The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated

By John Angell James, 1852



It must be obvious to all people who reflect, that there are three distinct yet harmonious guides of human conduct—the senses, reason, and faith. The senses direct us in regard to those objects which appeal directly to our bodily organs. Reason is our rule in all matters connected with our varied occupations, tastes, pursuits and duties in this life. Faith is the ground of action in reference to religion and the life to come. These are different in their nature and objects—but they are not incongruous. Reason is not opposed to sense, for it is in part founded upon it; nor is faith antagonistic to reason—but altogether consonant with it. The life of sense is concurrent with that of reason, and the life of reason with that of faith. Sense supplies materials for the work of reason, and reason guides and controls the exercise of sense. So reason assists faith, and faith sustains and elevates reason. They are each a step higher, and a step beyond the other. Reason is an advance upon sense, the latter being the guide of brutes, the former the chief guide, in matters pertaining to this world, of men—and faith is an advance upon reason, being the guide of men viewed as immortal. Of sense and reason it may to a considerable extent be said, they are of the earth, earthy; while of faith it may be affirmed it is of heaven, and therefore heavenly. The man is above the beast by reason—and the Christian is above the man—by faith.

Faith then is our great principle and guide in matters of religion, and must of necessity be so, seeing religion has to do with matters of which we can know nothing—but by revelation.

FAITH stands out in the Word of God with a prominence and boldness that must attract every eye. We could as readily look up to the cloudless heavens at noon-day and not see the sun, as open the page of the New Testament and not meet with this omnipresent term. "He who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of all those who diligently seek him." "God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." "He who believes on him is not condemned—but he who believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God." "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life, and he who believes not the Son shall not see life." "By faith we stand." "We walk by faith." "Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge." "We are justified by faith,", "purifying our hearts by faith," "overcoming the world by faith." But it were to quote a large part of the New Testament to cite all the passages in which this word occurs.

Faith is, so far as the duty and privilege of man are concerned, the great central term, around which all our other duties and privileges revolve, which keeps them in their proper station, and imparts to them their radiance, life, and vigor. We know nothing of the economy under which we are placed, and are altogether ignorant of the genius of Christianity, if we are not intimately acquainted with the nature, the province, and the importance of this grace of faith. We shall stumble at every step, and can neither properly perform our duties, nor adequately enjoy our privileges, if we are ignorant of this. In all systems, whether theoretical or practical, there is generally some one principle which is the key to open all the rest. It is so here, and faith is the key of Christianity! If ignorant of this, we shall blend in confusion the systems of law and gospel, knowing neither how they differ nor how they are to be harmonized. Surely then it well becomes us at all times, and especially in times like these, when the whole system of faith is attacked, not only by Popery—which is its direct, and we might almost say avowed antagonist—but by a formalism, which though it refuses to be called by the name of Popery, is in fact little else than its very soul. It is of immense importance to a right knowledge of genuine Christianity and its counterfeits, to look steadily at this one very simple and obvious fact just stated—the prominence given on the page of Scripture to that one word "faith," and it is of no less consequence in detecting, on a broad scale, the errors of many systems of false doctrine, to observe how small a place this word occupies in them, and how it is shuffled out by their authors. This glorious term is so characteristic of our holy religion, as we find it in its own records, that by a figure of speech, the act of believing is put for the object of faith, and both in Scripture language and in ordinary discourse, the whole system of Christianity is called "THE FAITH." "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."

Let us then very closely observe our situation. We live and walk by faith. The objects of our religious contemplation are all matters of mere testimony—we receive them upon authority, by faith. They are things unseen. Though realities, they are invisibles. In following them, we abandon the guidance of our senses, and push into regions where even our reason also, though it accompanies us, cannot lead us. Every step is, so far as sense is concerned, amid thick darkness and dreadful silence. Our usual guides have left us; and we adventure forward with only the lamp of revelation in our hand. Neither God, nor Christ, nor heaven, nor hell—which are the great objects of faith—is seen or heard. We take all upon trust.

In some respects Christianity is more entirely a life and walk of faith than Judaism, which to a considerable extent was a religion of sense. True it is, the Jew was required in the rites and ceremonies of the Levitical law to recognize the types and shadows of greater and better blessings to come, which was itself an act of faith. And there were also the promises of the Messiah delivered out from age to age by the prophets, the truth of which could be received, and the reflections which they excited could be indulged, only by an act of belief. Nor had the godly Israelite any other way of coming at the knowledge of a future state of happiness beyond the grave than we possess. So that there was ample room even then for faith. He had the Word of God containing the records of the past and the predictions of the future, which to him would become realities only by a true belief—and through all the varying circumstances of his individual and national history he was called upon to exercise confidence in God.

