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THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH AND WORKS.
James ii. 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.
Men of partial discernment or sectarian views have frequently injured the cause of religion, by attempting, in a mistaken spirit of system, to multiply into endless divisions principles which, in themselves, are simple and uniform, and to divorce from each other doctrines which God had essentially conjoined in one. The right interpretation of scripture has been seriously impeded, in a variety of other instances, by these unnecessary subtleties ; but there are few cases in which
they have led to such prevalent and popular misconceptions as on the subject referred to in the text. In ordinary affairs, indeed, it would be justly deemed a paradox to regard actions and principles of action as considerations entirely separate and distinct; to dissever, for instance, filial love from filial obedience, or to talk of a patriotic spirit which has never distinguished itself either in a disinterestedness of counsel, or a heroism of conduct. But Faith and Works, amongst many classes of undiscerning Christians, seem to have respectively their own peculiar and exclusive advocates, as if they were really unconnected and independent of each other. Some persons are to be found in almost every community who make the whole of their religion to consist in a certain blind and undistinguishing assurance, which they mistake for faith, and which leads them unnecessarily to disparage the value of human exertions, and to be utterly negligent of the external duties of life.
Others, again, and this is by far the most numerous class, are content that all their hopes should rest on their character and conduct alone. When once convinced of, what they call, the integrity of their lives, they are satisfied that they can in no respect have greatly erred; while they are unconsciously in danger, not only of estimating that integrity by a worldly instead of a heavenly standard, but also of entirely overlooking the motives from which it springs, and upon the character of which, even on the most common principles of reasoning, the value of all actions must depend.
From either of these extremes have sprung a variety of errors, partaking, in different degrees, of self-righteousness, indolence, and presumption. Detached and isolated passages of scripture have been wrested to meanings they were never designed to bear, to support their respective partizans. Even discrepancies have been suspected to exist between authorities equally dictated by the Spirit of God, especially the Epistles of St. James and St. Paul. And we have most of us, perhaps, learned, by painful experience and observation, how seriously extravagancies of opinion like this can interfere with the exercise of christian charity, and obstruct the progress of gospel truth.
Now it may be safely at once denied that there is really any internal contradiction or want of consistency in the great scheme of providence for man's redemption. It is true, indeed, that God alone is the source of all goodness, and man is a fallen and degraded creature, without any strength or resources of his own. But it is a mistake, equally great in the spiritual as in the
material world, to suppose that the most exalted conception of the all-sufficiency of God, or the most humiliating view of the helplessness of his unassisted creatures, is incompatible with their obligation to a proper activity in the sphere and office assigned them. God indeed is infinitely powerful,- but still the weakest of created things are not unworthy to bear a part in that extensive and subordinate agency through which the fiats of Omnipotence are instrumentally fulfilled. God is infinitely wise, -yet it does not therefore follow that all the inferior orders of intelligence are merely a blank in existence.
God is infinitely glorious,-yet even the meanest flower of the field can perform its appointed share in displaying the wisdom of its Maker, and the marvellous beauty and skill of bis minutest workmanship. The surpassing excellencies of Deity do not, in
any case, supersede the exertions and activity of all his creatures in their respective spheres. Not all the inconceivable glories of his immediate presence so completely absorb the eternal mind as to render the pageantry, inferior though it be, of our surrounding system, - with the brightness of its obscurer sun, and the marvellous courses of its humbler planets,-of none effect in making up the wonders of his creation, and completing the sum of his infinite perfections. Nor do the faultless obedience, the unwavering faith, the unbounded charity and love of the spirits of the just that attend about his throne, cast into such utter insignificance the imperfect efforts of the inhabitants of this lower world, as to make nugatory the unworthy offering of their prayers, or obstruct the communication of his mercy in return.
Those, therefore, who have been tempted to suppose that--because God is inconceivably perfect, and man by nature is utterly lost — therefore we must subside into complete and hopeless inaction, have adopted a principle which, if carried to its full extent, would go to the stoppage of all the wheels in the machinery of causation, and tend to arrest the tide of vitality which flows through the living universe. And they have, moreover, forgotten a great moral which the scriptures expressly inculcate, and fallen into the error of that abject and dispirited servant in the parable, who said, “ Lord, I know thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed ; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that is thine."*
Yet, easy as it is to condemn fallacious extremes of opinion on the doctrine of faith and
* Matthew xxv. 25.