Two Edifying Discourses May 5, 1843
translated from the Danish by David F. and Lillian Marvin Swenson, copyright 1941, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1948 by Augsburg Publishing House.
The Expectation Of Faith
New Year’s Day
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:23-29
It is on the first day of the year that we are gathered here, devout listeners to this address! The festival we celebrate today is one to which the Church has given no name; and yet is its celebration no less welcome, its challenge to quiet meditation no less solemn. It is in the house of God that we are gathered, where the subject of discourse is always the same, though varied in fashion according to times and circumstances. A year has passed, a new year has begun, though as yet there has nothing happened in it. The past is completed; the present is not; only the future is, which yet is not. In our daily life we are accustomed to wish each other one or another good. According to what we believe ourselves to know about a man’s special circumstances, his thoughts and achievements, to that degree we deem ourselves capable of wishing for him some definite good, particularly suitable for him and for his life. On this day, too, we do not neglect to show other men our good will and sympathy by wishing them this or that good thing.
But since on this particular day the thought about the future and the inscrutable possibility involved in the future, rises vividly before us, our wish tends to take on a more general character, because we hope that the greater compass of the wish may better succeed in laying hold of the future’s manifold variety; because we feel the difficulty, over against the indeterminate and the indeterminable, of wishing anything determinate. Nevertheless we do not permit this difficulty to repress our wish; we do not give the thought time to disturb the heart’s mysterious and indeterminate impulses; we express a good will, which, even if it does not deserve to be honored by the name of love, still ought not to be disparaged as thoughtlessness. Only with respect to an individual person do we make an exception. To him our heart clings more steadfastly, for his welfare we are more concerned. The more this is the case, the more conscious we become of the difficulty. When the thought now becomes absorbed in the future, it strays hither and thither in its restless efforts to force or coax from the mystery its explanation; like a spy it hastens from one possibility to another, but in vain; and under all this the wishing soul becomes sorrowful, sits there and waits for the thought to return and enlighten it as to what it might venture to wish with all its heart. What others do easily and without trouble seems to this man heavy and difficult; what he himself does easily in relation to others, he finds hard in relation to the one he loves most, and the more he loves the greater the difficulty becomes. At last he becomes irresolute; he does not wish to release the beloved from his own influence, to surrender him to the future’s power, and yet he must; he will accompany him with all good wishes, but he has not one single, exclusive wish.
If a man’s troubled mind felt itself ensnared like a prisoner in this difficulty, he would doubtless recollect the testimonies he had heard in these sacred places; he would perhaps go to one of them again in order to inquire as to whether there might not be a wish which was so safe that he dared pour the whole of his soul’s fervency into it, without holding back any part of it for another wish, also of importance to the beloved; so certain and so sure that he almost feared that he did not have enough inwardness to wish it as it ought to be wished; a wish that needed not to be accompanied by new wishes relative to its permanence; a wish which did not guilefully continue after he had ceased to wish it; a wish that did not concern some one particular thing, lest he might have forgotten some other particular thing, which later might disturb his peace; a wish that did not confine itself to the present, but was suited to the future, as this was the occasion for his wishing. If such a wish could be found, then he would be free and glad, glad in his wish, and still more glad that he could wish it for the other.
And in these sacred places many good things are mentioned. There is mention of worldly goods, of health, good times, wealth, power, fortune, a glorious fame; and the listener is warned against them; for he who has them is warned not to trust in them; he who does not have them is warned not to set his heart upon them. About Faith a different kind of speech is heard. It is said to be the highest good, the most beautiful, the most precious, the richest of all blessings, not to be compared with anything else, not replaceable by anything else. Is it then so different from the other goods because it is the highest good, but, for the rest, of the same kind as those, transient, unstable, conferred only upon the chosen few, seldom for the whole life? If this were so, then it would be inexplicable that in these sacred places there is always one thing, and only one, said about faith, that it is again and again eulogized and commended. He who would speak about it must either be in possession of this good, or feel the lack of it. If he possessed it, then he would probably say: “I readily admit that it is the highest good of all, but praise it to others— no, I cannot do that, for that would make it harder for those who do not have it; besides, there is a secret pain connected with its possession which makes me more lonely than do the greatest sufferings.” And this would be a very noble and benevolent thought on his part. But he who did not have faith could hardly admit it.