Still to him there was much that was palpable and visible ever appealing to his senses; and therefore to a considerable extent he walked by sight. Thus before him was at one time the tabernacle of witness—the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night—there stood the temple with all its visible rites and ceremonies—its priests and sacrifices, its altar and heaven-kindled fire, its ark of the covenant, its cherubim of glory, and its awful shechinah. Signs from heaven were perpetually present to his senses, and he could speak of what he had seen and heard. These things were the helps of the church's piety while yet it was in the infancy and feebleness of its existence, and when its confidence needed such props. It was a mixed condition of faith and sight which was never intended to be perpetual—but to be withdrawn when the church, under the dispensation of Christ and of the Spirit, had arrived at adult age. Some faint traces of this are even now remaining in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. In these the outward symbols appeal to our senses—but the spiritual meaning to our minds. With these small exceptions, ours is a system of unmixed faith. We have the Word of God, and nothing else, to be our guide through this wilderness to our heavenly Canaan. Mr. Conder's beautiful hymn, in which he contrasts the Jewish and Christian dispensations, sets this forth in a very impressive manner.

"O God, who did your will unfold
In wondrous modes to saints of old,
By dream, by oracle, or prophet!
Will You not still Your people hear?

"What though no answering voice is heard;
Your oracles, the written word,
Counsel and guidance still impart,
Responsive to the upright heart.

"What though no more by dreams is shown,
That future things to God are known;
Enough the promises reveal—
Wisdom and love the rest conceal.

"Faith asks no signal from the skies,
To show that prayers accepted rise—
Our priest is in the holy place,
And answers from the throne of grace.

"No need of prophets to enquire—
The sun is risen; the stars retire.
The Comforter is come, and sheds
His holy unction on our heads.

"Lord! with this grace our hearts inspire;
Answer our sacrifice by fire;
And by Your mighty acts declare,
You are the God who hears prayer."

To walk by faith, then, is characteristic of a higher and more matured state of the church of God; as being the strongest exercise of confidence in God. Hence, perhaps, we may derive an argument against the personal and visible reign of Christ, as held by the pre-millenarians. The New Testament speaks of the Christian life as a life of faith, and that in a manner which would lead us to conclude that it was to remain such until the church militant becomes in heaven the church triumphant. But if Christ is to come and reign visibly, faith ceases, and the church in that case would walk by sight—and thus there seems a retrogression to Judaism.

Unbelief frets, murmurs, and cavils at this Divine arrangement—and asks whether it is not dealing hardly with man, that his eternal destiny should turn on such a hinge—that his probation for immortality should be passed amid such shadows; that everlasting torment or misery should hang upon his belief or unbelief—of matters from which his senses, his usual guides in other matters affecting his interests, are excluded; so that his weal or woe for everlasting ages should depend upon faith. And even they who go not so far as to cavil at the arrangement, sometimes think it strange, and are ready to wish for the testimony of sense, "O, could we but see God and Christ, and heaven and hell, and thus know upon the evidence of sense, the truth and reality of these stupendous objects, instead of believing them by a revelation—would it not be helpful to our piety, and be a more solid basis of conviction?" Such is, perhaps, sometimes the aspiration of a feeble and ill-established, though godly mind.

In giving an answer to this cavil and this complaint, let us look from religion to the secular matters of this world, and see if there be not a perfect harmony between the arrangements of Providence with regard to things unseen and eternal, and the constitution of society with regard to the things that are seen and temporal. Are not the latter founded and directed, at least to a very considerable extent, upon the same principle as the former? What do we know of past history but by faith in human testimony; or what but by the same medium do we know of any other country but our own? How much of all the information we possess on every subject of human knowledge do we not derive from this source? Is not 'belief in testimony' an instinctive principle of our nature, as evinced by the first buddings of reason in children, than whom, none more implicitly confide in the assurances of others, and whose propensity to belief is a credulity which nothing but experience corrects? Is not the whole system of trade to a considerable extent founded upon credit; and what is credit but belief in human testimony? Is not a large part of our daily and ordinary communion with our fellow-creatures, and our usual course of action, regulated by faith? Where then is the anomaly, or where the hardship, of our being called to act in the higher matters of religion upon the self-same principle which guides us in our lower ones? It might, on the contrary, appear as if our practice in the lower department of action were only fitting and helping us to carry out the same principle in the higher one.

Besides, it is impossible it should be otherwise than it is. The objects of religion are in their very nature invisible, inaudible, and impalpable. It is their excellence and their glory not to belong to the objects of sense, nor to find a local habitation within their sphere. None can see God in his essence—and though we can conceive of the visibility of Christ, yet as his nature is now, our organ of vision might be too feeble to bear the blaze of his glory, or with all its exquisite contrivance, too crudely constructed to take in the stupendous object. Heaven and hell are the regions of spirits—and can a fleshly eye see minds?

Let it be recollected that we are now in a state of probation and discipline for eternity, and what so suitable to such a condition, which necessarily involves something of self-denial, dependence, and submission to the will of God, as being placed in a state where the hinge of our trial shall be our simple trust in the Word of God? This was in part the nature of man's trial in Paradise—there grew the blushing fruit appealing to his senses, and seemingly inviting his touch and taste—but there, on the other hand, was the Word of God appealing to his faith, threatening him with death if he presumed to eat, accompanied, in the tree of life, with the implied promise of immortality, if he abstained. He had nothing but the Word of God for either, and his trial was one of faith. Can we conceive of anything more suitable as a test of character and conduct, than submission to the will, and trust in the Word of God our Creator, when, as in this case, both are accredited with sufficient evidence not only to warrant belief—but to render unbelief inexcusable?

