Gain a Greater Understanding of History by Joseph Stevens Buckminster

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As I have said “History is not simply a record of man’s accomplishments. Even more, History is the story / record of God’s interaction with man. It is indeed His Story” ~ CJD

Gain a Greater Understanding of History; Value of Religious Faith by Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784 – 1812)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Having considered the objects, and the reasonableness of religious faith, it now remains to say something of its Importance. The value of religious faith principally results from two circumstances—from the fears it excites, and from the consolations it affords.

In the ordinary conduct of government, and to the well-being of society, some kind of faith is essential. Belief in the superintendence of invisible powers is not peculiar to religion. It is found in every man, who conscientiously submits to the government under which he lives; for how few of the subjects of any extensive empire have ever seen their rulers? Their authority, their edicts, their measures, nay, their very existence, are almost exclusively objects of faith. Suppose the assassin were to fear nothing but the instrument of punishment, or the thief were permitted to demand a strict demonstration of the authority of the officer who arrested him, think you society would long sustain the consequences of so great incredulity? Every man would become his own avenger, and we should revert to the barbarous independence of universal democracy. If, too, the sober part only of the community should require, that every law should be promulgated in their hearing, or that their rulers should constantly live under their ocular inspection, it is easy to foresee, that the affairs of human society would fall into the utmost confusion. We must, therefore, in the ordinary state of society, live, as seeing those that are invisible.

The fear, which faith awakens, is the foundation of the most necessary prudence. It is faith, which warns us of the invisible and approaching misfortunes, to which we are daily exposed; it is faith, which keeps up a continual, and sometimes painful interest in the dangers, which threaten the community. Without this we should rush as inconsiderately into the abode of foreign pestilence, as we now walk the streets of our own city; and be as unprepared for an approaching war, as for an impending earthquake. If we were to wait, till we could satisfy our own personal experience, in regard to some of the most common evils of life, we should find, that our ruin was accomplished, [before] the remedy was provided. The life of children is a continual exercise of faith. The prudence of parents is employed in foreseeing dangers, which the short-sightedness of the child must believe upon authority. Without filial confidence, which is only another name for faith, not one of the generations of men could hardly have reached the maturity of manhood; each successive race would profit nothing from the experience of its predecessors; and even if it were possible to continue the human species without a principle of faith, the world would have remained, to the present day, in a state of infantile ignorance, exposure and imbecility. What then! is it of so much importance, that the years of minority should be so carefully provided with this principle to secure it against the evils of present inexperience; and is it of none, that the full-grown understanding should be admonished of the alarming disclosures, which another world will make of a retributive power? Is it of no importance, that the conscience of the wicked should be awakened, before his senses tell him, that he is in anguish? Shall the narrow policy of civil government, and the feebleness of temporal punishments, be left to maintain, unsupported, the order of society? Is it of so much consequence, that, while he lives here, man should be aware of his mortality, and be provided against death, the inevitable and universal lot of mortal creatures; and of none, that he should suspect his immortality, and extend his views to the tribunal of his Judge? Shall man tremble so much at the thought of dying; and know nothing of the dread of punishment? Is it of no importance for the selfish man to know, that, by the interested pleasures in which he is absorbed, he is surely defeating his own aims, however successful they may have been? Shall the indolent, the luxurious, the dead in sensuality, the avaricious, the hard-hearted, go on accumulating wrath, and hardening their consciences by unbelief? Because we cannot be transported to the regions of future suffering, and witness the intensity of the torment, shall we rush, with all our sins upon our head, into that community of woe, and learn first by experience what we would not receive upon credit? Thank God! that such is the want, which individuals and society feel of a principle like this, that the imagination supplies it, where the reason cannot attain to undoubting conviction. Legislators have always invented something, like what revelation discloses; and the barbarous faith of the early ages has supplied, in almost every country, something, which has served the purposes of providence, till the cultivated mind was ready for the fullness of God’s communications.

In the second place, the value of faith may be estimated from the consolations it affords.

Who would look back upon the history of the world with the eye of incredulity, after having once read it with the eye of faith? To the man of faith it is the story of God’s operations. To the unbeliever it is only the record of the strange sports of a race of agents as uncontrolled as they are unaccountable. To the man of faith every portion of history is part of a vast plan, conceived ages ago in the mind of Omnipotence, which has been fitted precisely to the period it was intended to occupy. The whole series of events forms a magnificent and symmetrical fabric to the eye of pious contemplation; and, though the dome be in the clouds, and the top, from its loftiness, be indiscernible to mortal vision, yet the foundations are so deep and solid, that we are sure they are intended to support something permanent and grand. To the skeptic, all the events of all the ages of the world are but a scattered crowd of useless and indigested materials. In his mind all is darkness, all is incomprehensible. The light of prophecy illuminates not to him the obscurity of ancient annals. He sees in them neither design nor operation, neither tendencies nor conclusions. To him the wonderful knowledge of one people is just as interesting as the desperate ignorance of another. In the deliverance which God has sometimes wrought for the oppressed, he sees nothing but the fact; and in the oppression and decline of haughty empires, nothing but the common accidents of national fortune. Going about to account for events according to what he calls general laws, he never for a moment considers, that all laws, whether physical, political or moral, imply a legislator, and are contrived to serve some purpose. Because he cannot always, by his short-sighted vision, discover the tendencies of the mighty events of which this earth has been the theatre, he looks on the drama of existence around him as proceeding without a plan. Is that principle, then, of no importance, which raises man above what his eyes see or his ears hear at present, and show him the vast chain of human events, fastened eternally to the throne of God, and returning, after embracing the universe, again to link itself to the footstool of Omnipotence?

