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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

The Foundations of Religious Faith

The Foundations of Religious Faith.

Will is the ruling power in Man; the functions of intellect are its ministers. His worth or his worthlessness as a moral agent, must be estimated from the habitual attitude of his will. Will, however, is not wholly lawless and unconfined. It acts within prescribed limits and on fixed conditions. There are convictions of which man's mind cannot divest itself, and which his will more or less assumes in all its resolutions; though it may sometimes act in defiance of them, and by continued inattention, make them faint and dim. It is through such convictions, that the Spirit of God has immediate access to the human soul. There is, first, the sense of an agency external to man's will, and mightier than it—in which the belief in a Sovereign Mind—a God—has its source. In its essence, this sense is perhaps inextinguishable :—but as, on the one hand, it may be obscured and weakened to apparent annihilation; so, on the other, through the exercise of reason on the order and harmony of visible phenomena, and the habitual verification in them of the deeper faith which springs from the interior consciousness of mind itself,—it is capable of development into the clearest and most undoubting conviction.—There is, secondly, the sense of the broad distinction between right and wrong—as the subjects of a free choice, to be finally appropriated by the will. Whatever actions and affections dependent on will, distinguish themselves to present apprehension, as fit or unfit to be done and cherished under the circumstances given—excite in our minds a feeling of approval or disapproval which they cannot lay aside, though in particular cases, where self-interest is strongly at work, they may page 283 attempt to stifle or disguise it.—There is, thirdly, a sense of subjection to law—of responsibility for voluntary acts to a Higher Power—an apprehension of final retribution, corresponding to the moral order of the universe—which cleaves to the mind through all the sophistries of scepticism and all the shifts and difficulties of a troubled and adverse life—and in which, down to man's lowest estimate of despairing and hardened unbelief, they who have skill to probe the human conscience, may yet find undestroyed the seed of a belief in immortality. These principles of faith—these tendencies (if we may not give them a more positive name) towards a recognition of the great spiritual realities of our being—are imbedded firm and deep in the bottom of every human soul—put there by the hand of God himself—landmarks bounding in the dim region of our moral agency, which may at times be covered over and transgressed, but can never be torn up and carried away.—J. J. Tayler.