by Herman Witsius
I. HAVING introduced ourselves to the subject, by saying as much as seemed necessary to our purpose, respecting the Authors and the Authority of the Creed, and also respecting Fundamental Articles in general, let us now proceed to take a nearer view of the several articles which this summary contains; beginning in this Dissertation with the expression, I BELIEVE. This single phrase supplies a copious subject of discourse. It comprises four topics, and those, too, of very great moment. 1st, The ACT of believing itself, or SAVING FAITH. 2dly, The special APPROPRIATION of that act to the mind of every Christian, so that each believer believes for himself. It is not said, WE BELIEVE, but I BELIEVE. 3dly, The CONSCIOUSNESS of that act, by which every believer may and ought to be conscious and assured of his own faith. 4thly, The PROFESSION with the mouth, of that faith which dwells and operates in the heart. We shall illustrate each of these in order.
II. SAVING FAITH, the nature of which we are now about to explain, is not any one particular act or habit of the soul; nor ought it to be limited to any one faculty of the human mind. It is complex, and consists of various acts; which, without the least confusion, pervade one another, and, by a delightful co-operation, mutually promote and assist each other. It implies a change of the whole man. It is the source of every part of the spiritual life. It is, in fine, the holy energy and activity of the whole soul, exercising itself towards God in Christ. The entire extent of this principle, therefore, can hardly be distinctly comprehended under any one conception.
III. Let none consider it strange, that we include so many ingredients under the name of one Christian grace. As when men speak of life, they intend by that word a principle, which, diffusing itself through the whole soul and its various faculties, communicates its virtue also to the body, and extends its influence to all the actions of the living person; so when we speak of faith, which is a most fertile source of every part of the spiritual life, we understand by this term, a principle which pervades all the faculties of the soul, and is the proper mean of uniting them to Christ, and of thus quickening, and making them holy, and happy.
IV. Many things, both natural and moral, are al most universally allowed to extend themselves through the whole soul, and not to admit of being restricted to any one faculty. In things natural, we have an instance in Free-will, or Free-choice;* which, as choice is referred principally to the understanding, as free, rather to the will: so that, as Bernard somewhere speaks, "man is his own free-man, with respect to his "will; his own judge, with respect to his reason." In things moral, we may mention the divine image and original righteousness; which are to be viewed as residing neither in the understanding only, nor in the will only, but as adorning each of these faculties.
V. Would not every difficulty be removed, and would not the whole controversy which is agitated among Divines with regard to the seat of faith, be settled, were we to deny, as we can justly do, that the understanding and the will are really distinct, either from the soul, or from one another? What else is the understanding, but the soul understanding and knowing? What is the will, but the soul willing and desiring? We must by no means consider the soul as a substance which is brutish and irrational in itself, and becomes intelligent and rational only in consequence of some other thing being superadded to it. As to the notion of those who allege that the understanding is derived from the soul by a kind of emanation, it is scarcely possible to conceive how this can take place. If the soul, in its own proper and formal nature, does not include the power of reasoning, it cannot produce it; for it is vain to expect from a cause, that which it neither formally nor eminently contains. But if the soul possesses, of itself, the power of reasoning, there is no necessity for some other faculty being superadded to that power, of which the soul is thus already possessed. The same remarks apply to the will. It is not really distinct from the soul, any more than the understanding. The will is the soul itself, so far as the soul is a substance which God has endowed with an original capacity to desire what is good.
As both these faculties are formally, not really or essentially, distinct from the soul, so they are only formally distinct from one another. If the will be so separate from the understanding as, considered in itself, to be blind, it is impossible to show in what manner it can perceive, and thus rationally desire, an object which the understanding exhibits as good. For what reason, let me ask, should we make a real difference betwixt these two powers? Is it because their objects are different? The object of both is, in fact, the same, namely, a true good; though in the manner of considering it there is a diversity,—while the understanding contemplates the good as true, and the will desires the same true object, as it is good. And is there not a far greater difference betwixt the objects of the understanding, as a speculative and as a practical faculty; which, however, philosophers generally agree in regarding as one and the same power of the mind?—Is it because their acts are different? But every diversity of acts does not infer a diversity of power. Simple apprehension, surely, differs from judging and reasoning; which are, nevertheless, acts of the same faculty. Since it appears, then, that the faculties of understanding and will cannot be separated from each other, let it not be thought strange, that we should consider faith as subsisting in both.
VI. It seems proper, in the mean time, to remark that, amongst the various acts of faith which we are about to describe, there is one which holds the principal place, and in which, as it unites us to Christ and justifies us, we apprehend the essence and formal nature of faith to consist. This must be carefully attended to, particularly in the matter of justification; lest several expressions of love which, in different ways, are involved in the exercise of faith, should be rashly numbered among the causes of our justification.
VII. It must also be kept in view, that several things which, for the sake of accuracy, we shall distinctly and particularly explain, are, in various forms, mutually interwoven in the exercise of faith. Whilst the whole soul is exerting itself in this work of God, many operations are, conjunctly, and without an adherence to any certain method, directed towards God and Christ; which the believer earnestly engaged in the work itself, has neither leisure, nor in many instances inclination, nor sometimes even the power, to arrange distinctly in their proper order. That we may understand, however, the more thoroughly, the whole nature and exercise of faith, it is proper for us to attend to its natural progress.
