October 17, 2002

Samuel Johnson wrote a series of sermons for his friend John Taylor. One of them deals with trust in God. Trust in God is an essential part of the Christian life. But suppose that a man does not feel trust. Ought he to try to deceive himself into thinking that he does feel it? Ought he to try to manufacture feelings of trust by sheer will-power? Johnson's answer is that he ought to behave as if he did trust God, and that means obeying God. He who obeys will find sooner or later that he does trust. "This constant and devout practice is both the effect, and Cause, of confidence in God. Trust in God is to be obtained only by repentance, obedience, and supplication, not by nourishing in our hearts a confused idea of the goodness of God, or a firm persuasion that we are in a state of grace." A problem for Johnson was that, although he had no trouble seeing that his attitude toward God ought to be one of trust and dependency, his constant struggle since infancy with his physical disabilities had instilled in him a strong habit of self-reliance and rejection of help from others. Habit and theory were thus at constant war. He also found it difficult to participate in public worship, especially when it involved sermons, since he often knew more about the sermon subject than the preacher, and had to resist the impulse to contradict him. Public prayer was less of a difficulty, and private prayer still less. - Bate's biography of Samuel Johnson

If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

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