish their plans, and to offend the feelings of others, they determine on letting matters take their course, and, believing fully that Christianity must fall before the increasing illumination of the age, yet they wish to secure it against direct attacks, and to provide that it no otherwise falls than as it unavoidably must, at one time or other; as every inflexible instrument, and every antiquated institution, crumbles under the hands of the Great Innovator, who creates new influences for new emergencies, and recognizes no right divine in a tumultuous and shifting world.
10. Sometimes, on the other hand, because he takes the spirit of the world as his teacher, such a one drifts away unawares from the Truth as it is in Jesus; and, merely from ignorance of Scripture, maintains theories which Scripture anathematizes. Thus he dreams on for a time, as loth to desert his first faith; then by accident meeting with some of the revealed doctrines which he learned when a child—the Incarnation, or the eternal punishment of the wicked—he stumbles. Then he will attempt to remove these, as if accidentally attached to the Scripture creed,—little thinking that they are its very peculiarities and essentials, nor reflecting that the very fact of his stumbling at them should be taken as a test that his views coincide but in appearance with the revealed system altogether; and so he will remain at the door of the Church, witnessing against himself by his lingering there, yet missing the reward bestowed even on the proselyte of the gate in heathen times, in that he might have "known the way of righteousness," yet has "turned from the holy commandment delivered unto him."
11. And some there are who, keeping their faith in the main, give up the notion of its importance. Finding that men will not agree together on points of doctrine and discipline, and imagining that union must be effected on any terms, they consent to abandon articles of faith as the basis of Christian fellowship, and try to effect what they call a union of hearts, as a bond of fellowship among those who differ in their notions of the One God, One Lord, One Spirit, One baptism, and One body; forgetful of the express condemnation pronounced by our Saviour upon those who "believe not" the preaching of His servants [Mark xvi. 16.]; and that he who denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father [1 John ii. 22.].
12. And others, not being able to acquiesce in the unimportance of doctrinal truth, yet perplexed at the difficulties in the course of human affairs, which follow on the opposite view, accustom themselves gratuitously to distinguish between their public and private duties, and to judge of them by separate rules. These are often such as begin by assuming some extravagant or irrelevant test for ascertaining the existence of religious principle in others, and so are led to think it is nowhere to be found, not in the true Church more than in the sects which surround it; and thus, regarding all men (to speak generally) as equally far from the Truth, and strangers to that divine regeneration which Christ bestows on His elect few, and, on the other hand, seeing that men, as cast together in society, must cooperate on some or other principles, they drop the strict principles of Scripture in their civil relations, give no preference to those who honour the Church over those who profess opinions disrespectful towards it; perhaps take up the notion that the State, as such, has nothing to do with the subject of religion; praise and blame according to a different standard from that which Christianity reveals; and all this while cherish, perhaps, in their secret thoughts a definite creed, rigid in its decisions, stimulating in its influence, in spite of the mildness, and submissiveness, and liberality of sentiment, which their public mode of speaking and acting seems to evidence.
13. Nor are even the better sort of men altogether secure from the impression of the world's teaching, which is so influential with the multitude. He truly is a rare and marvellous work of heavenly grace, who when he comes into the din and tumult of the world, can view things just as he calmly contemplated them in the distance, before the time of action came. So many are the secondary reasons which can be assigned for and against every measure and every principle, so urgent are the solicitations of interest or passion when the mind is once relaxed or excited, so difficult then to compare and ascertain the relative importance of conflicting considerations, that the most sincere and zealous of ordinary Christians will, to their surprise, confess to themselves that they have lost their way in the wilderness, which they could accurately measure out before descending into it, and have missed the track which lay like a clear thread across the hills, when seen in the horizon. And it is from their experience of this their own unskilfulness and weakness, that serious men have been in the practice of making vows concerning purposes on which they were fully set, that no sudden gust of passion, or lure of worldly interest, should gain the mastery over a heart which they desire to present without spot or blemish, as a chaste virgin, to Christ.
14. Let the above be taken as a few illustrations out of many, of the influence exerted, and the doctrine enforced, in the school of the world; that school which we all set out by acknowledging to be at enmity with the school of Christ, but from which we are content to take our lessons of practical wisdom as life goes on. Such is the triumph of Sight over Faith. The world really brings no new argument to its aid,—nothing beyond its own assertion. In the very outset Christians allow that its teaching is contrary to Revelation, and not to be taken as authority; nevertheless, afterwards, this mere unargumentative teaching, which, when viewed in theory, formed no objection to the truth of the Inspired Word, yet, when actually heard in the intercourse of life, converts them, more or less, to the service of the "prince of the power of the air, the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience." It assails their imagination. The world sweeps by in long procession;—its principalities and powers, its Babel of languages, the astrologers of Chaldaea, the horse and its rider and the chariots of Egypt, Baal and Ashtoreth and their false worship; and those who witness, feel its fascination; they flock after it; with a strange fancy, they ape its gestures, and dote upon its mummeries; and then, should they perchance fall in with the simple solemn services of Christ's Church, and hear her witnesses going the round of Gospel truths as when they left them: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" "Be sober, be vigilant;" "Strait is the gate, narrow the way;" "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself;" "He is despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief:"—how utterly unreal do these appear, and the preachers of them, how irrational, how puerile!—how extravagant in their opinions, how weak in their reasoning!—and if they profess to pity and bear with them, how nearly does their compassion border on contempt!
15. The contempt of men!—why should we be unwilling to endure it? We are not better than our fathers. In every age it has been the lot of Christians far more highly endowed than we are with the riches of Divine wisdom. It was the lot of Apostles and Prophets, and of the Saviour of mankind Himself. When He was brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor felt the same surprise and disdain at His avowal of His unearthly office, which the world now expresses. "To this end was I born, … that I should bear witness unto the Truth. Pilate saith, What is Truth?" Again, when Festus would explain to King Agrippa the cause of the dispute between St. Paul and the Jews, he says, "The accusers ... brought no accusations of such things as I supposed, but certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
16. Such, however, are the words of men, who, not knowing the strength of Christianity, had not the guilt of deliberate apostasy. But what serious thoughts does it present to the mind, to behold parallels to heathen blindness and arrogance in a Christian country, where men might know better, if they would inquire!—and what a warning to us all is the sight of those who, though nominally within the Church, are avowedly indifferent to it! For all of us surely are on our trial, and, as we go forth into the world, so we are winnowed, and the chaff gradually separated from the true seed. This is St. John's account of it. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not of us." And our Lord stands by watching the process, telling us of "the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the earth," exhorting us to "try them which say they are apostles, and are not," and to "hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown."
17. Meanwhile, it is an encouragement to us to think how much may be done in way of protest and teaching, by the mere example of those who endeavour to serve God faithfully. In this way we may use against the world its own weapons; and, as its success lies in the mere boldness of assertion with which it maintains that evil is good, so by the counter-assertions of a strict life and a resolute profession of the truth, we may retort upon the imaginations of men, that religious obedience is not impracticable, and that scripture has its persuasives. A martyr or a confessor is a fact, and has its witness in itself; and, while it disarranges the theories of human wisdom, it also breaks in upon that security and seclusion into which men of the world would fain retire from the thought of religion. One prophet against four hundred disturbed the serenity of Ahab, King of Israel. When the witnesses in St. John's vision were slain, though they were but two, then "they that dwelt on the earth rejoiced over them, and made merry, and sent gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth." Nay, such confessors have a witness even in the breasts of those who oppose them, an instinct originally from God, which may indeed be perverted into a hatred, but scarcely into an utter disregard of the Truth, when exhibited before them. The instance cannot be found in the history of mankind, in which an anti-Christian power could long abstain from persecuting. The disdainful Festus at length impatiently interrupted his prisoner's speech; and in our better regulated times, whatever be the scorn or malevolence which is directed against the faithful Christian, these very feelings show that he is really a restraint on vice and unbelief, and a warning and guide to the feeble-minded, and to those who still linger in the world with hearts more religious than their professed opinions; and thus even literally, as the text expresses it, he overcomes the world, conquering while he suffers, and willingly accepting overbearing usage and insult from others, so that he may in some degree benefit them, though the more abundantly he loves them, the less he be loved.
(Preached May 27, 1832.)
Sermon 10. Faith and Reason, Contrasted as Habits of Mind
"Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb. xi. 1.THE subject of Faith is one especially suggested to our minds by the event which we this day commemorate, and the great act of grace of which it was the first-fruits. It was as on this day that the wise men of the East were allowed to approach and adore the infant Saviour, in anticipation of those Gentile multitudes who, when the kingdom of God was preached, were to take possession of it as if by violence, and to extend it to the ends of the earth. To them Christ was manifested as He is to us, and in the same way; not to the eyes of the flesh, but to the illuminated mind, to their Faith. As the manifestation of God accorded to the Jews was circumscribed, and addressed to their senses, so that which is vouchsafed to Christians is universal and spiritual. Whereas the gifts of the Gospel are invisible, Faith is their proper recipient; and whereas its Church is Catholic, Faith is its bond of intercommunion; things external, local, and sensible being no longer objects to dwell upon on their own account, but merely means of conveying onwards the divine gifts from the Giver to their proper home, the heart itself.
2. As, then, Catholicity is the note, so an inward manifestation is the privilege, and Faith the duty, of the Christian Church; or, in the words of the Apostle, "the Gentiles" receive "the promise of the Spirit through Faith."
3. I shall not, then be stepping beyond the range of subjects to which this great Festival draws our attention, if I enter upon some inquiries into the nature of that special Gospel grace, by which Jews and Gentiles apprehend and enjoy the blessings which Christ has purchased for them, and which accordingly is spoken of in the Collect in the service, as the peculiarity of our condition in this life, as Sight will be in the world to come. And in so doing, I shall be pursuing a subject, which is likely to be of main importance in the controversies which lie before us at this day, and upon which I am not speaking now for the first time from this place.
4. It is scarcely necessary to prove from Scripture, the especial dignity and influence of Faith, under the Gospel Dispensation, as regards both our spiritual and moral condition. Whatever be the particular faculty or frame of mind denoted by the word, certainly Faith is regarded in Scripture as the chosen instrument connecting heaven and earth, as a novel principle of action most powerful in the influence which it exerts both on the heart and on the Divine view of us, and yet in itself of a nature to excite the contempt or ridicule of the world. These characteristics, its apparent weakness, its novelty, its special adoption, and its efficacy, are noted in such passages as the following:—"Have faith in God; for verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." And again: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Again: "The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Again: "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart, that is, the word of faith which we preach ... Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." And again: "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry; now the just shall live by faith." ... And then, soon after, the words of the text: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." [Mark xi. 22-24; ix. 23. 1 Cor. i. 18-21. Rom. x. 8, 17. Heb. x. 37, 38.]
5. Such is the great weapon which Christianity employs, whether viewed
as a religious scheme, as a social system, or as a moral rule; and what
it is described as being in the foregoing texts, it is also said to be
expressly or by implication in other passages too numerous to cite. And
I suppose that it will not be denied, that the first impression made upon
the reader from all these is, that in the minds of the sacred writers,
Faith is an instrument of knowledge and action, unknown to the world before,
a principle sui generis, distinct from those which nature supplies,
and in particular (which is the point into which I mean to inquire) independent
of what is commonly understood by
6. Other considerations may be urged in support of the same view of the case. For instance: Faith is spoken of as having its life in a certain moral temper, but argumentative exercises are not moral; Faith, then, is not the same method of proof as Reason.