VIII. The first attainment which faith includes or supposes, is the KNOWLEDGE of the truths believed. This appears, in opposition to the absurd doctrine of Popish doctors, 1st, From express passages of holy writ, which make mention of faith in such terms as manifestly intimate, that knowledge is involved in its nature and exercise. 2dly, From the very nature of faith itself, which unquestionably signifies an assent given to truth which God has revealed, and therefore necessarily presupposes the knowledge of these two things: l. That God has revealed some truth: 2. What it is, to which it assents, as a truth divinely revealed. It is absurd to say, that a person assents to any truth of which he is utterly ignorant, and respecting which he does not know that any testimony worthy of credit exists. 3dly, From the manner in which faith is produced in the elect This is done, externally, by the preaching and hearing of the Gospel, which reveals what ought to be believed, and manifests the truth to every man's conscience;c and, internally, by the teaching of God the Father. If faith, then, is generated in the heart by means of instruction, both external and internal, it must certainly be founded in knowledge; for knowledge is the proper and immediate effect of instruction. 4thly, From the natural consequence of faith, to wit, the confession and vindication of the truth.e It is impossible that this can take place without knowledge. Hilary has well said, "No one can either express what he knows not, or believe what he cannot express."
IX. It must indeed be acknowledged, that, owing to the darkness of our minds in the present state, many truths are unknown even to the most enlightened; and many are believed with an implicit faith, by those, in particular, that are babes in Christ, young and inexperienced. Christians of this description, hold, in general, the whole Scripture as the infallible standard of all truth, while it contains many points of which they are ignorant; and they embrace the leading doctrines of Christianity, in which many truths are concentrated, that are evidently deducible from them, and which, at least in their foundation, they believe. The Apostle John, accordingly, affirms concerning the faithful, that they "know all things," because, through the teachings of the Spirit, they have learned that foundation of foundations, to which all saving truths are referred, and from which they are deduced. I will go further. It is possible that one, to whom God, who is sovereign in the distribution of his blessings, has allotted a scanty portion of knowledge, may yet be remarkably strong in faith, and even prepared to suffer martyrdom. From this, however, it by no means follows, that faith is better defined by ignorance than by knowledge; or that those act a laudable part, who, contrary to the injunction of Scripture, cherish ignorance, among the people, as the mother of faith and of devotion. No one can at all believe a doctrine, of which he is entirely ignorant; and all are bound to exert their best endeavours, that their faith may not be implicit, but as distinct as possible; which becometh those who are "filled with all knowledge."h The more distinctly any person perceives, in the light of the Spirit, a truth which God has revealed, and the more clearly he discerns the rays of divinity shining in it, the more firmly will he give credit to that truth. Those very martyrs, who were uninformed respecting other matters, saw most clearly and distinctly, that the truths for which they did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives, were most certain and divine; though possibly they were incapable of reasoning at great length in their defence.
X. Further, the things which it is necessary for a man to know in order to his becoming a believer, are, in general, the divinity of the Scriptures, into which faith must ultimately be resolved; more especially, those points that relate to the obtaining of salvation in Christ; which may be summarily reduced to these three heads. 1st, That you know that by sin you have become alienated from the life of God, and have come short of his glory; and that it is impossible that either yourself, or an angel from heaven, or any creature in the universe, nay, that even all creatures united, can extricate you from this abyss of misery, and restore you to a state of felicity. 2dly, That you know the Lord Jesus Christ as "full of grace and truth;"k besides whom there is no other name given under heaven, by which we can be saved; and in the knowledge of whom, consists eternal life.m 3dly, That you know that, in order to your obtaining salvation in Christ, it is necessary for you to be united to Christ by the Spirit and by faith; and to surrender yourself to him, not only to be justified, but also to be sanctified, and to be governed by his sovereign authority, "proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
XI. To knowledge must be added, in the second place, ASSENT; which is that act of faith, by which a man receives and acknowledges as true, those doctrines which he knows; receiving the testimony of God, and thus setting to his seal that God is true. Assent is principally founded on the infallible veracity of God, testifying concerning himself and his Son.p On this testimony, delivered in the Scriptures, and diffusing all around the rays of its divinity, the believer no less firmly relies, than if he had been immediately present at the revelation of all those doctrines. When the soul, enlightened by the Spirit, beholds those divine truths, and discerns in them a certain God-like excellency,* and a most beautiful harmony and inseparable connexion, she cannot withhold her assent from truth recommending itself by so invincible evidence; but embraces for certain that which she thus knows, with as little doubt or hesitation as if she had seen it with her own eyes, or handled it with her own hands, or had been caught up to the third heaven and heard it immediately from the mouth of God himself. Whatever may be the murmurings of the carnal mind, or whatever cavils vain sophists may urge, the soul, though perhaps she may not be prepared for refuting every objection, persists, however, in embracing and confessing the truth; which she has seen too clearly, and heard too certainly from the mouth of God, ever to allow herself to be drawn away from it, by any sophistical arguments whatever. I have not followed after cunningly devised fables, says the soul, when I believed the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; but, in the Spirit, was an eye-witness of his majesty, and heard his voice from heaven. Thus faith is accompanied with ὑποστασις, substance, ἐλεγχος, evidence, and πληροφορια, full assurance. It will not be unprofitable, to offer a few remarks on the meaning of each of these words.