If our probation is to be carried on in the present world—and in what other world can it be carried on—then must it be in perfect harmony and keeping with all the arrangements and relations of all earthly state. The objects of religion and of secular pursuits must not interfere with each other—they must have no such separate departments or spheres, as to clash with each other. But how could they be secured in any other way, and upon any other scheme, than by making the one the object of belief, and the other the object of sense? By placing the former behind a veil, where they shall be sufficiently recognized by the eye of faith to have their proper influence upon all our moral conduct, without being so clearly seen by the eye of sense as to overpower by their grandeur and magnificence, our attention to the things of the present world.

Moreover, might we not here bring forward with advantage the testimony of Christ to prove how little advantage would be gained by any other system, than that under which we are placed? In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our Lord represents the former as entreating that Lazarus might be sent as a messenger from the dead to his brethren to persuade them to repent and escape the torments of hell. To this request Abraham replies, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them—if they hear not them, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:29. From this declaration it is plain that our Lord must and could mean nothing else, than that they who will not take up religion upon a principle of faith, would not do it upon the testimony of sense.

Let it be supposed that another system had been adopted, and that any man who is not satisfied with the present constitution of things should have some palpable or visible manifestation made to his senses of divine and eternal realities, as far as this could be done; is it certain he would be more determined and influenced by it than by the testimony of faith? If this were granted only to him, he would then suspect it a mere dream, or the vision of a perturbed imagination, or an illusion of the senses; for how could he suppose that he should be so favored as to be singled out from the multitude for such a special revelation. If, on the other hand, the visible manifestation were perpetual and universal, which all men had in common, and had constantly before them, how soon would they grow awfully and carelessly familiar with the heavenly vision, and no more regard it than did the Israelites the pillar of cloud and fire, those constant and visible tokens of the Divine presence; or the dreadful scenes of Mount Sinai, when they made a calf and worshiped it, at the base of the cloud-capped and trembling mountain. Indeed the whole ancient history of the Jews is an actual demonstration of the fact that a system of religious teaching which appeals by visible objects to the senses, rather than to belief through the medium of testimony, has no great advantage for moral efficiency, and that to walk by sight is no more likely to ensure a due regard to the will of God, than walking by faith.

A reflecting and candid mind will therefore perceive that nothing can be more suitable either to man's nature or condition as a test of character, a rule of conduct, and a ground of obedience, than a revelation of the divine will addressed to his belief—and sufficiently accredited to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is an expression of the will of God.

Here, then, is our condition, and it is an impressive and important one. God, in the exuberance of his mercy, has determined upon the salvation of our lost and ruined world. In the exercise of infallible and unrestrained sovereignty, and for reasons of which he gives no account to any one, he has passed by fallen angels, who are left to suffer the just punishment of their sins—and has resolved upon the redemption of fallen man, by the incarnation and vicarious death of his only begotten, well-beloved Son. All that stands connected with the contrivance, the revelation, and execution of the stupendous scheme of mercy, from the beginning of time, is committed to imperishable record in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. These are the revelations of his work of mercy, and of what he requires of us in order to our availing ourselves of the provisions of his grace, and to our being saved with an eternal salvation. We live, therefore, not by sight—but by faith in the book of God—we do not, cannot, see the objects of our pious regard—but they are here set forth upon the testimony of God himself; and our personal religion, our whole religion, in fact, consists in our believing this book, and acting accordingly.

That mysterious, wonderful, imperishable, volume, written by holy men of old as they were moved and guided by the Holy Spirit, contains all we know or can know, for certain, about God, Christ,

immortality, heaven, or hell. There it stands apart and alone, testifying of these high matters to the children of men, and calling upon them so to believe its facts, doctrines, promises, precepts, and threatenings—as under the power of this faith, through the Divine Spirit who wrote the volume and gives the disposition cordially to receive it, as to fashion their whole inner man and outer self by its contents.

But it is necessary that we now consider the nature of that principle in the exercise of which this divine book is received. It might have been supposed that so simple a subject as faith would have been sufficiently understood to need no explanation; and that a consentaneousness of opinion would have left no room for controversy—but it is not so. Even this has been beclouded and made the matter of disputation.

The sacred writers rarely descend to definitions—their language is generally used, with occasional variations, in the sense attached to their terminology in ordinary discourse; and it is sufficiently accurate to be intelligible, without being elaborately precise. We meet however with one, and but one definition, if indeed it may be so called, of faith. This occurs in the opening of the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." We may just stop to remark that it is evident from the context, that the apostle is here defining faith, not as the principle of the sinner's justification—but in its most comprehensive sense, as embracing the whole revealed will of God on all topics; and as that principle by which the saint lives, and which is called into exercise by all the ever-varying circumstances in which he is placed. That it is employed in this general and comprehensive sense in the passage before us, and not in its specific application to the great business of justification, is evident from the instances of its operation set forth by the apostle.