7. Again: Faith is said to be one of the supernatural gifts imparted in the Gospel. "By grace have ye been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;" but investigation and proof belong to man as man, prior to the Gospel: therefore Faith is something higher than Reason.
8. Again:—That Faith is independent of processes of Reason, seems plain from their respective subject-matters. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." It simply accepts testimony. As then testimony is distinct from experience, so is Faith from Reason.
9. And again:—When the Apostles disparage "the wisdom of this world," "disputings," "excellency of speech," and the like, they seem to mean very much what would now be called trains of argument, discussion, investigation,—that is, exercises of Reason.
10. Once more:—Various instances are given us in Scripture of persons making an acknowledgment of Christ and His Apostles upon Faith, which would not be considered by the world as a rational conviction upon evidence. For instance: The lame man who sat at the Beautiful gate was healed on his faith, after St. Peter had but said, "Look on us." And that other lame man at Lystra saw no miracle done by St. Paul, but only heard him preach, when the Apostle, "steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet." Again, St. Paul at Athens did no miracle, but preached, and yet "certain men clave unto him and believed." To the same purpose are our Lord's words, when St. John Baptist sent to Him to ask if He were the Christ. He wrought miracles, indeed, to reassure him, but added, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me." And when St. Thomas doubted of His resurrection, He gave him the sensible proof which he asked, but He added, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." On another occasion He said, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." [Acts iii. 4; xiv. 9, 10; xvii. 34. Matt. xi. 6. John xx. 29; iv. 48.]
11. On the other hand, however, it may be urged, that it is plainly impossible that Faith should be independent of Reason, and a new mode of arriving at truth; that the Gospel does not alter the constitution of our nature, and does but elevate it and add to it; that Sight is our initial, and Reason is our ultimate informant concerning all knowledge. We are conscious that we see; we have an instinctive reliance on our Reason: how can the claims of a professed Revelation be brought home to us as Divine, except through these? Faith, then, must necessarily be resolvable at last into Sight and Reason; unless, indeed, we agree with enthusiasts in thinking that faculties altogether new are implanted in our minds, and that perceptibly, by the grace of the Gospel; faculties which, of course, are known to those who have them without proof; and, to those who have them not, cannot be made known by any. Scripture confirms this representation, as often as the Apostles appeal to their miracles, or to the Old Testament. This is an appeal to Reason; and what is recorded, in some instances, was probably or certainly (as it is presumed from the necessity of the case) made in the rest, even when not recorded.
12. Such is the question which presents itself to readers of Scripture, as to the relation of Faith to Reason: and it is usual at this day to settle it in disparagement of Faith,—to say that Faith is but a moral quality, dependent upon Reason,—that Reason judges both of the evidence on which Scripture is to be received, and of the meaning of Scripture; and then Faith follows or not, according to the state of the heart; that we make up our minds by Reason without Faith, and then we proceed to adore and to obey by Faith apart from Reason; that, though Faith rests on testimony, not on reasonings, yet that testimony, in its turn, depends on Reason for the proof of its pretensions, so that Reason is an indispensable preliminary.
13. Now, in attempting to investigate what are the distinct offices of Faith and Reason in religious matters, and the relation of the one to the other, I observe, first, that undeniable though it be, that Reason has a power of analysis and criticism in all opinion and conduct, and that nothing is true or right but what may be justified, and, in a certain sense, proved by it, and undeniable, in consequence, that, unless the doctrines received by Faith are approvable by Reason, they have no claim to be regarded as true, it does not therefore follow that Faith is actually grounded on Reason in the believing mind itself; unless, indeed, to take a parallel case, a judge can be called the origin, as well as the justifier, of the innocence or truth of those who are brought before him. A judge does not make men honest, but acquits and vindicates them: in like manner, Reason need not be the origin of Faith, as Faith exists in the very persons believing, though it does test and verify it. This, then, is one confusion, which must be cleared up in the question,—the assumption that Reason must be the inward principle of action in religious inquiries or conduct in the case of this or that individual, because, like a spectator, it acknowledges and concurs in what goes on;—the mistake of a critical for a creative power.
14. This distinction we cannot fail to recognize as true in itself, and applicable to the matter in hand. It is what we all admit at once as regards the principle of Conscience. No one will say that Conscience is against Reason, or that its dictates cannot be thrown into an argumentative form; yet who will, therefore, maintain that it is not an original principle, but must depend, before it acts, upon some previous processes of Reason? Reason analyzes the grounds and motives of action: a reason is an analysis, but is not the motive itself. As, then, Conscience is a simple element in our nature, yet its operations admit of being surveyed and scrutinized by Reason; so may Faith be cognizable, and its acts be justified, by Reason, without therefore being, in matter of fact, dependent upon it; and as we reprobate, under the name of Utilitarianism, the substitution of Reason for Conscience, so perchance it is a parallel error to teach that a process of Reason is the sine quâ non for true religious Faith. When the Gospel is said to require a rational Faith, this need not mean more than that Faith is accordant to right Reason in the abstract, not that it results from it in the particular case.
15. A parallel and familiar instance is presented by the generally-acknowledged contrast between poetical or similar powers, and the art of criticism. That art is the sovereign awarder of praise and blame, and constitutes a court of appeal in matters of taste; as then the critic ascertains what he cannot himself create, so Reason may put its sanction upon the acts of Faith, without in consequence being the source from which Faith springs.
16. On the other hand, Faith certainly does seem, in matter of fact, to exist and operate quite independently of Reason. Will any one say that a child or uneducated person may not savingly act on Faith, without being able to produce reasons why he so acts? What sufficient view has he of the Evidences of Christianity? What logical proof of its divinity? If he has none, Faith, viewed as an internal habit or act, does not depend upon inquiry and examination, but has its own special basis, whatever that is, as truly as Conscience has. We see, then, that Reason may be the judge, without being the origin, of Faith; and that Faith may be justified by Reason, without making use of it. This is what it occurs to mention at first sight,
17. Next, I observe, that, whatever be the real distinction and relation existing between Faith and Reason, which it is not to our purpose at once to determine, the contrast that would be made between them, on a popular view, is this,—that Reason requires strong evidence before it assents, and Faith is content with weaker evidence.
18. For instance: when a well-known infidel of the last century argues, that the divinity of Christianity is founded on the testimony of the Apostles, in opposition to the experience of nature, and that the laws of nature are uniform, those of testimony variable, and scoffingly adds that Christianity is founded on Faith, not on Reason, what is this but saying that Reason is severer in its demands of evidence than Faith?
19. Again, the founder of the recent Utilitarian School insists, that all evidence for miracles, before it can be received, should be brought into a court of law, and subjected to its searching forms:—this too is to imply that Reason demands exact proofs, but that Faith accepts inaccurate ones.
20. The same thing is implied in the notion which men of the world entertain, that Faith is but credulity, superstition, or fanaticism; these principles being notoriously such as are contented with insufficient evidence concerning their objects. On the other hand, scepticism, which shows itself in a dissatisfaction with evidence of whatever kind, is often called by the name of Reason. What Faith, then, and Reason are, when compared together, may be determined from their counterfeits,—from the mutual relation of credulity and scepticism, which no one can doubt about.
21. In like manner, when mathematics are said to incline the mind towards doubt and latitudinarianism, this arises, according to the statement of one who felt this influence of the study, from its indisposing us for arguments drawn from mere probabilities.
22. Or, to take particular instances:—When the proof of Infant Baptism is rested by its defenders on such texts as, "Suffer little children to come unto Me," [Matt. xix. 14.] a man of a reasoning turn will object to such an argument as not sufficient to prove the point in hand. He will say that it does not follow that infants ought to be baptized, because they ought to be brought and dedicated to Christ; and that he waits for more decisive evidence.
23. Again, when the religious observance of a Christian Sabbath is defended from the Apostles' observance of it, it may be captiously argued that, considering St. Paul's express declaration, that the Sabbath, as such, is abolished, a mere practice, which happens to be recorded in the Acts, and which, for what we know, was temporary and accidental, cannot restore what was once done away, and introduce a Jewish rite into the Gospel. Religious persons, who cannot answer this objection, are often tempted to impute it to "man's wisdom," "the logic of the schools," "the pride of reason," and the like, and to insist on the necessity of the teachable study of Scripture as the means of overcoming it. We are not concerned to defend the language they use; but it is plain that they corroborate what has been laid down, as implying that Reason requires more evidence for conviction than Faith.
24. When, then, Reason and Faith are contrasted together, Faith means easiness, Reason, difficulty of conviction. Reason is called either strong sense or scepticism, according to the bias of the speaker; and Faith, either teachableness or credulity.
25. The next question, beyond which I shall not proceed today, is this:—If this be so, how is it conformable to Reason to accept evidence less than Reason requires? If Faith be what has been described, it opposes itself to Reason, as being satisfied with the less where Reason demands the more. If, then, Reason be the healthy action of the mind, then Faith must be its weakness. The answer to this question will advance us one step farther in our investigation into the relation existing between Faith and Reason.
26. Faith, then, as I have said, does not demand evidence so strong as is necessary for what is commonly considered a rational conviction, or belief on the ground of Reason; and why? For this reason, because it is mainly swayed by antecedent considerations. In this way it is, that the two principles are opposed to one another: Faith is influenced by previous notices, prepossessions, and (in a good sense of the word) prejudices; but Reason, by direct and definite proof. The mind that believes is acted upon by its own hopes, fears, and existing opinions; whereas it is supposed to reason severely, when it rejects antecedent proof of a fact,—rejects every thing but the actual evidence producible in its favour. This will appear from a very few words.
27. Faith is a principle of action, and action does not allow time for minute and finished investigations. We may (if we will) think that such investigations are of high value; though, in truth, they have a tendency to blunt the practical energy of the mind, while they improve its scientific exactness; but, whatever be their character and consequences, they do not answer the needs of daily life. Diligent collection of evidence, sifting of arguments, and balancing of rival testimonies, may be suited to persons who have leisure and opportunity to act when and how they will; they are not suited to the multitude. Faith, then, as being a principle for the multitude and for conduct, is influenced more by what (in language familiar to us of this place) are called ?????? than by ??????,—less by evidence, more by previously-entertained principles, views, and wishes.
28. This is the case with all Faith, and not merely religious. We hear a report in the streets, or read it in the public journals. We know nothing of the evidence; we do not know the witnesses, or any thing about them: yet sometimes we believe implicitly, sometimes not; sometimes we believe without asking for evidence, sometimes we disbelieve till we receive it. Did a rumour circulate of a destructive earthquake in Syria or the south of Europe, we should readily credit it; both because it might easily be true, and because it was nothing to us though it were. Did the report relate to countries nearer home, we should try to trace and authenticate it. We do not call for evidence till antecedent probabilities fail.
29. Again, it is scarcely necessary to point out how much our inclinations have to do with our belief. It is almost a proverb, that persons believe what they wish to be true. They will with difficulty admit the failure of any cherished project, or listen to a messenger of ill tidings. It may be objected, indeed, that great desire of an object sometimes makes us incredulous that we have attained it. Certainly; but this is only when we consider its attainment improbable, as well as desirable. Thus St. Thomas doubted of the Resurrection; and thus Jacob, especially as having already been deceived by his children, believed not the news of Joseph's being governor of Egypt. "Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not ... but when he saw the waggons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived."