XII. Πληροφορια, full assurance, is an expression which occurs more than once in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of πληροφορια συνεσεως, "the full assurance of understanding;" πληροφορια της ἐλπιδος "the full assurance of hope;" and πληροφορια πιστεως, "the full assurance of faith." According to its etymology, this word denotes a carrying with full sail; the metaphor being taken, probably, from ships when their sails are filled with favourable gales. Thus it may here signify the vehement inclination of the mind, impelled by the Holy Spirit, towards an assent to the truth perceived. Hesychius, a most excellent master of the Greek language, explains it by βεθαιοτης, stability. In this sense, πληροφορια πιστιως, "the full assurance of faith," is precisely of the same import with στερεωμα της εἰς χριστον πιστεως, "the stedfastness of faith in Christ." The Apostle seems to use these two expressions as synonymous; and, in the gospel of Luke, πεπληροφορημενα πραγματα, are "things which are most surely believed."x So firm is the assent which the believer ought to give to divine truth.
XIII. Most emphatical, also, is the term ὑποστασις, hypostasis, or substance, which the Apostle employs when speaking of faith.y The Latin language furnishes no word that can sufficiently express its whole energy. 1st, It denotes the existence, or, as some of the ancients expressed it, the extantia, the standing out of a thing; in which sense philosophers say that the properties and circumstances of things have a hypostasis, that is, really exist, and are not mere figments of our own imagination. Accordingly, faith causes the thing hoped for, though not yet actually existing, to exist in the mind of the believer; who assents as firmly to the promises of God, as if he saw the blessings promised already present. Chrysostome had this idea in his mind, when he explained the words of the Apostle thus; "The resurrection has not yet taken place, "nor doth it yet exist in itself; but hope," (we may say faith,) "gives it a place and an existence in our "mind."* The Greek Scholiast, whose words are quoted by Beza, has very happily expressed the same idea, thus: "Since those things which are the objects of hope, have as yet no existence, and are not yet present; faith, so to speak, becomes their substance and essence, because it makes them, in some sense, to exist and to be present, by believing that they are." 2dly, Ὑποστασις signifies also a basis or foundation; in which sense, Diodorus Siculus, cited by Gomar, speaks of "the foundation of the sepulchre."* Calvin seems also to favour this signification of the word, when he says, "Faith is the hypostasis, that is, the support or possession, on which we fix our foot."† 3dly, It denotes continuance, or that constancy which will in no degree yield to the attack of an enemy. Thus Plutarch says,—"None of the enemy keeping the field, but all betaking themselves to flight;"‡ and Polybius, in his description of Horatius Cocles, "They feared not so much his strength, as his resolution and constancy," which scorned to give way.§ And, indeed, there is something in faith, which nobly withstands all the assaults of temptation, and preserves it from being moved away from its assent to the truth which it has once discerned. Now, if we join all these ideas together, we shall assert, that faith is so firm an assent to divine truth, that it sets before us the objects of a far distant futurity, as if they were present; and becomes the support of the soul, upon which it stedfastly fixes its foot, yielding to no assault.
XIV. Nor must we omit to mention that the Apostle calls faith ἐλεγχος, elenchus, the evidence of things not seen. This word denotes two things: 1st, A certain demonstration. "An elenchus," says Aristotle, is that which cannot possibly be otherwise, but must necessarily be as we affirm."* 2dly, Conviction of mind, arising from such a demonstration of the truth; as Aristophanes says, "You cannot convince me of that."† Faith, therefore, if it is ἐλεγχος, an elenchus, implies a firm conviction of mind, founded on a clear and infallible demonstration of the truth. This demonstration of the truth, it must be observed, rests upon the testimony of God, who cannot possibly deceive, from which faith reasons thus; "Whatever God, who is truth itself, reveals, cannot fail to be most certain, and worthy of all acceptation; although, perhaps, I can neither see it with my eyes, nor fully comprehend it in my mind."
XV. All these illustrations serve to show, that the assent included in faith, has a strength and an assurance, which no certainty of mathematical demonstration can surpass. Those, therefore, who contend that falsehood may be found in a divine faith, express themselves in a manner extremely unguarded; since the proper object of faith is the testimony of God, which is necessarily true, and superior in certainty to all^ demonstration; and since they can specify no passage of holy writ, in which any thing not true, is proposed to the faith of mankind.
XVI. Another difficulty, however, must here be removed. If faith is so firm and unwavering an assent, does it follow that those are destitute of true faith, who sometimes stagger even with regard to fundamental truths? I answer, 1st, We are now describing faith, considered theoretically, as a Christian grace to the perfection of which we all ought to aspire, not as it is sometimes found in its subject. 2dly, It is possible that waverings, staggerings, doubtings, and even inclinations towards the opposite errors, may at times arise in the minds of the most excellent believers, especially when they are exposed to some violent temptation; as is manifest from the waverings of Asaph, Jeremiah, and others, respecting the providence of God. But these are so many defects of faith, arising from the weakness of the flesh. 3dly, Faith immediately resists those temptations; it assents not to the suggestions of the devil, or the dictates of the carnal mind; nor doth it ever rest, until, having entered the sanctuary of God, and having received instruction from the Spirit of faith, it is established in the contemplation and acknowledgment of those truths with respect to which it was disposed to waver. There, at last, and no where else, it finds rest to the sole of its foot.