So then the opposite of what happens would happen; faith would be the only good which was never mentioned in the holy places; for it would be too great for a man to dare warn against it, too glorious for one to dare to praise it, for fear there might be someone present who did not have it and could not get it. Consequently faith has a different quality; it is not only the highest good, but it is a good in which all can share; and he who rejoices in his possession of it, rejoices also on behalf of countless generations of men; “for what I possess,” he says, “that every man possesses or may possess.” He who wishes it for another man, wishes it for himself; he who wishes it for himself, wishes it for every man; for that quality by virtue of which a man has faith is not one in which he is different from another man, but that wherein he is identical with him; that whereby he possesses it is not something in which he differs from others, but something in which he is absolutely identical with everyone else.
There was then such a wish as that bewildered man sought; he could wish it for another man with all his heart and with all his might and with all his soul, could dare to continue to wish it more and more heartily, as his love became more fervent. So, then, he would wish it.
If there was a man who went to another man and said to him: “I have often heard faith extolled as the highest good; I certainly feel that I do not have it; the complexity of my life, my troubles, my numerous affairs and many other things interfere; but this I know, that I have one wish and only one, that I may have a share in this faith.” If it was a benevolently inclined man he went to, he would answer: “That is a beautiful and a devout wish which you ought not to relinquish, and it will surely be fulfilled.”— Is it not true that it would seem to him an acceptable speech, to which he would gladly listen, for we are all willing to hear one who speaks about the fulfillment of our wish. Still time went on, and he got no farther.
Then he went to another man, confided to him, too, his concern and his wish. The man looked earnestly at him and said: “How can you be so in error? Your wish is not only pious and beautiful, but for no price should you relinquish it; you are much nearer to its fulfillment than you yourself believe; it is your duty to have faith, and if you do not have it, then it is your fault and a sin.”
He would perhaps be startled by this speech, he would perhaps think: “So this faith is not as glorious as it was described, since it is acquired so easily; that would be absurd. For other good things one travels out into the wide world; they are concealed in distant places which are only accessible to men through great perils; or if this is not the case, then it is with their distribution as with the water at the pool of Bethesda, a-bout which we read in the sacred Scriptures: At times an angel went down and troubled the water, and whoever came first, aye, he who came first, he was fortunate. With faith, on the contrary, with the highest good, should not this also be the case; should there be no difficulty connected with its acquisition?” However, he would still certainly think earnestly upon this matter, and when he had rightly considered it, he might perhaps say: “He was right, it is so; it was a bold speech in which there was sense and meaning; that is the way a man should speak; for the wish profits nothing.” Then would he quietly review his inner emotions; and every time his soul allowed itself to rest on a wish, he called it to him and said: “You know you must not wish”; and in so doing he made progress. When his soul became fearful he called it to him and said: “If you are anxious, it is because you are wishing; for fear is a form of wishing, and you know you must not wish”— and so he went on. When he was near despair, when he said: “I cannot, all other men can except myself. Oh, that I never had heard
that speech, that I had gone my way through life undisturbed, with my sorrow— and with my wish.” Then he called upon his soul and said: “Now you are being crafty; for you say that you wish, and pretend that the speech was about something external, which one can wish, while you know that it is something internal, which one can only will; you delude yourself, for you say: ‘All other men can, only not I,’ and yet you know that that whereby other men can do it, is that in which they are absolutely identical with you, so that if it really is the truth that you can not do it, then neither can the others do it. So you betray not only your own case, but, insofar as it depends on you, the case of all men; and when you humbly exclude yourself from their number, then you slyly destroy their power!”
Then he went on. When he was then being slowly educated over a longer time under a schoolmaster, he was perhaps nearer to the faith. “Was being educated,” as if it were another man who was doing it. Still this is not the case; it is only a misunderstanding, only an appearance. One man can do much for another man, but he cannot give him faith. We hear various stories in the world. One says: “My being what I am is my own work; I owe no man anything”; and he thinks it something to be proud of. Another says: “That distinguished man was my teacher, and I count it an honor to dare call myself his disciple”; and he believes it something to take pride in. We shall not decide how far such a speech is legitimate; but for it really to mean anything, it can only be applied to the specially gifted: those who either were inherently talented, or else so favored that they could become disciples of the distinguished man. We, on the other hand, my hearers, we who were too insignificant to become disciples, what shall we say?
