Chapter III. Of Faith, as it is a Necessary Disposition to the Blessed Sacrament.
BESIDES the faith that is previous to baptism, or is wrapped up in the offices of that sacrament, the church of God admitted only such persons to the sacrament, whom she called 'fideles,' or 'faithful,' by a propriety or singularity and eminency of appellation. They accounted it not enough barely to believe, or to be professors; for the penitents, and the lapsed, and the catechumens, were so: but they meant such persons, whose faith was operative, and alive, and justifying; such men whose faith had overcome the world, and overcome their lusts, and conquered their spiritual enemy; such, who by faith were real servants of Christ, disciples of his doctrine, subjects of his kingdom, and obedient to his institution. Such a faith as this, is, indeed, necessary to every worthy communicant; because, without such a faith, a Christian is no more but a name; but the man is dead; and dead men eat not. Of this, therefore, we are to take strict and severe accounts; which we shall best do by the following measures.
1. Every true Christian believer must consent to the articles of his belief, by an assent firmer than can be naturally produced from the ordinary arguments of his persuasion. Men believe the resurrection; but it is because they are taught it in their childhood, and they inquire no further in their age: their parents and their priests, the laws of the church and the religion of the country, make up the demonstration; but because their faith is no stronger than to be the daughter of such arguments, we find they commonly live at such a rate, as if they did neither believe, nor care whether it were so or no. The confidence of the article makes them not to leave off violently to pursue the interests of this world, and to love and labour for the other. Before this faith can enable them to resist a temptation, they must derive their assent from principles of another nature; and, therefore, because few men can dispute it with arguments invincible and demonstrative, and such as are naturally apt to produce the more perfect assent, it is necessary that these men, of all other, should believe, because it is said to come from God,--and rely upon it, because it brings to God,--trust it, because it is good,--acknowledge it certain, because it is excellent; that there may be an act of the will in it, as well as of the understanding, and as much love in it as discourse.
For he that only consents to an article because it is evident, is, indeed, convinced,--but hath no excellency in his faith, but what is natural,--nothing that is gracious and moral: true Christian faith must have in it something of obscurity, something that must be made up by duty and by obedience; but it is nothing but this, we must trust the evidence of God in the obscurity of the thing. God's testimony must be clear to him, and the thing, in all other senses, not clear; and then to trust the article, because God hath said it, it must have in it an excellency which God loves, and that he will reward. In order to this, it is highly considerable, that the greatest argument to prove our religion is the goodness and the holiness of it; it is that which makes peace and friendships, content and comfort; which unites all relations, and endears the relatives; it relieves the needy, and defends the widow; it ends strife, and makes love endless. All other arguments can be opposed and tempted by wit and malice; but against the goodness of the religion no man can speak: by which it appears, that the greatest argument is that which moves love, intending, by love, to convince the understanding.
But then for others who can inquire better:--their inquiries also must be modest and humble, according to the nature of the things, and to the designs of God. They must not disbelieve an article in Christianity, which is not proved like a conclusion in geometry; they must not be witty to object, and curious to inquire beyond their limit. For some are so ingeniously miserable, that they will never believe a proposition in divinity, if any thing can be said against it; they will be credulous enough in all the affairs of their life, but impenetrable by a sermon of the Gospel: they will believe the word of a man, and the promise of their neighbour; but a promise of Scripture signifies nothing, unless it can be proved like a proposition in the metaphysics. If Sempronius tells them a story, it is sufficient if he be a just man, and the narrative be probable: but though religion be taught by many excellent men, who gave their lives for a testimony; this shall not pass for truth, till there is no objection left to stand against it. The reason of these things is plain: they do not love the thing: their interest is against it: they have no joy in religion: they are not willing and desirous that the things shall appear true. When love is the principle, the thing is easy to the understanding; the objections are nothing, the arguments are good, and the preachers are in the right. Faith assents to the revelations of the Gospel, not only because they are well proved, but because they are excellent things; not only because my reason is convinced, but my reason yields upon the fairer terms, because my affections are gained. For if faith were an assent to an article but just so far as it is demonstrated, then faith were no virtue, and infidelity were no sin: because in this there is no choice, and no refusal. But where that which is probable, is also naturally indemonstrable, and yet the conclusion is that in which we must rejoice, and that for which we must earnestly contend, and that in the belief of which we serve God, and that for which we must be ready to die:--it is certain, that the understanding observing the credibility, and the will being pleased with the excellency, they produce a zeal of belief, because they together make up the demonstration. For a reason can be opposed by a reason, and an argument by an argument: but if I love my religion, nothing can take me from it, unless it can pretend to be more useful and more amiable, more perfective and more excellent, than heaven and immortality, and a kingdom and a crown of peace, and all the things, arid all the glories of the eternal God.