XVII. The natural consequence of this assent, is the love of the truth thus known and acknowledged. This is the third act of faith, and of this the Apostle speaks when he says; "They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved." Since the saying truths of the Gospel afford a bright manifestation of the glory of God, as not only his veracity in his testimony, but also his wisdom, holiness, righteousness, goodness, power, and other divine perfections, shine forth in them,—the believing soul, contemplating these amiable perfections of the Deity in those truths, cannot fail to burn with an ardent love for them, to exult in them, and to glorify God. Hence the believer is said to "give glory to God," and to15 "love the praise (the glory) of God," Above all, the soul delights in the fundamental truth respecting Christ. This it loves as an inestimable treasure, as a pearl of unparalleled value. This to believers is a price, that is, most precious. We admit that, strictly speaking, love is to be distinguished from faith; yet the workings of these two graces are so interwoven with each other, that we can neither explain nor exercise faith, without some operations of love intermingling, such as that of which we now treat This remark has been formerly made by some of the greatest Divines; as, not to mention others at present, by Chamier* and Wendelin.† Each of these writers avails himself of the authority of Augustine, and makes the following quotation from him: "What is it to believe in God? It is by believing to love him."‡ See, also, Le Blanc, that celebrated Divine of Sedan, in his learned Theses.§ If any one, however, is disposed, agreeably to the language of the Schools, to denominate this love, an imperate|| act of faith, we shall not contend with him; provided it is understood that the believing soul, while exercising faith, cannot but sincerely love the doctrines of the Gospel, known and acknowledged, as they are in Jesus, rejoicing that such things are true, and delighting in the truth; and is thus very differently affected from devils and ungodly men, who disrelish those doctrines which they know to be true, and wish that they were false.
XVIII. Hence arises a fourth act of faith, A HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER CHRIST. The believer, while he knows, acknowledges, and loves the truths of salvation, cannot but wish that all those doctrines which are true in Christ, may also be true to him, and that, according to these truths, and by means of them, himself maybe sanctified and blessed. It is his earnest desire that, having been alienated from the life of God through sin, he may be freely justified, and thus possess a sure title to the glory of God; and that his justification may be sealed by sanctification. This is the hungering and thirsting after righteousness mentioned Matth. 5:6. How is it possible, that the man who believes and feels that in himself he is extremely miserable,—who is fully persuaded that he can be rescued from his misery by no creature either in heaven or on earth,—who sees at the same time a fulness of salvation in Christ,—who is assured that without union to Christ he cannot be saved, who cordially loves the truth concerning the fulness of salvation in Christ alone and in communion with him;—how is it possible, I say, that such a person should not seriously and ardently desire to have Christ dwelling in him,—that he should not seek and pant after him, and have so vehement a longing as can be satisfied with nothing short of the possession of the object desired; as hunger and thirst are allayed only by meat and drink?
XIX. This hunger and thirst is succeeded by A RECEIVING OF CHRIST for justification, sanctification, and complete salvation. This is the fifth act of faith, and indeed its formal and principal act. Our heavenly Father freely offers his Son, and the Lord Jesus Christ freely offers himself, with all his benefits and the fulness which dwells in him to the sick and weary soul, saying; "Behold me, behold me."d The soul, now conscious of her misery, discerning also, with joy and hope, a fulness of salvation in Christ, and earnestly desiring communion with him, cannot fail, with the utmost alacrity, to apprehend and receive the inestimable blessing thus exhibited, and by receiving to appropriate, or make it her own. By this act, Christ becomes, so to speak, the peculiar property of the believing soul. All that belongs to Christ being exhibited together with him, the believer claims to himself whatever is Christ's, and especially his righteousness, which is the foundation of salvation. By apprehending Christ in this manner, he is united to him; and being united to Christ, he is considered as having done and suffered those very things which Christ, as his Surety, did and suffered in his stead. When this is rightly observed, it is easy to understand how we are justified by faith in Christ.
XX. The Scripture more than once describes this act of faith in express terms. Remarkable is the passage in John 1:12. where "as many as received him," is equivalent to "them that believe on his name;" and in Coloss. 2:6. "As ye have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord," &c. To these may be added what the Lord very emphatically says in Isaiah, "Let him take hold (fast hold) of my strength," or of my tower, so as not to let it go. The words החןיק, to take fast hold of, and שלח to let go, are opposed to each other.
XXI. But, as the soul, while it thus apprehends Christ for salvation, at the same time RESTS and DEPENDS upon him, the exercise of faith is frequently explained by this metaphor also; as in the expression, "By thee have I been holden up;" and again, They stay themselves upon the God of Israel,"h assuming the appearance of a genuine faith. The same thing is expressed by another Hebrew wordy namely, נשען, as in Isaiah 50:10.—"and stay himself upon his God." If you are disposed nicely to distinguish this act of the believing soul, thus resting on Christ and staying itself upon him, from the reception of Christ, and to consider it as posterior to the receiving of him, I shall not vehemently oppose you. We may, therefore, call this the sixth act of faith.
XXII. This appears to us to be very significantly expressed by the Hebrew term האמין, which properly signifies to cast one's self upon the veracity and power of another, in order to be carried; as an infant casts itself, for this purpose, into the arms of its nurse. It is derived from אמן, which is properly to bear, to carry; and from which comes אומן a bearer, a nursing-father. "Carry them in thy bosom, as האומן a nursing-father beareth the sucking-child." Hence also חאמן, to be carried: "Thy daughters תאמנה shall be nursed (carried) at thy side," in thine arms: for it is said in a parallel passage, "Ye shall be borne upon her sides."m Christ carries believers, as nurslings,* in his bosom;n and Moses, too, makes use of this figure: "The Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son;" "underneath are the everlasting arms."p According to the natural signification of the word, then, חאמין is to give one's self to Christ to be carried, and so to throw one's self into his bosom and his arms; by which similitude the activity of the believing soul towards Christ is most elegantly expressed.
