Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
In treating upon this subject, I shall notice the various religious affections in the order in which, as a general fact, they are developed in Christian experience, and in which they are presented in the Bible. I shall make no apology for departing from the common course in making an analysis of the religious affections a part of a system of mental philosophy. That they have not constituted a part of such courses shows, either that those who have most profoundly studied mind, have very commonly disregarded its moral laws, or at least, that religion has not had that place in philosophy which its importance demands.
Before entering particularly upon a consideration of the peculiar characteristics of any of the religious affections, I will give a brief recapitulation of some of the topics illustrated in the preceding chapters as preparatory to their full and distinct elucidation.
Every phenomenon of human consciousness, as we have seen, belongs either to the intelligence, the sensibility, or the will. The phenomena of the first two, bear the characteristics of necessity, those of the latter, that of liberty in opposition to necessity. In the will, and in the will only, is man a subject of moral government,a free accountable agent. In respect to none of the phenomena of the sensibility, or of the intelligence is he accountable, only so far as their existence and character depend upon the will. Here we are presented with the great problem in theology: In what sense is man accountable for his feelings and the convictions or judgments of his intellect? In other words, in what sense do they depend upon the will?
In regard to such an inquiry we may remark in general, that when we are brought into such relations to truth in any form, that honest integrity on our part, will induce a knowledge and belief of said truth, then ignorance and disbelief are both criminal. So when any feelings tending to moral wrong are voluntarily entertained, so that they take on the form of wishing relatively to their objects, then our criminality is the same in kind as when the prohibited act is performed. When any feelings prompt to moral wrong, and these are promptly suppressed and held in subjection, there is, not criminality, but moral virtue.
Into all the religious affections, I remark, in the next place, each one of the mental faculties, the intellect, sensibility, and will, enters and exercises its proper functions. These functions will be designated in the following elucidation. The religious affections will also be treated as simple states of consciousness, without reference to their origin or cause. Whether they are, like other states, the pure results of truth, or whether they are the results of a supernatural, divine agency, pertains to the science of Biblical theology, and not to mental science. Having made these remarks we commence our elucidation with the subject of
In every mind, there is an immutable conviction of actual violations of the law of duty, that is of sin. A benighted heathen, when asked the question, "Are you not a sinner?" Replied: "Do you suppose that I am such a fool as not to know that?" The sentiment expressed by the words, "I am a sinner," constitutes the common conviction of the race. Here is the part which the intellect takes in this exercise. While this conviction exists in the mind, as it universally does, it may be voluntarily entertained, with a view of all the consequences it involves, and all the duties it imposes; or it may be resisted, and as far as may be, neglected or suppressed. The mind may, also, voluntarily entertain the conviction, that for sin it has no excuse; it may sincerely confess, condemn and reprobate its inexcusable criminality and ill-desert, and as sincerely abandon all forms of wrong doing, and yield up all its powers with the full and sincere intent to conform to all the demands of the law of duty in all future time; or it may assume the attitude of self-justification, hide, instead of confess, its criminality, and hold on in the way of transgression. Here we are presented with the voluntary elements which characterize impenitence, on the one hand, and real repentance, on the other. In the latter state, there is, first of all, a voluntary entertainment and admission of the fact and inexcusableness of personal sinfulness, with all the consequences and duties which that fact involves, voluntarily confessing, condemning, and reprobating this fact, and that before and to all concerned, the mind then abandons and rejects sin in all its forms, and with sincere "purpose of heart," adopts the law of duty as the immutable rule of its future activity. This, I repeat, is repentance, contemplated as a voluntary mental state. These convictions, purposes, and acts, are attended, of necessity, with certain emotive states, feelings of deep sorrow, regret, hatred of wrong, and desires for entire moral purity and obedience to the will of God and the law of duty,emotive states denominated in the Scriptures "godly sorrow," on the one hand, and "hungering and thirsting after righteousness," on the other. Such is that complex mental state represented by the word, repentance.