If a man were to say: “When men rejected me, then I went to God; He became my schoolmaster, and this is my happiness, my joy, my pride,” would this be less beautiful? And yet every man can say it, dares to say it, can say it in truth, and if he does not say it in truth, then it is not because the thought is not true, but because he distorts it. Every man dares say it. Whether his forehead was flattened almost like a beast’s or arched more proudly than the heavens; whether his arm was outstretched to rule over kingdoms and countries, or to gather up the necessary gifts which fell from the rich man’s table; whether his gesture was obeyed by thousands, or there was not a soul who paid attention to him; whether eloquence blossomed on his lips or only unintelligible sounds passed over them; whether he was the powerful man who defied the storm, or the defenseless woman who only sought shelter against the storm— it has nothing to do with the matter, my hearer, absolutely nothing. Every man dares say it when he has faith; for this is precisely the glory of faith. And you know it, my hearer, you do not become afraid when it is mentioned, as if it thereby took something from you, as if you first savored its bliss in the moment of its departure. Or do you not know it? Alas! then were you very unfortunate. You could not grieve and say: “The giver of good gifts passed by my door”; you could not grieve and say: “The tempest and the storms took it from me”; for the giver of good gifts did not pass by your door; the tempest and the storm did not take it from you, for they could not do it.
So there was, then, a wish quite as that bewildered man had hoped for; he was no longer in distress. Yet there now appeared a new difficulty; for as he was wishing it, it became clear to him that that good could not be obtained through a wish; he could not even get it himself by wishing it, although this concerned him less, but neither could he give it to another by wishing it to him; only by himself willing it, could the other get it. So then it was again necessary to set him free, necessary to leave him to himself, his wish for him was as impotent as before. And yet this was not his intention. He wished to do everything for him; for when I wish a man something, I do not require his co-operation. The bewildered man had also considered it in this way. He would, as it were, say to the beloved: “Just be quiet and unconcerned, you have nothing at all to do except to be glad, satisfied, and happy with all the good things I shall wish you. I shall wish, I shall not grow weary of wishing; I shall move the all bountiful God who bestows the good gifts, I shall move Him by my prayers; and so you shall have everything.” And lo, as he mentioned the individual good things, they seemed to him so questionable that he dared not wish them for the other; when he finally found what he sought, what he might confidently wish for, lo, it was something that could not be wished.
He was again bewildered, again concerned, again ensnared in a difficulty. Is then the whole of life only a contradiction; can love not explain it, but only make it more difficult? That thought he could not endure; he must seek a way out. There must be something wrong in his love. Then he perceived that however much he had loved the other man, he still had loved him in the wrong way; for if it had been possible to procure for him all the good things, and also the highest good, faith, then he would by this very fact have made him into a more imperfect being. Then he found that life was beautiful, that it was a new glory in faith that no man can give it to another; but that what is highest, noblest, most sacred in man, that every man has; it is inherent in him, every man has it if he wills to have it; and this is the glory of faith, that it can only be had on this condition; therefore it is the only unfailing good, because it can only be had through being constantly acquired, and can only be acquired through being constantly developed.
The bewildered man was then reassured; but perhaps a change had taken place in him as well as in the one for whose welfare he was so concerned— in their relation to each other. They had become separated, in that one, so to speak, was established in his right, the other certain within his own limits. Their lives had become more significant than before, and yet they had become almost strangers to one another. His heart, which before was so rich in wishes, had now become poor; his hand, which formerly was so willing to help, had now learned to be quiet; for he knew he could not help. It was truth he had recognized, but this truth had not made him happy. So life is then a contradiction, the truth can not explain it, but can only make it more painful; for the more profoundly he recognized the truth, the more he felt himself separated, the more powerless in his relation to the other. And yet he could not wish that it was untrue, could not wish that he had remained unconscious of it, although it had separated them for all eternity, as death itself could not have separated them. This thought he was not able to endure; he must seek an explanation; and then he perceived that his relation to his friend had now acquired its true significance. “If I,” said he, “with my wish or with my gift could present him with the highest good, then could I also take it from him, even if he need not fear this; aye, what is worse, if I could do this, then I should in the same moment that I gave it to him, take it from him; for in the fact that I gave him the highest good, I took the highest good from him; for the highest would be that he should give it to himself. Therefore I will thank God that his did not happen; my love has only lost its anxiety and gained gladness; for I know that with all my efforts I still should not have been able to preserve this good for him ls certainly as he himself can keep it. He will not have to thank me for it, not because I set him free, but because he owes me nothing at all. Should I then be less glad with him, less glad that he now owns the most precious of all goods? Nay, I will only be the more happy; for if he owed it to me, it would disturb our relation. And if he is not in possession of it, then I can be very helpful to him: for I will accompany his thought, and urge him to perceive that it is the highest good, and I will prevent it from escaping into some hiding place where it might become obscure to him, whether he can understand it or not; with him I will penetrate every irregularity, until, if he does not have it, there is but a single expression which explains his failure— that he did not will it; this he cannot endure, then he will acquire it. On the other hand, I will praise the glory of faith to him, and as I assume that he possesses it, I bring him to will to own it. So today on the first day of the year, when the thought of the future tempts us with its manifold possibilities, I will show him that in faith he possesses the only power which can triumph over the future, I will speak to him about the expectation of faith.”
