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The task attempted in the following chapters is to make a natural history of religious faith, describing the matters with which religious faith occupies itself, and the mental experience of its dealing with them. The writer has endeavoured to treat the subject purely in this light, avoiding all help or entanglement which might arise in considering faith in its connection with any religious or philosophical system; and with the same view has avoided the use of conventional language on the subject, which might be suggestive of theoretical thought. The means of investigation are the authentic history of religious experience contained in the Bible, and the explanatory analogies by which revelation instructs mankind in the nature of the religious relationship.
The order of treatment is analytical. The Introductory Chapter notices how man's peculiar connection with God determines the subject of his religious thinking, and makes it necessary that his thoughts shall be instructed by God. Chapter II. is taken up with the subject of religious faith's thoughts — namely, God's peculiar affection towards man, in the historical form in which it is presented to us. Chapter III. is an attempt to trace generally the communication of true thoughts of God, and His love of man as it was made to the portion of mankind selected to receive that direct instruction; and to trace also the progress of those true thoughts in being appreciated by the selected line. Chapter IV. notices the concomitant dissemination of the elements of that religious truth through the world of the time, both directly and indirectly, by means of those to whom it was revealed at first, and with the occasional help of separate revelation made to other peoples. Chapters V. and VI. discuss successively what the rational process is by which religious truth becomes in any individual mind what is called faith, and what is the mental experience of acquired faith in contemplating that truth. To these is added a Chapter (VII.) of verifications of obtained results by the general descriptions and analogies and particular expressions of faith used in the sacred writings. Chapter VIII. attempts to show that in all periods of believing in the true God believers have contemplated the same personal object of faith, humanly known as Jesus of Nazareth. Chapter IX. treats of the essential diversity of the experience of faith in the case of different individuals, or in different circumstances of the same individual's life; Chapter X., of the personal conditions upon which the thoughts of religious faith are attainable; and Chapter XI., of the manner and designed result of the discipline which the individual believer undergoes in
living his earthly life by “the faith of the Son of God.”
In consequence of the reasoning being confined to the analytical form, the concentrated presentation of result which synthetic statement allows has had to be sacrificed, and the readier apprehension at different stages of the writer's whole meaning which that facilitates. It may be proper, therefore, to state here briefly the result arrived at. If the induction attempted be correct, that result is, that faith cannot be intelligibly defined by any of the conventional terms or short expressions generally used as sufficient in speaking of it, but can only be described by its experienced consciousness, and that man's religious faith is his habitual emotional thinking of the historical manifestations of God's love to him, associating these with the person of the Son of God in such a manner as to make his believing a life whose essence is union of affection and of conscious spiritual sympathy with Him.
If it be asked what the use is of presenting this description of faith in the form of a lengthened investigation, the answer is the author's reason for attempting the statement. Room seems to exist among writings on the subject of faith for a somewhat detailed representation of it in non-theological language from a natural-history point of view. Perhaps it is greatly a consequence of a compendious definition of faith being unattainable that religious teachers have presented it almost always in its connection with systems of doctrine, and have treated of the importance of faith, and the consequences attached to possessing or not possessing
it, without such description of itself as would enable learners to recognise it in their own consciousness. The effect of this, however, is the prevalence of hurtfully indistinct notions respecting this great element of religious life. Very many religious persons have no definite thought of what faith is. Many have a kind of feeling that it is some mysterious possession which those who are in Christ have, and others have not, but which cannot be understood at all by them until they have it. Some are afraid to think upon the subject with the definiteness which they would strive after in any other inquiry. Others, in contrast to this modest but injurious diffidence, make presumptuous assumptions of a faith which is not described in the Word of God. The following pages are meant to be a contribution to that simplicity which belongs to the practice of religion—what we have to do to be saved—as certainly as mystery is to be recognised reverently by human minds in the theology contained in revealed truth.