'Only Believe.'––"My duty towards God is to believe in Him," my first duty, the duty of my life, without which other duties would not appear to count much.
'Only believe,' the writer was told as a girl, to her great anger and soreness of heart. If 'only fly' had been said, she could not have flown, but anyway she would have known what definite thing was expected of her; but 'only believe' carried no meaning. Of course she believed, as she believed that yesterday was Wednesday, the 5th of October, say; that there had been a Queen Elizabeth; that at least one Pharaoh had ruled in Egypt; these things, and thousands like them, she had never troubled herself to doubt, and believed as a matter of course; but––God?
Of course she believed in God in that way, but how could it matter? She was aware that such belief was no part of her life, and she knew of no other way of believing.
Some such perplexity, no doubt, tries many a soul to whom it is brought home as a duty that he must believe in God. My duty towards God, which I must fulfil for myself, which no one can do for me, and which others can give me little conscious help in fulfilling. No one can give me faith, but others can help me on the way to it; for, we are told, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing, by the Word of God": that is, faith in God, just as faith in a friend, comes of knowledge. We trust our friend because we know him; because we know him, we believe in him. Faith, trust, confidence, belief––they are all one.
Faith in Persons.––To say that we believe in a person whom we hardly know even by hearsay––the Emperor of Korea, for example––would be to speak like a fool; but we do say we believe in this or that statesman, churchman, or what not. Indeed, the whole government and finance of the world are carried on upon a vast system of credit, that is, mutual belief. We say, 'safe as the Bank of England'; but the Bank of England itself is conducted upon credit. We send members to Parliament to represent us because we believe in them. The members of a family believe in each other; and, should jealousy or mistrust arise between parents and children, husband and wife, it is an exception, a shameful exception to the general rule of confidence.
So, too, of dishonesty and venality in common trade and public trusts. Such things occur, but they are shameful exceptions; the general rule is that we live by faith in one another, and this common trust comes of common knowledge. Experience of the world and of life teaches us faith; and it is only the sour and ill-conditioned person who judges by the exception, and says with the Psalmist in his black hour, "All men are liars."
As there are two sorts of faith which we give to our fellows,––one, the general faith we give to man and institutions, which comes of general knowledge and experience; and the other, the intimate and particular faith we give to those whom we believe we know perfectly––the faith which is love: so there are two sorts of faith in God,––one, the general faith that all is ordered for the best, that God will provide, and that God will have mercy upon us.
If we wish to trace the work of this sort of faith let us ask our hearts honestly if it means love. Does our soul spring at the thought of our God, crying, "I will arise and go to my Father," just as we have a heart-movement of springing and going at the thought of the person we love and believe in? If we do not love we do not believe, because faith does not come to us by accident, or even by nature. The faith we give to our friends is recognition of whatever nobleness and beauty of soul there is in them; and this is the manner of faith we owe to God, the recognition––born of knowledge––of Him who is Love and Light and Truth, Him to whom the heart cries, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee."1
Faith, an Act of Will.––We have already considered how we may attain the knowledge of God, and faith is the act of Will by which we choose Him whom we have learned to know. Out of faith comes love, out of love comes service, and it is hardly possible to distinguish under different names the outgoings of the Christian heart in desire after God. "Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God"1: there we have knowledge, faith, and love.
Not Optional.––The point I would urge is, that this attitude of Soul is not optional; it is a debt we owe, a duty required of us. To say that we do not know that which has been revealed to us, to say that we do not believe in a revelation the truth of which bears the ultimate test, in that it discloses to us the God whom our Souls demand, and in whom they find perfect satisfaction, "whose ways are ways of pleasantness, and all whose paths are peace": to say this is to commit an act of insubordination at the least, an act of infidelity in the simple meaning of the word, worse than infidelity to any human relationship, because our God is more and nearer to us than any.
Men satisfy their Conscience that they have done their whole duty when they do their duty towards their neighbour; but what right have we to choose a moiety of the law for our observance, the lesser moiety, and leave the greater,––our duties of personal knowledge, faith, love, and service towards our God, which are to be fulfilled directly; and not indirectly, through serving men. Both duties lie upon each of us––my duty; and my duty towards God is the first.
There is no space in a single short volume to consider the articles of the Christian faith, even in the concise form in which they are set forth in the Apostles' Creed.
We say 'The Creed' glibly enough, and think we understand it, until now one article and now another is challenged by the sceptic then, because we have nothing to reply, we secretly give up one clause after another, and think that we hold to the rest. It should help us to know that not a single article of our Creed appeals to our understanding. We know no more about the Creation than we do about the Incarnation, no more about the forgiveness of sins than about the resurrection of the body. All is mystery, being what the heart of man could not conceive of unless it had been revealed.
"Great is the mystery of Godliness: God manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." And what a barren and dry land should we dwell in if our spirits were narrowed to the limits of that which we can comprehend! Where we err is in supposing that mystery is confined to our religion, that everything else is obvious and open to our understanding. whereas the great things of life, birth, death, hope, love, patriotism, why a leaf is green, and why a bird is clothed in feathers––all such things as these are mysteries; and it is only as we can receive that which we cannot understand, and can discern the truth of that which we cannot prove, and can distinguish between a luminous mystery and a bewildering superstition, that we are able to live the full life for which we were made.
One thing we must hold fast––a clear conception of what is meant by Christianity. It is not 'being good' or serving our fellows: many who do not own the sovereignty of Christ are better than we who do. But the Christian is aware of Jesus as an ever-present Saviour, at hand in all his dangers and necessities; of Christ as the King whose he is and whom he serves, who rules his destinies and apportions his duties. It is a great thing to be owned, and Jesus Christ owns us. He is our Chief, whom we delight to honour and serve; and He is our Saviour, who delivers us, our Friend who cherishes us, our King who blesses us with His dominion. Christianity would only appear to be possible when there is a full recognition of the divinity of Christ.
Let us cry with St Augustine:––
"Take my heart! for l cannot give it thee:
Keep it! for I cannot keep it for Thee."
1Prayer Book version of the Psalms.