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THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH AND WORKS.
But other illustrations crowd on us as we proceed, and there remain yet a variety of considerations connected with this important subject which must be reserved for a future discourse.
From what, however, has been already said, we may satisfy ourselves how mistaken is the supposition that there is any real discrepancy between the several parts of God's written word. We may learn that no doctrine of scripture will afford us excuses for spiritual negligence or sloth. We may learn that we have all our several parts, however humble, to perform in the respective spheres which providence has assigned us. That the true Christian spirit, if it be really like the light which cometh from heaven, will shine forth in our words, our actions, and our lives.-And that if we wish sincerely to be “ rulers over many things”* hereafter, and “to enter into the joy of our Lord,” we must first have been “faithful over the few things,” and made a right use of the few “ talents,” that are entrusted to our disposal here.
* Matt. xxv. 21.
THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH AND WORKS,
James ïi. 17, 18. Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, thou hast faith and I have works ; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
IV. But let it not be said that, in treating of this important question, we have been discussing a point which leads us beyond the range of the common practices and the common feelings of humanity, and in which, therefore, we are deprived of the illustrations which those practices and feelings may supply. We are too fond, in general, of clothing with imaginary difficulties even the simplest doctrines of the gospel; and, strange as it may appear, we often hesitate about the pro
priety of duties to God, which, in the case of a fellow creature, it would appear one of the plainest dictates of nature to fulfil. tion of faith and works, in particular, I am persuaded, has been disfigured by much of this unnecessary mystery ; and I believe that, if we can regard it, for a moment, apart from the adventitious difficulties with which it has been encumbered, we shall find that, in the relation which the one bears to the other, this doctrine will admit of a comparison with the ordinary affairs of life which may tend greatly to simplify its meaning
1. Take, for instance, faith in any one of the interpretations it bears, whether as signifying “belief,” “trust,” “confidence," or "fidelity," and ask whether, in any of the dealings or relations of this world, we should be willing to recognize even its existence unless it were in some way developed in practice. In common life, we universally act on the acknowledged principle that belief and conviction must necessarily, and by the natural course of things, influence the outward conduct, and that we have done enough, to prompt a fellow creature to action, if we have only assured his self-interest, or convinced his self-love. What, for instance, should we say if we had pointed out to another some immediate
danger threatening the place where he stood, and yet he refused to fly; or if we had told him of some secret treasure in a certain spot, which still he did not care to seek? What would be our natural conclusion with regard to such a man, but that he could not have believed our representation, or have given credence to our words? strange and unbappy infatuation, there are those who, in a case where the whole of eternity is concerned, would fain delude themselves with the notion that they believe the fatal doom that is pronounced on the unregenerate state of man,that they believe the infinite blessings that are offered them by the intercession and atonement of Christ,--and yet take no pains either to avoid the one, or to pursue the other !
Again, (taking the word in the sense of " fidelity” or of “confidence,") what should we say
of the faithfulness of a friend, who, though he made abundant professions, yet performed no acts of friendship? Or who, though he spake of confidence and regard, yet spake of them only, and in all his actions was estranged and alienated from us, as though his heart responded not the echo of his lips? Or how, let me ask, does that kind of faith, for faith it is, which binds and keeps together all the various relations of society, that mutual trust between man and man, -that
dependence on the integrity of others,—that belief in future probabilities,—that artificial system of credit which, by the aid of a confidence almost unreserved, can approximate and identify interests apparently the most remote,-how does that faith operate, I repeat, but by the interchange of kindly offices, by outward acts of civility and friendship, by the performance of the several duties of social life, by activity in the pursuit of our own interests where they do not clash with those of others, and by all that excitement of unwearied action, that restlessness of untiring industry, which characterize the busy scene of a crowded and populous community? And shall the credit, and the dependence, and the confidence, and the trust that we repose in God, be less animating and exciting than those which bind us to our fellow men ! Shall the pursuits of temporal expediency be so enlivening a task, and shall we get credit for sincerity in the listless and reluctant homage we pay to Heaven? Or can that society of professing Christians be really impressed with the spirit of a quickening and lively faith, whose carelessness and sloth, whose slumber and indolence, whose torpor and inaction make their habitations resemble some silent city of the dead, rather than the moving scene of busy and animated life?