In universal mind, these convictions, among others, have a prominent place,that God is infinite and we are finite,that God is independent and that we sustain to him the relations of absolute and universal dependence,that God is merciful and we are sinners,that God, as our creator and preserver, is our lawgiver and judge, and that we as his creatures, are bound to make his will the absolute law of all our activity;that while our necessities are infinite, there is in God a perfect and available fullness to meet them all, and that relatively to all our real interests, God, to meet them, is absolutely trustworthy. When the mind distinctly and voluntarily recognizes the validity of these convictions, and by a sealing act of moral election, intrusts its mortal and immortal interests to the divine care and keeping, accepting and trusting the will of God as the law of its activity, it then puts forth that mental exercise denominated faith,faith the fundamental element of which is trust,confidence voluntarily reposed in ascertained trustworthiness. Faith in God is trusting him universally and absolutely, and obeying him implicitly under the conviction of his universal and absolute trustworthiness. Faith is not trusting, in the absence of valid reasons, but confidence reposed in the presence of valid reasons for its exercise. In other words, faith in God is absolute respect for absolute trustworthiness. Unbelief, on the other hand, is the absence of this respect; it is disbelief, or voluntary dissent, entertained and cherished in the presence of reasons of infinite weight for assent; it is respect withheld from known trustworthiness.
The view of faith above given obviously corresponds with the teachings of inspiration upon the subject. In the Old Testament, it is represented by such words and phrases as "staying the mind on God," "trusting in him," "placing our hope and confidence in God," and "committing our spirits to His hands," all implying, as its fundamental characteristic, trust voluntarily exercised towards God, on the ground of his known trustworthiness.
A few words may be necessary to explain the nature of that form of faith which respects Christ, as its special and specific object. The revealed mission of Christ is to save lost men from their sins. Faith in him in this relation has its basis in the conviction of personal sinfulness, on the one hand, and of the absolute trustworthiness of Christ, to save from their sins all who put their trust in him for such salvation on the other; and consists, in its essential nature, in trust voluntarily reposed in him for this one end, salvation from sin. This act of trust is also attended with a voluntary surrender of all our powers and interests to his control. This is what is meant by the words, believing in Christ, as they are employed in the New Testament. So the apostle Paul expressly teaches. "I know," he says, "whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able (trustworthy) to keep that which I have committed (voluntarily intrusted) unto him against that day."
The emotive states attending the exercise of faith always correspond to the nature of the truth apprehended, and the attitude in which it is contemplated at the moment, emotive states represented by such terms and phrases as "quietness and assurance," peace with God, "joy in God," "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
Into the exercise of faith every power and susceptibility of the mind enters and bears its appropriate part. Some truth is apprehended by the intellect. The effect upon the sensibility, or the feelings excited are in accordance with the nature of the object of contemplation, while the determinations of the will correspond with the feelings of the heart and the convictions of the intelligence.
To bring this subject distinctly before the mind, it may be well to cite a few passages of Scripture in which it is contained. For example: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets," "Love is the fulfilling of the law." "All the law is fulfilled in one word, love."
From these, and other passages of a similar nature, we learn, that love constitutes the essential element of every state of mind that is morally virtuous. The precept requiring love embraces every precept of the moral law, and constitutes the only element which renders obedience to that law virtuous.
Our first inquiry is, What is the fundamental element of love,that element particularly and primarily referred to in the command requiring it?
That form of love which is the fulfilling of the law cannot, of course, be found in any mere convictions of the intelligence. These, fallen spirits possess in common with the pure and holy. Nor can it be found in any mere emotive states. If such states did possess, in themselves, moral character, which, as we have seen, is not a fact, they do not, undeniably include all duty to God and man, which they would, if all the law is fulfilled in them.
That form of love in which "all the law is fulfilled," is attended with corresponding intellectual and emotive states, but is not found in these. Where then, shall we find it? In voluntary states exclusively. When all voluntary states and exercises of the mind fully accord with the requirements of the law of duty, in all their forms,duty to God, to man, and all sentient existences, then the whole law is fulfilled. In the Scriptures, love and obedience are affirmed to be identical. "He," says Christ, "that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." "This," we are told, "is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." Doing righteousness, we are also told, constitutes us righteous beings. When the will, is rightly adjusted towards God and all sentient existences who have claims upon us, then we have fulfilled the law. The Scriptures, science, and the intuitive convictions of the race, unite in affirming the validity of this view of the subject. An important inquiry here arises; to wit, what are the feelings by which those acts of the will called love are accompanied? To this question, the following general answer may be given. The emotions accompanying the exercise of love will always correspond to the nature of the beloved object, and the particular attitude in which it is contemplated.
