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Presb. Maga

1, 1873

wisdom be given from above to both thinkers and workers in our Church, that through our plans the will of the Master may be done!

It is now the duty of the present Editor to intimate his retirement from the office he has held for some years, and to express his sense of obligation to the numerous and valued Contributors who have so efficiently aided him in his work. He bespeaks for the brother who is to succeed him the kind consideration and help of both Contributors and Readers, and trusts that, under his care, fresh interest may be awakened in all the schemes of our own Church, and in the progress of the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.'

EDINBURGH, 24th November 1873.

THE

UNITED PRESBYTERIAN MAGAZINE.

JANUARY 1, 187 3.

Original Articles.

FAITH IN GOD: A MOTTO FOR THE NEW YEAR.

BY REV. WILLIAM SCOTT, BALERNO.

* Have faith in God.'-MARK XI. 22. It seems surprising that an exhortation such as this should be addressed by our Lord to His disciples. Perhaps it excited their surprise, and in their secret hearts they thought that it was as unnecessary as it was offensive. But Jesus knew what was in man, and what was not; knew that men often prided themselves on the possession of gifts and graces to which they could make no rightful claim. And so He often startled and offended His hearers by urging them to seek and secure virtues by which they imagined they were eminently characterized. And so in our text He goes to the root of the matter, and urges those whose glory it was to call the God of Abraham their God, to have faith in God.'

And still the exhortation is needed, even by the Christian professor; and it may be that some, by giving earnest heed to it, may be surprised to find, amidst all their fancied piety, how largely and lamentably there is still in them an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Consider

I. THE EXHORTATION GIVEN: Have faith in God.—When you speak of having faith in a person, you mean that you believe that he is, and is what he declares himself to be. To have faith in God, then, is to believe that He is, and that He is the All-perfect One which His own Word proclaims Him to be. This faith, as to its object, embraces the divine existence and the divine perfection. As to its nature, it is real; not a mere shadow and a name, but a great and grand reality. “Do you feel your work to be real ?' asked a man of eminence in his own walk, on meeting a Christian minister, who used to sit on the same benches with him in early days, when both looked forward to the service of the Master in the work of the ministry. Real! Yes, real!' was the reply; "a real faith makes the work real. It is, however, to be lamented that many have a form of godliness, whilst they deny the power thereof. Their faith is but a name. It has come down to them as a family tradition; as it was with their fathers, so is it with them. They have had no personal experience of the divine life; deep has never called to deep; the

NO. I. VOL. XVII. NEW SERIES. JANUARY 1873.

A

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billows of God have not gone over them. They have never been burdened with a sense of the mystery of existence, nor been agonized by conscious guilt ; have never felt the need of, and consequently have never gone in realizing faith to the light-imparting and sin-forgiving God. And yet they name the name of Jesus, and subscribe themselves as the Lord's. But faith of this kind is not that of which our Lord speaks. It is the faith that is reached through struggle, and made ours by personal conquest, and is felt to be one of the truest treasures of the soul.

Moreover, it is unwavering faith. There are degrees of faith, just as there are degrees of light. Faith may be real, and yet very weak. It may walk with the insecure step of childhood, not with the assured tread of manhood; it may see men only as trees walking, and be troubled and dismayed with the phantoms of self-created gloom. Now, our Lord assures us that He came not only that we might have life, but that we might have it more abundantly. And such also is His will in reference to our faith, which, indeed, is the life of the soul. It is to be like that of the apostle, who exclaimed, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day;' the faith of the patriarch, who said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him;' the faith of Abraham, who believed in seeming impossibilities, and quailed not before apparently the most cruel contradictions, and who thus became the father of the faithful and the friend of God. It is not well that we should be tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine; it is well that our faith should be like Him who is at once its author and its object, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

Again, it is influential faith. Indeed, if faith be real, it will undoubtedly be influential according to its measure. The faith that appears not, can have no existence. As the good seed that is sown in good and honest soil springs up and brings forth fruit after its kind, so the seed of divine truth, received into the heart by faith, assuredly produces the peaceable fruits of righteousness. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith. And it, is this victorious, all-conquering faith of which our Lord speaks,-a faith that purifies the heart, and regulates and elevates and glorifies the whole life.

In a word, it is enlightened faith. Faith may possess all the characteristics of which we have spoken, and yet be very pernicious. Faith may be real, unwavering, and influential, and yet, by reason of the object which it embraces, or the grounds on which it rests, may be as a deadly pestilence. And herein Christ shows the entire superiority of His character to that of all impostors: He asks us to believe on sufficient evidence. · Prove all things,” He says; 'be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.' Revelation appeals to reason, and requires of us only rational worship. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. It is not the faith that is born of superstition, and is devout only because it is dark, that Jesus seeks. It is the faith that comes of light,—the faith which grasps the unseen and the unknown with a firm and steady hand, yet rests on evidence that satisfies the requirements of the understanding as well as the cravings of the heart.

II. THE DIFFICULTIES THAT LIE IN THE WAY OF ATTAINING THIS FAITH.— It is evidently implied in the exhortation that the realization of faith in God is no easy matter,-is, indeed, a work of difficulty; and this accords not only with the statements of God's Word, but also with our own experience. Whence arises the diffieulty ? In one sense, and that a most im

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portant one, the difficulty arises from our own sinful, imperfect nature. Were we pure and holy as the angels are, we would find it as easy as they to have faith in God. But the evil heart is essentially a heart of unbelief. Like cause and effect, they produce and reproduce each other. Our corrupt nature is no congenial soil for faith to rise or rest in, and its workings are a continual departing from the living God. But whilst this is so, there are difficulties which pertain to the very nature of the case, and which do not necessarily involve blame or guilt on our part.

