There is no principle made more prominent in the Bible than the saving power of faith. It is everywhere presented as the vital force in man, the motive power of the religious life. "According to thy faith be it unto thee," was an expression so often used by Jesus — literally or in substance — that it may be regarded as spiritually axiomatic. Though employed by him, perhaps more distinctively in reference to the healing of disease, its wider application is everywhere implied. Faith is the mainspring of all progress. Only by its exercise can we live with vigor. It is the fountain of all joy, action, and hope, and its dynamic is exercised upon unseen verities. Faith in God, in his infinite intelligence and rule, is the great power which moves the world. Its relation to the growth and upliftment of the human soul is as strong and intimate as that of the sun to the animate natural world. If doubt and unbelief are allowed to interpose, a chill takes the place of warmth, and the glory of life departs. Like a landscape over which a frost has past its beauty is withered.
It is not easy to interpret faith and its exercise in that which is unseen, into modern expressive terms. It is unfortunate, that to many the language of Scripture has become formal and rigid, and thus its adaptability to the actual life of today is weakened. It seems so far away to the daily consciousness that it needs a new translation to bring it into closer touch with the feeling of mankind. As a real force, which is governed by exact law, it is both scientific and cultivable. The recognition of the reign of "natural law in the spiritual world," as the overshadowing truth of the divine order, is the glory of the recent time. Faith is not mere expectation, or hope, but present substance. The highest tribute which was paid to the eminent characters of the Bible was that they were filled with faith, and it has lost none of its old-time potency. The illumined will is the divine energy working in the inner man. It takes hold of forces which are infinite, and nothing can withstand its might. "And the Lord said, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would have obeyed you." (Luke xvii, 6) These words of Jesus are an example of Oriental hyperbole, and their symbolic meaning could not well be stronger. They constitute a description of power with a superlative emphasis.
But there is no other fundamental principle so lightly rated by modern and conventional thought as faith. No other important quality of soul is so little understood, whether viewed abstractly, or in practical working. It is popularly estimated as a kind of unreasonable credulity, or perhaps simply as a vague hope for something which is distant. It is felt that for remote biblical times, it perhaps was fitting, but that it has little place in a scientific age. As a common term it has largely passed out of use, and "philosophical idealism" implies about as much of its inner significance as is thought to be in accord with the spirit of the age. It is no reflection upon "the scientific method" to suggest that the scope of its application should be broadened, so that its exercise be not limited to the intellectual and sensuous realm. The deeper problems of the soul are as amenable to orderly investigation as those of chemistry and physics. Psychology, subjective activity, consciousness, and spiritual evolution have their inherent laws which may be systematically studied and found coherent.
Faith, as a dominant force in the invisible realm, appears elusive and unreal. Whatever there is of it seems like a harmless enthusiasm which is volatile, or perhaps a temperamental peculiarity. Rather it is a mystic energy, boundless in its resources and of wonderful utility and potential increase. One may naturally inquire: How can I have more faith or spiritual certitude than I now possess, except it be upon some new presentation of outward evidence? But its growth is from within. A prisoner who is wholly shut off from Bible, book, or personal communication may cultivate and greatly increase it. Internal nourishment may be adequate without word or hint from objective sources. Evidence which is external to the soul may be useful, but it is not indispensable. The roots of faith are bedded in the recesses of being. On the contrary, trust in the things of sense depends upon observation or testimony upon its own plane. Because many travelers have visited China, and told us of its characteristic features, and of their own experiences while there, we believe in the existence of such a country without a personal visit. This kind of belief is in multiform use in the daily current of life.
Spiritual assurance is an achievement rather than a gift. Everything has its purchase price, and unseen verities are no exception. A positive conviction of the reality of spiritual values must largely lack immediate external confirmation. In the matter of fact atmosphere of the present era one may well ask himself, how far it is practicable to "walk by faith and not by sight." Just here is a focal point where the Bible should become a mirror for the life of today.
Far above all dogma, theology, and circumstance which men discover in Holy Writ, there shines out the towering principle of divine assurance and overruling good. A well grounded confidence in the issues of life is the exponent of spiritual sanity. It is the sounding keynote which is dominant in the history of the Old Dispensation and the New. Jesus did not teach doctrinal theology, but in season and out he discoursed upon the value of vigor in the inner life. This formed the substance of his oft repeated aphorisms and was enforced with all the wealth of Oriental imagery. The Pentecostal demonstration which followed his departure into the unseen, was an object lesson of the force of faith over sight. Its dominance over doctrine, in the Sacred Word, is as marked as that of the sun over the moon in the solar system.