30. The case is the same as regards preconceived opinions. Men readily believe reports unfavourable to persons they dislike, or confirmations of theories of their own. "Trifles light as air" are all that the predisposed mind requires for belief and action.
31. Such are the inducements to belief which prevail with all of us, by a law of our nature, and whether they are in the particular case reasonable or not. When the probabilities we assume do not really exist, or our wishes are inordinate, or our opinions are wrong, our Faith degenerates into weakness, extravagance, superstition, enthusiasm, bigotry, prejudice, as the ease may be; but when our prepossessions are unexceptionable, then we are right in believing or not believing, not indeed without, but upon slender evidence.
32. Whereas Reason then (as the word is commonly used) rests on the evidence, Faith is influenced by presumptions; and hence, while Reason requires rigid proofs, Faith is satisfied with vague or defective ones.
33. It will serve to bring out this doctrine into a more tangible form, to set down some inferences and reflections to which it leads, themselves not unimportant.
34. (1.) First, then, I would draw attention to the coincidence, for such it would seem to be, of what has been said, with St. Paul's definition of Faith in the text. He might have defined it "reliance on the word of another," or "acceptance of a divine message," or "submission of the intellect to mysteries," or in other ways equally true and more theological; but instead of such accounts of it, he adopts a definition bearing upon its nature, and singularly justifying the view which has been here taken of it. "Faith," he says, "is the substance" or realizing "of things hoped for." It is the reckoning that to be, which it hopes or wishes to be; not "the realizing of things proved by evidence." Its desire is its main evidence; or, as the Apostle expressly goes on to say, it makes its own evidence, "being the evidence of things not seen." And this is the cause, as is natural, why Faith seems to the world so irrational, as St. Paul says in other Epistles. Not that it has no grounds in Reason, that is, in evidence; but because it is satisfied with so much less than would be necessary, were it not for the bias of the mind, that to the world its evidence seems like nothing.
35. (2.) Next it is plain in what sense Faith is a moral principle. It is created in the mind, not so much by facts, as by probabilities; and since probabilities have no definite ascertained value, and are reducible to no scientific standard, what are such to each individual, depends on his moral temperament. A good and a bad man will think very different things probable. In the judgment of a rightly disposed mind, objects are desirable and attainable which irreligious men will consider to be but fancies. Such a correct moral judgment and view of things is the very medium in which the argument for Christianity has its constraining influence; a faint proof under circumstances being more availing than a strong one, apart from those circumstances.
36. This holds good as regards the matter as well as the evidence of the Gospel. It is difficult to say where the evidence, whether for Scripture or the Creed, would be found, if it were deprived of those adventitious illustrations which it extracts and absorbs from the mind of the inquirer, and which a merciful Providence places there for that very purpose. Texts have their illuminating power, from the atmosphere of habit, opinion, usage, tradition, through which we see them. On the other hand, irreligious men are adequate judges of the value of mere evidence, when the decision turns upon it; for evidence is addressed to the Reason, compels the Reason to assent so far as it is strong, and allows the Reason to doubt or disbelieve so far as it is weak. The blood on Joseph's coat of many colours was as perceptible to enemy as to friend; miracles appeal to the senses of all men, good and bad; and, while their supernatural character is learned from that experience of nature which is common to the just and to the unjust, the fact of their occurrence depends on considerations about testimony, enthusiasm, imposture, and the like, in which there is nothing inward, nothing personal. It is a sort of proof which a man does not make for himself; but which is made for him. It exists independently of him, and is apprehended from its own clear and objective character. It is its very boast that it does but require a candid hearing; nay, it especially addresses itself to the unbeliever, and engages to convert him as if against his will. There is no room for choice; there is no merit, no praise or blame, in believing or disbelieving; no test of character in the one or the other. But a man is responsible for his faith, because he is responsible for his likings and dislikings, his hopes and his opinions, on all of which his faith depends. And whereas unbelievers do not see this distinction, they persist in saying that a man is as little responsible for his faith as for his bodily functions; that both are from nature; that the will cannot make a weak proof a strong one; that if a person thinks a certain reason goes only a certain way, he is dishonest in attempting to make it go farther; that if he is after all wrong in his judgment, it is only his misfortune, not his fault; that he is acted on by certain principles from without, and must obey the laws of evidence, which are necessary and constant. But in truth, though a given evidence does not vary in force, the antecedent probability attending it does vary without limit, according to the temper of the mind surveying it.
37. (3.) Again: it is plain from what has been said, why our great divines, Bull and Taylor, not to mention others, have maintained that justifying faith is fides formata charitate, or in St. Paul's words, ?????? ?? ?????? ???????????. For as that faith, which is not moral, but depends upon evidence, is fides formata ratione,—dead faith, which an infidel may have; so that which justifies or is acceptable in God's sight, lives in, and from, a desire after those things which it accepts and confesses.
38. (4.) And here, again, we see what is meant by saying that Faith is a supernatural principle. The laws of evidence are the same in regard to the Gospel as to profane matters. If they were the sole arbiters of Faith, of course Faith could have nothing supernatural in it. But love of the great Object of Faith, watchful attention to Him, readiness to believe Him near, easiness to believe Him interposing in human affairs, fear of the risk of slighting or missing what may really come from Him; these are feelings not natural to fallen man, and they come only of supernatural grace; and these are the feelings which make us think evidence sufficient, which falls short of a proof in itself. The natural man has no heart for the promises of the Gospel, and dissects its evidence without reverence, without hope, without suspense, without misgivings; and, while he analyzes that evidence perhaps more philosophically than another, and treats it more luminously, and sums up its result with the precision and propriety of a legal tribunal, he rests in it as an end, and neither attains the farther truths at which it points, nor inhales the spirit which it breathes.
39. (5.) And this remark bears upon a fact which has sometimes perplexed Christians,—that those philosophers, ancient and modern, who have been eminent in physical science, have not unfrequently shown a tendency to infidelity. The system of physical causes is so much more tangible and satisfying than that of final, that unless there be a pre-existent and independent interest in the inquirer's mind, leading him to dwell on the phenomena which betoken an Intelligent Creator, he will certainly follow out those which terminate in the hypothesis of a settled order of nature and self-sustained laws. It is indeed a great question whether Atheism is not as philosophically consistent with the phenomena of the physical world, taken by themselves, as the doctrine of a creative and governing Power. But, however this be, the practical safeguard against Atheism in the case of scientific inquirers is the inward need and desire, the inward experience of that Power, existing in the mind before and independently of their examination of His material world.
40. (6.) And in this lies the main fallacy of the celebrated argument against miracles, already alluded to, of a Scotch philosopher, whose depth and subtlety all must acknowledge. Let us grant (at least for argument's sake) that judging from the experience of life, it is more likely that witnesses should deceive, than that the laws of nature should be suspended. Still there may be considerations distinct from this view of the question which turn the main probability the other way,—viz. the likelihood, à priori, that a Revelation should be given. Here, then, we see how Faith is and is not according to Reason; taken together with the antecedent probability that Providence will reveal Himself to mankind, such evidence of the fact, as is otherwise deficient, may be enough for conviction, even in the judgment of Reason. But enough need not be enough, apart from that probability. That is, Reason, weighing evidence only, or arguing from external experience, is counter to Faith; but, admitting the legitimate influence and logical import of the moral feelings, it concurs with it.
41. (7.) Hence it would seem as though Paley had hardly asked enough in the Introduction to his work on the Evidences, when he says of the doctrine of a future state and of a revelation relating to it, "that it is not necessary for our purpose that these propositions be capable of proof, or even that, by arguments drawn from the light of nature, they can be made out to be probable; it is enough that we are able to say concerning them, that they are not so violently improbable," that the propositions or the facts connected with them ought to be rejected at first sight. This acute and ingenious writer here asks leave to do only what the Utilitarian writer mentioned in a former place demands should be done, namely, to bring his case (as it were) into court; as if trusting to the strength of his evidence, dispensing with moral and religious considerations on one side or the other, and arguing from the mere phenomena of the human mind, that is, the inducements, motives, and habits according to which man acts. I will not say more of such a procedure than that it seems to me dangerous. As miracles, according to the common saying, are not wrought to convince Atheists, and, when they claim to be evidence of a Revelation, presuppose the being of an Intelligent Agent to whom they may be referred, so Evidences in general are grounded on the admission that the doctrine they are brought to prove is, not merely not inconsistent, but actually accordant with the laws of His moral governance. Miracles, though they contravene the physical laws of the universe, tend to the due fulfilment of its moral laws. And in matter of fact, when they were wrought, they addressed persons who were already believers, not in the mere probability, but even in the truth of supernatural revelations. This appears from the preaching of our Lord and His Apostles, who are accustomed to appeal to the religious feelings of their hearers; and who, though they might fail with the many, did thus persuade those who were persuaded—not, indeed, the sophists of Athens or the politicians of Rome, yet men of very different states of mind one from another, the pious, the superstitious, and the dissolute, different, indeed, but all agreeing in this, in the acknowledgment of truths beyond this world, whether or not their knowledge was clear, or their lives consistent,—the devout Jew, the proselyte of the gate, the untaught fisherman, the outcast Publican, and the pagan idolater.
42. (8.) And last of all, we here see what divines mean, who have been led to depreciate what are called the Evidences of Religion. The last century, a time when love was cold, is noted as being especially the Age of Evidences; and now, when more devout and zealous feelings have been excited, there is, I need scarcely say, a disposition manifested in various quarters, to think lightly, as of the eighteenth century, so of its boasted demonstrations. I have not here to make any formal comparison of the last century with the present, or to say whether they are nearer the truth, who in these matters advance with the present age, or who loiter behind with the preceding. I will only state what seems to me meant when persons disparage the Evidences,—viz. they consider that, as a general rule, religious minds embrace the Gospel mainly on the great antecedent probability of a Revelation, and the suitableness of the Gospel to their needs; on the other hand, that on men of irreligious minds Evidences are thrown away. Further, they perhaps would say, that to insist much on matters which are for the most part so useless for any practical purpose, draws men away from the true view of Christianity, and leads them to think that Faith is mainly the result of argument, that religious Truth is a legitimate matter of disputation, and that they who reject it rather err in judgment than commit sin. They think they see in the study in question a tendency to betray the sacredness and dignity of Religion, when those who profess themselves its champions allow themselves to stand on the same ground as philosophers of the world, admit the same principles, and only aim at drawing different conclusions.
43. For is not this the error, the common and fatal error, of the world, to think itself a judge of Religious Truth without preparation of heart? "I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine." "He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." "The pure in heart shall see God:" "to the meek mysteries are revealed " "he that is spiritual judgeth all things." "The darkness comprehendeth it not." Gross eyes see not; heavy ears hear not. But in the schools of the world the ways towards Truth are considered high roads open to all men, however disposed, at all times. Truth is to be approached without homage. Every one is considered on a level with his neighbour; or rather the powers of the intellect, acuteness, sagacity, subtlety, and depth, are thought the guides into Truth. Men consider that they have as full a right to discuss religious subjects, as if they were themselves religious. They will enter upon the most sacred points of Faith at the moment, at their pleasure,—if it so happen, in a careless frame of mind, in their hours of recreation, over the wine cup. Is it wonderful that they so frequently end in becoming indifferentists, and conclude that Religious Truth is but a name, that all men are right and all wrong, from witnessing externally the multitude of sects and parties, and from the clear consciousness they possess within, that their own inquiries end in darkness?
