The Path – November 1892

SALVATION BY FAITH — Alexander Fullerton

The making safe by faith defines the popular idea that a human soul is to escape punishment for evil, not through a reformation of character, or through the cancellation of evil by a subsequent effectuation of good, but through gratuitous pardon made possible because the one believed in has already suffered to an extent which the law will regard as a vindication. Beyond trusting wholly to the merits and work of a Savior, the culprit has nothing to do in the procurement of salvation. It is an act of reliance, not a process of relief. Later reformation attests the reality of the faith, but does not constitute it.

There are many grave objections to this scheme, logical, ethical, and moral. It is eminently artificial, it is in harmony with nothing else in nature, it enthrones unreality in Heaven. By making punishment a mere matter of debt, it voids it of its other two aspects — disciplinary and deterrent, and by making it transferable the connection between it and offense is lost. Nor is the suffering congruous. It is resolved wholly into physical pain. But this is a different thing from compunction, sorrow, remorse, which mentally follow transgression. The poignant shame of repentance cannot be recast in terms of bleeding flesh and agonized nerves.

Then, too, moral sentiments are unbalanced. The shock at seeing the innocent suffer and the guilty escape may be to some extent checked by urging that the suffering was voluntary and from love of the guilty, but a question then arises as to the sacrifice of justice. Surpassing love can hardly supplement defective justice, for in a Divine and therefore perfect system all moral qualities are equally exhibited. And the supposed effect is circuitous. If a man is aroused to consciousness of guilt by perceiving what some one else has undergone on his behalf, the stimulants are sympathy and gratitude. Yet these do not demonstrate that the broken law was right in itself, or that he ought not to have disregarded it, or that an arrangement made without his consent binds him in honor to future obedience. Indeed, if the debt of all humanity has been paid, it cannot properly be exacted a second time, and therefore the inducement to obedience is to that extent logically lowered. Moreover salvation by faith has but a partial operation. It deals only with the sentimental side of man. It is not educative nor reformatory; still less does it take hold of the several elements in our composite nature and make each evolve to the ideal of perfection.

These are but a few of the logical objections to the doctrine. Historically and individually its consequences are what might be expected from the disconnecting of character from retribution, and from the use of any other factor than desert in determining destiny. Substitute a mechanism for a simply-acting law, and you are sure to have not only complication but disaster. And so the consequence of displacing Karma for Faith has been to set religion apart from morals, and to relieve from responsibility at the very point where it needs the sternest enforcement. The test of character has become not merit but belief, and the gauge of acceptability is not the degree to which self-discipline has attained, but the degree in which self-discipline is renounced and the spiritual interests handed over to another.

And yet here, as in so many other theologizings, there is a root of truth beneath the perversion and distortion. It is in the fact that a real faith in spiritual law must precede any actual attempt at improvement. Men will not greatly exert themselves to secure that which is hazy or dubious. If a thing is uncertain or ill-defined, there can be no heart in the pursuit of it. If evil is not seen to be real, salvation will not appear to be valuable. Before there can be any wish, much more any effort, to attain security from the penal consequences of wrong, the wrong must be sensed, the consequences apprehended, and the security assessed. Only as the solemn reality of these spiritual facts is felt acutely by the soul standing in their presence, will it rouse itself to act thereon. And so salvation must come by faith.

The same faith must attend any true salvation, any scientific salvation, at every step of its progress. As the steady discipline by which ordinary man is transformed from a vacillating, inconstant tool of prejudice and passion to the calm, collected master of himself and Nature goes on through incarnation after incarnation, there is not an action of the will without its background of assured certainty in the correctness of the training. The human constitution, the method of its evolution, the possibilities it enshrines, the laws regulating the seen and the unseen spheres, the validity of the process, the certitude of its outcome, the existence of Those who have attained, the assurance of Their sympathy and aid, — all these must be truths to the advancing soul or there can be no advance at all. It is not a blind faith, for it has evidence sustaining it; yet it is not entire vision, for much is still unseen. But the faith grows. Its inception is only partial and may be feeble. It was enough for the first step. As each increment of vision verified the prophecy, the faith was confirmed. Things it took on trust are now portions of consciousness; much that was confidence has now become certainty. Still, the same condition to advance persists. The new step must be made because it is believed to lead to greater heights, and if there was no such belief the soul would pause and droop. Doubt would check, not as criminal but as weakening. And if faith is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", it is because as a scientific fact there can be no pressing forward into the region of the as yet experimentally unknown without an inward certainty that we shall find it as represented and shall rejoice when there.

And so we are saved by faith. Not faith in another's merits, but in the possibility of evolving our own; not faith in another's atoning work, but in our ability to so work that atonement shall be needless; not faith in a visionary mechanism of substitution, but in the universal scheme of Law; not faith in ecclesiastical systems, but in Divine order; not faith in a revelation from God, but in a revelation of God. Braced with such a faith, salvation progresses steadily to its end. It is a salvation from ignorance and paucity and feebleness, a salvation of the Divine in man from the animal.

The Path