The Bible is valuable today just in proportion that modern conditions are adjusted to its truth. Its inelastic letter does not fit different ages, but its deeper energizing force is perennial. Sectarian opinions, scholastic conceptions, and ethical standards come and go, but the divine dynamic which is stored in the soul is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. The present profound lack is in the motive power of love, with faith, Godward and manward. A more direct connection with the universal "power-house" is needed. As a spiritual balance-wheel the divine impetus is even more important in an intellectual age than in one of inferior technical development. Untempered knowledge becomes top-heavy for lack of subjective poise.
In the language of Paul, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the proving of things not seen. After things are seen, proving has lost its office. The future is not hoped and waited for, but brought into the present. The spiritual will is the helmsman of the voyage of life. Spiritual certitude deals with what is yet unmanifest, and in proportion to its intensity it brings possibility into actuality.
Any thorough study of the successive strata of the soul discloses the intuitive powers as higher in rank than those of the purely intellectual faculty. But this is no disparagement of the latter, in its own province, for there should be cooperation and an intermingling. With all the wonders of modern scientific development, the present era is notable for unbelief and faithlessness. The conclusions of the Spirit seem like foolishness to the logician. Even "a sign from heaven" to find acceptance must pass through the retorts of the laboratory. Spiritual laws and forces elude us because we demand evidence which does not belong to them. Analysis is useful in physics and chemistry, but spiritual values cannot be laid open for dissection.
The Primitive Church was childlike and technically unproficient, but there was the exercise of a far more prevailing faith and corresponding "wonderful works" than this age knows how to command. In worldly lore it was but a low development, but with all our feeling of great superiority we might learn much from it. The waning of the inner glow of the soul is a loss which is beyond estimate. Dogma may be recited and receive assent, but it does not furnish spiritual invigoration.
A well rounded faith has no element of uncertainty, for its clear-sightedness reveals credentials which are self-attesting. Its potency also blossoms into visible blessing because it has radiant energy. Assurance in God, linked to trust in the spiritual selfhood, makes an invincible combination. Through its channel in the human soul flows the divine potential.
Almost the only reproof which Jesus administered to his immediate followers may be summed up in the words so often repeated: "O ye of little faith!" Like the world of today they were prone to walk by sight. Until the inner fountain is unsealed, spiritual assurance is feeble and formal. The lower currents of our mental environment chill and paralyze the higher life, while a cultivated faith will reflect back upon us all the warmth we put in, supplemented by a constant growth. In order to a realization of spiritual values, isolation from the world and contact with the divine, at least at special seasons, is necessary. Divine assurance is the grand ideal. To seek its companionship with an undoubting spirit, involves a positive response and provides for its steady possession.
Our righteous judgment of any one must be in the light of his aims and not entirely based upon his completed attainments. He is the actual owner of the fruitage of his ideals, even though they now be only in the bud. By faith they are potential, and are actually wrapped up within him. Correct spiritual accounting credits him with what he has set his heart upon, for faith brings the treasures of the future into the soul's present assets. Contrary to general opinion the riches of the idealist are very real. Beauty is no more an abstract quality with him but practically his very own. God is not only God, but his God. Through the legitimate ownership conferred by faith, Paul's sweeping declaration: "All things are yours!" is sober truth. If such a realization appears like an impossible attainment, it is of the utmost importance that we begin its cultivation now. To the material consciousness, spiritual riches drawn from the future seems like a mystery, if not a negation. No argument or doctrine will prove its validity, for only the heart can understand its power.
That concentrative thought is creative, and that it may be a powerful auxiliary to spiritual certitude, is a law which is but slightly appreciated. But through its exercise consciousness may be reconstructed. Take an illustration. One is well convinced that love is a high privilege and duty. He should love his friend, neighbor, and even enemy, but he fails to have any feeling or warm sensibility in that direction. It does not come spontaneously, and he would like to increase it, but does not discern the means. How shall it be awakened from latency and become manifest, at least in his own consciousness? Concentrated thought upon it tends to make it live, in and before him. There grows up a subjective nucleus which is powerful and effective. In due time it will find objective overflow through fitting channels. As a secondary creator man may thus reform his own consciousness. By immutable law he approximates toward the likeness of the "pattern in the mount." "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he." Paul, in his directions for growth, showed himself to be a psychological expert. He said: "Think on these things." The things mentioned were definite ideals. One may choose and hold them until they stamp their deep impress upon his life and consciousness, and virtually become a part of him.