44. Yet, serious as these dangers may be, it does not therefore follow that the Evidences may not be of great service to persons in particular frames of mind. Careless persons may be startled by them as they might be startled by a miracle, which is no necessary condition of believing, notwithstanding. Again, they often serve as a test of honesty of mind; their rejection being the condemnation of unbelievers. Again, religious persons sometimes get perplexed and lose their way; are harassed by objections; see difficulties which they cannot surmount; are a prey to subtlety of mind or over-anxiety. Under these circumstances the varied proofs of Christianity will be a stay, a refuge, an encouragement, a rallying point for Faith, a gracious economy; and even in the case of the most established Christian they are a source of gratitude and reverent admiration, and a means of confirming faith and hope. Nothing need be detracted from the use of the Evidences on this score; much less can any sober mind run into the wild notion that actually no proof at all is implied in the maintenance, or may be exacted for the profession of Christianity. I would only maintain that that proof need not be the subject of analysis, or take a methodical form, or be complete and symmetrical, in the believing mind; and that probability is its life. I do but say that it is antecedent probability that gives meaning to those arguments from facts which are commonly called the Evidences of Revelation; that, whereas mere probability proves nothing, mere facts persuade no one; that probability is to fact, as the soul to the body; that mere presumptions may have no force, but that mere facts have no warmth. A mutilated and defective evidence suffices for persuasion where the heart is alive; but dead evidences, however perfect, can but create a dead faith.
45. To conclude: It will be observed, I have not yet said what Reason really is, or what is its relation to Faith, but have merely contrasted the two together, taking Reason in the sense popularly ascribed to the word. Nor do I aim at more than ascertaining the sense in which the words Faith and Reason are used by Christian and Catholic writers. If I shall succeed in this, I shall be content, without attempting to defend it. Half the controversies in the world are verbal ones; and could they be brought to a plain issue, they would be brought to a prompt termination. Parties engaged in them would then perceive, either that in substance they agreed together, or that their difference was one of first principles. This is the great object to be aimed at in the present age, though confessedly a very arduous one. We need not dispute, we need not prove,—we need but define. At all events, let us, if we can, do this first of all; and then see who are left for us to dispute with, what is left for us to prove. Controversy, at least in this age, does not lie between the hosts of heaven, Michael and his Angels on the one side, and the powers of evil on the other; but it is a sort of night battle, where each fights for himself, and friend and foe stand together. When men understand each other's meaning, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless.
(Preached on the Epiphany, 1839.)
Sermon 11. The Nature of Faith in Relation to Reason
"God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." 1 Cor. i. 27.1. IT is usual at this day to speak as if Faith were simply of a moral nature, and depended and followed upon a distinct act of Reason beforehand,—Reason warranting, on the ground of evidence, both ample and carefully examined, that the Gospel comes from God, and then Faith embracing it. On the other hand, the more Scriptural representation seems to be this, which is obviously more agreeable to facts also, that, instead of there being really any such united process of reasoning first, and then believing, the act of Faith is sole and elementary, and complete in itself, and depends on no process of mind previous to it: and this doctrine is borne out by the common opinion of men, who, though they contrast Faith and Reason, yet rather consider Faith to be weak Reason, than a moral quality or act following upon Reason. The Word of Life is offered to a man; and, on its being offered, he has Faith in it. Why? On these two grounds,—the word of its human messenger, and the likelihood of the message. And why does he feel the message to be probable? Because he has a love for it, his love being strong, though the testimony is weak. He has a keen sense of the intrinsic excellence of the message, of its desirableness, of its likeness to what it seems to him Divine Goodness would vouchsafe did He vouchsafe any, of the need of a Revelation, and its probability. Thus Faith is the reasoning of a religious mind, or of what Scripture calls a right or renewed heart, which acts upon presumptions rather than evidence, which speculates and ventures on the future when it cannot make sure of it.
2. Thus, to take the instance of St. Paul preaching at Athens: he told his hearers that he came as a messenger from that God whom they worshipped already, though ignorantly, and of whom their poets spoke. He appealed to the conviction that was lodged within them of the spiritual nature and the unity of God; and he exhorted them to turn to Him who had appointed One to judge the whole world hereafter. This was an appeal to the antecedent probability of a Revelation, which would be estimated variously according to the desire of it existing in each breast. Now, what was the evidence he gave, in order to concentrate those various antecedent presumptions, to which he referred, in behalf of the message which he brought? Very slight, yet something; not a miracle, but his own word that God had raised Christ from the dead; very like the evidence given to the mass of men now, or rather not so much. No one will say it was strong evidence; yet, aided by the novelty, and what may be called originality, of the claim, its strangeness and improbability considered as a mere invention, and the personal bearing of the Apostle, and supported by the full force of the antecedent probabilities which existed, and which he stirred within them, it was enough. It was enough, for some did believe,—enough, not indeed in itself, but enough for those who had love, and therefore were inclined to believe. To those who had no fears, wishes, longings, or expectations, of another world, he was but "a babbler;" those who had such, or, in the Evangelist's words in another place, were "ordained to eternal life," "clave unto him, and believed."
3. This instance, then, seems very fully to justify the view of Faith which I have been taking, that it is an act of Reason, but of what the world would call weak, bad, or insufficient Reason; and that, because it rests on presumption more, and on evidence less. On the other hand, I conceive that this passage of Scripture does not fit in at all with the modern theory now in esteem that Faith is a mere moral act, dependent on a previous process of clear and cautious Reason. If so, one would think that St. Paul had no claim upon the faith of his hearers, till he had first wrought a miracle, such as Reason might approve, in token that his message was to be handed over to the acceptance of Faith.
4. Now, that this difference of theories as regards the nature of religious Faith is not a trifling one, is evident, perhaps, from the conclusions which I drew from it last week, which, if legitimate, are certainly important: and as feeling it to be a serious difference, I now proceed to state distinctly what I conceive to be the relation of Faith to Reason. I observe, then, as follows:—
5. We are surrounded by beings which exist quite independently of us,—exist whether we exist, or cease to exist, whether we have cognizance of them or no. These we commonly separate into two great divisions, material and immaterial. Of the material we have direct knowledge through the senses; we are sensible of the existence of persons and things, of their properties and modes, of their relations towards each other, and the courses of action which they carry on. Of all these we are directly cognizant through the senses; we see and hear what passes, and that immediately. As to immaterial beings, that we have faculties analogous to sense by which we have direct knowledge of their presence, does not appear, except indeed as regards our own soul and its acts. But so far is certain at least, that we are not conscious of possessing them; and we account it, and rightly, to be enthusiasm to profess such consciousness. At times, indeed, that consciousness has been imparted, as in some of the appearances of God to man contained in Scripture: but, in the ordinary course of things, whatever direct intercourse goes on between the soul and immaterial beings, whether we perceive them or not, and are influenced by them or not, certainly we have no consciousness of that perception or influence, such as our senses convey to us in the perception of things material. The senses, then, are the only instruments which we know to be granted to us for direct and immediate acquaintance with things external to us. Moreover, it is obvious that even our senses convey us but a little way out of ourselves, and introduce us to the external world only under circumstances, under conditions of time and place, and of certain media through which they act. We must be near things to touch them; we must be interrupted by no simultaneous sounds to hear them; we must have light to see them; we can neither see, hear, nor touch things past or future.
6. Now, Reason is that faculty of the mind by which this deficiency is supplied; by which knowledge of things external to us, of beings, facts, and events, is attained beyond the range of sense. It ascertains for us not natural things only, or immaterial only, or present only, or past, or future; but, even if limited in its power, it is unlimited in its range, viewed as a faculty, though, of course, in individuals it varies in range also. It reaches to the ends of the universe, and to the throne of God beyond them; it brings us knowledge, whether clear or uncertain, still knowledge, in whatever degree of perfection, from every side; but, at the same time, with this characteristic, that it obtains it indirectly, not directly.
7. Reason does not really perceive any thing; but it is a faculty of proceeding from things that are perceived to things which are not; the existence of which it certifies to us on the hypothesis of something else being known to exist, in other words, being assumed to be true.
8. Such is Reason, simply considered; and hence the fitness of a number of words which are commonly used to denote it and its acts. For instance: its act is usually considered a process, which, of course, a progress of thought from one idea to the other must be; an exercise of mind, which perception through the senses can hardly be called; or, again, an investigation, or an analysis; or it is said to compare, discriminate, judge, and decide: all which words imply, not simply assent to the reality of certain external facts, but a search into grounds, and an assent upon grounds. It is, then, the faculty of gaining knowledge upon grounds given; and its exercise lies in asserting one thing, because of some other thing; and, when its exercise is conducted rightly, it leads to knowledge; when wrongly, to apparent knowledge, to opinion, and error.
9. Now, if this be Reason, an act or process of Faith, simply considered, is certainly an exercise of Reason; whether a right exercise or not is a farther question; and, whether so to call it, in a sufficient account of it, is a farther question. It is an acceptance of things as real, which the senses do not convey, upon certain previous grounds; it is an instrument of indirect knowledge concerning things external to us,—the process being such as the following: "I assent to this doctrine as true, because I have been taught it;" or, "because superiors tell me so;" or, "because good men think so;" or, "because very different men think so;" or, "because all men;" or, "most men;" or, "because it is established;" or, "because persons whom I trust say that it was once guaranteed by miracles;" or, "because one who is said to have wrought miracles," or "who says he wrought them," "has taught it;" or, "because I have seen one who saw the miracles;" or, "because I saw what I took to be a miracle;" or for all or some of these reasons together. Some such exercise of Reason is the act of Faith, considered in its nature.
10. On the other hand, Faith plainly lies exposed to the popular charge of being a faulty exercise of Reason, as being conducted on insufficient grounds; and, I suppose, so much must be allowed on all hands, either that it is illogical, or that the mind has some grounds which are not fully brought out, when the process is thus exhibited. In other words, that when the mind savingly believes, the reasoning which that belief involves, if it be logical, does not merely proceed from the actual evidence, but from other grounds besides.
11. I say, there is this alternative in viewing the particular process of Reason which is involved in Faith;—to say either that the process is illogical, or the subject-matter more or less special and recondite; the act of inference faulty, or the premisses undeveloped; that Faith is weak, or that it is unearthly. Scripture says that it is unearthly, and the world says that it is weak.
12. This, then, being the imputation brought against Faith, that it is the reasoning of a weak mind, whereas it is in truth the reasoning of a divinely enlightened one, let me now, in a few words, attempt to show the analogy of this state of things, with what takes place in regard to other exercises of Reason also; that is, I shall attempt to show that Faith is not the only exercise of Reason, which, when critically examined, would be called unreasonable, and yet is not so.
13. (1.) In truth, nothing is more common among men of a reasoning turn than to consider that no one reasons well but themselves. All men of course think that they themselves are right and others wrong, who differ from them; and so far all men must find fault with the reasonings of others, since no one proposes to act without reasons of some kind. Accordingly, so far as men are accustomed to analyze the opinions of others and to contemplate their processes of thought, they are tempted to despise them as illogical. If any one sets about examining why his neighbours are on one side in political questions, not on another; why for or against certain measures, of a social, economical, or civil nature; why they belong to this religious party, not to that; why they hold this or that doctrine; why they have certain tastes in literature; or why they hold certain views in matters of opinion; it is needless to say that, if he measures their grounds merely by the reasons which they produce, he will have no difficulty in holding them up to ridicule, or even to censure.