XXIII. Farther, when the believer thus receives Christ and rests upon him, he considers him not merely as a SAVIOUR, but also as a LORD. He receives a whole Christ, and acquiesces in him in all those characters which he sustains: but he is not less a Lord than a Saviour; nay, he cannot be a Saviour, unless he be also a Lord. Our salvation consists in this, that we belong not to the devil, nor to ourselves, nor to any other creature, but are the property of Christ the Lord. Faith, therefore, receives "Christ Jesus, the LORD." Christ offers himself as a Husband to the soul, only upon this condition, that she acknowledge him likewise as her Lord.r The soul, accordingly, when she throws herself into the arms of Jesus, renounces her own will, and yields herself up to the sovereign will of Jesus, to be carried whithersoever he pleases. Hence faith includes an humble surrender and giving up of one's self, by which the believer, suitably to the sacred obligations under which he is laid, yields himself wholly to Christ, who is freely given him, saying, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." It is said of the Christians of Macedonia, that "they gave themselves to the Lord;" which they seem to have done nearly in the same form with Amasai and his companions, when they gave themselves to David, saying, "Thine are we, O David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse."u This surrender that we make of ourselves to Christ, which we number as the seventh act of faith, is a fruitful and permanent source of all true obedience; which, on this account, is denominated "the obedience of faith," that is, an obedience flowing from faith.
XXIV. After the believer has thus received Christ, and surrendered himself to him, he may and ought to conclude, that Christ, with all his saving benefits, is his, and that he will surely bless him; for faith reasons infallibly in this manner: "Christ offers himself as a complete Saviour to all that are labouring and heavy-laden, hungering and thirsting, to all that receive him, and are disposed to surrender themselves to him: But I am labouring and heavy-laden, hungering and thirsting, &c. Therefore, Christ hath offered himself to me; he is now mine, and I am his, nor shall any thing ever separate me from his love." This is the eighth act of faith, a reflex act, arising from the consciousness of justifying faith.
XXV. Hence arises, in fine, the holy CONFIDENCE of a soul conscious of its union to Christ by faith, a confidence accompanied with tranquillity, joy, peace, a bold defiance of every enemy and every danger, glorying in the Lord, and glorying in adversity. Whilst the soul leans with pleasure upon her beloved, with stretched out arms casting herself upon him, or with her elbow sweetly reclining upon him, (for, according to the Talmudists, מרפק signifies the arm-pit,) assured of mutual communion and mutual love, whilst she sings, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is towards me;"—she piously exults and delights in her Lord, is filled with his love, "rejoices with joy unspeakable and full of glory,"z sweetly melts by the glowing flames of reciprocal love, and, in fine, triumphs in hope of the glory of God.
XXVI. Let us now briefly recapitulate, and exhibit in one view, the particulars which have thus been stated at large. Faith includes the knowledge of the mystery of God and of Christ in the light of grace, and the full assent of the mind to the truth of this mystery on account of the authority of God by whom it is attested. Nor is this all; the believer also loves the truth, exults in it and glorifies God; he is ardently desirous of fellowship with the Saviour, that those doctrines which are true in Christ may be true to himself for his salvation; consequently, when Christ is offered to him by the word and Spirit, he receives him with the greatest alacrity of soul, rests and leans upon him, surrenders and yields up himself to him; after which, he now glories in him as his own, and delights in him exceedingly, reclining under the shadow of the tree of life, and satiating himself with its delicious fruits. This is "the faith of God's elect," an invaluable gift, the bond of our union to Christ, the scale of Paradise, the key of the ark of the Covenant by which its treasures are unlocked, the permanent spring of a holy, tranquil, and blessed life.
XXVII. If any one apprehends that he speaks more correctly, when he so distinguishes these acts of faith as to say, that some of them precede faith strictly so called, as the knowledge of revealed truth, to which some excellent Divines add the pious inclination of the will towards God; that others pertain to the very form and essence of faith, as assent, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, the reception of Christ as a Saviour and Lord, and the flight of the soul to him for refuge; and that others are accidental, and belong only to a strong and established faith, to wit, the assurance that Christ is now mine, and a most delightful leaning upon him as mine, joined with exultation and glorying in him;—we see no reason why such a person may not enjoy the accuracy to which he is partial. It is by no means displeasing to us; we only intended to show that all these acts concur in the full exercise of faith.
XXVIII. From what has been said, it is evident, that the faith which is commonly called Historical and Temporary, differs very widely from that saving faith which we have just described. I question, however, the propriety of those terms. A naked assent given to those truths which are contained in the word of God, founded on the authority of God who declares them, without any pious motion of the will, is styled a historical faith. But, since this assent may not only be given to the historical parts of the sacred volume, but extends also to the precepts, doctrines, promises, and threatenings, the character historical applied to this faith, seems to be too confined. Possibly, however, it may be so denominated, in reference to the manner in which it is conversant with its object; for as a person who reads histories of transactions in which he has no concern, barely contemplates them, and is not inwardly moved or affected with them, so those who have merely the faith in question, satisfy themselves with idle speculation about the doctrines taught in the word of God, and do not reduce them to practice. Yet it is not universally true, that histories, even such of them as relate to the most ancient events, or to the affairs of another world, are read without interest, emotion, and application. It would, therefore, be better to call this a theoretical, or speculative faith, or the faith of naked assent.