My hearers, shall we not do the same, and according to the opportunities of this festal occasion, speak with one another about THE EXPECTATION OF FAITH.
When we speak about the expectation of faith, we also speak about expectation in general; when we speak about expectation, then we naturally think of ourselves as talking to those who expect something. But those who have expectations are the happy and the successful. Are they then the proper persons to be addressed in these sacred places, and not rather the unsuccessful, those who have already made up their account with life and who expect nothing? Aye, the speech could well be addressed to them if our voice were capable of it. It could be said to them that it was a very wretched wisdom they had found, that it was easy enough to harden the heart; the pillow of sloth on which they would drowse away their lives in idleness could be taken away from them; it could be said that it was a proud distinction they had acquired in life, that while all other men— however successful or however troubled they had been in the world— were still always ready to recognize that God could indeed make up the reckoning, that while all other men confessed that on the day of judgment they would not be able to answer one to a thousand, they made it a condition that they should be in possession of a just demand on life which could not be redeemed, a demand which in its time would make the reckoning difficult enough— but not for them. They might be addressed thus; still we prefer to speak to those who still expect something.
As the number of those who expect something always constitutes the majority of the world, so too their expectations can be so various that it is very difficult to mention all of them. Yet all of them have one expectation in common, that they all expect some future; for expectation and the future are inseparable thoughts. He who expects something is preoccupied with the future. But to occupy himself with it, is perhaps not right. The complaint which is often heard, that men forget the present in their preoccupation with the future, is perhaps well founded. We shall not deny that this has happened in the world, even if more seldom in our time, but neither shall we fail to recall that it is precisely man’s greatness, the proof of his divine heritage, that he can occupy himself with the future; for if there were no future, neither would there have been a past, and if there were neither past nor future, then would man be enslaved like the beasts, his head bent toward the earth, his soul ensnared in the service of the moment.
In that sense one might not, indeed, wish to live for the present; nor in that sense might one have meant it when he recommended the present as the great thing. But where shall we set our limits, how much do we dare to occupy ourselves with the future? The answer is not difficult: until we have conquered it, until we are able to return to the present, until our life finds significance therein. Still it is indeed an impossibility; the future is everything, the present is a part of it; how could we have conquered the whole before we have even reached the first part of it; how return from this victory to that which went before? Is it not so; is it an ill-timed difficulty the thought raises? By no means. It is precisely as here stated; for we dare not commend every occupation with the future. He who absolutely relinquishes it, becomes only in an unworthy sense strong in the present; he who does not conquer it, has one enemy more who will make him weak in the fight against the present. Consequently, not until he has conquered the future does his present life become sound and strong.
The fact of being able to occupy himself with the future is then an indication of man’s nobility; the conflict with it is most ennobling. He who strives with the present strives with a single thing against which he can use his entire strength. If therefore a man had nothing else to strive against, it would be possible for him to go victoriously through life without learning to know himself or his own strength. He who fights with the future has a more dangerous enemy, he can never remain ignorant about himself; for he fights with himself. The future is not; it borrows its strength from the man himself, and when it has tricked him out of this, then it appears outside of him as the enemy he must meet. Let a man then be as strong as he will, no man is stronger than himself.
Therefore we frequently see those who in life conquered in every battle; when it was a future enemy they had to deal with, they became powerless, their arms paralyzed. While they were perhaps accustomed to challenge the whole world to battle, they had now met an enemy, a
vague figure, who was able to terrify them. Therefore, perhaps frequently the men whom God called to be tested in battle went from a worse fight into that battle which to men seemed so terrible; perhaps they sometimes smiled in the heat of conflict when they considered the invisible fight which had taken place before. They were admired in the world, because people thought they had conquered in the most dangerous fight, and yet that fight seemed to them like a childish game in comparison with the fight which had gone before, which no man saw. It would naturally be true that he who is stronger than others conquers in the conflict with these; but it is also natural that no man is stronger than himself. When a man strives with the future, then he learns that however strong he is compared with the rest, there is one enemy who is stronger, that is himself; one enemy he cannot conquer by himself, that is himself.