Would you know the value of this principle of faith to the bereaved? Go, and follow a corpse to the grave. See the body deposited there, and hear the earth thrown in upon all that remains of your friend. Return now, if you will, and brood over the lesson which your senses have given you, and derive from it what consolation you can. You have learned nothing but an unconsoling fact. No voice of comfort issues from the tomb. All is still there, and blank, and lifeless, and has been so for ages. You see nothing but bodies dissolving and successively mingling with the clods which cover them, the grass growing over the spot, and the trees waving in sullen majesty over this region of eternal silence. And what is there more? Nothing,—Come, Faith, and people these deserts! Come, and reanimate these regions of forgetfulness! Mothers! take again your children to your arms, for they are living. Sons! your aged parents are coming forth in the vigor of regenerated years. Friends! behold, your dearest connections are waiting to embrace you. The tombs are burst. Generations long since in slumbers are awakening. They are coming from the east and the west, from the north and from the south, to constitute the community of the blessed.

But it is not in the loss of friends alone, that faith furnishes consolations which are inestimable. With a man of faith not an affliction is lost, not a change is unimproved. He studies even his own history with pleasure, and finds it full of instruction. The dark passages of his life are illuminated with hope; and he sees, that although he has passed through many dreary defiles, yet they have opened at last into brighter regions of existence. He recalls, with a species of wondering gratitude, periods of his life, when all its events seemed to conspire against him. Hemmed in by straitened circumstances, wearied with repeated blows of unexpected misfortunes, and exhausted with the painful anticipation of more, he recollects years, when the ordinary love of life could not have retained him in the world. Many a time he might have wished to lay down his being in disgust, had not something more than the senses provide us with, kept up the elasticity of his mind. He yet lives, and has found that light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. The man of faith discovers some gracious purpose in every combination of circumstances. Wherever he finds himself, he knows that he has a destination—he has, therefore, a duty. Every event has, in his eye, a tendency and an aim. Nothing is accidental, nothing without purpose, nothing unattended with benevolent consequences. Everything on earth is probationary, nothing ultimate. He is poor—perhaps his plans have been defeated—he finds it difficult to provide for the exigencies of life—sickness is permitted to invade the quiet of his household—long confinement imprisons his activity, and cuts short the exertions on which so many depend—something apparently unlucky mars his best plans —new failures and embarrassments among his friends present themselves, and throw additional obstruction in his way—the world looks on and says, all these things are against him. Some wait coolly for the hour when he shall sink under the complicated embarrassments of his cruel fortune. Others, of a kinder spirit, regard him with compassion, and wonder how he can sustain such a variety of woe. A few there are, a very few, I fear, who can understand something of the serenity of his mind, and comprehend something of the nature of his fortitude. There are those, whose sympathetic piety can read and interpret the characters of resignation on his brow. There are those, in fine, who have felt the influence of faith.

In this influence there is nothing mysterious, nothing romantic, nothing of which the highest reason may be ashamed. It shows the Christian his God, in all the mild majesty of his parental character. It shows you God, disposing in still and benevolent wisdom the events of every individual’s life, pressing the pious spirit with the weight of calamity to increase the elasticity of the mind, producing characters of unexpected worth by unexpected misfortune, invigorating certain virtues by peculiar probations, thus breaking the fetters which bind us to temporal things, and

“From seeming evil still educing good,
And better thence again, and better still,
In infinite progression.”

When the sun of the believer’s hopes, according to common calculations, is set, to the eye of faith it is still visible. When much of the rest of the world is in darkness, the high ground of faith is illuminated with the brightness of religious consolation.

Come now, my incredulous friends, and follow me to the bed of the dying believer. Would you see in what peace a Christian can die? Watch the last gleams of thought which stream from his dying eyes. Do you see anything like apprehension? The world, it is true, begins to shut in. The shadows of evening collect around his senses. A dark mist thickens, and rests upon the objects which have hitherto engaged his observation. The countenances of his friends become more and more indistinct. The sweet expressions of love and friendship are no longer intelligible. His ear wakes no more at the well-known voice of his children, and the soothing accents of tender affection die away unheard, upon his decaying senses. To him the spectacle of human life is drawing to its close, and the curtain is descending, which shuts out this earth, its actors, and its scenes. He is no longer interested in all that is done under the sun. O! that I could now open to you the recesses of his soul; that I could reveal to you the light, which darts into the chambers of his understanding. He approaches that world which he has so long seen in faith. The imagination now collects its diminished strength, and the eye of faith opens wide. Friends! do not stand, thus fixed in sorrow, around this bed of death. Why are you so still and silent? Fear not to move—you cannot disturb the last visions which enchant this holy spirit. Your lamentations break not in upon the songs of seraphs, which enwrap his hearing in ecstasy. Crowd, if you choose, around his couch—he heeds you not—already he sees the spirits of the just advancing together to receive a kindred soul. Press him not with importunities; urge him not with alleviations. Think you he wants now these tones of mortal voices—these material, these gross consolations’ No! He is going to add another to the myriads of the just, that are every moment crowding into the portals of heaven! He is entering on a nobler life. He leaves you—he leaves you, weeping children of mortality, to grope about a little longer among the miseries and sensualities of a worldly life. Already he cries to you from the regions of bliss. Will you not join him there? Will you not taste the sublime joys of faith? There are your predecessors in virtue; there, too, are places left for your contemporaries. There are seats for you in the assembly of the just made perfect, in the innumerable company of angels, where is Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and God, the judge of all.

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