It will however be found that this, its generic meaning, will apply also to all its specific varieties—and that the faith which justifies the sinner, and that which sanctifies the believer—is identical in its nature, though various in its relations, and somewhat diverse in its operations. The word rendered substance in the first clause of this definition occurs but five times in the New Testament. In three of which it is translated confidence. 2 Cor. 9:4; 11:17; Heb. 3:14. And in the opinion of the most eminent critics, this is the meaning of the word in the apostle's definition. Some consider him as intending to convey the idea of such an exercise of mind towards "the things hoped for," as gives a kind of present exsistence of them. That he designed to say, faith makes us feel their reality, and to act under their influence, as if we saw them to be true; but does not confidence accomplish this? A man fully confident, actuated by a plenary persuasion, does seem to have a sense of present reality and existence. So that nothing appears to come nearer to the apostle's meaning, than the word confidence. So understood, what then does he say, "Faith is the confident expectation of the things which are hoped for." The trite and essential nature of faith therefore, in all its applications and uses, whether general, as in this chapter, or special, in reference to Christ and the justification of the soul, is "confidence."

In the next clause he says, "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament, and that is 2 Timothy 3:16, where it is rendered "reproof," but without any necessity, as the word is profitable for conviction. The verb which answers to the noun is commonly translated, to convince, as in John 8:9; Acts 18:28; 1 Cor. 14:24; and other places. Conviction therefore seems to be the idea the apostle intended to convey here. Now it must strike every reader that in strict propriety faith cannot of itself be the proof of the things believed. A man's faith in any testimony, however strong his belief may be, cannot be the evidence that the testimony is true. The word "evidence," then, must be here used to mean that conviction which is produced by evidence—the cause being put for the effect. Inverting the order of the two expressions, and placing them in their logical sequence, and paraphrasing the language, the apostle says, "Faith is the conviction of the truth of those promises of unseen blessings which God has made, and a confident expectation of them, on the ground of this conviction of their truth." What then does this amount to—but that faith is a real confidence in God? It is confidence in God—confidence that something reported to us in his Word is true—confidence in his veracity that he will perform what he has said—confidence in his power that he can perform it. This necessarily involves the idea of expectation, since it is absolutely impossible to confide in his truthfulness and ability to perform something he has said, without expecting it. Now if this be true faith, whether general or saving, it must ultimately relate to God himself personally. It has two objects—one proximate, which is the Word; the other remote, which is God himself—or to speak perhaps more correctly, God is the object of our confidence, and the Word is the medium of it.

From hence it appears evident also that faith must include in it something more than a mere intellectual assent. It is not a report in which we have no interest that we believe; but it is a testimony to us of good things, which must suppose, in the very act of believing them, some exercise of both the will and the heart. If a fellow-creature on whom I an dependent make me a promise, or denounces against me a threatening—and God's testimony comes to us in this shape—I voluntarily and fully place my confidence in him for the fulfillment of his word, that is, if I believe him able and truthful to do as he has said—and that confidence in him personally, is my faith in him, and not merely my intellectual persuasion that he has spoken or written the promise. The proximate object of faith I know, as I have already said, is the Scripture, which is God's testimony; but its ultimate object is God himself, who bears the testimony—so that, while by my understanding I believe in the truth of the testimony as God's, I at the same time with my will and heart confide in God himself for the fulfillment of the testimony.

It is not merely the truth of the testimony that I believe, or in other words that the thing is spoken by God—but the truth in the testimony, or belief in that very thing which is there promised. A man writes me a letter promising me many good things; I know his handwriting—and I believe it to be his signature—so far, I believe with my understanding in the truth of the letter; but at the same time I know his wealth and veracity, and that he will perform all he has said—here is my confidence or faith in him, and that confidence implies an exercise of my will and heart.

To exclude the will from faith is to deprive it of all moral character whatever—mere intellectual apprehension can have no moral quality, even though the object of it be a religious one. Let faith be once reduced to a mere intellectual notion, a simple perception of evidence, a passive surrender of the understanding to the power of proof, and we at once destroy the responsibility of man for his belief; for who is answerable for that in which neither the will nor the heart has any share? And if there be no moral excellence in faith—and there can be none, if it is a purely intellectual exercise—so neither can there be any exercise of the will, and of course no criminality in unbelief, this being the opposite of faith. We return again then to our view of faith—that it is in all cases a practical confidence in God.

It needs scarcely be remarked, that faith is confined to no one dispensation of grace; it was called for in this general view of it as truly under the Jewish as under the Christian dispensation, and indeed the triumphs of it displayed in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, are all collected from the patriarchal ages and the times of the Levitical economy. Moreover Abraham is the father of the faithful, and so called, not because he was the first—but the most eminent believer. Yet it can scarcely fail to strike an attentive reader of the Old Testament, how little is said about faith in that portion of Holy Scripture. Not that the thing itself is not there—but it is expressed by another term—the trust of the Old Testament is the faith of the New. Faith is confidence, and so is trust. This furnishes another proof, that faith is not a merely intellectual act.