Yet why describe this conflict with the future as so dangerous? “Whether old or young, we have all of us had some experience, the future is not entirely new; for there is nothing new under the sun; the future is the past. Old or young, we have all had experience, we will put it on, we will follow the trail of conjecture and the guidance of the supposition; by the power of the conclusion will we overcome it, and thus armed go confidently forth to meet the future.” And it is indeed well that a man be armed when he goes into a conflict; still better that he be armed according to the nature of the conflict. If a man who would compete on the running-track were to put on heavy armor, he would indeed be armed, but his armor would scarcely be advantageous to him. Is not the case the same in the matter of equipment for one who would strive with the future? For experience as a friend has a double tongue which says now one thing, now another; and guessing is a deceitful guide who deserts one when one needs him most, and the supposition is a vague glance which does not look very far, and the conclusion is a sling wherein a man more often catches himself than the other. In addition, those weapons are difficult to use; for with guessing goes fear, with conjecture apprehension, with the conclusion disquiet, since the questing soul does not remain unmoved by the experience. So we might be well-armed when we had put on experience, but not for the kind of conflict we go to meet, the conflict with the future; we sought to transform this into something present, something individual; but the future is not an individual part but the whole.
How should we then go to meet the future? When the sailor is out upon the sea, when everything is changing about him, when the waves are constantly born and die, then he does not stare down into the depths of these, for they change. He looks up at the stars: and why? Because they are faithful; as they stand now, they stood for the patriarchs, and will stand for the coming generations. By what means does he then conquer the changing conditions? Through the eternal. Through the eternal can one conquer the future, because the eternal is the foundation of the future; therefore through this one can understand that. What then is the eternal power in man? It is faith. What is the expectation of faith? Victory, or as the Scriptures have so earnestly and so movingly taught us, it is that all things must work together for good to those that love God. But an expectation of the future which expects victory has indeed conquered the future. The believer is therefore done with the future before he begins on the present; for what one has conquered no longer has power to disturb one, and this victory can only make one more powerful for the present.
Then the expectation of faith is victory! The glad heart which had not yet tasted of life’s adversities, which was not educated in the school of sorrow, which was not shaped by the dubious wisdom of experience, assists this expectation with all its might; for it expects victory in everything, in every conflict and exertion, or rather, it expects to conquer without conflict. We would not choose to be the austere figure which would halt the young on his way; we would rather be considered as a consolation to him when he has learned that this expectation, however beautiful it was, was still not the expectation of faith; we would rather be the one who should call him to the conflict when he feels himself powerless; rather be the one who will let victory beckon to him when he believes everything lost. On the other hand, the troubled one, who has scarcely dried his tears over the present loss, pictures the future differently, and that future is indeed light and ephemeral, more flexible than any sickle; so everyone fashions it according to the way he himself is fashioned. The troubled one does not expect victory, he has felt his loss too keenly; and even if it happened in the past, he still keeps it with him; he expects that the future will at least grant him peace for the quiet occupation with his pain.
The experienced man disapproves of both modes of conduct. When one has almost every good one could desire, then one ought to be prepared to have the troubles of life also visit the home of the fortunate; when one has lost everything, then one ought to consider that time conceals much precious healing power for the sick soul; that the future, like a loving mother, also conceals good gifts. In success a man ought, to a certain degree, to be prepared for failure; in failure, to a certain degree, for success. And the counsel of the man of experience is not in vain; for both the one who was happy, if he was not thoughtless, and the troubled man, if he was not in despair, will readily heed his words; both will willingly arrange their lives according to his advice. The successful man inspects the goods he possesses. Some of them he thinks he could lose without pain; others are such that he could easily recover from the pain of their loss. Only one single good he can not lose without losing his gladness, he cannot lose it to a certain degree without losing it absolutely, and with it his joy. He will then be prepared to lose his goods, and in this way he is, according to the advice of the man of experience, prepared for a certain degree of misfortune. Still the experienced man said: to a certain degree. This word might also apply to that one good he could not lose without losing his happiness; not lose to a certain degree without losing it entirely. The man of experience will not interpret his words, he repeats them unchanged, unshakable; he leaves the explanation and the application to the one whom they would guide. So then the successful man, no less than the troubled one, becomes bewildered. This expression: to a certain degree, which should set them free, becomes the binding power which ensnares them, and the word continues to sound, shows no sympathy, is not concerned about their strenuous efforts to understand it, pays no attention to their prayers for an explanation. The experience which should guide them, gives birth to doubt; the experienced man’s advice was questionable advice.