2. That faith which disposes to the holy communion, must have in it a fulness of confidence and relying upon God, a trusting in, and a real expectation of, the event of all the promises of the Gospel. God hath promised sufficient for the things of this life to them, that serve him. They who have great revenues and full bags, can easily trust this promise: but if thou hast neither money nor friends, if the labour of thy hands, and the success of thy labour fails thee, how is it then? Can you then rely upon the promise? What means your melancholy and your fear, your frequent sighs, and your calling yourself miserable and undone? Can God only help with means? or cannot he also make the means, or help without them? or see them when you see them not? or is it that you fear whether he will or no? He that hath promised,--if he be just, is always willing, whether he be able or no; and, therefore, if you do not doubt of his power, why should you at all doubt of his willingness? For, if he were not able, he were not almighty: if he were not willing to perform his promise, then he were not just; and he that suspects that, hath neither faith nor love for God: of all things in the world, faith never distrusts the good-will of God, in which he most glories to communicate himself to mankind. If yet your fear objects and says, 'that all is well on God's part; but you have provoked him by your sins, and have lost all title to the promise:' I can say nothing against that,--but that you must speedily repent and amend your fault; and then all will be quickly well on your part also; and your faith will have no objection, and your fears will have no excuse. When the glutton Apicius had spent a vast revenue in his prodigious feastings, he killed himself for fear of starving: but if Caesar had promised to give him all Sicily, or the revenues of Egypt, the beast would have lived and eaten. But the promises of God give to many of us no security, not so much as the promise of our rich friend, who yet may be disabled, or may break his word or die. But let us try again.
God hath promised, "that all things should work together for good to them that fear him." Do we believe, that our present affliction will do so? Will the loss of our goods, the diminution of our revenue, the amission of our honour, the death of our eldest son, the unkindness of a husband, the frown of our prince, the defeating of our secular hopes, the unprosperous event of our employment? Do we find, that our faith is right enough really to be satisfied in these things so much as to be pleased with God's order and method of doing good to us by these unpleasant instruments? Can we rejoice under the mercy by joys of believing at the same time, when we groan under the affliction by the passion of sense? Do we observe the design of cure, when we feel the pain and the smart? Are we patient under the evil, being supported by expectation of the good which is promised to follow? This is the proper work of faith, and its best indication.
Plutarch tells, that when the cowards of Lacedemon depicted upon their shields the most terrible beasts they could imagine, their design was to affright their enemies that they might not come to a close fight; they would fain have made their enemies afraid, because themselves were so: which when Lacon espied, he painted upon a great shield, nothing but a little fly for his device; and to them who said he did it that he might not be noted in the battle, he answered, 'yea, but I mean to come so near the enemy, that he shall see the little fly.'--This is our case: our afflictions seem to us like gorgons' heads, lions and tigers, things terrible in picture, but intolerable in their fury; but if we come near and consider them in all the circumstances, they are nothing but a fly upon a shield, they cannot hurt us; and they ought not to affright us, if we remember that they are conducted by God, that they are the effect of his care, and the impress of his love, that they are the method and order of a blessing, that they are sanctified and eased by a promise: and that a present ease, it may be, would prove a future infelicity. If our faith did rely upon the promise, all this were nothing; but our want of faith does cause all the excess of trouble c. For the question is not whether, or no we be afflicted, whether we be sick, or crossed in our designs, or deprived of our children, this we feel and mourn for;--but the question is, whether all this may not, or be not intended to, bring good to us? Not whether God smiles or no, but to what purpose he smiles? not whether this be not evil, but whether this evil will not bring good to us? If we do believe, why are we without comfort and without patience? If we do not believe it, where is our faith?
And why do any of us come to the holy communion, if we do not believe it will be for our good? but if we do think it will, why do we not think so of our cross? for the promise is that every thing shall. Cannot the rod of God do good as well as the bread of God? and is not he as good in his discipline as in his provision? is not he the same in his school as at his table; is not his physic as wholesome as his food?
