« السابقةمتابعة »
may be answered we cannot believe without purity of heart, and yet we can only have our hearts purified by believing. There is, however, no contradiction here. It is evident that we cannot believe in pure and holy love, unless we know what it is; and our knowledge of this must be proportioned to the purity and strength of our own feelings. And yet these feelings can only be purified and strengthened by being directed to pure objects, and by being much exercised by them. The Gospel is suited to man. He has affections and principles corresponding to every address contained in it, although, from corruption and habitual mis-direction, they may be to a great degree, unmoved by these addresses. There is, however, no other way of regenerating these misdirected affections, but by bringing them in contact with their proper objects. There is no other resource, we have no other means of operating on them. They retain to the last somewhat of their natural susceptibility of impressions from their proper objects, and therefore they ought to be assailed through these objects. And we have seen that the first address of the Gospel is to a principle, which continues strong and vivacious in the midst of spiritual corruption and death, the instinctive desire of self-preservation and happiness. Whilst, therefore, it is vain to expect really clear views of Gospel truth in an unholy mind, it is equally hopeless to attempt the cultivation of holy affections in any other way than by exercising faith on the true character of God. These are two important errors, and their chief danger arises from their having
so much of truth connected with them. There is an aphorism quoted by that holy and heavenly-minded man Archbishop Leighton, but from what author I do not recollect, which, under the form of paradox, contains most sober and valuable counsel : "If you would have much "faith, love much; and if you would have "much love, believe much." We cannot love unless we discern amiableness, and this we can only do by the light of love. There is no puzzle in this. Every day we see cases analogous to it in common life. A man whose stomach has been ruined by artificial and highly exciting food, has no appetite for plain wholesome nourishment, and yet the only way to recover his appetite, is to take this plain nourishment. This food has a natural suitableness to his appetite, and this appetite has a natural desire after such food, although that desire, from habitual misdirection, feels little excitement from it. As he takes the food, however, his appetite gets better, and as his appetite gets better, he takes more food. Thus the food and the appetite act and react upon each other, till the man's health is restored. Even so a diseased soul has no appetite for the truths of the Gospel, and yet nothing but that truth can restore it to health. As the soul improves in health, its desire after its proper food increases; that medical food gives additional health to the spiritual system, and this additional health is accompanied by an inerease of desire after the truth. Clear views of the character of God can exist only in minds, whose affections are pure and strong, and pro
perly directed; and in perfect consistency with this, and as deeply rooted in the necessity of things, is the fact, that the affections can only be purified and strengthened, and rightly directed, by being brought in contact with the truth. Thus perfect faith supposes perfect sanctification, and perfect sanctification supposes perfect faith. What else is the meaning of a holy mind, than that it delights in and feeds on holy things? They are wrong who suppose, that the sanctification of a soul consists simply in the truths abiding in it-and they also are wrong who suppose, that a soul can be sanctified by any other means. An unholy soul has little susceptibility of impressions from holy objects and although they have a natural suitableness to its affections, yet it is scarcely moved or stirred, when in contact with them, and when absent from them, feels no desire after them. Whereas a holy soul, in their absence, longs after them, and in their presence is increasingly susceptible of impressions from them; and is at the same time increasingly unsusceptible of impressions from their opposites.
This sanctification of the heart is evidently a progressive work, but the progress may be more or less rapid in different persons. One may advance more in an hour, than another in a long life. An indolent application to the truth, can produce but little sanctification, and so faith cannot increase. An admission of impressions from improper objects, deadens the affections towards the truth, and so faith retrogrades. Wilful sin blinds the understanding,
and confirms the affections in their wrong bent, and in their insensibility to the Gospel, and so faith seems to die. The mercy of God, by the visitations of providence and the strivings of the Spirit, may keep the spark from utter extinction; but there is little progress made, little conformity to the will of God, and little enjoyment of his presence and favour. But when a man feels his danger, and perceives the necessity of salvation in its full urgency, he is prepared to yield to the Gospel mould; he is convinced that his eternal all rests on this truth; he therefore clings to it, and the closeness of his grasp ensures the depth and truth of the impression on his heart.
We may believe that the spirit of an infant early removed from this world, a trophy of the cross, and carried to heaven, will be at once impressed by the beauties and glories of the Divine character, and conformed to the same image by the knowledge of Him who is the spirit and meaning of the Gospel. But even in heaven there must be a progressive advancement, Greater knowledge of God will produce greater resemblance to him, and greater resemblance to him will increase the capacity of knowing him. It is the same on earth. A free and general pardon is proclaimed from heaven to the sinful children of men; but it is conveyed through the blood of atonement, a channel which displays all the perfections of God. The heart of man is naturally opposed to the holiness of the Divine character; and therefore until that character is seen to be in truth our on
ly safety, our only sure happiness for time and eternity, we reject the proclamation. As soon, however, as we feel our danger and misery, and see the safety and happiness guaranteed in the Divine character, as displayed in the cross of Christ, we listen to the proclamation with joy, and we come at the same time under the shade of its protection, and under the operation of its sanctifying power. And then the work of grace advances, just in proportion to the earnestness and constancy with which we cleave to and abide in the truth. We see, then, that as the mind dwells on this great theme, and as the affections are more exercised by its wonders, there will be a gradual dilation of the whole moral system that lighter and feebler impressions will give place to deeper and strongerthat the external symbols of words and actions will become more and more identified with the mighty realities of God and eternity-that religion, instead of being an interrupted seeking after God, will become an unbroken communion with him, a conformity to his image, and a participation of his joy. The lower orders of intelligent beings will thus be gradually pressing upwards in the scale of spiritual excellence and filling the places which have been just left by the higher-and the whole family of God, led by this glorious light, will through eternity be advancing nearer to their Father.
We shall be saved from much perplexity and error in our inquiries into the nature and exercise of faith, by keeping in mind what is its design or end. We are not commanded to be