On the contrary, the believer says: “I expect victory.” Nor is this a vain speech. For both the fortunate man who was not thoughtless and the troubled man who was not in despair will readily listen to his words. Gladness returns again to the glad heart, victory is its expectation, victory in every conflict, in every temptation; for experience taught that there might be talk about a conflict. Still by the help of faith it expects victory in everything; only for a moment does it pause: “It is too much,” it says, “it is impossible, life cannot be so glorious; however rich youth was in its extreme happiness, this is even more than the most joyous hope of youth.” Aye, it is certainly more than the gladdest hope of youth, and yet it is so, even if not quite as you think. You speak about many victories, but faith expects only one, or rather, it expects victory. If there was a man who had heard of a belief which was able to give everyone the thing he needed, and he were to say: “That is impossible— all the necessities for a man, as now for me, all the much which I need”; then would the one who referred him to the Holy Scriptures, rightly dare to testify about them, that he would find in them the thing needed, but the seeker would find that it did not turn out quite as he had expected. The Scriptures say: “One thing is needful.” So too with faith; when you speak about many victories you are like one who talks about many things being needed. Only one thing is needful, and faith expects victory.
But it expects victory, and therefore it is glad and confident, and why should it not be since it expects victory! Still I am sensible of a voice which you also know well, my hearer. It says: “This is good to listen to, these are great words and agreeable modes of speech, but truly the earnestness of life teaches something different.” What then did life’s earnestness teach you, you who speak in this way? Is it not true that it taught you that your wishes would not be fulfilled, your yearnings not sated, your cravings not heeded, your desires not satisfied? It taught you this, all this, of which we do not speak at all; and in addition it taught you with deceitful lips to come to men’s assistance, to suck faith and confidence out of their hearts, to do this in the sacred name of earnestness. Why did it teach you this? Could it not have taught you something else?
When two men learn different things from life, it may be because they experienced it differently; but it can also arise from the fact that they themselves were different. If two children were brought up together and shared everything in common, so that if one was singled out for
commendation, the other was also; if one was rebuked, the other was likewise; if one was punished, the other was also; still it would be true that they might learn absolutely different things. For the one might learn, whenever it was commended, not to become proud; every time it was rebuked to humble itself under the admonition; every time it was punished to profit by the suffering. The other might learn, when it was commended, to become arrogant; when it was rebuked, to harbor resentment; whenever it was punished to store up secret anger. So also with you. If you had loved men, then perhaps life’s earnestness had taught you not to be vociferous, but to be silent, and when you were in distress like one at sea, and saw no land, then at least not to drag others into your distress. Perhaps it taught you to smile, at least as long as you believed that someone sought an explanation, a testimony in your appearance. Life might then perhaps have afforded you the melancholy gladness of seeing others succeed where you had not succeeded; the consolation that you had gained through stifling the shriek of anguish in your heart, so that it might not be disturbing to others. Why did you not learn this?
Since you did not learn it, we cannot pay attention to what you say. We are not judging you because you doubt; for doubt is a cunning passion, and it may well be very difficult to free one’s self from its snares. What we do demand of the doubter is that he shall be silent. He certainly realized that doubt did not make him happy; why then confide to others what will make them equally unhappy? And what does he gain by telling them? He loses himself, and makes others unhappy. He loses himself, whereas by keeping silent he might perhaps have found peace, had he preferred quietly to bear his pain in solitude rather than to become noisily important in the sight of men by coveting the honor and distinction so many desire— of doubting, or at least of having doubted. Doubt is a profound and cunning passion, but he whose soul it did not grip so intensely that he became speechless, only falsely imputes this passion to himself; what he says, therefore, is not only untrue in itself, but especially so on his lips. Consequently, we pay no attention to him.