Faith has relation to all the revealed will of God, as the different parts of it come successively under our attention. These are very various, some are in the form of promise—others of invitation—others of precept—and others again, of threatening. The law is as much a part of God's revealed will as the gospel, and must as truly be believed. Hell is as certainly threatened to the impenitent sinner, as heaven is promised to the penitent believer—and therefore he who trembles and obeys, is as truly living in the exercise of faith, as he who hopes and rejoices. In some of the instances of faith mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, we see its operation in reference to a threatening, as in the case of Noah and Rahab. It is true that even in these cases there was a promise to be hoped for, as well as a threatening to be dreaded. But both were believed. If this part of the object of faith is not comprehended among the confident expectations of things hoped for, it is among the full persuasion of things not seen. Every effort after holiness, every labor after mortification of sin, every resistance of temptation, carried on under the persuasion that God has commanded these things—is founded on the belief of God's testimony, and therefore implies an act of belief.

Such a state of mind cannot be referred to any lower source than a divine and heavenly one—faith is, in every case, the work of the Holy Spirit. Though this is clear from many parts of the Word of God, as well as deducible from the general principle that all spiritual good is from God, it is sometimes sustained by two passages of Scripture, which have no reference to it. The first is what the apostle says in the second chapter of the Ephesians and the eighth verse, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." By the gift, we are not to understand faith—but salvation; as is evident from the next words, "Not of works, lest any man should boast." The subject of this ninth verse is evidently the same as that of the eighth, and refers to the gift spoken of, whether it be salvation or faith—that gift is not of yourselves. Now if the gift means faith, the apostle is made to say, faith is not of works—a truism which he could be hardly expected to employ. Moreover, every scholar knows that grammar forbids us to interpret the apostle's meaning to be, that our act of believing, is the gift of God, since the pronoun "that," and the noun faith, are in different genders, the former being neuter, and the latter feminine.

The other passage misquoted, to prove the divine origin of faith, is this, "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." Heb. 12:2. The word "our," is in italics, to show it is not in the original; and the word "author," signifies leader; and viewed in connection with the context, it means that Jesus was our example. He in his own life began and ended the life of holy obedience to the will of God. He, "for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross and despised the shame." He who introduced the Christian religion, is the great pattern in his own conduct of the religion which he taught. His life, as to his humanity, was a life of faith and holy obedience. He came not to do his own will—but the will of him who sent him. In doing and suffering, he acted as the Father's servant. Rich and glorious were the promises which were made him of ample rewards. These he fully and constantly believed. No unbelief ever turned him aside from the path of obedience or endurance. For the joy that was set before him, he endured even the ignominious cross, and thus became in his own example the leader and perfecter of that faith, which we, his followers, are required to imitate. Who can help exclaiming—

"Such was your truth, and such your zeal,
Such deference to your Father's will,
Such love and meekness, so divine,
I would transcribe and make them mine.

"O be my pattern—make me bear
More of your gracious image here—
Then God, the Judge, shall own my name
Among the followers of the Lamb."

Still there are not lacking proofs abundant and convincing, that faith is the work of the Spirit in the soul of man. There can be no true belief, without regeneration. The connection of these two is set forth by the apostle, when he says, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12, 13. Hence the need of our constant prayer to God, in the language of the disciples, "Lord, increase our faith;" and of the petition of the father, who applied for the recovery of his child, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."

It will be seen from what has been stated, that the objects of faith are, all the various matters which are contained in the whole Word of God—what God has revealed, and all that God has revealed—the smaller as well as the greater things of the Bible—since, if God has given his testimony, his truth is equally involved in one as well as in the other. Still, this state of mind is more conversant, of course, with those which are more important both to God and to us. His being, attributes, and works—his Providence—his law—the person and work of his Son—the personality, offices, and work of the Holy Spirit—the promise of life to the penitent believer, and the threatening of death to the impenitent sinner—the day of judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. These are the matters, about which the true belief of the Christian mind is more habitually and powerfully exercised, according to the circumstances in which we are placed, and the special truth which is at the time before the mind.

Two great principles must now be mentioned, and which are, first—that as faith is confidence in God for something he has said, where there is no testimony there can be no faith—where God has said nothing, nothing can be believed. Faith cannot take a step—but on the ground of revelation. In many cases there may be reasonable ground for hope—but in the absence of testimony there can be no persuasion. The conversion of particular people in whom we feel a deep interest—the recovery of friends dangerously ill—the success of particular efforts for the spread of religion—the prosperity of our laudable and promising undertakings—cannot be matter of faith in the full meaning of the term, because we have no testimony of God, concerning them in particular. People are sometimes said to have strong faith because they are very confident in these matters; while others who have not the same confidence are reproached as very weak in faith. In this case the wrong words are employed, for all that can be truly said of these two classes of people is, that the one is more hopeful than the other; and the other more timid and fearful.

Nor will it do to say that the mind is so strongly impressed with the certainty of the thing desired, that it may be received itself as a testimony of God. Impressions of this kind are dangerous things to trust—if real, they would be revelations, and would still require something else to accredit them. Multitudes have had, as they supposed, these impressions, and also the faith which rests upon them, who have lived to see that the whole was delusion—and that they had substituted 'their wishes' for the testimony of God. The life of a Christian is a life regulated by God's Word, understood and believed—and not a life guided by inward impressions.