14. And so again as to the deductions made from definite facts common to all. From the sight of the same sky one may augur fine weather, another bad; from the signs of the times one the coming in of good, another of evil; from the same actions of individuals one infers moral greatness, another depravity or perversity, one simplicity, another craft; upon the same evidence one justifies, another condemns. The miracles of Christianity were in early times imputed by some to magic, others they converted; the union of its professors was ascribed to seditious and traitorous aims by some, while others it moved to say, "See how these Christians love one another." The phenomena of the physical world have given rise to a variety of theories, that is, of alleged facts, at which they are supposed to point; theories of astronomy, chemistry, and physiology; theories religions and atheistical. The same events are considered to prove a particular providence, and not; to attest the divinity of one religion or of another. The downfall of the Roman Empire was to Pagans a refutation, to Christians an evidence, of Christianity. Such is the diversity with which men reason, showing us that Faith is not the only exercise of Reason, which approves itself to some and not to others, or which is, in the common sense of the word, irrational.
15. Nor can it fairly be said that such varieties do arise from deficiency in the power of reasoning in the multitude; and that Faith, such as I have described it, is but proved thereby to be a specimen of such deficiency. This is what men of clear intellects are not slow to imagine. Clear, strong, steady intellects, if they are not deep, will look on these differences in deduction chiefly as failures in the reasoning faculty, and will despise them or excuse them accordingly. Such are the men who are commonly latitudinarians in religion on the one hand, or innovators on the other; men of exact or acute but shallow minds, who consider all men wrong but themselves, yet think it no matter though they be; who regard the pursuit of truth only as a syllogistic process, and failure in attaining it as arising merely from a want of mental conformity with the laws on which just reasoning is conducted. But surely there is no greater mistake than this. For the experience of life contains abundant evidence that in practical matters, when their minds are really roused, men commonly are not bad reasoners. Men do not mistake when their interest is concerned. They have an instinctive sense in which direction their path lies towards it, and how they must act consistently with self-preservation or self-aggrandisement. And so in the case of questions in which party spirit, or political opinion, or ethical principle, or personal feeling, is concerned, men have a surprising sagacity, often unknown to themselves, in finding their own place. However remote the connexion between the point in question and their own creed, or habits, or feelings, the principles which they profess guide them unerringly to their legitimate issues; and thus it often happens that in apparently indifferent practices or usages or sentiments, or in questions of science, or politics, or literature, we can almost prophesy beforehand, from their religious or moral views, where certain persons will stand, and often can defend them far better than they defend themselves. The same thing is proved from the internal consistency of such religious creeds as are allowed time and space to develope freely; such as Primitive Christianity, or the Medieval system, or Calvinism—a consistency which nevertheless is wrought out in and through the rude and inaccurate minds of the multitude. Again, it is proved from the uniformity observable in the course of the same doctrine in different ages and countries, whether it be political, religious, or philosophical; the laws of Reason forcing it on into the same developments, the same successive phases, the same rise, and the same decay, so that its recorded history in one century will almost suit its prospective course in the next.
16. All this shows, that in spite of the inaccuracy in expression, or (if we will) in thought, which prevails in the world, men on the whole do not reason incorrectly. If their reason itself were in fault, they would reason each in his own way: whereas they form into schools, and that not merely from imitation and sympathy, but certainly from internal compulsion, from the constraining influence of their several principles. They may argue badly, but they reason well; that is, their professed grounds are no sufficient measures of their real ones. And in like manner, though the evidence with which Faith is content is apparently inadequate to its purpose, yet this is no proof of real weakness or imperfection in its reasoning. It seems to be contrary to Reason, yet is not; it is but independent of and distinct from what are called philosophical inquiries, intellectual systems, courses of argument, and the like.
17. So much on the general phenomena which attend the exercise of this great faculty, one of the characteristics of human over brute natures. Whether we consider processes of Faith or other exercise of Reason, men advance forward on grounds which they do not, or cannot produce, or if they could, yet could not prove to be true, on latent or antecedent grounds which they take for granted.
18. (2.) Next, let it be observed, that however full and however precise our producible grounds may be, however systematic our method, however clear and tangible our evidence, yet when our argument is traced down to its simple elements, there must ever be something assumed ultimately which is incapable of proof, and without which our conclusion will be as illogical as Faith is apt to seem to men of the world.
19. To take the case of actual evidence, and that of the strongest kind. Now, whatever it be, its cogency must be a thing taken for granted; so far it is its own evidence, and can only be received on instinct or prejudice. For instance, we trust our senses, and that in spite of their often deceiving us. They even contradict each other at times, yet we trust them. But even were they ever consistent, never unfaithful, still their fidelity would not be thereby proved. We consider that there is so strong an antecedent probability that they are faithful, that we dispense with proof. We take the point for granted; or, if we have grounds for it, these either lie in our secret belief in the stability of nature, or in the preserving presence and uniformity of Divine Providence,—which, again, are points assumed. As, then, the senses may and do deceive us, and yet we trust them from a secret instinct, so it need not be weakness or rashness, if upon a certain presentiment of mind we trust to the fidelity of testimony offered for a Revelation.
20. Again: we rely implicitly on our memory, and that, too, in spite of its being obviously unstable and treacherous. And we trust to memory for the truth of most of our opinions; the grounds on which we hold them not being at a given moment all present to our minds. We trust to memory to inform us what we do hold and what we do not. It may be said, that without such assumption the world could not go on: true; and in the same way the Church could not go on without Faith. Acquiescence in testimony, or in evidence not stronger than testimony, is the only method, as far as we see, by which the next world can be revealed to us.
21. The same remarks apply to our assumption of the fidelity of our reasoning powers; which in certain instances we implicitly believe, though we know they have deceived us in others.
22. Were it not for these instincts, it cannot be doubted but our experience of the deceivableness of Senses, Memory, and Reason, would perplex us much as to our practical reliance on them in matters of this world. And so, as regards the matters of another, they who have not that instinctive apprehension of the Omnipresence of God and His unwearied and minute Providence which holiness and love create within us, must not be surprised to find that the evidence of Christianity does not perform an office which was never intended for it,—viz. that of recommending itself as well as the Revelation. Nothing, then, which Scripture says about Faith, however startling it may be at first sight, is inconsistent with the state in which we find ourselves by nature with reference to the acquisition of knowledge generally,—a state in which we must assume something to prove anything, and can gain nothing without a venture.
23. (3.) To proceed. Next let it be considered, that the following law seems to hold in our attainment of knowledge, that according to its desirableness, whether in point of excellence, or range, or intricacy, so is the subtlety of the evidence on which it is received. We are so constituted, that if we insist upon being as sure as is conceivable, in every step of our course, we must be content to creep along the ground, and can never soar. If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards; and, whereas we are given absolute certainty in nothing, we must in all things choose between doubt and inactivity, and the conviction that we are under the eye of One who, for whatever reason, exercises us with the less evidence when He might give us the greater. He has put it into our hands, who loves us; and He bids us examine it, indeed, with our best judgment, reject this and accept that, but still all the while as loving Him in our turn; not coldly and critically, but with the thought of His presence, and the reflection that perchance by the defects of the evidence He is trying our love of its matter; and that perchance it is a law of His Providence to speak less loudly the more He promises. For instance, the touch is the most certain and cautious, but it is the most circumscribed of our senses, and reaches but an arm's length. The eye, which takes in a far wider range, acts only in the light. Reason, which extends beyond the province of sense or the present time, is circuitous and indirect in its conveyance of knowledge, which, even when distinct, is traced out pale and faint, as distant objects on the horizon. And Faith, again, by which we get to know divine things, rests on the evidence of testimony, weak in proportion to the excellence of the blessing attested. And as Reason, with its great conclusions, is confessedly a higher instrument than Sense with its secure premisses, so Faith rises above Reason, in its subject-matter, more than it falls below it in the obscurity of its process. And it is, I say, but agreeable to analogy, that Divine Truth should be attained by so subtle and indirect a method, a method less tangible than others, less open to analysis, reducible but partially to the forms of Reason, and the ready sport of objection and cavil.
24. (4.) Further, much might be observed concerning the special delicacy and abstruseness of such reasoning processes as attend the acquisition of all higher knowledge. It is not too much to say that there is no one of the greater achievements of the Reason, which would show to advantage, which would be apparently justified and protected from criticism, if thrown into the technical forms which the science of argument requires. The most remarkable victories of genius, remarkable both in their originality and the confidence with which they have been pursued, have been gained, as though by invisible weapons, by ways of thought so recondite and intricate that the mass of men are obliged to take them on trust, till the event or other evidence confirms them. Such are the methods which penetrating intellects have invented in mathematical science, which look like sophisms till they issue in truths. Here, even in the severest of disciplines, and in absolutely demonstrative processes, the instrument of discovery is so subtle, that technical expressions and formulae are of necessity substituted for it, to thread the labyrinth withal, by way of tempering its difficulties to the grosser reason of the many. Or, let it be considered how rare and immaterial (if I may use the words) is metaphysical proof: how difficult to embrace, even when presented to us by philosophers in whose clearness of mind and good sense we fully confide; and what a vain system of words without ideas such men seem to be piling up, while perhaps we are obliged to confess that it must be we who are dull, not they who are fanciful; and that, whatever be the character of their investigations, we want the vigour or flexibility of mind to judge of them. Or let us attempt to ascertain the passage of the mind, when slight indications in things present are made the informants of what is to be. Consider the preternatural sagacity with which a great general knows what his friends and enemies are about, and what will be the final result, and where, of their combined movements,—and then say whether, if he were required to argue the matter in word or on paper, all his most brilliant conjectures might not be refuted, and all his producible reasons exposed as illogical.
25. And, in an analogous way, Faith is a process of the Reason, in which so much of the grounds of inference cannot be exhibited, so much lies in the character of the mind itself, in its general view of things, its estimate of the probable and the improbable, its impressions concerning God's will, and its anticipations derived from its own inbred wishes, that it will ever seem to the world irrational and despicable;—till, that is, the event confirms it. The act of mind, for instance, by which an unlearned person savingly believes the Gospel, on the word of his teacher, may be analogous to the exercise of sagacity in a great statesman or general, supernatural grace doing for the uncultivated reason what genius does for them.
26. (5.) Now it is a singular confirmation of this view of the subject, that the reasonings of inspired men in Scripture, nay, of God Himself are of this recondite nature; so much so, that irreverent minds scarcely hesitate to treat them with the same contempt which they manifest towards the faith of ordinary Christians. St. Paul's arguments have been long ago abandoned even by men who professed to be defenders of Christianity. Nor can it be said surely that the line of thought (if I may dare so to speak), on which some of our Ever-blessed Saviour's discourses proceed, is more intelligible to our feeble minds. And here, moreover, let it be noted that, supposing the kind of reasoning which we call Faith to be of the subtle character which I am maintaining, and the instances of professed reasoning found in Scripture to be of a like subtlety, light is thrown upon another remarkable circumstance, which no one can deny, and which some have made an objection,—I mean, the indirectness of the Scripture proof on which the Catholic doctrines rest. It may be, that such a peculiarity in the inspired text is the proper correlative of Faith; such a text the proper matter for Faith to work upon; so that a Scripture such as we have, and not such as the Pentateuch was to the Jews, may be implied in our being under Faith and not under the Law.
