The Necessity of Active Faith

W. John Murray
The Necessity of Law
Divine Science Publishing Co, Inc.
New York, 1924.

[27] There is one quality of the human mind which seems most desirable, and from the ordinary point of view it is the most difficult to achieve. We all sigh for it, because we know that if we possess it we have the foundation of every other thing which grows out of it, just as we know that if we have an orchard or a garden we shall have fruit or flowers. Every day someone says, “If I had more faith, I could accomplish what I want to accomplish.” The most materially-minded person in the world knows what a valuable asset faith is. That he calls it self-confidence does not change the fact that faith is what he means, for faith called by any other name is just the same. We long for faith as if it were a something outside of us, as though it had been left out of our composition, [28] as certain ingredients are left out of certain compounds; while other men seem to abound in it, we lack it. It seems so unjust that we come to consider God a respecter of persons and a bestower of special favors.

We do not realize that faith, like our muscular system, is a something we are born with and, like our muscular system, is a something which can only grow and become strong through exercise. We yearn for more faith while refusing to utilize the faith we have, which is as absurd as it would be to wish for the muscular strength and development of a Sandow while we continue to sit in a rocking-chair and smoke cigarettes. The ordinary plant has more faith than the ordinary man, for, instead of remaining under ground, it pushes its way through its difficulties and sprouts, while the ordinary man crumples up and concludes that his difficulties are too big for him. The plant seems to know instinctively that there is something inside of it that is [29] stronger than anything external, and that nothing outside of it can prevent it from giving expression to itself. The average man, on the contrary, feels that the circumstances by which he is surrounded prevent the thing that is in him from asserting itself.

Someone has said that “faith is trust,” that we should trust God as we trust a guide in the forest or on the Alps, or a ship’s captain at sea; but this practically relieves us of all responsibility, and where there is no responsibility there is no development. If I follow a guide through a forest or sit in a deck chair while the captain steers the ship, I may have a certain amount of mental comfort and physical rest but it is doubtful if I shall know any more about the forest or the sea than I knew before I walked the one or sailed the other. One day we shall learn that a yielding trust is not an active faith. The child trusts its father to carry it across a turbulent stream on a narrow plank but the father has faith in his capacity to achieve the feat. We see, then, how trust can not be [30] used as a synonym for faith. Trust is the seed of which Faith is the flower.

It has been said that faith is reason. If it is, it is reason rising above the plane of the senses, for what is ordinarily called reason usually limits itself to phenomenal facts. It reasons or argues from the standpoint of the visible rather than the invisible and because of this we hear the faithless reasoner say of the new and untried in the field of invention, “It doesn’t stand to reason.” The reasoner who cannot see beyond what is already here has no vision. He is an obstructionist, a materialist. Reason is only one side of things of which faith is the other, for everything has two sides if we look for them.

Henry Ward Beecher says, “Sometimes men say that faith requires us to lay aside our reason. I beg your pardon, it never does. It is about faith and reason as it is about birds that both run and fly. A turkey that runs around in the woods never rises suddenly. It first runs on the ground till it gains sufficient momentum to enable it to rise and [31] fly. Reason is like legs that run on the ground, and as soon as you have come to the end of the earth, if you need more, and you have faith, lift your wings and you can fly; but one follows the other. Faith never can be said to be coincident with reason. Reason is that faculty which knows things as far as they can be known; and up to the point to which they can be found out, you are free to use it; but when you get to the end of knowing (with the intellect) if you have faith, then fly. All beyond is the region of faith. Faith is that which takes cognizance of things that are not within the sphere of knowing (intellectually).”

Until a man develops his faith, which is already in him as a gift of God, he is like that same turkey, endowed with both legs and wings, but which uses only its legs. Legs are all right in their place but they will never enable us to rise above our limitations. Legs may help us to run away from things, which we shall run into again just around the corner, but we must rise on wings if we are to [32] rise at all. Now, if faith is not limited to trust, nor confined to reason, may it not be that it is an attitude of thought which uses trust and reason as rungs in the Jacob’s ladder of spiritual investigation by which to mount to heights of achievement otherwise unattainable?

The widow who went to Elisha is a splendid illustration of that form of thought which rises above difficulties a step at a time. Her trust in Elisha was like the trust of a child in its parent. At first it was blind and unquestioning. It made her do anything that Elisha bade her, even though at first she could not see the reason. She had used her legs to run and they had carried her at last through one disappointment after another to the place where she knew that of herself she could do nothing. Like the rest of us, she had trusted that something would show up but as one day followed another and things grew no better, she reasoned within herself that two heads were better than one and that she ought to seek advice. It was no longer a question of waiting but of [33] working. She must do something as well as think something. If she had been saying what the Psalmist said, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” she must prove that she believed it. She must act as if back of her little store of oil there was an inexhaustible supply. Trust and reason had brought her as far as they could and now she stood where she was called upon to rely on something which she could never know until she tried it. As the swimmer trusts the water, and the aviator the air, she must now trust Pure Spirit.

To the boy who wishes to swim there is a moment when he cannot understand how a fluid can support a solid. To the man who wishes to dominate the air there is a time when he cannot conceive that a weighty material object can rest on the soft bosom of the ether; and so it must be to one who has been taught to believe that unless material conditions are met by material means, they cannot be met at all. We can understand how loaves can be taken out of an oven and how fishes can be taken out of [34] the sea, but we cannot understand how all the constituent elements of both loaves and fishes can be abstracted from the ether by a man of genius whose knowledge of spiritual laws is as scientific and demonstrable as are the laws of physical chemistry to the chemist. A youth in a class in gymnastics stands by the horizontal bar while the teacher explains the method of making the “giant swing.” The youth trusts the bar, for he has seen others make the swing. He reasons that because others have accomplished the feat under the director’s instructions, he ought to be able to accomplish it, but he can never know that he can do it too until he has done it for himself.

This, then, is faith–doing the thing you want to do, because you want to do it, and can do it, if you think you can. Faith is a synthesis or uniting together of reason and determination, or insight and application, by means of which a third condition is produced. As a synthesis, faith is a process which imparts new properties to its product, and by [35] so doing accomplishes what can not be accomplished by any other means.

While faith can not be forced it can be cultivated, for faith is neither more nor less than knowledge. It is the consent of reason to what reason comprehends as true.

Faith is an inward seeing–the God-given capacity to perceive an idea before it is seen as an objective manifestation. Just as Columbus perceived a Western Continent before he saw it, the widow through faith perceived the unlimited supply before she saw it running from her tiny cruse into the other and larger vessels.

Faith is not blind. Its eye is clear-visioned imagination, or that image-making faculty of the mind from which all that is really original takes its rise.

The philosopher imagines his theory and then brings all the forces of research and investigation to bear to substantiate it. All new designs in the world of trade, all colors in the world of art, commercial or otherwise, are first imagined, and then executed, otherwise [36] there would be imitation everywhere and originality nowhere.

The lesson, then, in the pouring of the oil into larger vessels is the very necessary one of so exercising the faith we have as to cause it to increase. To believe that back of our seeming little there is a Real Much, and to show our belief by action, is a mental appropriation of it, and to appropriate it mentally is to possess it visibly, if not today, then tomorrow, or some other day.

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