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ART. I. — Foundations of Faith. One of a Course of
Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity, lately delivered before the Young Men of Boston.
Faith, in the sense in which I propose to use that term in the following discourse, is defined in Scripture as being “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” By it we can and do regard many things, which lie beyond the sphere of our senses and actual experience, as really existing, and are affected by them as realities. By it the spiritually minded of all religious persuasions, in proportion as they are spiritually minded, feel a confidence and practical assurance in the existence and reality of the spiritual world. It is this principle which constitutes man, unlike the inferior animals, a religious being; and it is by a right developement of this principle that we become capable of seeing Him who is invisible, of being affected by those things which pertain to our inward and spiritual life as if addressed to the senses, and of holding free, intimate, and habitual communion with the Unseen, the Infinite, and the Eternal.
Now it is remarkable of the infidelity of the present day, that it strikes at the very existence of this principle, considered as an element or property of the human soul. Not content with disputing in detail the evidences of natural and revealed religion, or driven, perhaps, from this ground, it thinks to cut the matter short by denying that man has any faculties for the apprehension of spiritual existences, or of any existences but such as are cognizable
N. S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
by the senses, and so far as they are cognizable by the
I have no fears that many amongst us, or that any who are accustomed to contemplate and study the workings of their moral and spiritual nature, will be seduced and carried away by this gross form of sensualism ; which they must feel and know to be contradicted and entirely set aside by the facts of their own inward experience. Still it may be well, in connexion with the evidences of Christianity, to begin by setting forth, in the simplest and clearest language of which the subject is susceptible, the true philosophy of man's moral and spiritual nature in regard to the foundations of faith.
In the present discourse I shall endeavour to establish, illustrate, and enforce, as much at length as my limits will permit, the three following propositions :
First, that a little reflection will convince every one, alive to noble thoughts and sentiments, that the existence of those spiritual faculties and capacities, which are assumed as the foundation of religion in the soul of man, is attested and put beyond controversy, by the revelations of consciousness.
Secondly, that religion in the soul, consisting as it does of a manifestation and developement of these spiritual faculties and capacities, is as much a reality in itself, and enters as essentially into our idea of a perfect man, as the corresponding manifestation and developement of the reasoning faculties, a sense of justice, or the affections of sympathy and benevolence.
And thirdly, that, from the acknowledged existence and reality of spiritual impressions or perceptions, we may and do assume the existence and reality of the spiritual world ; just as, from the acknowledged existence and reality of sensible impressions or perceptions, we may and do assume the existence and reality of the sensible world.
These three propositions being established, it will follow, that our conviction of the existence and reality of the spiritual world is resolvable into the same fundamental law of belief, as that on which our conviction of the existence and reality of the sensible world depends.
I. My first proposition is, that a little reflection will convince every one, alive to noble thoughts and sentiments, that the existence of those spiritual faculties and capacities, which are assumed as the foundation of religion in the soul of man, is attested and put beyond controversy by the revelations of consciousness.
Some writers contend for the existence of an unbroken chain of beings starting from the lowest form of inorganic matter, and mounting upwards by regular and insensible gradations to the highest order of created intelligences. Others insist on a division of substances into material and immaterial, and make one of the principal arguments for the soul's spirituality and immortality to depend on the nature of its substance, and not on the nature of the laws and conditions imposed upon it. Happily neither of these questions is necessarily implicated in the views I am about to offer, and both may therefore be dismissed at once from the discussion; the former as being a little too fanciful, and the latter as being a little too metaphysical for the generality of minds. It is enough if persons will recognise the obvious fact, that, in the ascending scale of being, as the vegetable manifests some properties which do not belong to crude and inert matter, and as the animal manifests some properties which do not belong to the mere vegetable, so man, as man, manifests some properties which do not belong to the mere animal. He is subject, it is true, to many of the laws and conditions of crude and inert matter, to many of the laws and conditions of vegetable life, and to many of the laws and conditions of animal life ; but he also has part in a still higher life, - the life of the soul. He brings into the world the elements of a higher life, the life of the soul, the acknowledged phenomena of which can no more be resolved into the laws and conditions of mere sensation, than into those of mere vegetation, or mere gravitation. This higher life, consisting, among other things, of a developement of conscience, the sentiment of veneration, and the idea of the Perfect and the Absolute, constitutes the foundation of religion in the soul of man, the existence and reality of which is attested, as I hold, and is put beyond controversy, by the revelations of consciousness.
I do not suppose, of course, that the existence of the abovementioned properties or affections of the soul is matter of sensation. I do not suppose that we can see, or hear, or feel, or taste, or smell a mental faculty, a moral sentiment, or an idea. Their existence, supposing them
to exist, could be revealed to us by consciousness alone; and by consciousness it is revealed to us; and the evidence of consciousness in a question of this nature is final and decisive. It is not a matter of sensation, nor of logic ; but of consciousness alone. We are conscious of their existence ; and being so, whatever we may say, or however we may argue to the contrary, we cannot, practically speaking, doubt it, even if we would, any more than we can doubt the testimony of the senses! Reflect for one moment. What evidence have you of the existence of your own mind,- of the power of thought, or even of the power,
or the fact, of sensation itself, but the evidence of consciousness ? Nay, what evidence have you of your own individual being and personality, that you are yourself and not another, that you are a man and not a horse or a tree, that you are awake and alive, and not asleep or dead, but the evidence of consciousness ? None whatever. can say, “I am conscious of being what I am ;” and that is all you can say. An archangel cannot say anything
It is not a matter of sensation, or of argument, but of consciousness alone. If, therefore, you are conscious
. of possessing not only a sensual and an intellectual, but also a moral and spiritual nature, you have as good evidence for believing that this moral and spiritual nature really exists, and that you possess it, as you have for believing that you exist at all. " True," the sensualist may say;
- this does prove the existence of something which we call our moral and spiritual nature ; but it does not prove that this something belongs to our original constitution, that it has its root and foundation in the soul, that it cannot be resolved into a mere figment of the brain." And then, in the accustomed vein of this philosophy, he will be likely to urge, “ Your conscience, -- what is it? One thing in the child, and another thing in the man ; one thing in this age or country, and another thing in that; here expressly forbidding what there it as expressly enjoins. And your sentiment of veneration,
- what is it? To-day prostrate before stocks and stones, to-morrow adoring the host of heaven; among one people, deifying a virtue, among another, a man, among another, an onion ; now manifesting itself under the forms of the grossest superstition, and now breaking out into the excesses