27. (6.) Lastly, it should be observed that the analogy which I have been pursuing extends to moral actions, and their properties and objects, as well as to intellectual exercises. According as objects are great, the mode of attaining them is extraordinary; and again, according as it is extraordinary, so is the merit of the action. Here, instead of going to Scripture, or to a religious standard, let me appeal to the world's judgment in the matter. Military fame, for instance, power, character for greatness of mind, distinction in experimental science, are all sought and attained by risks and adventures. Courage does not consist in calculation, but in fighting against chances. The statesman whose name endures, is he who ventures upon measures which seem perilous, and yet succeed, and can be only justified on looking back upon them. Firmness and greatness of soul are shown, when a ruler stands his ground on his instinctive perception of a truth which the many scoff at, and which seems failing. The religious enthusiast bows the hearts of men to a voluntary obedience, who has the keenness to see, and the boldness to appeal to, principles and feelings deep buried within them, which they know not themselves, which he himself but by glimpses and at times realizes, and which he pursues from the intensity, not the steadiness of his view of them. And so in all things, great objects exact a venture, and a sacrifice is the condition of honour. And what is true in the world, why should it not be true also in the kingdom of God? We must "launch out into the deep, and let down our nets for a draught;" we must in the morning sow our seed, and in the evening withhold not our hand, for we know not whether shall prosper, either this or that. "He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." He that fails nine times and succeeds the tenth, is a more honourable man than he who hides his talent in a napkin; and so, even though the feelings which prompt us to see God in all things, and to recognize supernatural works in matters of the world, mislead us at times, though they make us trust in evidence which we ought not to admit, and partially incur with justice the imputation of credulity, yet a Faith which generously apprehends Eternal Truth, though at times it degenerates into superstition, is far better than that cold, sceptical, critical tone of mind, which has no inward sense of an overruling, ever-present Providence, no desire to approach its God, but sits at home waiting for the fearful clearness of His visible coming, whom it might seek and find in due measure amid the twilight of the present world.
28. To conclude: such is Faith as contrasted with Reason;—what it is contrasted with Superstition, how separate from it, and by what principles and laws restrained from falling into it, is a most important question, without settling which any view of the subject of Faith is of course incomplete; but which it does not fall within my present scope to consider.
(Preached January 13, 1839.)
Sermon 13. Implicit and Explicit Reason
"Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." 1 Pet. iii. 15.ST. PETER'S faith was one of his characteristic graces. It was ardent, keen, watchful, and prompt. It dispensed with argument, calculation, deliberation, and delay, whenever it heard the voice of its Lord and Saviour: and it heard that voice even when its accents were low, or when it was unaided by the testimony of the other senses. When Christ appeared walking on the sea, and said, "It is I," Peter answered Him, and said, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water." When Christ asked His disciples who He was, "Simon Peter answered and said," as we read in the Gospel for this day, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," and obtained our Lord's blessing for such clear and ready Faith. At another time, when Christ asked the Twelve whether they would leave Him as others did, St. Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." And after the Resurrection, when he heard from St. John that it was Christ who stood on the shore, he sprang out of the boat in which he was fishing, and cast himself into the sea, in his impatience to come near Him. Other instances of his faith might be mentioned. If ever Faith forgot self, and was occupied with its Great Object, it was the faith of Peter. If in any one Faith appears in contrast with what we commonly understand by Reason, and with Evidence, it so appears in the instance of Peter. When he reasoned, it was at times when Faith was lacking. "When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid;" and Christ in consequence called him, "Thou of little faith." When He had asked, "Who touched Me?" Peter and others reasoned, "Master," said they, "the multitude throng Thee, and press Thee, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me?" And in like manner, when Christ said that he should one day follow Him in the way of suffering, "Peter said unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now?"—and we know how his faith gave way soon afterwards.
2. Faith and Reason, then, stand in strong contrast in the history of Peter: yet it is Peter, and he not the fisherman of Galilee, but the inspired Apostle, who in the text gives us a precept which implies, in order to its due fulfilment, a careful exercise of our Reason, an exercise both upon Faith, considered as an act or habit of mind, and upon the Object of it. We are not only to "sanctify the Lord God in our hearts," not only to prepare a shrine within us in which our Saviour Christ may dwell, and where we may worship Him; but we are so to understand what we do, so to master our thoughts and feelings, so to recognize what we believe, and how we believe, so to trace out our ideas and impressions, and to contemplate the issue of them, that we may be "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh us an account of the hope that is in us." In these words, I conceive, we have a clear warrant, or rather an injunction, to cast our religion into the form of Creed and Evidences.
3. It would seem, then, that though Faith is the characteristic of the Gospel, and Faith is the simple lifting of the mind to the Unseen God, without conscious reasoning or formal argument, still the mind may be allowably, nay, religiously engaged, in reflecting upon its own Faith; investigating the grounds and the Object of it, bringing it out into words, whether to defend, or recommend, or teach it to others. And St. Peter himself, in spite of his ardour and earnestness, gives us in his own case some indications of such an exercise of mind. When he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," he cast his faith, in a measure, into a dogmatic form: and when he said, "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life," he gave "an account of the hope that was in him," or grounded his faith upon Evidence.
4. Nothing would be more theoretical and unreal than to suppose that true Faith cannot exist except when moulded upon a Creed, and based upon Evidence; yet nothing would indicate a more shallow philosophy than to say that it ought carefully to be disjoined from dogmatic and argumentative statements. To assert the latter is to discard the science of theology from the service of Religion; to assert the former, is to maintain that every child, every peasant, must be a theologian. Faith cannot exist without grounds or without an object; but it does not follow that all who have faith should recognize, and be able to state what they believe, and why. Nor, on the other hand, because it is not identical with its grounds, and its object, does it therefore cease to be true Faith, on its recognizing them. In proportion as the mind reflects upon itself, it will be able "to give an account" of what it believes and hopes; as far as it has not thus reflected, it will not be able. Such knowledge cannot be wrong, yet cannot be necessary, as long as reflection is at once a natural faculty of our souls, yet not an initial faculty. Scripture gives instances of Faith in each of these states, when attended by a conscious exercise of Reason, and when not. When Nicodemus said, "No man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him," he investigated. When the Scribe said, "There is One God, and there is none other but He; and to love Him with all the heart … is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices," his belief was dogmatical. On the other hand, when the cripple at Lystra believed, on St. Paul's preaching, or the man at the Beautiful gate believed in the Name of Christ, their faith was independent not of objects or grounds (for that is impossible,) but of perceptible, recognized, producible objects and grounds: they believed, they could not say what or why. True Faith, then, admits, but does not require, the exercise of what is commonly understood by Reason.
5. I hope it will not seem any want of reverence towards a great Apostle, who reigns with Christ in heaven, if, instead of selecting one of the many lessons to which his history calls our attention, or of the points of doctrine in it which might so profitably be enlarged upon, I employ his Day to continue a subject to which I have already devoted such opportunities of speaking from this place, as have from time to time occurred, though it be but incidentally connected with him. Such a continuation of subject has some sanction in the character of our first Lessons for Holy days, which, for the most part, instead of being appropriate to the particular Festivals on which they are appointed, are portions of a course, and connected with those which are assigned to others. And I will add that, if there is a question, the intrusion of which may be excused in the present age, and to which the mind is naturally led on the Days commemorative of the first Founders of the Church, it is the relation of Faith to Reason under the Gospel; and the means whereby, and the grounds whereon, and the subjects wherein, the mind is bound to believe and acquiesce, in matters of religion.
6. In the Epistle for this Day we have an account of St. Peter, when awakened by the Angel, obeying him implicitly, yet not understanding, while he obeyed. He girt himself, and bound on his sandals, and cast his garment about him, and "went out and followed him;" yet "wist not that it was true which was done by the Angel, but thought he saw a vision." Afterwards, when he "was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His Angel, and hath delivered me." First he acted spontaneously, then he contemplated his own acts. This may be taken as an illustration of the difference between the more simple faculties and operations of the mind, and that process of analyzing and describing them, which takes place upon reflection. We not only feel, and think, and reason, but we know that we feel, and think, and reason; not only know, but can inspect and ascertain our thoughts, feelings, and reasonings: not only ascertain, but describe. Children, for a time, do not realize even their material frames, or (as I may say) count their limbs; but, as the mind opens, and is cultivated, they turn their attention to soul as well as body; they contemplate all they are, and all they do; they are no longer beings of impulse, instinct, conscience, imagination, habit, or reason, merely; but they are able to reflect upon their own mind as if it were some external object; they reason upon their reasonings. This is the point on which I shall now enlarge.
7. Reason, according to the simplest view of it, is the faculty of gaining knowledge without direct perception, or of ascertaining one thing by means of another. In this way it is able, from small beginnings, to create to itself a world of ideas, which do or do not correspond to the things themselves for which they stand, or are true or not, according as it is exercised soundly or otherwise. One fact may suffice for a whole theory; one principle may create and sustain a system; one minute token is a clue to a large discovery. The mind ranges to and fro, and spreads out, and advances forward with a quickness which has become a proverb, and a subtlety and versatility which baffle investigation. It passes on from point to point, gaining one by some indication; another on a probability; then availing itself of an association; then falling back on some received law; next seizing on testimony; then committing itself to some popular impression, or some inward instinct, or some obscure memory; and thus it makes progress not unlike a clamberer on a steep cliff, who, by quick eye, prompt hand, and firm foot, ascends how he knows not himself; by personal endowments and by practice, rather than by rule, leaving no track behind him, and unable to teach another. It is not too much to say that the stepping by which great geniuses scale the mountains of truth is as unsafe and precarious to men in general, as the ascent of a skilful mountaineer up a literal crag. It is a way which they alone can take; and its justification lies in their success. And such mainly is the way in which all men, gifted or not gifted, commonly reason,—not by rule, but by an inward faculty.
8. Reasoning, then, or the exercise of Reason, is a living spontaneous energy within us, not an art. But when the mind reflects upon itself, it begins to be dissatisfied with the absence of order and method in the exercise, and attempts to analyze the various processes which take place during it, to refer one to another, and to discover the main principles on which they are conducted, as it might contemplate and investigate its faculty of memory or imagination. The boldest, simplest, and most comprehensive theory which has been invented for the analysis of the reasoning process, is the well-known science for which we are indebted to Aristotle, and which is framed upon the principle that every act of reasoning is exercised upon neither more nor less than three terms. Short of this, we have many general words in familiar use to designate particular methods of thought, according to which the mind reasons (that is, proceeds from truth to truth), or to designate particular states of mind which influence its reasonings. Such methods are antecedent probability, analogy, parallel cases, testimony, and circumstantial evidence; and such states of mind are prejudice, deference to authority, party spirit, attachment to such and such principles, and the like. In like manner we distribute the Evidences of Religion into External and Internal; into à priori and à posteriori; into Evidences of Natural Religion and of Revealed; and so on. Again, we speak of proving doctrines either from the nature of the case, or from Scripture, or from history; and of teaching them in a dogmatic, or a polemical, or a hortatory way. In these and other ways we instance the reflective power of the human mind, contemplating and scrutinizing its own acts.
