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Seeing and Believing

We often hear it said that Seeing is Believing. But this is not true. When, for instance, we witness an exhibition of legerdemain we do not believe the evidence of our eyes; we know that what we see is an optical illusion. The reality in that case is not what we see with our outward eyes but what we know from other sources, namely, the fact that our eyes are being deceived. The fact is, believing is not seeing but knowing. Belief is necessary only where knowledge is lacking or imperfect.

With this clue, that seeing, apart from knowledge, is impartial and defective, a very little reflection leads us to the conclusion that there are three kinds of vision, namely, physical, intellectual, and spiritual; and also, corresponding with these, three kinds of knowledge. In other words, man possesses an outer sight, an inner sight, and an inmost sight. To see truly he must coordinate and balance these three perceptions of his three-fold nature by subordinating the evidence of his senses to that of his intellect, and the evidence of his intellect to that of his spiritual nature. Thus only is it possible to see perfectly in the true sense of the word.

Again, Seeing, on all three planes alike, is of two kinds—active and passive. We see perfectly only when we see actively, that is to say, when we consciously and voluntarily look at an object with deliberately focused vision. All else we see vaguely as in a mist.

Faith may be regarded as a graphic power acting through the eye of the soul, like light through a lens, and forming within the heart of man spiritual images.

Faith is the pencil of the soul
That pictures heavenly things.

And where there is an eye—which is the organ of sight—there are objects to be seen by it. The objects of Faith are the things of the spiritual world—"things" which, as St. Paul tells us, are "not seen," that is, not seen directly but indirectly by their "evidence" in the shape of spiritual perception or realization, for the things of faith are none the less real and substantial because they are not material. "What," asks the great master-seer, Swedenborg, "is Faith without a definite Object? Is it not like a look into the universe which falls, as it were, into an empty void and is lost?" And then anticipating—as he so often does—the latest conclusions of modern mental science, he simply explains in the sufficiently clear phraseology of St. Paul, how that every man has a natural mind and a spiritual mind, that as to his understanding (which is mediary) man exists now and here in both worlds, and that spiritual things are neither seen with the eyes nor grasped by the imagination but are spiritually discerned, that is to say, felt and realized and therefore known as eternal verities; for now (i.e. outwardly, in the natural world) we see as through a glass darkly, but the (i.e. inwardly in the spiritual world) face to face, that is to say, not merely seeing even as we are seen, but knowing even as we are known. Faith, therefore, may be regarded as a kind of indirect vision, for, as St. Paul says, it is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

The practical point for those of us who are seeking practical teaching is, that this inward sight or power of making mental images is under the immediate control of our will. We can admit these images, or shut them out, and our well-being consists in wisely using this power of selection. Our thoughts are mental photographs, and their production depends upon laws exactly parallel to those of photography. The human heart is a veritable camera obscura, literally a dark chamber. The tablet of our heart is an exceedingly sensitive surface on which our thoughts are projected, as on the photographic plate in the darkness of the camera. Also, in each case, the ultimate disposal of the image and its quality as a work of art depends upon the quality of the object and the will and the artistic skill of the individual operator who has power either to make or to mar the image, and the first essential is, he must realize and know that the Object exists. In fact, we can manipulate these thoughts or mental pictures of eternal verities. We can admit, exclude, focus, develop, fix, reduce, enlarge, multiply, or utterly destroy them. These pictures determine and make our character; nay, more, they are our character. Be they beautiful or ugly, be they master-pieces or abortions and daubs, we are responsible for their quality. They are our chosen ideals. If our thoughts are not pure and beautiful we must not blame God, "devil," or man, but simply and solely ourselves. We may indeed admit a wrong thought into our heart, but whether we allow it to develop into maturity or whether we strangle it in its birth is entirely a matter of our own individual will and choice. A certain thought is a seed of a certain quality. Will you crush it, or will you let it grow? "To be or not to be? That is the question." To say of an evil thought thus allowed to grow "I could not help it," is as unreasonable as for a photographer to say "I am not responsible for that photograph. It made itself." But did it? Could it? As well might the painter of a bad picture, or the writer of an immoral book, or the perpetrator of a crime plead, "I could not help it." It is against evil thoughts that the Sermon on the Mount is directed. Its underlying principle is: Look well to your thoughts. Right thoughts produce right deeds; wrong thoughts produce wrong deeds. It is by his ideals as ingrained in his secret thoughts, his habitual frames of mind, that a man will be judged, and is judged every moment of his life. It is not what other people see or believe, but what he himself consciously and voluntarily and habitually elects to see and believe, and therefore realizes and embodies in his actions, that constitutes a man's real character. And if we analyze those other mental pictures of which our conscience approves as being good and worthy to live, we shall find that the most valuable as well as the most beautiful element in them is faith—faith in God, faith in Man, faith in Truth. The best way of attaining that faith is by consciously hoping and expecting to see our Object, and this is to be acquired by cultivating a mental temper void of doubt and fear, of disquiet, and unrest, and worry. We must adopt that positive and affirmative principle of viewing things which looks for their good qualities instead of that negative principle of doubt and fault-finding which looks for, and therefore sees, chiefly their bad qualities.