Another great principle is—that as faith is a practical belief of God's testimony, where there is no practice there is no faith. There is just as much faith as there is practice—and no more. All the truths of Scripture are in their own nature practical truths; that is, truths leading the mind which receives them, into a state of activity. They are not mere scientific principles which have accomplished their end, when upon the ground of their own evidence, they have been admitted as mere knowledge into the intellect. They are all of themselves, and according to their own nature, adapted as well as intended to move the will and the affections, and to lead to appropriate actions. And they are of a kind to move the mind and heart very powerfully. If the testimony comes in the form of an invitation, it will infallibly, if believed, lead us to accept it—if of a promise, to rejoice in it—if of a precept, to obey it—and if of a threatening, to tremble at it. And consequently if these effects do not follow—there is no belief. This shows the delusion which, many careless people are living under, who when called upon to believe in Christ, reply that they already do believe, while it is evident they are lacking in repentance, peace, and holiness. It is obviously their mistake, for if they really believed the testimony of God concerning his law, sin, pardon, heaven, and hell—they would certainly repent, be happy, and holy.

Similar to this is the error of many inquirers after salvation, who when called upon to relieve their minds of the burden of guilt, and rejoice by faith, reply, that they do believe—but cannot rejoice—this again, in the nature of things, is impossible; unless indeed there be a physical and morbid defect in their constitution, for the real belief of glad tidings concerning ourselves must produce gladness. It is of immense importance to attend to this connection between real belief—and the effects which follow. No truth can be truly assented to which does not produce its own nature, or appropriate effects, in the mind that cordially receives it. Let there be only the true and firm belief, and these effects must by a moral necessity follow. Is it conceivable that a man can truly believe that the house is on fire, and not even get up and flee, unless he has lost the use of his limbs by a stroke of paralysis—or can any man really believe that a pardon is granted him when under sentence of death, and yet not rejoice?

This shows where the great defect lies, and where the soul must begin in all religious matters. The apostle says, "Add to your faith, virtue," and all the other graces. As faith is weak, everything else will be weak; and as faith is strong, everything else will be strong. Faith is to our whole religion what the mainspring is to the watch—regulating all its movements, and keeping all in good order and action. This will lead us to see not only how our personal religion is to be improved, sustained, and kept in vigorous action, which is by strengthening our faith; but equally how our faith itself is to be strengthened. This is a state of mind which admits of various degrees, from the most feeble, hesitating, and fluctuating expectation—up to the most full, entire, and confident persuasion.

Hence the Scriptures speak of weak faith, strong faith, and the full assurance of faith. We can therefore easily perceive how this grace of faith is to be strengthened; and that is, not by any direct and abstract determinations of the will; not only by labor with ourselves, apart from the contemplation of appropriate objects; nor merely by prayer, though this of course is to be sincerely and fervently offered; but by attentively and devoutly considering the grounds of belief. How do we strengthen our confidence in a fellow-creature? Not merely by saying with ever such force of determination, "I will trust him." Our doubts and fears will never yield to such a resolution—but will be far too strong for our implicit trust, if at the same time we do not take into consideration his actual trustworthiness. He has promised perhaps to become our friend, and to help us out of financial difficulties which press heavily upon us. In this case, two things are requisite to enable us to confide in him—his veracity and his ability. And to strengthen our confidence, we say to ourselves, "I know he is able to help me, for he is a man of great wealth—and at the same time he is a man of unimpeachable veracity. He is a most veritable man." In this way, we grow in faith. We read over and over his letter, and at each perusal feel our confidence strengthened.

This is natural, and it is intelligible; and it is precisely thus our confidence in God is to be strengthened. We are to read over, and over, and over again, his blessed Word, his "exceeding great and precious promises," and with the wondrous words before us, we are to meditate upon the attributes of God—his love—his power—his veracity—his unchangeableness—and as we read, we are to say, "Yes, here is his Word—I cannot mistake; it is no vision of the imagination; no illusion of the senses; no mere deduction of my reason; no offspring of my wishes; it is written in terms too plain to be misunderstood, and he cannot be unfaithful. The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed—but he cannot alter the thing that has gone out of his lips."

'His every word of grace is strong,
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along,
Speaks all the promises.'

This is plain, palpable, obvious. Our doubts are many; our fears are strong; our faith is feeble, just because we are not more conversant with our Bibles, and with our God. It is astonishing how a single text will sometimes invigorate and strengthen the confidence of the mind that contemplates it.