The expectation of faith, then, is victory. The doubt which comes from without does not disturb it; for it dishonors itself by speaking. Still doubt is crafty. In its secret way it sneaks about a man, and when faith expects victory, then it whispers that this expectation is a delusion. “An expectation whose time and place are not determined, is only an illusion; thus one can always continue to expect; such an expectation is an enchanted circle from which the soul cannot escape.” Certainly the soul, in the expectation of faith, is prevented from falling out of itself
into the manifold; it remains in itself; but it would be the greatest evil which could befall a man if he escaped from this circle. From this it by no means follows that the expectation of faith is a delusion. It is true that he who expects something in particular, may be disappointed; but this does not happen to the believer. When the world begins its sharp testing, when the storms of life snap the vigorous expectation of youth, when existence, which seems so loving and so gentle, transforms itself into a merciless proprietor who demands everything back, everything which he gave so that he could take it back, then the believer looks with sadness and pain at himself and at life, but he still says: ”There is an expectation which all the world can not take from me; it is the expectation of faith, and this is victory. I am not deceived; for what the world seemed to promise me, that promise I still did not believe that it would keep; my expectation was not in the world, but in God. This expectation is not deceived; even in this moment I feel its victory more
gloriously and more joyfully than all the pain of loss. If I lost this expectation, then would everything be lost. Now I have still conquered, conquered through my expectation, and my expectation is victory.”
Was it not so in life? If there was a man to whom you felt yourself so strongly attracted that you dared say: I trust him, is it not true that when everything went in accordance with your wish, or if not entirely so, yet so that you could easily bring it into agreement with your ideas, then you trusted him, as others also trusted him; but when the inexplicable happened, the incomprehensible, then the others fell away, or rather (not to confuse the language) they showed that they never had trusted him? Not so with you. You felt that it was not on the fact that you could explain what happened, that you had based your faith; for then it would have been based on your insight, and far from being resignation, it would rather have been self-confidence. It seemed to you that it would be a disgrace to give it up; for as you had believed that these words from your mouth: I trust him, had signified something different from their meaning when others said them, so you felt it impossible that the change could bring you to act as did the others, unless your faith originally had not signified more than theirs. You continued to trust. Perhaps you did wrong in doing so; not in trusting, not in trusting in this way, but in trusting a man in this way. Perhaps the inexplicable was easily explained; perhaps there was a distressing certainty that witnessed so strongly that your belief became only a beautiful conceit that you ought rather to give up. We do not know. Still we do know this, that if in this faith you forgot that there was a higher faith, then it was, in spite of its beauty, only a means of perdition to you. If, on the other hand, you put your faith in God, how could your faith then ever be changed into a beautiful conceit which you ought rather to relinquish? Could He be changed with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning? Should He not be faithful, through whom every man who is so is faithful? Should not He be without deceit in whom you yourself had faith? Could there ever be an explanation which could explain anything other than that He is truthful and keeps His promises? And yet we see that men forget this.
When everything succeeds for them, when they see good days, when in a wonderful manner they feel themselves in harmony with everything about them, then they believe; in their gladness they do not always forget to thank God; for every man will readily be thankful for the good he receives, but every man’s heart is also weak enough to wish to determine for itself what the good is. When everything changes, when sorrow replaces gladness, then they fall away, they lose their faith, or rather, for let us not confuse the language, they show that they never had it. Do not behave in this way, my hearer. When you caught yourself being changed by everything changing about you, then you said: “I confess that now I see that what I called my faith was only a elusion. That the highest one man can do in his relation to another is to believe him; that what is even higher, more beautiful and more blessed than language can describe— to believe God— that I have presumptuously imagined myself to have done; to all the rest of my gladness I have also added this; and yet my faith, as I now see, was only a fleeting emotion, a reflection of my earthly happiness. But I will not edify myself by presumptuous, meaningless speech; I will not say that I have lost faith, will not lay the blame upon the world, nor upon men, nor even accuse God.” In this way, my hearer, you sought to halt yourself when you would go astray in sorrow; you did not harden your heart; you were not foolish enough to wish to imagine that if particular things had not happened, then you would have preserved your faith, nor wretched enough to wish to seek fellowship with this wisdom. Lo, therefore you won, even if slowly, again to the expectation of faith. Then when you failed in everything, when what you had slowly built up was blown away in a moment, and you must toilsomely begin again from the beginning; when your arm was weak, your step wavering, then you still held fast to your expectation of faith, which is victory. You did not even reveal it to others lest they mock you, because in all your wretchedness you still expected victory, in your inmost heart you still hid your expectation. “The joyful days are indeed able to embellish my faith,” you said. “I adorn it with the garlands of gladness, but prove it I cannot; the gloomy times can indeed bring tears to the eyes and sorrow to the heart, but they still cannot deprive me of my faith.” And even if the adversity continued, your soul became gentle. “It is still beautiful,” you said, “that God will not thus appear to me in the visible things; we were separated in order to meet again; I still could not wish always to be a child, who every day requires proofs, signs, and wonderful deeds. If I continued to be a child, then I could not love with all my might and with all my soul. Now we are separated, we do not meet daily, only secretly we meet in the triumphant moment of believing expectation.”