The spiritual realm is all about us, though intangible to our physical equipment. "For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." Our deepest and most real life, here and now, is within the realm of spirit. But the daily thought is almost entirely of the things of sense. While Omnipresent Spirit is in and around us, we reason and converse almost entirely in terms of matter. The super sensuous realm seems distant, or is relegated to the dim future. We are like the fishes and the lark:
"' Oh, where is the sea?' the fishes cried,
As they swam the crystal clearness through;
'We've heard from of old of the ocean's tide,
And we long to look on the waters blue.
The wise ones speak of an infinite sea,
Oh, who can tell us if such there be.'
"The lark flew up in the morning bright,
And sung and balanced on sunny wings;
And this was its song: 'I see the light,
I look on the world of beautiful things;
But flying or singing everywhere,
In vain I have searched to find the air.'"
The real life beneath the seething surface of the sensuous plane is lived in God. Spirit is the great reality. Our seen environment which appears so firm and enduring is like a shadow in comparison with that subtle energy which forms its basis. This orderly force builds up forms and blossoms in seen organisms, while its great current, which is not now in manifestation flows on unspent and undiminshed. That which is objectively solidified is but an infinitesimal part of the great Whole. No dust can be found which has not over and over again been seized, animated, and shaped by its vital force.
O, how the world is bound and deceived by the limitations of the seen 1 Human traditions, institutions, and activities are benumbed by materialism and pessimism. Conventions tether us to innumerable hitching-posts, and we are held to a little exhausted range for sustenance. But on various occasions, and under certain conditions, glimpses of the super sensuous flash themselves upon us. The Bible often speaks of the awakening of the spiritual perception as the "opening of the eyes." Blindness is the common condition. When St. Paul first experienced a vivid impress of spiritual illumination, we read: "And straightway there fell from his eyes, as it were, scales and he received his sight." Not literal scales, but "as it were" scales. How expressive the Oriental similitude!
God is Spirit (not "a spirit," as incorrectly rendered) and if man be made in his image and likeness, he, in his real being must be spirit also. The seen body is man's instrument, but it is not man. Our souls breathe the spiritual atmosphere of God's immanence. His concrete activity is in all the higher processes of man's inner nature. There is a subtle but normal affinity between the divine and the human. Men have sought everywhere outside to find God, vainly neglecting the spiritual corridors of their profounder consciousness. The divine life, love, beauty, and goodness are revealed to men through the recognition and activity of the same qualities in themselves. As man thinks God-like thoughts and comes into deific conjunction, he also gains an increasing command of spiritual powers and prerogatives.
The testimony of the senses needs constant revision. In unnumbered ways the impressions gained from phenomena are deceptive. The movement of the sun and all the heavenly bodies seems plain, and as we look out of the window of the limited express, the landscape seems to be flying by. The distant object appears near, and our deeper reason is employed to make constant correction. Modern science resolves matter into force, or vortex movements of the ether. Man's life is not in things, but in ideas, principles, truth, love, and other spiritual realities. The lack of faith still leads him mistakenly to think that he can "live by bread alone."
It is not proposed in this connection to discuss the unseen, abstractly, but rather the practical outcome and utility of the activity of faith in connection with it. Faith makes it live. To the faithless the spiritual domain is but an empty void. Assurance peoples it with vital forces, actual as well as potential. What is negation to the natural eye is the most solid and real of all things. The common estimate is reversed, for the material becomes relatively immaterial. "Salvation by faith" not by dogma, ritual, thirty-nine articles, intercession or substitution, is the profound truth in all religions. Says Dr. James Freeman Clarke, in his review of St. Paul's ideas of "Justification by Faith":
"Therefore in all ages and lands, men have sought to take hold of something higher than themselves — something supernatural, superhuman, unchanging. In this ever-rolling sea of time, they drop their anchor, hoping to strike something solid beneath which will hold them firm. It strikes a sacrament, and holds by that a little while; and then comes a storm, and it breaks away. It catches a saint, and holds by him; to an inspired prophet and apostle, and holds by him. But these also give way, and at length it strikes the rock — the rocky basis of all belief — and takes hold of the Infinite Being himself. There it holds, and holds forever."
The fundamental basis of all true religion is the assured contact of the human with the divine. The altar, the creed, and even the atonement should not come in between God and the soul. Even if there be truth and goodness in them, they are only incidents on the way. Faith is not incidental, but the vital unifying force. Whatever is interposed is not the goal, but only a resting-place in that direction.
The Church of the Past, with all its complex machinery, has been afraid of faith, and this fear has not been limited to the Roman establishment. When Luther proclaimed, "Salvation by faith," the whole fabric of ecclesiasticism was shaken. He knew no indirection. The divine fire burned within his soul. Sweeping aside intermediaries, he triumphantly sung:
"A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing."
