Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
A Man’s Faith
By Samuel Bowles (1826–1878)
 
[Born in Springfield, Mass., 1826. Died there, 1878. Life and Times of Samuel Bowles. 1885.]

BLESS you, my dear friend, for opening to me so freely your religious life and faith. Had I not been gradually recognizing it for the last two or three months, I should have been astonished to find it is so great a thing to you. And I am surprised and impressed that yours was that common experience of revelation and rest by a sudden flash, as it were. There must be, I suppose, preparation and thought; but the finishing stroke seems God-given, and fastens itself in a way that must be wonderfully impressive. As to my own opinions, it would be pretty difficult to describe them. Perhaps you have done it as nearly as it can be done—yet I do not wholly recognize it as my condition. All these things have seemed very much a muddle to me—my mind never could solve them. I can generally average and condense the intelligent views and opinions of others on most subjects; but here the wide divergence of great and good men, the contradictions of revelation and science, the variant testimony of all our sources of information, have been too much for the grasp and condensation of my mind. So I have just put it all aside—and waited. I have striven to keep my heart and my head free and unprejudiced, open to all good influences—ready to receive the gift, but perhaps not reaching out for it—and not reaching out, perhaps, again, because when I made the effort I felt a sickening feeling of hypocrisy, mixed with the apprehension that to go ahead was for me to go back. And that the faith of the fathers and the testimony of good men forbade me to do. So I have seemed forced to be content to grow in goodness in my more practical way, and to leave theories and faith to time. I try to make my life show the result of Christianity and godliness, if I have not the thing in its theoretical form. Patience, charity, faith in men, faith in progress, have been lessons that I have been learning these many years. Purity of life too has been a steadfast aim. Measured by my fellows, I have been successful—more successful than many who have firmer foundations, or affect to have. But this consciousness is injurious to me. It is leading me to be content. It is perhaps reconciling me to a little sin. And indeed I do not expect ever to be perfectly good, or to find any other person so. I do not see how that is possible with any nature. That is, I mean by goodness, purity of soul—perfect purity in thought as well as action. Deeds may be commanded, though that is rare, and I do not know that I ever saw or expect to see a person who can do it,—but the thought, never, it seems to me, so long as we are human. Indeed, does God expect or demand it of us? We cannot crucify our earthly desires,—that has been tried, and it was semi-barbarism. They are the elements of growth, of usefulness, of progress, almost as much as the yearnings of a higher and holier nature. Strike out from the world the deeds or that portion of them done through the promptings of what may be called the human side of our nature—ambition, selfishness, passion, love, hate, etc.,—and the world would stop, retrograde. There is not force enough in the divinity within us to carry on the machine. Does not God understand this better than we do? Are we not made as we are with a view to produce the greatest results? Let any candid mind, honest but severe, examine the motives which lead it to the execution of its highest and noblest deeds—I imagine it will find subtly but not always feebly working there some elements of selfishness, pride, ambition, desire to appear well, make an impression, gain the applause of the multitudes or the one. Did you ever think of that? I have, and watched myself and others—and sometimes I have thought there was never an absolutely pure action—pure I mean of any human element, wholly divine. And why should there be? Can human beings become divinities—wholly, exclusively? When they do they will cease to be human, and go hence. So I learn patience and charity, even for myself. All progress, all good, is but an approximation. The end is never reached, never can be, perhaps never could be,—but the effort should be continuous and earnest. It should also be intelligent. It should not be self-upbraiding and morbidly dissatisfied with itself. Praise is said to be useful to others—is it not to ourselves from ourselves? Justice is the better word—we should be just and generous to ourselves. There are some people—are you not one?—charitable and loving and generous to everybody else, but hard and severe to themselves. This is cruel, wicked. It limits their happiness and their usefulness. One of our first duties is to ourselves—to make ourselves happy. Then we can make others happy, and make them grow, and grow with them. Of course, indulgence is not always the way to make ourselves happy—and yet there are some indulgences that we should permit ourselves. The philosophy of life is understood by but few. Our humanity makes us oftener blindly practise and illustrate it, than spread intelligent theories. We practise better than we preach.
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