Thus, God is the invisible God. No man bas seen Him at any time, or can see Him. And how difficult for us, with our gross material frame, to realize the invisible! Hence men have attempted to represent God's invisible form, in the shape of idol and image, through which we may rise to the divine original. Even on the most favourable supposition, this acknowledges our weakness,-our need of something to help us to enter into the mysterious world that lies beyond the range of sense. But we know how greatly this has been abused, and how men, instead of rising by means of the seen to the unseen, have in most instances worshipped the visible alone. It

may be said, indeed, that if God were present to us in bodily form, and cognisable by our senses, He would no longer be an object of faith, but of sense; we would walk by sight and not by faith. And this is true. Yet had God, as God, revealed Himself to the eyes of men,-had we only once in our own experience seen God, it seems as if thereafter faith would have been of easier exercise.

Moreover God is great, and His greatness is such as entirely to surpass our comprehension. He is the eternal God, without beginning of days or end of years. Now, though it is possible for us to think of a Being that never ends, how difficult for us to think of One who had no beginning! We cannot but think of every one and every thing as beginning, at one period or another, to be. The period, indeed, may stretch away back to the remotest past, extending to incalculable ages; but still, we think in connection with all existence of such a period. But such was not in the Divine life: He is Being without beginning as truly as without end; the great Jehovah; the one I AM.

God is infinite. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. When in thoughtful mood we endeavour to grasp all space and entirely comprehend it, we are utterly baffled. We describe circle after circle, but the remotest ever lies beyond is; and when we try to think of the remotest, still it lies within a more remote; and so on and away and ever stretching out before us lies infinitude, to whose bounds we seem as near at one point of space as another, and which repels our most earnest efforts after its conception. And such is God, the Infinite One. Knowledge here is impossible: we pass at once into the region of faith ; and that faith, by reason of the mystery with which it deals and which it is called on to embrace, is an act which tasks us to the uttermost.

God is unchangeable. All of which we have experience changes. We cannot think of existence without change; it seems to us the law of being. Man changes—all around him changes ; but God changes not. This, indeed, is a necessity of His perfection; it admits neither of increase nor diminution. And how strange the thought of One who through all eternity is the same in all His attributes and essence!

But besides these, difficulties of a painful and oppressive kind arise when we think of the moral disorder of the universe. God is love; such, He tells us, is His name: His tender mercies are over all His works. Now it is of

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the very nature of love to do good and prevent evil; but evil in the form of sin and woe prevails, oh, how lamentably! And the question ever recurs, and has been put and urged by millions of agonized spirits : How could the Omnipotent and All-merciful permit such to be under His universal reign? Though attempts have been made to solve this mystery, yet a mystery it still remains. Faith is still required to say, “Good art Thou, O God, and only doest good, though evil awful and enormous prevails on every side.' Sometimes this difficulty, so great in itself, is made still greater by painful personal experience. We feel more keenly what affects ourselves particularly, than we possibly can what affects man universally. And so, when a great and terrible trial comes, and continues for weary, woful months or years, our faith is sorely put to the test, and we are tempted to sympathize with the scoffer, when he asks, Where is now thy God?' There cannot be-surely there cannot be, we say in the bitterness of our soul, a heart of boundless love to feel for us, or a hand of resistless power to help, else that heart would ere this have been touched by our weary cries, and that hand stretched forth for our deliverance.

III. How THIS FAITH MAY BE ATTAINED.—While, as we have seen, it is implied in the words of the exhortation that faith is of no easy acquisition, it is also evidently set forth that its attainment is possible. But how may it be got? Can I compel myself to believe, or be compelled by another, merely by an effort of will or by the exercise of arbitrary power? No, verily. God has endowed us with certain faculties, and ordained certain means, by the exercise and use of which faith may be reached.

There must be honest inquiry. We must be seekers after God; and assuredly He has not left us in the dark concerning Him. Not in vain hath He said, Seek, and ye shall find. We have referred to those things that make faith difficult, let us now point to some of those that make it possible.

We must believe that every effect has a causea cause equal to its production. We see amongst us two distinctly different classes of mind,—the mind that produces, and the mind that appreciates. The appreciative mind can see and admire the beauty of a great poem or painting, but it feels it could not have produced these; it is convinced, however, that a power higher than its own, yet in some degree akin to it, must have been present in their production. The glowing words could not shape themselves into the living line, the beauteous form and colouring arrange themselves on the living canvas, of their own spontaneous action. And so we have all minds that can, to some extent, appreciate the beauties and glories of the material universe. We cannot but believe that a power of marvellous intelligence must have been at their creation; that a mere fortuitous concourse of atoms could not have shaped themselves into this goodly frame of things. “The visible works of God declare His invisible power and godhead.'

Again, all human life and language speak of God. It has been asserted that there are tribes of men so degraded that they have no knowledge of or belief in a higher power ; but deeper research proves this to be erroneous. However distorted the idea of God may be, still it is there in the mind of the most ignorant, and expresses itself in some form, however rude and unworthy. God has not le Himself hout a witness in the soul of man, which recognises its divine origin, and sees the divine around it. And this ineradicable feeling has so wrought itself into human speech, that men must speak of God. And though it may be forgotten or denied, yet it irresistibly asserts itself in all the great crises of life. Only the other day, an association of professed Atheists, in sending a congratulatory letter to the King of Italy on

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