It is not reason, but plainly our want of faith, that makes us think otherwise. Faith is the great magazine of all the graces, and all the comforts of a Christian: and, therefore, the devil endeavours to corrupt the truth of it, by intermingling errors, the sincerity of it by hypocrisy, the ingenuity of it by interest, the comforts of it by doubting, the confidence of it by objections and secular experiences, and present considerations; by adherence to human confidences, and little sanctuaries, and the pleasures of the world, and i the fallibilities of men. When Xerxes had a great army to conduct, and great successes to desire, and various contingencies to expect,--he left off to sacrifice to his country gods, forsook Jupiter and the sun: and, in Lydia, espying a goodly platan-tree, tall, and straight, and spread, he encamped all his army in the fields about it, hung up bracelets and coronets upon the branches, and, with costly offerings, made his petitions d to the beauteous tree: and when he marched away, he left a guard upon his god, lest any thing should do injury to the plant, of which he begged to be defended from all injury. By such follies as these does the devil endeavour to deflower our holy faith and confidences in God: we trust in man, who cannot trust himself; we rely upon riches, that rely upon nothing; for they have no stabiliment, and they have no foundation, but are like atoms in the air; the things themselves can bear no weight, and the foundation cannot bear them. In our afflictions, we look for comfort from wine or company, from a friend that talks well, or from any thing that brings us present ease, hut, in the mean time, we look not into the promises of God, which are the storehouses of comfort: and, like the dogs at Hippocrene, we lick the water-drops that fall upon the ground, and take no notice of the fountain and the full vessels. These things are so necessary to be considered, in order to our preparation to the communion, as they are necessary to be reduced to practice, in order to a Christian conversation. For the holy communion is the summary and compendium of the religion and duty of a whole life; and as faith cannot be holy, material, and acceptable, without it contain in it a real trust in the promises of God,--so neither can it be a sufficient disposition to the receiving the divine mysteries, unless upon this ground, it be holy, acceptable, and material.
3. That faith which is a worthy preparatory to the holy communion, must be the actual principle and effective of a good life; a faith in the threatenings and in the commandments of God. Who can pretend to be a Christian, and yet not believe those words of St. Paul? "Follow after peace, with all men, and holiness;--without which, no man shall see God." And yet if we do believe it, what do we think will become of us, who neither 'follow peace nor holiness,' but follow our anger, and pursue our lust? If we do believe this, we had need look about us, and live at another rate than men commonly do. But we still remain peevish and angry, malicious and implacable, apt to quarrel, and hard to be reconciled, lovers of money and lovers of pleasures, but careless of holiness and religion; as if they were things fit only to be talked on, and to be the subject of theological discourses, but not the rule of our lives, and the matter of our care. It is expressly said by St. Paul; "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself."--Now if we observe what crowds of people, in great cities, come to the holy communion; good and bad, penitent and impenitent, the covetous and the proud, the crafty merchant from yesterday's fraud, and the wanton fool from his last night's lust,--we may easily perceive, that not many men believe these words. He that says to me, 'Drink not this, for it is poison,' hath given me a law and an affrightment, and I dare not disobey him, if I believe him; and if We did believe St. Paul, I suppose we should as little dare to be damned as to be poisoned. Our blessed Saviour K told us, that "with what measures we mete to others, it shall be measured to us again;" but who almost believes this, and considers what it means? Will you be content, that God should despise you as you despise your brother? that he should be as soon angry with you, as you are with him? that he should strike you as hastily, and as seldom pardon you, and never bear with your infirmities, and as seldom interpret fairly what you say or do, and be revenged as frequently as you would be? And what think we of these sayings, "Into the heavenly Jerusalem there shall, in no wise, enter any thing that defileth, or profaneth; neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie?" Do men believe God, and yet, doing these things, hope to be saved for all these terrible sayings? "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, &c. of which I tell you before, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Certainly if we did believe that these things are spoken in earnest, we should not account fornication such a decent crime, so fashionable and harmless;. or make such a may-game of the fearful lectures of damnation. For, if these words be true, will men leave their sins, or are they resolved to suffer damnation, as being less troublesome than to quit their vain mistresses? surely that is not it; but they have some little subterfuges and illusions to trust to. They say, 'they will rely upon God's mercy.' Well they may; if, "in well doing, they commit their souls to him as to a faithful Creator: "but will they make God their enemy, and then trust in him, while he remains so? That will prove an intolerable experiment; for so said God, when he caused his name to be proclaimed to the host of Israel; "The Lord God, merciful and gracious: "he caused to be added, "and that will by no means quit the guilty." By no means? No, by no means; let us believe that as well as the other. For the passion of our Redeemer, the intercession of our high priest, the sacraments of the church, the body and blood of Christ, the mercies of God, the saying, 'Lord, Lord,' the privileges of Christians, and the absolution of the priest, none of all this, and all this together, shall do him no good that remains guilty; that is, who is impenitent, and does not forsake his sin. If we had faith we should believe this, and should not dare to come to the holy communion with an actual guiltiness of many crimes, and in confidence of pardon, against all the truth of divine revelations, and, therefore, without faith.