The expectation of faith is then victory, and this expectation cannot be disappointed unless a man disappoints himself by depriving himself of expectation; like the one who foolishly supposed that he had lost faith, or foolishly supposed that some individual had taken it from him; or like the one who sought to delude himself with the idea that there was some special power which could deprive a man of his faith; who found satisfaction in the vain thought that this was precisely what had happened to him, found joy in frightening others with the assurance that some such power did exist that made sport of the noblest in a man, and empowered the one who was thus tested to ridicule others.
Yet perhaps one or another says: “This speech is indeed coherent and consistent; but through it one gets no farther, and insofar it is a foolish and meaningless speech.” One gets no farther. Could a man then wish to get farther than to conquer? Then he must also lose the victory. Would it be so foolish and insignificant a thing for a man really to become conscious of whether he had faith or not? But when I say: I believe, then it can only too often be very obscure to me what I really mean by that. Perhaps I am mistaken, perhaps I am only creating a conception about the future; perhaps I am wishing, hoping, perhaps longing for something, desiring, coveting; perhaps I am certain about the future, and when I am, it seems to me that I believe, although I really do not. On the other hand if I confront myself with the question: Do you expect victory? then every obscurity becomes more difficult. Then I perceive that not only does he not believe who expects absolutely nothing, but also he who expects some special thing, or he who bases his expectation on something special. And should this not be of importance, since not until a man is finished with the future can he be entirely and undividedly in the present? But only by conquering it, is one finished with the future, and faith does exactly this, for its expectation is victory. Every time then that I catch my soul not expecting victory, I know that I do not believe; when I know that, then I know too what I have to do; for it is by no means an easy matter to believe.
The first condition for my coming to believe, is that I become conscious of whether I do believe or not. For that reason we so often fall into error because we look for an assurance of our expectation, instead of an assurance of faith that we believe. The believer demands no proof for his expectation; “for,” he savs, “if I could assume something to be a proof, then, when it proved my expectation, it would also disprove it. My soul is not insensible to the joy or pain of the individual, but, God be praised, it is not thus that the individual can prove or disprove the expectation of faith. God be praised! Nor can time prove or disprove it; for faith expects an eternity. And today on the first day of the year, when the thought about the future thrusts itself upon me, I will not satiate my soul with various expectations, nor dissipate it in manifold ideas; I will rally it, and, sound and happy, if possible, go forth to meet the future. It brings what it will and must bring; many expectations disappointed, many fulfilled, so it will happen, as experience has taught me; but there is an expectation which will not be disappointed; experience has not taught me this, nor has it authority to deny it; it is the expectation of faith, and this is victory.”
There is a little word sufficiently familiar to the congregations even if not always heeded by them; little and insignificant it seems, and yet so rich in content; quiet and yet so moving, calm and yet so filled with longing. It is the word: at last; for many of the sacred collects which are read in our churches end in this way: “and at last be saved.” The older man among us, who stands almost at the end, looks back in his thought over the way he has traveled; he remembers the course of events; the shadowy figures from the past again become living before him; he is overwhelmed by the varied content of what he has lived to see; he is weary and he says: “and so at last be saved.” The younger, who even now stands at the beginning of the way, looks ahead in thought over the long road. In thought he experiences what is to come: the painful bereavements, the quiet concerns, the sad longings, the fearful anxieties; he is wearied at the thought and says: “and so at last be saved.” It would indeed be a great gift if a man could rightly use this word; but no man learns this from another, but severally only from and through God. Therefore will we commit to Thee, Father in heaven, our heart and our thought, so that our soul may never be so ensnared by the joys of life or by its sorrows, that it forgets this liberating word; but so that it may not too often be impatience and inner disquiet which bring this word to our lips; so that when, like a faithful friend, it has accompanied us through all the many relations of life, has accommodated itself to us, yet without being false to itself, has been our consolation, our hope, our gladness, our cause of rejoicing; has sounded to us solemnly and inspiringly, softly and soothingly; has spoken to us warningly and admonishingly, cheerfully and invitingly; that then our soul in its last hour may be carried away from the world on this word, as it were, to that place where we shall understand its full significance. So we may understand that the same God who by His hand led us through the world, now withdraws it and opens His embrace to receive the longing soul. Amen.
The Expectation of Faith – link