XXIX. Our Lord calls that a temporary faith, which, besides giving this general assent, rejoices in the truth known and acknowledged, makes profession of it, and gives rise to many emotions in the heart, and actions in the life, which exhibit some appearance of piety; but continues only for a time, while the external circumstances of the church are altogether prosperous, and fails, when the storms of persecution assail her. This is aptly denominated by our Lord temporary. But it may possibly happen, and, indeed, it is frequently found, that while the state of the church is tranquil and flourishing, men may persevere to the end of their life in this profession of faith, and imaginary joy, and in such a course of life as they account sufficient for the purposes of piety. The denomination of temporary faith, therefore, which our Lord gave to the faith only of apostates, is with less propriety applied to this faith, which, though not saving, is yet abiding. It would be better perhaps to call it a presumptuous faith.
XXX. It is of importance, however, to our consolation, to know distinctly, by what means this faith may be distinguished from a true, living, and saving faith, which it boldly counterfeits. First, there is no small difference as to the ACKNOWLEDGMENT of revealed truths. This presumptuous faith assents to them as truths: but, being destitute of the true light of the Spirit, it does not see the native beauty of those truths, or their excellence as they are in Jesus; it does not discern the perfections of God shining brightly in them; nor does it form a right estimate of their value. When it first begins to know them, it is affected with their novelty and extraordinary nature; but it does not burn with an ardent love to them, nor is it much concerned to have them, not merely impressed upon the soul, but also expressed in the disposition and conduct; and, whenever other objects present themselves to the mind, which flatter it with a fair appearance of pleasure or profit, it easily suffers the ideas of those truths which are hostile to that gratification to be obliterated, and almost wishes that there were no such truths, the certainty of which, however reluctantly, it is compelled to admit. But, in genuine faith, the reverse of all this takes place, as we have shown in the seventeenth Section.
XXXI. Secondly, There is a great difference in THE APPLICATION OF THE PROMISES OF THE GOSPEL. A presumptuous faith does not proceed in the right method: it rashly imagines that the salvation promised in the Gospel belongs to itself; and this hasty conclusion is built either upon no foundation at all, or upon a false one. Sometimes the presumptuous, without any self-examination or diligent inquiry into their own character, which they avoid as too irksome and inconvenient an exercise,—foolishly flatter themselves,—arrogantly lay claim to the grace of our Lord, and sleep on securely, indulging this delusive dream, neither inquiring nor disposed to inquire what ground they have for this imagination. Sometimes they lay as a foundation for their confidence, either a preposterous notion respecting the general mercy of God, and some easy method of salvation which they discover in the Gospel-covenant; or an opinion of the sufficiency of their own holiness, because they are not so extremely vicious as the most daring profligates; or their external communion with the Church and attendance on the public worship; or the security of their sleeping conscience, and the soothing fancies of their own dreams, which they regard as the peace of God, and the consolations of the Holy Spirit. By these and the like vanities of their own imagination, they deceive themselves; as if these were sufficient marks of grace. But true believers, impressed with a deep sense of their own wretchedness, panting after the grace of the Lord Jesus, and laying hold upon it with a trembling humility, dare not, however, boast of it as already their own, till after diligent investigation they have discovered certain and infallible evidences of grace in themselves. With profound humility, with a kind of sacred dread, and with a sincere self-denial, they approach to lay hold on the grace of Christ: nor do they conclude that they have obtained it, till they have inquired carefully, first into the marks of grace, and, then, into their own hearts. It is otherwise with the presumptuous in both these respects; for they rashly seize that which is not offered to them in any such order, (since God doth not offer security and joy to sinners, before their mind is affected with sorrow for the sins which they have committed, and roused to a due solicitude regarding salvation;) and, then, they rashly boast of having attained grace, although they cannot make good their pretensions to a participation of the grace of God, by any one satisfactory proof.
XXXII. A third difference consists in the JOY which accompanies or follows both kinds of faith; and this difference is two-fold; 1st, In respect to the origin; 2dly, In respect to the effect of that joy. In presumptuous faith, joy arises, partly, from the novelty and rarity of the things revealed, (for the knowledge of a rare and profound truth delights the understanding, as the enjoyment of a good, the will;) partly, from the vain imagination that the blessings offered in the Gospel belong to themselves; of which, from the common gifts of the Holy Spirit, they have some kind of taste, though very superficial, and, so to speak, affecting only the extremity of their lips. But in living faith, there is a much nobler and more solid joy, springing from the love of those most precious truths, by the knowledge of which, the soul taught of God, justly considers itself inexpressibly blessed;—from a well-founded hope and a certain persuasion of its own spirit, with which the testimony of the Divine Spirit concurs, respecting the present grace and the future glory of God;—and, finally, from a delightful sense of present grace, and a happy anticipation of future glory.