The religious systems, with rare exceptions, have inculcated fear of God, and have assured men that priests must intercede, and ordinances and sacrifices be observed, indicating that salvation must be at second hand. They have directed men to linger in the outer courts of the temple, while an official visit is made to the Holy of Holies. Peradventure God may listen through such an appeal. Jesus said: "Have faith in God." (Mark xi, 22) Then follows a statement of its privileges and possibilities.
Religious intolerance has always waxed bitter toward those who cultivated the immediate presence of God. From the time of the martyr, Stephen, who was so filled with the divine light that his face shone, down through the ages the direct communion of the soul with God has been discouraged and opposed. That beautiful and remarkable modern saint, Madam Guyon, was placed in solitary confinement in the Bastille, because the king and Church were afraid of faith. George Fox and Swedenborg, and a host of others preeminent for Godliness, have been accounted dangerous persons because Church and State were afraid of faith without restrictions. The Quietists of all ages, filled with the inner light, and distinguished in outward life for unselfishness, love, and virtue constitute a long object-lesson of the hostility of the ruling influences to the "divine ardor." History has shown that the direct communion of the human with the divine has had the effect to render external observances somewhat superfluous. The serene spirit, love, and beauty of character in the Quietist was a strong, though silent rebuke to the prevailing formalism of all ages. Simplicity and the inner light seem like heresy to ceremonialism. But there should be no indiscriminate censure of ceremonies and sacraments. If one is repelled from coming face to face with God, or is not drawn to do so, it is better to let one's priest go to the altar for him, than not to go at all. In fact, it may be freely admitted that for many grades of development, ritual and sacrament are useful and necessary steps. It may be well to find holiness, even in the fringe of a garment, for wherever found it means to the soul, a "feeling after God." Everything on the road upward may be consecrated but should not be idolized. There have been several distinct revivals of pure faith during the modern period, beside the many notable personal examples which have not been identified with any general movement. Since the great spiritual renaissance that was led by Luther, which are long lost its purity and became weighted with dogma, faith at various times has reasserted itself in liberal measure. The Friends, or Quakers, as they are often called, headed by George Fox, developed an extensive inspirational movement in the latter part of the seventeenth century. Inner spiritual illumination, with an indifference toward outward ceremonial, and the exercise of direct communion— the human with the divine — were the prominent features of this devoted and non-resistent people. Like all irregulars, or non-conformists of that period, they suffered persecution which they bore with a beautiful and uncomplaining spirit. Their history, from that time down to the present furnishes a shining example of the power of an inner faith, peace, and trust, and a corresponding expression of good works was not lacking.
Another great outburst of faith, combined with little formalism, was that of the Methodist movement of the eighteenth century. In this revival, there was more outward demonstration. The leading spirits, the Wesleys and Whitefield were inspired with the "divine ardor" and soon had an extensive following in England and America. Methodism became a great power and has been an important element in shaping general religious thought. But theological differences gradually developed, so that the original impulse lost its unity and simplicity, and several divisions or different kinds of Methodists were the result.
The Unitarian movement, in its early history, especially as represented by Dr. Channing, was distinguished by a similar spirituality. It was a protest against and reaction from an overwrought and dogmatic theology. Doctrine had become hard and complicated, but Channing held that every man is a child of God and the subject of divine love. Again, salvation by faith, and the inner oneness of the human and divine were the basis for a fresh inspiration. This spiritual renewal of the early part of the nineteenth century, not only attracted many adherents, but its spirit also penetrated and permeated the existing systems of faith, and this subtle transforming influence outside of its own technical limits has continued down to the present time. While as a religious denomination, its numerical increase has been very moderate, its liberal spirit has been largely radiated in all directions. As a coherent spiritual movement upon the basis of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man, its diffusive tendency has been great. Some of Channing's sublime utterances are winged with rare inspirational truth. In speaking of the freedom of mind which comes through faith in the unseen, he says:
"I call that mind free, which masters the senses, which protects itself against animal appetites, which contemns pleasure and pain in comparison with its own energy, which penetrates beneath the body and recognizes its own reality and greatness, which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.
"I call that mind free which escapes the bondage of matter, which, instead of stopping at the material universe and making it a prison wall, passes beyond it to its Author, and finds in the radiant signatures which it everywhere bears of the Infinite Spirit helps to its own spiritual enlargement.
"I call that mind free which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven, which, whilst consulting others, inquires still more of the oracle within itself and uses instructions from abroad not to supersede but to quicken and exalt its own energies.