9. Here, then, are two processes, distinct from each other,—the original process of reasoning, and next, the process of investigating our reasonings. All men reason, for to reason is nothing more than to gain truth from former truth, without the intervention of sense; to which brutes are limited; but all men do not reflect upon their own reasonings, much less reflect truly and accurately, so as to do justice to their own meaning; but only in proportion to their abilities and attainments. In other words, all men have a reason, but not all men can give a reason. We may denote, then, these two exercises of mind as reasoning and arguing, or as conscious and unconscious reasoning, or as Implicit Reason and Explicit Reason. And to the latter belong the words, science, method, development, analysis, criticism, proof, system, principles, rules, laws, and others of a like nature.
10. That these two exercises are not to be confounded together would seem too plain for remark, except that they have been confounded. Clearness in argument certainly is not indispensable to reasoning well. Accuracy in stating doctrines or principles is not essential to feeling and acting upon them. The exercise of analysis is not necessary to the integrity of the process analyzed. The process of reasoning is complete in itself and independent. The analysis is but an account of it; it does not make the conclusion correct; it does not make the inference rational. It does not cause a given individual to reason better. It does but give him a sustained consciousness, for good or for evil, that he is reasoning. How a man reasons is as much a mystery as how he remembers. He remembers better and worse on different subject-matters, and he reasons better and worse. Some men's reason becomes genius in particular subjects, and is less than ordinary in others. The gift or talent of reasoning may be distinct in different subjects, though the process of reasoning is the same. Now a good arguer or clear speaker is but one who excels in analyzing or expressing a process of reason, taken as his subject-matter. He traces out the connexion of facts, detects principles, applies them, supplies deficiencies, till he has reduced the whole into order. But his talent of reasoning, or the gift of reason as possessed by him, may be confined to such an exercise, and he may be as little expert in other exercises, as a mathematician need be an experimentalist; as little creative of the reasoning itself which he analyzes, as a critic need possess the gift of writing poems.
11. But if reasoning and arguing be thus distinct, what is to be thought of assertions such as the following? Certainly, to say the least, they are very inaccurately worded, and may lead, as they have led, to great error.
12. Tillotson, for instance, says: "Nothing ought to be received as a divine doctrine and revelation, without good evidence that it is so: that is, without some argument sufficient to satisfy a prudent and considerate man." Again: "Faith ... is an assent of the mind to something as revealed by God: now all assent must be grounded upon evidence; that is, no man can believe any thing, unless he have, or think he hath, some reason to do so. For to be confident of a thing without reason is not faith, but a presumptuous persuasion and obstinacy of mind." Such assertions either have an untrue meaning, or are unequal to the inferences which the writers proceed to draw from them.
13. In like manner Paley and others argue that miracles are not improbable unless a Revelation is improbable, on the ground that there is no other conceivable way of ascertaining a Revelation; that is, they would imply the necessity of a conscious investigation and verification of its claims, or the possession of grounds which are satisfactory in argument; whereas considerations which seem weak and insufficient in an explicit form may lead, and justly lead, us by an implicit process to a reception of Christianity; just as a peasant may from the look of the sky foretell tomorrow's weather, on grounds which, as far as they are producible, an exact logician would not scruple to pronounce inaccurate and inconsequent. "In what way," he asks, "can a Revelation be made," that is, as the context shows, be ascertained, "but by miracles? In none which we are able to conceive."
14. Again: another writer says, "There are but two ways by which God could reveal His will to mankind; either by an immediate influence on the mind of every individual of every age, or by selecting some particular persons to be His instruments ... and for this purpose vested by Him with such powers as might carry the strongest evidence that they were really divine teachers." On the other hand, Bishop Butler tells us that it is impossible to decide what evidence will be afforded of a Revelation, supposing it made; and certainly it might have been given without any supernatural display at all; being left (as it is in a manner even now) to be received or rejected by each man according as his heart sympathized in it, that is, on the influence of reasons, which, though practically persuasive, are weak when set forth as the argumentative grounds of conviction.
15. Faith, then, though in all cases a reasonable process, is not necessarily founded on investigation, argument, or proof; these processes being but the explicit form which the reasoning takes in the case of particular minds. Nay, so far from it, that the opposite opinion has, with much more plausibility, been advanced, viz. that Faith is not even compatible with these processes. Such an opinion, indeed, cannot be maintained, particularly considering the light which Scripture casts upon the subject, as in the text; but it may easily take possession of serious minds. When they witness the strife and division to which argument and controversy minister, the proud self-confidence which is fostered by strength of the reasoning powers, the laxity of opinion which often accompanies the study of the Evidences, the coldness, the formality, the secular and carnal spirit which is compatible with an exact adherence to dogmatic formularies; and on the other hand, when they recollect that Scripture represents religion as a divine life, seated in the affections and manifested in spiritual graces, no wonder that they are tempted to rescue Faith from all connexion with faculties and habits which may exist in perfection without Faith, and which too often usurp from Faith its own province, and profess to be a substitute for it. I repeat, such a persuasion is extreme, and will not maintain itself, and cannot be acted on, for any long time; it being as paradoxical to prohibit religious inquiry and inference, as to make it imperative. Yet we should not dismiss the notice of it, on many accounts, without doing justice to it; and therefore I propose now, before considering some of the uses of our critical and analytical powers, in the province of Religion, to state certain of the inconveniences and defects; an undertaking which will fully occupy what remains of our time this morning.
16. Inquiry and argument may be employed, first, in ascertaining the divine origin of Religion, Natural and Revealed; next, in interpreting Scripture; and thirdly, in determining points of Faith and Morals; that is, in the Evidences, Biblical Exposition, and Dogmatic Theology. In all three departments there is, first of all, an exercise of implicit reason, which is in its degree common to all men; for all men gain a certain impression, right or wrong, from what comes before them, for or against Christianity, for or against certain interpretations of Scripture, for or against certain doctrines. This impression, made upon their minds, whether by the claim itself of Revealed Religion, or by its documents, or by its teaching, it is the object of science to analyze, verify, methodize, and exhibit. We believe certain things, on certain grounds, through certain informants; and the analysis of these three, the why, the how, and the what, seems pretty nearly to constitute the science of divinity.
17. (1.) By the Evidences of Religion I mean the systematic analysis of all the grounds on which we believe Christianity to be true. I say "all," because the word Evidence is often restricted to denote only such arguments as arise out of the thing itself which is to be proved; or, to speak more definitely, facts and circumstances which presuppose the point under inquiry as a condition of their existence, and which are weaker or stronger arguments, according as that point approaches more or less closely to be a necessary condition of them. Thus blood on the clothes is an evidence of a murderer, just so far as a deed of violence is necessary to the fact of the stains, or alone accounts for them. Such are the Evidences as drawn out by Paley and other writers; and though only a secondary part, they are popularly considered the whole of the Evidences, because they can be exhibited and studied with far greater ease than antecedent considerations, presumptions, and analogies, which, vague and abstruse as they are, still are more truly the grounds on which religious men receive the Gospel; but on this subject something has been said on a former occasion.
18. (2.) Under the science of Interpretation is of course included all inquiry into its principles; the question of mystical interpretation, the theory of the double sense, the doctrine of types, the phraseology of prophecy, the drift and aim of the several books of Scripture; the dates when, the places where, and persons by and to whom they were written; the comparison and adjustment of book with book; the uses of the Old Testament; the relevancy of the Law to Christians and its relation to the Gospel; and the historical fulfilment of prophecy. And previous to such inquiries are others still more necessary, such as the study of the original languages in which the sacred Volume is written.
19. (3.) Under Dogmatic Theology must be included, not only doctrine, such as that of the Blessed Trinity, or the theory of Sacramental Influence, or the settlement of the Rule of Faith, but questions of morals and discipline also.
20. Now, in considering the imperfections and defects incident to such scientific exercises, we must carefully exempt from our remarks all instances of them which have been vouchsafed to us from above, and therefore have a divine sanction; and that such instances do exist, is the most direct and satisfactory answer to any doubts which religious persons may entertain, of the lawfulness of employing science in the province of Faith at all. Of such analyses and determinations as are certainly from man, we are at liberty to dispute both the truth and the utility: but what God has done is perfect, that is, perfect according to its subject-matter. Whether in the department of evidence, Scripture interpretation, or dogmatic teaching, what He has spoken must be received, not criticized;—and in saying this, I have not to assign the limits or the channels of God's communications. Whether He speaks only by Scripture, or by private and personal suggestion, or by the first ages, or by Tradition, or by the Church collective, or by the Church in Council, or by the Chair of Saint Peter, are questions about which Christians may differ without interfering with the principle itself, that what God has given is true, and what He has not given may, if so be, be not true. What He has not given by His appointed methods, whatever they be, may be venerable for its antiquity, or authoritative as held by good men, or safer to hold as held by many, or necessary to hold because it has been subscribed, or persuasive from its probability, or expedient from its good effects; but after all, except that all good things are from God, it is, as far as we know, a human statement, and is open to criticism, because the work of man. To such human inferences and propositions I confine myself in the remarks that follow.
21. Now the great practical evil of method and form in matters of religion,—nay, in all moral matters,—is obviously this:—their promising more than they can effect. At best the science of divinity is very imperfect and inaccurate, yet the very name of science is a profession of accuracy. Other and more familiar objections readily occur; such as its leading to familiarity with sacred things, and consequent irreverence; its fostering formality; its substituting a sort of religious philosophy and literature for worship and practice; its weakening the springs of action by inquiring into them; its stimulating to controversy and strife; its substituting, in matters of duty, positive rules which need explanation for an instinctive feeling which commands the mind; its leading the mind to mistake system for truth, and to suppose that an hypothesis is real because it is consistent: but all such objections, though important, rather lead us to a cautious use of science than to a distrust of it in religious matters. But its insufficiency in so high a province is an evil which attaches to it from first to last, an inherent evil which there are no means of remedying, and which, perhaps, lies at the root of those other evils which I have just been enumerating. To this evil I shall now direct my attention, having already incidentally referred to it in some of the foregoing remarks.
22. No analysis is subtle and delicate enough to represent adequately the state of mind under which we believe, or the subjects of belief, as they are presented to our thoughts. The end proposed is that of delineating, or, as it were, painting what the mind sees and feels: now let us consider what it is to portray duly in form and colour things material, and we shall surely understand the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of representing the outline and character, the hues and shades, in which any intellectual view really exists in the mind, or of giving it that substance and that exactness in detail in which consists its likeness to the original, or of sufficiently marking those minute differences which attach to the same general state of mind or tone of thought as found in this or that individual respectively. It is probable that a given opinion, as held by several individuals, even when of the most congenial views, is as distinct from itself as are their faces. Now how minute is the defect in imitation which hinders the likeness of a portrait from being successful! how easy is it to recognize who is intended by it, without allowing that really he is represented! Is it not hopeless, then, to expect that the most diligent and anxious investigation can end in more than in giving some very rude description of the living mind, and its feelings, thoughts, and reasonings? And if it be difficult to analyze fully any state, or frame, or opinion of our own minds, is it a less difficulty to delineate, as Theology professes to do, the works, dealings, providences, attributes, or nature of Almighty God?