By this time you will perceive what a noble principle is that of which we are now treating. Faith is eminently rational—far above reason—but harmonious with it. Yes, it is itself the highest reason, its loftiest exercise. It is sustained by all the evidence that accredits the object on which it is fixed, and this is to a greater amount than was ever accumulated on any other subject. The believer can appeal not only to the stream of current traditions flowing along in the channel of authentic ecclesiastical history, from the very time of Christ and his apostles; he can not only speak of the uninterrupted belief of the church through eighteen centuries; he can not only call up the testimonies of fathers, martyrs, and reformers, to corroborate his own opinion; he can not only tell of nations, both learned and crude, which have received the same truths which support, and cheer, and sanctify, and save him; but he can go down deeper still for the foundations on which his faith rests, and can survey with admiration and delight the basis of evidence on which they, as well as himself, have rested their confidence. Instead of repudiating his reason by believing, he feels that he should be repudiating it if he did not believe. To him the man who rejects Christianity, notwithstanding the evidence by which it is sustained, is the most astounding instance of irrationality in the world; while he who believes the gospel, is the most striking instance of the purest reason.

Nor can we hesitate to pronounce faith a noble principle. Noble it must be if it is rational, and rational it is in the highest degree. It has been the delight of infidels and philosophers to represent the principle of religious belief as a low and degrading superstition, as the slavery of the human intellect, and as a chain upon man's eagle understanding, which prevents his adventurous flight into the regions of speculation. Mistaken men! How ignorant are they both of its nature and their own! How thoroughly deluded by their own pride and vain conceits! In addition to what has been said about the rationality of faith—and which is not only sufficient to protect it from scorn and contempt—but to lift it to the highest honor, even as an exercise of the understanding—consider the truths with which it is conversant, and the objects on which it fixes its piercing, unblenching, and steady eye. Philosophy is conversant only with the lower truths—faith with the higher; philosophy has to do with matter and the rational mind—faith with the immortal soul; philosophy is sense, ministering to reason—faith is reason ministering to religion; philosophy searches the works of creation—faith has to do with the Creator himself; philosophy has no necessary connection with moral influence—faith is the root of all virtue; philosophy yields no motive to submission, and opens no source of consolation amid the ills of life—faith supplies the balm of consolation and opens the springs of comfort for every sufferer; philosophy is of the earth, earthly—faith relates to the Divine and heavenly; philosophy is wholly engaged about things seen and temporal—faith, soaring on angel-wing above the low and narrow horizon of time and sense, observes the vast future, and looks at things unseen and eternal.

Is faith then a subject for philosophy to sneer at? Talk of her eagle-wing and eye—compared with faith, philosophy is but as the gnat whirling round the dim candle in a little dark room, to the eagle, soaring in mid-heaven, to the sun in his zenith. Faith enters the region which to mere reason is incapable, and explores subjects which never approach the horizon of unaided intellect. The existence, nature, and attributes—of one supreme, eternal, Self-existence—who is the cause of all things, himself uncaused—the creation of the material universe—the history of our species, at once their original and their fallen condition—the origin and entrance of moral evil to our globe—the law and nature of moral excellence, together with the nature and evil of sin—the doctrine of an all-comprehending, wise, and minute Providence—the immortality of the soul—the scheme of mediation by Jesus Christ for man's salvation—the way of pardon—the resurrection of the body, and eternal life—the eternal glories of heaven, and the endless torments of the bottomless pit—these, these, are the matters and the objects of faith; these, the Alpine regions of thought, amid which it dwells, and which faith daily contemplates.

Faith is in habitual communion with the first truth, and the chief good. It leaves the region of sense, and goes where sense cannot follow it, and where even reason cannot go alone, and can only follow with timorous, hesitating step. How does faith ennoble all who possess it, raising them into fellowship, not only with prophets and apostles, martyrs and reformers—but with God the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ! Surely, surely, this is not a state of mind deserving the sneer of philosophic pride, or of literary contempt; when it raises the Christian peasant, or the converted savage, or the heaven-taught child—to an elevation which leaves the man of mere reason all but infinitely beneath him.

And then how peaceful and tranquil a state of mind is that of faith. Well might the apostle speak of "peace and joy in believing." Why, believing in any case, when the objects of it are gladsome, and the evidence of their reality is conclusive, is a pleasant state of mind. What then must the joy of faith be, where the matter believed is so momentous to us, as well as so magnificent in itself; and where the evidence is so decisive. It is said that "wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace." Now it is in these paths which the believer always walks, amid the beautiful scenery that opens, and the lovely flowers that grow on every hand. To have a volume always in our hand, which is full of the most glorious doctrines, the most gracious invitations, the most precious promises, the most salutary counsels, the wisest maxims, and the most faithful warnings, and all addressed to us—never to open the Book but to meet some kind seasonable word addressing us; never to take a step but to see some flower of mercy growing in our path, or to hear some note of love sounding in our ears—never to look at one object but it puts on a smile, even upon grief, as if the beams of a reconciled God, our Father in heaven, had fallen upon it, and were reflected from it—and all this is the blessed privilege of faith—is not this peace, tranquility, happiness?

"Tis a broad land of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise;
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden glory lies."

And here it is the believer dwells, to enrich himself with this wealth; to drink of these springs; to gather the fruit which grows from these seeds; and to bring out and appropriate this concealed glory.

