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When faith is regarded as a feeling of assurance given as a medicine or faith-potion, like an ancient philtre or modern inoculation, doubt and question are sinful hindrances to its operation which ought to be suppressed. This creates the painful dilemma that doubt and question arise, because God has not given us faith because we have sinned, while we cannot escape from sin unless we have faith. A common way of meeting this situation is to work up the feeling of assurance by exalted expressions of possessing it, for which many hymns are a help in need. But, being unreal and a spring of unreality, the stimulus soon passes and the feeling of assurance turns into the suspicion that the whole business is mere auto-suggestion.

Yet a peace which absolutely depends upon God cannot depend on a faith which depends on ourselves. Faith is a gift of God, being illusion, not faith, so far as it depends on ourselves. But it is not given as a crude, compelling sense of a feeling of assurance imposed upon us. To be genuine faith it must be conviction by the truth as well as of it. If we are thus concerned with the object of faith, doubt and question are necessary, if we are to believe only in its witness: and we can face them with the confidence that truth will be good, whatever it prove to be. Especially 140 should we have this confidence in seeking God, for surely He has not left Himself without a witness. By this witness He gives faith, as any person enables us to believe in him, by showing Himself, in all His dealings with us, entirely worthy of trust. Thus it is by the whole witness of life, interpreted by the whole of revelation, which, for the Christian, means, in particular, life as interpreted by Jesus Christ.

With such a gift of faith we have the only kind of independence which is moral, the right and duty to determine our beliefs solely by the witness of reality. Yet with this we can still have a sin of unbelief. It is not, however, failing to force ourselves to believe, but is warding off the appeal which would otherwise compel belief. If, in this world of ours and in our present human society, love actually manifests itself as the final order, the highest security, the last word of power, we have to ask, how can men go on believing that the final order is compromise though it sacrifice both truth and justice, the highest security wealth though it never be devoted to a single noble end, and the last word of power armies and battleships quite independent of establishing righteousness? How, if faith in possession and pleasure continually corrupts, can we persist in it; how, if resentment and bitter rivalry are the chief cause of life's misery, do we cherish them as the way of being blessed; and how, above all, if wickedness is misery and weakness, do we envy its pleasure, which is sure to suffer, and vacillate before its power, which is sure to fall?


The cause is neither too much intellectual nor too much moral independence. On the contrary, we never can believe in God's world and God's children and God's Kingdom, so long as we take our opinions and moral judgments from what is accepted around us. Humility here is not willingness to be in moral pupilage, but is such a direct concern with God as affords us unqualified courage and independence in respect of man. The sole hindrance is insincerity, breaking the force of the appeal of love as it speaks, through our lives, to our hearts. In the Gospels, therefore, hypocrisy is the only deadly sin, because it is the refusal to allow the deep things of life to touch us, and so the one sure way of escaping the impact of God's truth.

Unbelief, then, is a sin, not because we fail to force ourselves to believe or to suppress doubt and inquiry, but because, to some evil intent, we are insincere with God's witness to Himself. For this reason, an evil heart of unbelief may be a clearer manifestation of deep moral corruption than the shadiest action. But it does not follow that we can set the creation of faith before us as a direct purpose, and still less that we ought to maintain faith by suppressing doubt, criticism and contrary opinion. There is no greater moral peril than to attempt to manipulate truth; and the peril is in no way lessened because the task is piously performed. Obscurantism and timid pre-possession are of unbelief and not of faith, if faith is conviction of truth on its own recognisances. Conviction as 142 pre-possession, even were it by accident right, is in no sense the conviction of faith.

In the strict sense, we should not even try to believe; for we have no right to believe anything we can avoid believing, granting we have given it entire freedom to convince us. Strictly speaking also, we have no right to exhort people to believe, and much of that very common type of exhortation is mere distrust of truth and disregard of veracity, which leaves earnest people with a painful and confused idea that faith is a self-maintained sense of nervous tension, and which undermines real faith by turning attention from God to our own state of mind.

Paul's exhortation to the Philippian jailer to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as almost the only text which lends itself to this purpose, has been much pressed into its service. But, can we conceive that Paul simply uttered these words to that agitated pagan, to whom the name of Jesus could have conveyed no meaning? Have we more than Luke's summary of Paul's presentation of the object of belief, which, as he had already given several examples of Paul's real method, he could not suppose would mislead? The Apostle, we find, reasoned of righteousness and judgment to come. As he could do nothing without moral sincerity, that was his usual beginning. Then he reasoned from men's experience of God's goodness in life and from their groping after Him in worship to His presence in their hearts. Finally, he gave a reasoned presentation of the significance of 143 Jesus Christ for faith, all set in the atmosphere of humble and sincere dealing with one's own soul, in which alone men can see the things in which they ought to believe. Similarly, when Jesus said, "Repent and believe the good news," He was there Himself as the embodiment of what was to be believed, and He only asked to be allowed to make His due impression, repentance being just the putting away of the hypocrisies which prevent the gospel from being its own evidence.

There is only one right way of asking men to believe, which is to put before them what they ought to believe because it is true; and there is only one right way of persuading, which is to present what is true in such a way that nothing will prevent it from being seen except the desire to abide in darkness; and there is only one further way of helping them, which is to point out what they are cherishing that is opposed to faith. When all this has been done, it is still necessary to recognise that faith is God's gift, not our handiwork, of His manifestation of the truth by life, not of our demonstration by argument or of our impressing by eloquence; and that even He is willing to fail till He can have the only success love could value personal acceptance of the truth simply because it is seen to be true. In a very real sense all our defects are God's failure, but He allows Himself to fail in order to win a better success than mere correction of error or repression of evil.

As, without some element of pleasant self-delusion, 144 there could be no joy in sinning, a measure of hypocrisy exists in all sins, even the most open and flagrant. Can a man, for example, be a drunkard, without persistently and systematically deceiving himself about his state? When a libertine boasts of his conquests, is he saying to himself what truly he is and facing the straight issue of his action, or is he merely trying to throw dust in his own eyes? Does he look straight at his own brutal selfishness and the degradation and death which shadow his vice? But, while even the most flagrant and open vices are nests of self-delusion, the danger of hypocrisy increases with the respectability of the sin. Nor is there need of actual transgression at all, for the most blinding of all hypocrisies is the amazing spiritual illusion that privilege is merit and a just ground for our self-esteem, and not moral responsibility and a just ground only for humility.

Because, in that sense, as Prof. A. B. Davidson put it, "perhaps mankind is one large Pharisee," unbelief is the most universal and deep-seated corruption in the human heart. Not because faith could be a moral effort, to be directly purposed and carried through, is unbelief culpable, but because the truth would always carry conviction, did we not use our privileges to pamper our self-esteem and create for ourselves a mail of proof of self-delusion to ward off its appeal, till we may end, where there can be at least no human hope of recovery, in loving darkness rather than light.

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