23. In this point of view we may, without irreverence, speak even of the words of inspired Scripture as imperfect and defective; and though they are not subjects for our judgment (God forbid), yet they will for that very reason serve to enforce and explain better what I would say, and how far the objection goes. Inspiration is defective, not in itself, but in consequence of the medium it uses and the beings it addresses. It uses human language, and it addresses man; and neither can man compass, nor can his hundred tongues utter, the mysteries of the spiritual world, and God's appointments in this. This vast and intricate scene of things cannot be generalized or represented through or to the mind of man; and inspiration, in undertaking to do so, necessarily lowers what is divine to raise what is human. What, for instance, is the mention made in Scripture of the laws of God's government, of His providences, counsels, designs, anger, and repentance, but a gracious mode (the more gracious because necessarily imperfect) of making man contemplate what is far beyond him? Who shall give method to what is infinitely complex, and measure to the unfathomable? We are as worms in an abyss of divine works; myriads upon myriads of years would it take, were our hearts ever so religions, and our intellects ever so apprehensive, to receive from without the just impression of those works as they really are, and as experience would convey them to us:—sooner, then, than we should know nothing, Almighty God has condescended to speak to us so far as human thought and language will admit, by approximations, in order to give us practical rules for our own conduct amid His infinite and eternal operations.
24. And herein consists one great blessing of the Gospel Covenant, that in Christ's death on the Cross, and in other parts of that all-gracious Economy, are concentrated, as it were, and so presented to us those attributes and works which fill eternity. And with a like graciousness we are also told, in human language, things concerning God Himself, concerning His Son and His Spirit, and concerning His Son's incarnation, and the union of two natures in His One Person—truths which even a peasant holds implicitly, but which Almighty God, whether by His Apostles, or by His Church after them, has vouchsafed to bring together and methodize, and to commit to the keeping of science.
25. Now all such statements are likely at first to strike coldly or harshly upon religious ears, when taken by themselves, for this reason if for no other,—that they express heavenly things under earthly images, which are infinitely below the reality. This applies especially to the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship of our Lord and Saviour, as all know who have turned their minds to the controversies on the subject.
26. Again, it may so happen, that statements are only possible in the case of certain aspects of a doctrine, and that these seem inconsistent with each other, or mysteries, when contrasted together, apart from what lies between them; just as if one were shown the picture of a little child and an old man, and were told that they represented the same person,—a statement which would be incomprehensible to beings who were unacquainted with the natural changes which take place, in the course of years, in the human frame.
27. Or doctrinal statements may be introduced, not so much for their own sake, as because many consequences flow from them, and therefore a great variety of errors may, by means of them, be prevented. Such is the doctrine that our Saviour's personality is in His Godhead, not in His manhood; that He has taken the manhood into God. It is evident that such statements, being made for the sake of something beyond, when viewed apart from their end, or in themselves, are abrupt, and may offend hearers.
28. Again, so it is, however it be explained, that frequently we do not recognize our sensations and ideas, when put into words ever so carefully. The representation seems out of shape and strange, and startles us, even though we know not how to find fault with it. This applies, at least in the case of some persons, to portions of the received theological analysis of the impression made upon the mind by the Scripture notices concerning Christ and the Holy Spirit. In like manner, such phrases as "good works are a condition of eternal life," or "the salvation of the regenerate ultimately depends upon themselves,"—though unexceptionable, are of a nature to offend certain minds.
29. This difficulty of analyzing our more recondite feelings happily and convincingly, has a most important influence upon the science of the Evidences. Defenders of Christianity naturally select as reasons for belief, not the highest, the truest, the most sacred, the most intimately persuasive, but such as best admit of being exhibited in argument; and these are commonly not the real reasons in the case of religions men.
30. Nay, they are led for the same reason, to select such arguments as all will allow; that is, such as depend on principles which are a common measure for all minds. A science certainly is, in its very nature, public property; when, then, the grounds of Faith take the shape of a book of Evidences, nothing properly can be assumed but what men in general will grant as true; that is, nothing but what is on a level with all minds, good and bad, rude and refined.
31. Again, as to the difficulty of detecting and expressing the real reasons on which we believe, let this be considered,—how very differently an argument strikes the mind at one time and another, according to its particular state, or the accident of the moment. At one time it is weak and unmeaning,—at another, it is nothing short of demonstration. We take up a book at one time, and see nothing in it; at another, it is full of weighty remarks and precious thoughts. Sometimes a statement is axiomatic,—sometimes we are at a loss to see what can be said for it. Such, for instance, are the following, many like which are found in controversy;—that true saints cannot but persevere to the end; or that the influences of the Spirit cannot but be effectual; or that there must be an infallible Head of the Church on earth; or that the Roman Church, extending into all lands, is the Catholic Church; or that a Church, which is Catholic abroad, cannot be schismatical in England; or that, if our Lord is the Son of God, He must be God; or that a Revelation is probable; or that, if God is All-powerful, He must be also All-good. Who shall analyze the assemblage of opinions in this or that mind, which occasions it almost instinctively to reject or to accept each of these and similar positions? Far be it from me to seem to insinuate that they are but opinions, neither true nor false, and approving themselves or not, according to the humour or prejudice of the individual: so far from it, that I would maintain that the recondite reasons which lead each person to take or decline them, are just the most important portion of the considerations on which his conviction depends; and I say so, by way of showing that the science of controversy, or again the science of Evidences, has done very little, since it cannot analyze and exhibit these momentous reasons; nay, so far has done worse than little, in that it professes to have done much, and leads the student to mistake what are but secondary points in debate, as if they were the most essential.
32. It often happens, for the same reason, that controversialists or philosophers are spoken of by this or that person as unequal, sometimes profound, sometimes weak. Such cases of inequality, of course, do occur; but we should be sure, when tempted so to speak, that the fault is not with ourselves, who have not entered into an author's meaning, or analyzed the implicit reasonings along which his mind proceeds in those parts of his writings which we not merely dissent from (for that we have a right to do), but criticize as inconsecutive.
33. These remarks apply especially to the proofs commonly brought, whether for the truth of Christianity, or for certain doctrines from texts of Scripture. Such alleged proofs are commonly strong or slight, not in themselves, but according to the circumstances under which the doctrine professes to come to us, which they are brought to prove; and they will have a great or small effect upon our minds, according as we admit those circumstances or not. Now, the admission of those circumstances involves a variety of antecedent views, presumptions, implications, associations, and the like, many of which it is very difficult to detect and analyze. One person, for instance, is convinced by Paley's argument from the Miracles, another is not; and why? Because the former admits that there is a God, that He governs the world, that He wishes the salvation of man, that the light of nature is not sufficient for man, that there is no other way of introducing a Revelation but miracles, and that men, who were neither enthusiasts nor impostors, could not have acted as the Apostles did, unless they had seen the miracles which they attested; the other denies some one, or more, of these statements, or does not feel the force of some other principle more recondite and latent still than any of these, which is nevertheless necessary to the validity of the argument.
34. Further, let it be considered, that, even as regards what are commonly called Evidences, that is, arguments à posteriori; conviction for the most part follows, not upon any one great and decisive proof or token of the point in debate, but upon a number of very minute circumstances together, which the mind is quite unable to count up and methodize in an argumentative form. Let a person only call to mind the clear impression he has about matters of every day's occurrence, that this man is bent on a certain object, or that that man was displeased, or another suspicious; or that one is happy, and another unhappy; and how much depends in such impressions on manner, voice, accent, words uttered, silence instead of words, and all the many subtle symptoms which are felt by the mind, but cannot be contemplated; and let him consider how very poor an account he is able to give of his impression, if he avows it, and is called upon to justify it. This, indeed, is meant by what is called moral proof, in opposition to legal. We speak of an accused person being guilty without any doubt, even though the evidences of his guilt are none of them broad and definite enough in themselves to admit of being forced upon the notice of those who will not exert themselves to see them.
35. Now, should the proof of Christianity, or the Scripture proof of its doctrines, be of this subtle nature, of course it cannot be exhibited to advantage in argument: and even if it be not such, but contain strong and almost legal evidences, still there will always be a temptation in the case of writers on Evidence, or on the Scripture proof of doctrine, to overstate and exaggerate, or to systematize in excess; as if they were making a case in a court of law, rather than simply and severely analyzing, as far as is possible, certain existing reasons why the Gospel is true, or why it should be considered of a certain doctrinal character. It is hardly too much to say, that almost all reasons formally adduced in moral inquiries, are rather specimens and symbols of the real grounds, than those grounds themselves. They do but approximate to a representation of the general character of the proof which the writer wishes to convey to another's mind. They cannot, like mathematical proof, be passively followed with an attention confined to what is stated, and with the admission of nothing but what is urged. Rather, they are hints towards, and samples of, the true reasoning, and demand an active, ready, candid, and docile mind, which can throw itself into what is said, neglect verbal difficulties, and pursue and carry out principles. This is the true office of a writer, to excite and direct trains of thought; and this, on the other hand, is the too common practice of readers, to expect every thing to be done for them,—to refuse to think,—to criticize the letter, instead of reaching forwards towards the sense,—and to account every argument as unsound which is illogically worded.
36. Here is the fertile source of controversy, which may undoubtedly be prolonged without limit by those who desire it, while words are incomplete exponents of ideas, and complex reasons demand study, and involve prolixity. They, then, who wish to shorten the dispute, and to silence a captious opponent, look out for some strong and manifest argument which may be stated tersely, handled conveniently, and urged rhetorically; some one reason, which bears with it a show of vigour and plausibility, or a profession of clearness, simplicity, or originality, and may be easily reduced to mood and figure. Hence the stress often laid upon particular texts, as if decisive of the matter in hand: hence one disputant dismisses all parts of the Bible which relate to the Law,—another finds the high doctrines of Christianity revealed in the Book of Genesis,—another rejects certain portions of the inspired volume, as the Epistle of St. James,—another gives up the Apocrypha,—another rests the defence of Revelation on Miracles only, or the Internal Evidence only,—another sweeps away all Christian teaching but Scripture,—one and all from impatience at being allotted, in the particular case, an evidence which does little more than create an impression on the mind; from dislike of an evidence, varied, minute, complicated, and a desire of something producible, striking, and decisive.
37. Lastly, since a test is in its very nature of a negative character, and since argumentative forms are mainly a test of reasoning, so far they will be but critical, not creative. They will be useful in raising objections, and in ministering to scepticism; they will pull down, and will not be able to build up.
38. I have been engaged in proving the following points: that the reasonings and opinions which are involved in the act of Faith are latent and implicit; that the mind reflecting on itself is able to bring them out into some definite and methodical form; that Faith, however, is complete without this reflective faculty, which, in matter of fact, often does interfere with it, and must be used cautiously.
39. I am quite aware that I have said nothing but what must have often passed through the minds of others; and it may be asked whether it is worth while so diligently to traverse old ground. Yet perhaps it is never without its use to bring together in one view, and steadily contemplate truths, which one by one may be familiar notwithstanding.
40. May we be in the number of those who, with the Blessed Apostle whom we this day commemorate, employ all the powers of their minds to the service of their Lord and Saviour, who are drawn heavenward by His wonder-working grace, whose hearts are filled with His love, who reason in His fear, who seek Him in the way of His commandments, and who thereby believe on Him to the saving of their souls!
(Preached on St. Peter's Day, 1840.)