Since there is so wide a difference betwixt the causes of these two kinds of joy, it is not surprising that the effects are also extremely different. The former makes the soul full of itself, leaves it void of the love of God, and by its vain titillation, lulls it still deeper asleep in carnal security. The latter, on the contrary, fills believers with high admiration of God's astonishing and unmerited "kindness towards man," inflames them with love to the most gracious and companionate Jesus, and generates a solicitous care, lest they do any thing unworthy of that unbounded favour and goodness of God, or grieve and offend that Spirit of grace, who hath dealt so mercifully with them.
XXXIII. The fourth difference consists in their FRUITS. A presumptuous faith either plunges men into a profound sleep of security, which they increase by the indulgence of the flesh; or leads to some reformation in their external conduct, and causes them, in a certain degree, to "escape the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" or, when it operates in its most excellent manner, it stirs up some slight and vanishing resolutions and endeavours after a stricter piety. But, even then, it doth not purify the heart; it doth not introduce new principles of holiness; and, whenever either the allurements of the world and the flesh, or some disadvantages attending evangelical religion, assault them with more than ordinary force, they soon become weary of that course of goodness on which they had entered, and return to their sins, like "the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."e By that superficial knowledge which they have received of evangelical truth, and of the good, no less pleasant and profitable than honourable, which the Gospel exhibits,—by this knowledge, faintly imprinted on their minds, they are, indeed, excited to some amendment of life: but, when the attainment of any present good or the avoidance of any imminent evil is in question, those ideas of what is true and good, which the Gospel had suggested to them, are so obliterated, that they prefer the acquisition of a present pleasure or advantage, or an escape from a present impending evil, to all the promises of the Gospel, and to all evangelical piety. A true and living faith produces far more excellent and salutary fruits. It impresses the image of what is good upon the soul in so deep characters, that it esteems nothing more noble or delightful than to make every possible exertion to attain it. It imprints the bright and spotless holiness of the Lord Jesus, in so vivid colours, that the soul, beholding it with the greatest affection, is transformed into its image. It so pathetically represents the love of a dying Saviour, that the believer deems nothing more desirable, than, in return, to live and die to him.g It gives so lively a view, and produces so indelible an impression, of the promised bliss, that, for the sake of that bliss, the soul is prepared to face every danger, and to sustain every suffering. Thus it purifies the very heart, and disposes it to the practice of a sincere and steadfast piety; which is always more lively or more languid, in proportion to the vigour or languor of faith.i
XXXIV. Having thus illustrated the nature of a living faith, and the manner in which it is distinguished from that which is presumptuous, we shall now accomplish what remains to be done with the greater brevity and ease. Let us proceed, then, to what we promised to speak of in the second place, viz. What is intended by the appropriation of this faith to every Christian in particular. We do not say, WE BELIEVE, but I BELIEVE. The principal reasons of this, appear to be the three following. 1st, Because the faith of one cannot avail for the salvation of another; but every individual must be justified by his own faith. We do not deny that the faith of parents is so far profitable to their children, that, on account of it, they are numbered among God's covenant-people, so long as they do not by their conduct give evidence of the contrary. The faith of the parents, however, is not sufficient for the salvation of their children, unless the children themselves be regenerated and united to Christ by the Spirit of grace. To this is usually referred that remarkable passage, Habakkuk 2:4. which some render, "The just shall live by his (own) faith." But I will not dissemble that the relative "his" may properly be applied to Christ, of whom it is said in the preceding verse, "he will surely come, he will not tarry;" so that the meaning may be, by the faith of him, that is, of Christ. This interpretation corresponds with the expression in Isaiah, "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many," where "his knowledge" signifies the knowledge of Christ. This, also, appears to be a richer sense, and more glorifying to Christ. It remains, however, a truth, that every man is justified by his own faith. 2dly, Another reason for the singular number is, that this Summary of faith was framed in the primitive church for this purpose, that they who were about to be baptized, when interrogated with regard to their faith, might return an answer, everyone for himself. It was usual to examine a person who was going to receive baptism, in this manner; "What do you believe?" To which he replied, "I believe in God the Father," &c. 3dly, This reason also may be added, that we cannot give testimony concerning the faith of another with the same certainty as concerning our own faith. Augustine has well said, "Faith resides in our innermost parts; nor does any man see it in another, but every one may see it in himself. Hence it is possible, that it may be counterfeited by artifice, and supposed to be in one who, in reality, is destitute of it. Every one, therefore, sees his own faith in himself."*
XXXV. To proceed now to the third division of the subject; let us inquire in what manner every one may be conscious of his own faith. That it is possible and usual for believers to have in themselves a consciousness of their own faith, Paul teaches us, not only by his example, when he says, "I know whom I have believed," but also by the following exhortation addressed unto all, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves."o This exhortation would be quite nugatory, were it impossible for men, by examining and proving themselves, to attain the knowledge of that which they thus investigate. That this is a possible attainment, he intimates in a manner still more express, by adding, "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?"
XXXVI. Nor is it difficult to understand, how this consciousness of faith may arise in the minds of believers. It is requisite, in the first place, that they be well instructed from the word of God, with respect to the nature of saving faith. Not that it is necessary to burden and perplex the minds of the weak with a multiplicity of marks. Only let the principal and essential acts of a true faith be simply and clearly shown them. Let them be urged to attend to the difference betwixt a strong and a weak faith; betwixt a lively and a languid faith; betwixt a faith which is calm and tranquil, and that which is shaken by numerous temptations. Let them be taught, not only that the faith which is weak, languid, and shaken, is, yet true and genuine; but also, that, when they examine themselves, a weak faith is not to be tried by the idea* of a strong faith; nor a languid by the idea of a lively faith; nor that which is shaken by the idea of that which is tranquil; but that each is to be compared with its own proper idea. This being well considered, let every one examine himself, and see whether he puts forth such acts of faith as those which we have now described. Of this, no one that attends properly to himself can be ignorant. Every man is immediately conscious to himself of those things which he thinks and wills, for the precise reason that he thinks and wills them. Now, faith is, unquestionably, an exercise of the understanding and will.
