JOHN W. AMERMAN, PRINTER.
NO. 47 CEDAR STREET.
IN some respects we are a dreadfully perplexed generation; and that in matters which affect us in the most serious manner. If ever it could be said with emphasis of a people, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," it may be said of ourselves. We grope as the blind, for things which are before our eyes all the while, and practically ignore the principles which guide us in every walk of life, except that which is the light of true life and godliness. Our predecessors for some century or more have been analyzing human motives, and abstracting men in religious questions from the plane of common judgment until we are, in a measure, dislocated and crippled. We see good and fair men and women, who read their bibles, who pray regularly to God as their only guide, who attend all the ordinances of religion, and have settled down into perfect inactivity to the sacraments of religion for which the ordinances are appointed.
They are paralyzed often by a false theory of religion. They are confessedly uneasy; but how to get right with themselves, how to act toward the Church as they do by good sense in all things else, they know not. So the preaching of the pulpit has run into a rut, and that a narrow one. It is on a radical falsehood, and is designedly twisted to exhortation to a course of action, which is more or less unnatural and enthusiastic,
If a man in the Academy of Music were to preach to the citizens here to believe in the necessity of good government, [3/4] and eloquently urge them to take care of their property, to awake from indifference to the assessments and taxes, and feel patriotic and prudent, we should judge that we had fallen on evil days, and confess that either he or we were a bit mad. Yet we sit and hear of a world of duty as imperative; we listen to appeals to pay the tribute which is due to God; and listen with no practical effort to set our hearts right with our Maker.
I know that this state of mind is often due to sinful indulgence. A man will not give up the pleasure which degrades him. He knows that he is wrong, and deliberately chooses to follow the wrong. He is fully aware that a man cannot lie and curse, and be a lover of truth and blessings. That he cannot violate purity and see God; that he cannot be a drunkard and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven at the same time. He will not deny the sin, so he denies the religion that denounces it. His case is plain. He has no mental perplexity. I am not concerned just now with him. I speak of and to those who, so far as we can see, would profess religion with their mouths and gladly accept its public duties, if they could be helped over a difficulty that they have inherited; and I ask them to follow me closely, and let me try once more to offer the solution of their tangled doubt.
Their doubt would probably express itself somehow thus: "I would join the Church if I could only have a living faith--the mystery of faith--the ` one thing lacking '--could, in a word, have that, which ignorant men mean by the phrase, ' getting religion,' or what the Clergy perhaps mean, by the Spirit of God as communicated to the human soul."
I say that this error which produces this paralysis, is the standing perplexity of the practical opinions which we have inherited. You reason thus: "Here is A. B., very much such a man as I am; he goes to a meeting and is converted. He joins the Church, and is all right. Now, I want what he has, and if I could experience religion, as he has, I would join the Church too."
It is not my purpose to analyze the experience of A. B., or to say much of what he thinks of religion. I prefer to follow [4/5] a line of evident facts and leave them with you. If I thought that grace was relatively to us, as a well-head on the top of a hill, which one must see is filled full, and his life thereafter to be as a conduit, carrying the fluid down from it, even to the abyss of eternity, I should at once give in to another system of theology; but believing just the opposite law to hold--that the first gift of grace is, as the minute particles of oxygen imparted to the "smoking flax just ready to be quenched," and always increased as the need and capacity for absorbing them increases, I hold that if you are faithful to your Prayer-Book, you will see a way open to you to act in religion with something of what you consider to be good sense in daily life.
1st. God gives His Spirit to men. So faith is the gift of God. The religious life is a life of faith, prompted and warmed by God's Spirit. We grant this. Now note the Divine wisdom. There is something here of mystery--something dark--something you cannot understand. I believe this to be true and unquestionable. But what is mysterious, God does, not you. You only believe it on his word of promise. I fear that there is a huge list of vexatious thought and hypocrisy--so to say, of unconscious hypocrisy just here. I fear many a believer is agonizing at his heart-strings to catch the sight of the Spirit--Whom no man can see--to consider as his piety the part that God takes in His life, and to disregard that part which is his own. All the mystery of faith, God provides. It is "God in you to will and to do of His good pleasure." Your part is the simple--certain things to do--and which you can do--and on condition of your doing, God is bound to do His part. You act, and He acts. He goes before you in acting. If you are to be born again, He anticipates all your wants by His breath; just as He anticipated the need of your lungs, and provided for it, before you were born of your earthly parents.
Now, when A. B. was converted, (if he was,) he does one of two things: he either sees that he did them what was equally his duty and privilege at any and every moment of time before he did it; what he could have done, and, if he had had the right [5/6] sense, he would have done before; or else he accepts the concatenation of circumstances at that juncture, as a semi-miraculous interference of the Creator with the laws of creation in his favor, and the feeling of satisfaction which comes over him, he interprets as a patent supernatural work of special providence, and he regards that feeling as his "title to the skies." He may be right; I think not.