1. The object may be contemplated as possessed of high moral excellence. It is then chosen as an object of endearing contemplation, association, and imitation. The consequent effect upon the sensibility will be the excitement of intense emotions of attachment and delight.
2. This excellence may be contemplated as associated with high natural and intellectual characteristics; such as, wisdom, knowledge, and power. There is then in the exercise of love, a voluntary surrender of ourselves to the control of a being superior to ourselves; while the feelings excited are those of esteem, veneration, awe, and adoration.
3. The beloved object may be contemplated as regarding us with approbation and favor, or as sustaining to us the relation of a benefactor. We then experience emotions of high gratification and delight, and the feeling denominated gratitude.
4. We may contemplate the object loved as being honored or dishonored by others. Feelings of intense delight and gratification are experienced in the former case, and of regret, indignation, and zeal for his injured honor in the other.
5. We may contemplate ourselves as having offended the object of our affection. Love then assumes the aspect of sorrow, penitence, and contrition.
6. The object under consideration may be contemplated as in a state of suffering and affection. Love then assumes the attitude of sympathy or pity.
7. Finally, we may contemplate the object beloved as guilty of crime. We then desire, and consequently will, his return to virtue, which state of mind is accompanied with feelings of deep and intense sorrow and regret.
The effect of a consciousness of the exercise of this virtue will be internal peace, and confidence in the approbation and favor of all virtuous beings.
CHRISTIAN WARFARE AND VICTORY, AND SELF-DENIAL.
In the varied circumstances of life, events occur, and conditions of existence arise, in which our emotive and sensitive states induce desires impelling the will in the direction of prohibited gratifications. When all such impulsions are resisted, subdued, and held in subjection to the will of God and the behests of conscience, then that form of Christian virtue is exercised, denominated patience. The mental conflict with evil principles within, and temptations to wrong from without, which attend the exercise of this virtue, is called the Christians warfare, or "the fight of faith," while its conquest over the propensities to evil is denominated, "the victory that overcomes the world." The act of obedience by which all the propensities are held in subjection to the will of God, and the law of duty, by which present gratifications strongly desired are refused, present sacrifices are voluntarily made and present evils are endured, to secure the higher ends of benevolence, and maintain subjection to the behests of conscience, is called Christian self-denial.
Among the most prominent of all the varied forms of Christian virtue, is that represented by the term humility, a term commonly employed to represent that lowliness of mind, deep sense of personal unworthiness, self abasement, penitence, quietude of spirit, and submission to the divine will, which always attend genuine conversion. This virtue does not consist, as some appear to suppose, in entertaining the sentiment that we are greater sinners than others; that we possess, as Christians, no real virtues, or that we are really worse than we actually are. While the Scriptures, and reason too, prohibit our forming too high an estimate of ourselves,"thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think," they do absolutely require that we form just and true estimates of our real and relative merits and demerits, excellences and defects; in short, that we know ourselves as we are, and not as we are not, that we "think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." When the mind attains to this real self-knowledge, humility consists in a full and cordial assent on its part, to be known and esteemed by the Judge of all, by ourselves, and all intelligences, in perfect accordance with its real and relative deserts; and that all others, those superior to ourselves especially, shall occupy similar positions in universal regard.
THE FILIAL SPIRIT.
In the Scriptures we are taught, that it is an immutable condition of admission to the kingdom of heaven, that men "be converted, and become as little children." Much is said also of the spirit of adoption, the filial spirit, with which all that are truly "born of God," become imbued. What is this spirit? What are its essential characteristics?
Inspiration, I remark in reply, reveals Jehovah, not only as the Creator, Preserver, Governor, and Judge of all, but as sustaining the most intimate and endearing parental relations to all the pure in heart. He is revealed as their Father, and Friend, "their shield and exceeding great reward," as entertaining the tenderest sympathy with them in all their joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains, cares and perplexities, as being ever present with them as their teacher and guide, and the affectionate guardian of all their interests, and as a propitious hearer of prayer, opening upon their minds, by his own Spirit, visions of his glory and love, and bringing them into direct fellowship and intercommunion "with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ."