1. How important is it rightly to understand this great first principle of the Divine life in the soul of man, which is set forth as the subject of this treatise. First principles, in all matters, must be well understood, or all that follows will be defective or erroneous. It is especially so in religion, which many do not see. Instead of an intelligent believing, giving rise to a right doing; there is a blind wrong doing from beginning to end—a mere mechanical, or at best, imitative doing of something, they scarcely know what, or why. True religion is a conformity of conduct to the written Word of God, and it is of necessity that we must first understand the meaning, and then believe the truth, of that Word. This is true religion—a character formed, a line of conduct pursued, in full confidence of the truth of this document, as the rule of our actions.

When the attention is a little roused to a consideration of this momentous concern, many have their thoughts almost entirely engaged with the question, "What must I DO?" But is there not another and a previous question to be asked, "What must I BELIEVE?" True religion is equally unsound whether it is all creed or no creed. It begins in right believing and goes on to right doing—and right believing must, through the whole of the Christian life, be the guide of right doing. Faith is the root, out of which grows the whole tree of our godliness—its trunk, its branches, its leaves, and its fruit. It is faith which, striking its fibers into the Word of God as its proper soil, draws up the moisture which nourishes it, and which has first come down from heaven. It is only as we understand this, that we can begin or continue in a course of true, practical, and experimental religion.

2. If this be true, religion has, of course, much that is objective in its nature; by which I mean, that there is much outside of man's own mind with which it is conversant, and upon which it lives. If it be a process of faith, this must of necessity be the case, inasmuch as the objects of faith are something without ourselves. We must not be wholly, or primarily taken up with subjective religion—that is with our own hearts. The mind is dark as to the subjects of religious truth, and we see nothing, and can see nothing in a true point of view, until we see it in the light of Divine truth. Hence the expression, "The entrance of your word gives light unto the simple." Hence also the frequent prayers of the apostle in his letters to the churches, that the spirit of wisdom and revelation might be given to them; and his exhortation to "let the word of Christ dwell in them in all wisdom;" and "as new-born babes, to desire the sincere milk of the word, that they might grow thereby."

There is a great mistake in many who are almost wholly taken up with subjective religion, to the neglect of that which is objective. Instead of reading and studying God's Word to gain right ideas, and to receive the truth in the exercise of an intelligent belief, as sources of right feeling, rules of conduct, and principles of action—they are ever busy with their own thoughts, emotions, and affections, trying to work up their feelings to terror, joy, or grief—always wandering in a region of imagination, either exalted to rapture, or depressed to despondency—and without ceasing, microscopically examining the states of their own feeling, while all this while they have very little to do with the Divine Word. Their whole religion is rather imagination than faith; a kind of dreamy state of sickly or sentimental devotion. All which is as rational as a man's lighting his house with a dim candle while he keeps the shutters closed and excludes the light of the sun, and contenting himself with looking at the furniture of his own room, instead of looking through the windows to see the glorious landscape which spreads out before and around his habitation.

There is another mistake which a higher class of religious professors are in our day fast falling into, I mean the exercise and cultivation of the spiritual life, apart from the Word of God. We hear and read a great deal of man's inner life; of the necessity and duty of his going down into the depths of his own consciousness; of his walking by the light of his own intuitions; of his educing from his own nature principles of action; and calling forth susceptibilities to and sympathies with the true, the good, and the fair, which are hidden there, and only need to be quickened into action by self-reflection. If by all this, be meant nothing more than that self-communion, self-examination, and self-exhortation, by the Word of God, which in that Word is every where enjoined—it is all very good, and cannot be too earnestly enjoined. But if as is but too evident, it signifies a species of self-cultivation, apart from the Word and the exercises of an objective faith—an inward life, carried on, if not begun, by reason, without revelation—a spiritualism which has no necessary connection with the Scriptures, and can be maintained without them—we say it is a kind of religion of which the Bible knows nothing—and is an approach to the pietism of a bygone age, which made way for Rationalism in Germany, and will make way for it here too, if it extensively prevails. Let the notion once be prevalent that piety towards God is something apart from, or in addition to, an intelligent belief in the written Word—a subjective matter which may be carried on by a man's retiring into himself, and communing with his own consciousness, and finding there all he needs, if not for his pardon, yet for his spiritual life—and we are then prepared to merge all religious truth, all doctrinal theology, in the vortex of an unscriptural, unsanctified, and unsubstantial spiritualism—in other words, the inspired, infallible, and exclusive rule of religious faith, feeling, and action—is substituted by a mysticism, which has no rule, no support, and no object—but itself.

These two, the objective and the subjective, must ever go together in true religion. The objective, or the grand truths of revelation apprehended and believed, are of little use unless they produce the subjective—that is, repentance, faith, love, and holiness—while on the other hand the subjective cannot be of a right kind unless it be produced by the objective. In other words, that is not right faith which does not lead to practice; and that is not a right practice which does not spring from faith. There must be the Bible outside of us—contemplated and believed; and the Bible inside of us, in all its principles of holy feeling, volition, and action. As external objects viewed by the organ of vision, paint their own images on the retina of the eye, so the truths of revelation, when looked at by the eye of faith, delineate them on the retina of the soul. And as in the former case, there could be no knowledge without looking at the objects, so neither can there be in the latter.