Faith is not mere intellectual assent as expressible in a creed or formula. Nor is it mere passive willingness and acquiescence, but an active and strenuous feeling of wistfulness as implied in that oft-repeated "IF" of Christ, which was the one "conditional mood" He invariably postulated in all His works of healing—"If thou wilt"—implying a groping—sometimes painful, sometimes joyous—in the dark as for some hidden treasure; a passionate seeking resulting in the passionate finding of life itself. Thus we picture blind Bartimaeus eagerly forcing his way through the resisting throng and defying all obstructions until he got into the very presence of the Christ. His faith was to him a very real thing, an irresistible power which impelled him to struggle against all impediments, and though his outward eyes were sealed, there was, we may be sure, within him an inner sight which was all the keener because of the absence of outward vision. Is not the common experience of shutting our bodily eyes when we want to think deeply an admission of the fact that outward vision acts at times as a disturbing element to inward perception? For that very reason it is that we are commanded, when we pray, to "shut the door."

A beautiful illustration of the power of what is commonly called "blind" faith is seen in that almost animal instinct of subterranean vegetation which, although lying apparently still and lifeless in the womb of Mother Earth, is really all the while exerting a tremendous force as patiently, but strenuously it feels its way and works its way out of darkness into light. As to the power of growing roots which trees throw out in all directions to form an anchorage for the superstructure, as well as channels of nutriment, an eminent botanist remarks that in tropical countries the destruction of buildings is often caused by such growth, and that neither conquering nations, nor earthquakes, nor fires, nor tempests, nor rain, nor all these put together, have destroyed so many works of man as have the roots of plants, which have all insidiously began their work as fibers. What a striking picture of that faith which removes mountains!

But Faith is never more beautiful than when it manifests itself in man by a calm and steadfast feeling of confidence in the integrity, justice, and beneficence of the cosmic laws and of his own being as an integral part of the universe—a feeling tersely summed up in Browning's oft-quoted line, "God's in His Heaven; all's right with the world." And this just temperament, or perfect attunement of the soul with its surroundings, once it becomes habitual, produces a life of peace, calm, serenity, poise; a quiet mind that can never be "put out," whatever happens; that ever makes allowance for the infirmities and misdeeds of others; that, although it will not be put out, will yet willingly and joyfully of its own accord go miles out of its way to "do a good turn;" that is patient under contradiction, unkind treatment, or injustice. For Faith is more than mere passive belief in something unseen by the senses. It is an active belief in that unseen something in spite of its being flatly contradicted by the evidence of the senses, or by purely metaphysical deductions, or by the specious arguments of sophistry. The exhortation, "Be thou faithful unto death," has in view a trust stretched to the breaking point, as exemplified by the patient endurance of the patriarch job who was indeed faithful unto death when in the face of all his troubles he boldly vindicated the Divine Justice and gave expression to that sublime utterance, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

Therefore love and believe; for works will follow spontaneous,
Even as the day does the sun; the right from the good is an offspring,
Love in a bodily shape.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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W. H. Gill

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