Now when the fatherhood of God in all the endearing relations above referred to, is distinctly recognized by the mind, when the exercise of the varied forms of trust, confidence, prayer, fellowship, and intercommunion with God, become habitual in its experience; and when it, as habitually "casts all its cares upon Him," with the deep assurance that in all our afflictions He is afflicted;" when the promised divine teaching and illumination are sought and enjoyed, and every indication of the divine will is cordially met and acquiesced in, then the mind is in the exercise of the spirit of adoption, the filial spirit, under consideration. When, on the other hand, the habitual dwelling place of the mind is under the shadow of the sterner attributes of God,his justice, unapproachable purity, all-searching scrutiny, and eternal judge-ship, then it is subject to "the spirit of fear which gendereth to bondage." When, finally, all the divine perfections, in their true relations, the mild and the stern, the sweetly attractive and awe inspiring, are habitually before the mind, then it naturally exercises the filial affection and confidence, on the one hand, and the "Godly fear," on the other, which constitute the highest possible perfection of Christian character.
The emotive states which attend the exercise of the filial spirit of Christianity, are such as these; deep delight and joy in God, assurance of hope, universal satisfaction with providence, filial gratitude for favors received, and quiet acquiescence when they are withheld, and when, afflictions cast their shadows over the mind; all together constituting a repose of spirit, and fullness of blessedness, which make the nearest possible approach to "the rest that remains for the people of God."
A SPIRIT OF FORGIVENESS.
When an injury is forgiven, the offender is treated with the same kindness as if he had never offended us. Here we find the fundamental element of love, which for the interest taken in the well-being of another, consents to treat the offender as innocent. The condition required of the offender, is repentance. Without this, forgiveness, properly speaking, is an impossibility, or if possible, a sin. The case of an offender who continues incorrigible, comes under another duty which we shall shortly consider.
This consists in holding back from the offender the execution of deserved vengeance for the purpose of bringing into that state in which he can be forgiven. Its language towards the offender is this: With your present character, it is impossible for me to regard and consequently treat you as a virtuous man. My desire however is, that by repentance, humility, and forgiveness sought, you may show such a regard to rectitude that I may treat you as virtuous; when this is done, you will be to me as if no offense had ever been received. Such is the forbearance of God. "The goodness, (or forbearance) of God leadeth thee to repentance."
This virtue is benevolence or love exercised towards persons occupying stations beneath us, and consists in descending to a level with them; and, in this sense conforming ourselves to their capacities, cultivating their friendship and their society for the purpose of elevating them in the scale of being and worth to a level with ourselves. It stands opposed to pride in this sense: pride places itself upon the apex of the pyramid, choosing that others, whatever their worth may be, may occupy places at a respectful distance below. Condescension descends to the base, for the purpose of helping others up to the wide prospects we ourselves enjoy. The following truths present this virtue to the mind of the Christian, as a duty and privilege.
1. The essential equality of men.
2. Hence the desire that they may possess those privileges, the want of which in their case, and the possession of which in ours, has made the difference between them and ourselves.
3. The fact that we are what we are in consequence of the infinite condescension of God.
4. The universal example of God.
Has reference to the manner in which forbearance, condescension, etc., are exercised; to the kind, mellow, and gentle spirit with which injuries are endured, and the repentance of the offender sought and a "soft answer" returned to his abuses.
THE STERNER CHRISTIAN AFFECTIONS.
Christian character is a reflex of "the image and glory of God,"the finite receiving and reflecting the infinite; hence this form of character, like its divine original, has in it the mild and the stern, the tender and the severe; mercy and justice, delight in goodness and reprobation of evil, all blended in harmonious unity. Individuals who suppose, that Christian character in its perfected forms, is made up of that kind of good nature which contemplates with an equally immovable complacency the just and the vile, truth and falsehood, the oppressor and the oppressed, are fundamentally mistaken. The throne of God and the Lamb, is encircled with the mild radiance of the bow of peace and promise. Within the circle of that bow, however, "there are thunderings, and voices, and earthquakes, and great hail." While God is revealed as "merciful, and gracious, long suffering, and slow to anger," he is also revealed as "angry with the wicked every day." Christian character, in its perfected forms, is in full correspondence with its divine original.