"I call that mind free which is not passively framed by outward circumstances, which is not swept away by the torrent of events, which is not the creature of accidental impulse, but which bends events to its own improvement, and acts from an inward spring, from immutable principles which it has deliberately espoused."
In the more recent history of religious liberalism, it does not seem quite certain that the high keynote which was sounded by the great Channing has been fully maintained. Good works and altruism are worthy of all praise, and have a most important place, but above them is needed a distinctive faith and spiritual consciousness.
In any review of the successive high tides of a pure and simple faith in super sensuous Reality, there is one so unique that it deserves special attention. The rise of that idealistic philosophy, known as Transcendentalism, which came into wide notice about the middle of the last century was phenomenal. In the most profound sense it was both a religious and spiritual awakening. But any thorough appreciation of its true inwardness was exceedingly rare during its inception, and even today, its full recognition is very limited. Emerson was its leading prophet, and his office was as important and wel} fitted to his time and environment, as was that of the great Hebrew seer, Isaiah. So completely was Transcendentalism popularly misunderstood that it was accounted not only as irreligious but atheistic. To the religious consciousness of the time, faith had become so wholly identified with dogma, ordinance, sacrament, and ecclesiasticism, that when shorn of these, and presented in its own simple garb, it was not recognized as faith at all. The little band of souls which formed the nucleus of the awakening were not only insignificant in numbers but rated as spiritual iconoclasts. The intuitions of Emerson relating to the cosmic economy have, many of them, been confirmed by the researches of physical science, and his marvelous insight into the higher realm of mind and spirit, is also finding abundant proof in the psychical and spiritual experiences of highly developed souls. Transcendentalism laid the foundation for a practical and wholesome idealism, for a reconciliation between science and faith, for a conscious realism of the unseen, for a true synthesis — drawing together in fitting and harmonious proportion that which men had torn apart — for a beneficent, as well as a unified administration of the moral order and for a universal divine revelation rather than one limited to book or system. From a vague, irreverent, and speculative philosopher, which was the average opinion of Emerson in his own time, and which perhaps is yet held by the majority, the future will reverence him as the great modern prophet of a natural and rounded faith, and the human channel for a true and progressive spiritual revelation. Original and intuitive souls often come in advance of their fitting evolutionary place. Only as subsequent generations are able to approximate toward their point of view can they be interpreted. In its time Transcendentalism gave little outward sign of that inherent power which since has been unfolding. In its full breadth the movement could not have found an initiative earlier, for the world was incapable of its reception. Previous awakenings fitted to their own time, were able to strip off the external layers of spiritual fruitage and get a near view of its richness, but this laid it bare to its heart and marrow. Much time must yet pass before the Emersonian philosophy will receive due credit for its potential content of faith and spiritual progress. With all of its seeming mysticism and profundity, it tended to make life simple and childlike. It stimulated a natural and wholesome optimism and taught that existence, in itself, should be a joy and privilege. It showed that ideal man is the true expression of God.
If faith be a perennial and not a capricious or spasmodic force, its practical advantages should be always available. If it be a law it is not subject to suspension or withdrawal. If it were ever potent in the assuagement of physical ills or mental distresses, it is no less so today. The faithlessness and materialism of the modern world are especially evident in the absence of any general reliance upon its healing virtues. In this most vital department of human welfare, we choose to "walk by sight " almost exclusively. The striking affirmations which Jesus delivered concerning faith were mainly in reference to its application for human recovery from disease and inharmony. In such beneficent work, he claimed no exclusive power. It was the privilege and prerogative of all "believers." "Greater works than I have done ye shall do." During the days of the Primitive Church, while a simple and strong faith prevailed its exercise in healing demonstration was expected and taken for granted. When that spiritual energy was eclipsed by dogma, theological speculation, and union with the State, it rapidly waned. Nothing would so revive confidence in its vital power in the eyes of the world, as a new demonstration of its visible and legitimate results. Already there are signs of a pentecostal outpouring, but unlike the former time it doubtless will come into realization gradually and without observation. This phase of the more practical application of the inner power will not be enlarged upon in this connection. It has had special and liberal attention in previous works issued by the author of this volume.
A living faith is the crying necessity of today. Scholasticism and a highly wrought intellectual development cannot fill its place. We need an overwhelming consciousness of God, within and without, a feeling that he is revealed in everything, that he is the Force back of all other forces, and the Life of all other lives. The kingdom of God is within and to find it we must become like little children. The great exponents of faith in all ages have been those souls who lived in the universal strength and made their lives channels for the divine energy.