Page images

conformity to the known facts and laws of the human mind.

We shall now turn to the Essay on Faith, recently published by Mr. Erskine, and reviewed in the Eclectic Review along with my sermons. This is the more necessary, as the reviewer contrasts it with what has fallen from me, as containing a more philosophical and just account of the subject, and, as from the known character of the author, it is likely to have an extensive circulation.

The drift of the essay seems to be, to shew that faith being merely belief of statements, the only differences of faith arise from the differences in the objects believed. From this view of the subject he conceives it derives great simplicity. I need scarcely say that I conceive his view of faith is erroneous; and that its apparent simplicity arises from the difficulties of it not being explained. But let the author speak for himself.

"Theological writers have distinguished and described different kinds of faith, as speculative and practical-historical,


saving and realizing faith. It would be of little consequence what names we gave to faith, or to any thing else, próvided these names did not interfere with the distinctness of the ideas of the things to which they are attached; but as we must be sensible that they do very much interfere with these ideas, we ought to be on our guard against any false impressions which may be received from an incorrect use of them. Is it not evident that this way of speaking has a natural tendency to draw the attention away from the thing to be believed, and to engage it in a fruitless examination of the mental operation of believing. And yet is it not true that we see and hear more of anxiety amongst religious people, about their faith being of the right kind, than about their believing the right things? A sincere man, who has never questioned the Divine authority of scripture, and who can converse and reason well on its doctrines, yet finds perhaps that the state of his mind, and the tenor of his life, do

not agree with the scripture rule. He is very sensible that there is error somewhere; but instead of suspecting that there is something in the very essentials of Christian doctrine, which he has never yet understood thoroughly, the probability is, that he and his adviser, if he ask advice, come to the conclusion that his faith is of a wrong kind, that it is speculative or historical, and not true saving faith. Of course this conclusion sends him not to the study of the Bible, but to the investigation of his own feelings, or rather the laws of his own mind. He leaves that truth which God has revealed and blessed as the medicine of our nature, and bewilders himself in a metaphysical labyrinth." Page 11.

There is much truth in this passage, but not the whole truth; and I would only observe in passing, that the question, whether faith in Christ is confiding in him or believing the statements respecting him, is very different from any question respecting the mode of believ ing the same statements, which Mr. E.

wishes to avoid, but in which, as we shall find immediately, he involves himself.

Again: "From the metaphysical habit of considering and attending to the mind itself, and the mode in which it is impressed, rather than to the objects. which make the impression, arose the division of faith into different kinds; and thus the feelings of men were substituted in the place of the tangible word of revelation," page 19. This does not give a just account of several of these divisions, which originated rather from observing their different practical effects, than from examining the operation of the mind; but the chief thing in it to which I would direct the reader's attention, is, that Mr. E. views it as a source of error or mischief of some kind, to attend to the mind rather than to the tangible word of revelation. The same sentiment is more emphatically expressed in the following passage: "If a man wishes to believe any thing, there can be no more successful way of thwarting his own wish, than by direct

ing his attention to the mental operation of believing." Page 20. There seems to be here also a mixture of truth and error. It supposes a man to wish to believe a thing with which he is unacquainted, and tells him, that to accomplish his wish, he should consider the thing to be believed; which is a state of mind that I can scarcely understand on Mr. E's principles. If a man know a proposition which he wishes to believe, certainly he should seek for evidence of its truth; but how he can be said to wish to believe what he is yet so ignorant of, that he requires to consider it, is not very intelligible. At all events, one would expect after this, that Mr. E. will not advise any man who wishes to believe, to attend to the mental operation of believing. "My object," says he, towards the end of the book "in this essay, has not been to represent faith as a difficult or perplexed operation, but to withdraw the attention from the act of believing, and to fix it on the object of belief." Page 140.

Let us now follow the author's pro

« PreviousContinue »