What you do in beginning to believe, is to do that command which God gives you. You are now as one who is holding in his hand the key of an electric circle. No electricity passes at all, or passes only by jumps and flashes. You put the key in its allotted place, and the fluid flows steadily and silently as the law would have it. Take one act as a specimen--say Baptism: God commands it. You have held back for want of faith, i. e., for want of this warm sparkle of electric force. At last you change. You yearn for peace--have yearned for it for years. Well, this yearning is itself repentance and faith; that is, it is conscience stirring the religious vein--touching the sensitive soul-nerve until it quivers. You at last determine to go just as you are, and obey the command.
Now, the act of obedience is faith, otherwise why would you do it at all. "By the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth profession is made unto salvation." Notice faith to righteousness and profession to salvation, not otherwise. You believe a command, and you can show your faith "only by your works." "Faith without works is dead, being alone." In other words, there is really no separation; for we are conscious of belief only by acts. The act is the react--so to say--of the belief. But, men will have it that because God acts with us, therefore one must be conscious of Him, as being in our faith. I am not so conscious. "By their fruits," we know trees, and also these plants of our heavenly Father's planting.
Suppose a man starving; he has faith in food; but surely to little purpose, till he eats it to his need. A man can distract his heart with many questions about the past, present and future--the impossible and the probable--and polish an [6/7] intellectual faith to the utmost; what he wants is, to obey! The faith justifies the obedience, and that rebounds on the faith. He may grope and stumble, and be tested in divers ways; all he needs, is to believe that he is on the way to the pool of Siloam, and to determine to hold on till he reaches it.
Our whole system of thought, in Church, takes this for granted. The fountain of grace bubbles up in sight of all in common. Christ says to all, and each, "According to thy faith, be it unto thee." Jesus says to all, "The power is Omnipotent--the grace is exhaustless--the offer free to all; if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."
Therefore, practically, you have all the faith possible in your case, and that is all you need of faith. Now, notice, God does the mystical part. He neither asks you to do it, nor lets you do it. No; the new birth--the soul re-born--is in the divine element quiescent. You cannot do the God-work; He only can do that. You can pray to him; can talk with Him, by reading His revelation of His will. You can go to Christ by faith. You can in the same manner do what He commands, and leave him to explain it hereafter. So, then, if a man can get his own consent, he has all the faith he needs, and will have the guarantee that he will receive all he requires.
Again, with most of those, of whom I speak, this is true. You are in the covenant, now, by Baptism. You have been the subject of many prayers. You have been carefully taught, and have absorbed the droppings of the sanctuary for years. You really believe that great proposition of St. John, "That Jesus is the Christ."
I hold that the main trouble is, that you are fighting against your faith; you have to hold yourselves back. It is so plainly the right thing to do, that you have to struggle against conviction. You say you want faith, and you absorb the story of Jesus with avidity, and never have a higher conception than when you see His wonderful love exalted. Perhaps you have never in your secret soul had one doubt, that in Him God is drawing all men unto Him. Perhaps you pray; you do it regularly alone; you try and join with us. Well, why? [7/8] You speak to God through Christ. That is good. But you believe, then, in God through Christ; and, if you do enough to make an honest prayer, you do enough to profess Him be
fore men. So last I speak a word Of the idea in this perplexed mind, of some faith being necessary to the act of possession of Church membership, which, shall be very grand and worthy. You want to perform some great sacrifice. You will wait until you can come in some noble style. Alas, this wretched mistake; repudiated by every Church in the land, and always showing its evil presence in every circle. What a physician asks to show his skill is a sick man, not a well one. The Good Physician carne to bear your sorrows, to heal your sicknesses, to relieve your woes. Will you wait till you have salved them with some pagan anodyne before you come to Him? He opened a fountain for sin and uncleanness in His blood. Will you hew you out cisterns, broken cisterns--that can hold no water, and neglect His grace? Abana and Pharpar may be prouder streams and flow through a grander realm; Christ points you to the Jordan and says to you, "Wash and be clean." The highest act of faith is to submit to His will, and trust His word. The simplest child can do this. The wisest sage can do no more.
Christ is calling many of you now by the ordinance of Confirmation. I see Him here saying to many doubters in the vineyard, "Why stand ye all the day idle?" He bends over some and says to them, "The flag of your faith is to be unfurled, why do you not salute it? I am calling you to take part with the Church Militant. Why do you not put on the whole armor of God? This community needs your example on My side. Why do you thus deny Me before men?" Alas! that He has also left on record. He that denies Me before men I will deny before the angels of God. He that here, in these courts below, would turn a deaf ear to My calls, and would none of My reproofs; who would, year after year, put Me aside, and turn to their buying and selling, I will deny and neglect them in that day when I make up my [8/9] jewels. I will need then no such stones in My crown of supernal splendor. They who are the foolish virgins, refusing to purchase oil for their lamps at so small a cost, for them the time will come, when it will be their part to cry, "Too late! too late!"
"No light had we, for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late! too late! ye cannot enter now.
Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
Oh let us in, that we may kiss his feet!
No, no! too late! ye cannot enter now."