But then here we may consider, that no man, in this case, can hope to be excused from the necessities of a holy life, upon pretence of being saved by his faith. For if the case be thus, these men have it not. For he that believes in God, believes his words, and they are very terrible to all evil persons; for "in Christ Jesus nothing can avail but a new creature, nothing but keeping the commandments of God, nothing but faith working by charity," they are the words of God. Wicked men, therefore, can never hope to be saved by their faith, or by their faith to be worthy communicants, for they have it not. Who then can?
He only, by his faith, is worthily disposed to the communion, and by his faith can be saved,--who, by his faith, lives a life of grace, whose faith is to him a magazine of holy principles, whose faith endears obedience, and is the nurse of a holy hope, and the mother of a never-failing charity. He shall be saved by his faith, who by his faith is more than conqueror, who resists the devil, and makes him fly, and gives laws to his passions, and makes them obedient; who, by his faith, overcomes the world, and removes mountains, the mountains of pride and vanity, ambition, and secular designs,--and whose faith casteth out devils, the devil of lust, and the devil of intemperance, the spirit that appears like a goat, and the spirit that comes in the shape of a swine: he whose faith opens the blind man's eyes, and makes him to see the things of God, and cures the lame hypocrite, and makes him to walk uprightly. "For these signs shall follow them that believe," said our blessed Saviour; and by these, as by the wedding garment, we are fitted to this heavenly supper of the king. In short, for whatever end faith is designed, whatever propositions it tends to persuade, to what duties soever it does engage, to what state of things soever it ought to efform us, and whithersoever the nature and intention of the grace does drive us,--thither we must go, that we must do, all those things we must believe, and to that end we must direct all our actions and designs. For the nature of faith discovers itself in the affairs of our religion as in all things: if we believe any thing to be good, we shall labour for it; if we think so, we shall do so. And if we run after the vanities of the world, and neglect our interest of heaven, there is no other account to be given of it, but because we do not believe the threatenings and the laws of God; or that heaven is not so considerable as those sottish pleasures and trifling regards, for which all pains is too much, though we think all labour and all passion is too little. Plutarch m tells, that when Poverty desired to have a child, she lay with the god Porus, their god of plenty, and she proved with child, and brought forth Love: by which they intended to represent the nature of the divine love; it is born of a rich father, and a poor mother; that is, it proceeds from a contempt of the world, and a value of God, an emptiness of secular affections, and a great estimate of wisdom and religion.
But therefore it is, that God and the fruits of his garden, and the wealth of his treasure, and the meat of his table, and the graces of his Spirit, are not gustful and delicious, because we dote upon mushrooms and coloquintida. But as manna was given in the desert, and it became pleasant when they had nothing else to eat,--so it is in the sweetnesses of religion: we cannot live by faith, and rejoice in the banquets of our Saviour, unless our souls dwell in the wilderness; that is, where the pleasures and appetites of the world may not prepossess our palates, and debauch our reasonings. And this was mysteriously spoken by the psalmist, "The broad places of the wilderness shall wax fat, and the hill shall be encircled with joy;" that is, whatsoever is barren and desolate, not full of the things and affections of the world, shall be inebriated with the pleasures of religion, and rejoice in sacraments, in faith and holy expectation. But the love of money, and the love of pleasures, are the intrigues and fetters to the understanding. But he only is a faithful man who restrains his passions, and despises the world, and rectifies his love, that he may believe aright, and put that value upon religion as that it become the satisfaction of our spirit, and the great object of all our passionate desires; pride and prejudice are the parents of misbelief, but humility and contempt of the world first bear faith upon their knees, and then upon their hands.