XXXVII. Some, perhaps, may object, "If it is represented as so easy for one to possess a consciousness of his own faith, how does it happen, that a great number of believers are tormented with harassing doubts and waverings, with respect to this point?" For this, however, several reasons may be assigned. 1st, It often happens that they have either formed to themselves a wrong idea of saving faith, or rashly adopted a mistaken notion of it, which others have incautiously suggested. Thus we have learned by experience, that a considerable number of afflicted souls, have entertained the opinion, that the essence of faith, consists in a firm persuasion, and delightful sense of the love of God, and a full assurance of their own salvation. When, therefore, they could not discover these attainments in themselves, they proceeded, by a rigorous sentence, to expunge their own names from the roll of the faithful. The same persons, however, when better informed about the nature of faith, and when taught that the attainments which we have just mentioned are rather the glorious fruits of an established, than the essential acts of a genuine faith, have gradually returned to greater composure of mind. 2dly, The minds of believers are sometimes agitated by so many storms of temptation, that they do not give, or are even incapable of giving, that attention, which is necessary to distinguish the proper exercises of their own souls. In this condition, they perform every thing in so irregular and desultory a manner, that, so long as the perturbation continues, they cannot clearly discern the state of their own heart, whilst the various thoughts of their mind and emotions of their will, mutually succeed and oppose one another with surprising rapidity. 3dly, Sometimes, also, it is not easy for believers, especially when their souls are in a disconsolate state, to compare their exercises with the description of a genuine faith; or, to speak more clearly, to compare the rule with that which is to be tried by the rule. This is particularly the case, when one has proposed to himself the idea of a lively faith, and finds only a languid faith in his heart. In such circumstances, finding little agreement, or rather, the greatest difference between the two, he must almost inevitably form too unfavourable a decision respecting his faith.
XXXVIII. It is not, indeed, absolutely necessary to salvation that every one should know that he is himself a believer; for the promise of salvation is annexed to the sincerity of faith, not to the knowledge which one has of his faith. It is expedient, however, for the following purposes, that, by a careful search, every one should inquire into the truth and sincerity of his faith: 1st, That he may render to God the praise which is due for this inestimable gift. If the Apostle Paul so often rendered thanks to God for the faith of others,q how much more is it incumbent on every believer to bless the Lord for his own faith? This, however, he cannot do, unless he know that he has faith. 2dly, That he may enjoy great consolation in himself; for the consciousness of our faith is accompanied with assurance of our salvation. Accordingly, Paul joins these two together, saying; "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." 3dly, That, with the greater alacrity, he may run the race of piety. When he is sure that his works proceed from a principle of faith, he is certain, at the same time, that his "labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;" and this assurance so animates the believer, that he becomes "stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."s
XXXIX. In fine, we must say something briefly with regard to the PROFESSION of faith; for the Creed is a kind of formulary of such a profession. This, the Apostle Peter, in the name of God, enjoins upon every believer; "Be ye ready always to give to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you." This, the Spirit of faith dictates, influencing no less the tongues than the hearts of the faithful, as that mystical "new wine which makes the maids eloquent."u "We having the same Spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken, we also believe, and therefore speak." This the glory of God requires; to the promotion of which, by the declaration of the truth, and of the Divine perfections shining in it, our tongue ought to be subservient; and the magnifying of which, Paul had in view in that boldness which he discovered.w Love to our neighbour, also, who may be edified by this means, demands an open profession of faith. Such was the line of conduct observed by those Christian worthies, who, amidst the fury of the world, the rage of devils, and the frowns of tyrants; despising death in all its forms, whether they were cut off by the sword, or nailed to the cross, or thrown into the midst of the flames; with undaunted courage, and with a most clear unfaltering voice, (to adopt the expression of Eusebius concerning Vetius the Martyr,*)—declared those doctrines which they knew to be true. Basil the Great has nobly said, "That, rising superior to every emotion of fear and shame, we ought to display great boldness and courage in confessing our Lord Jesus Christ and his words."!† To this, the Lord Jesus himself directs us by his own example;" he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate."y To this, if it proceed from a sincere heart, a promise of salvation is annexed; whilst, on the other side, our Lord denounces the most dreadful threatenings against those, who, from false modesty and carnal cowardice, are ashamed to confess him before men.
XL. It has, therefore, been a laudable custom, observed from the most ancient times in the Christian Church, to admit no adult to the sacred laver of baptism, unless he has first made a public profession of his faith. Conformably to this practice, the children of Christians, after they had grown up to the years of discretion, were anciently presented to the Bishop, that they might act the same part which was required of adults who offered themselves for baptism. Having been initiated by baptism in infancy, when they were incapable of making a confession of faith to the Church; they were again presented by their Parents, about the end of their childhood, or when entering on youth, and examined by the Bishop, according to the form of a Catechism which was then well known and generally used. From this ancient rite, as Calvin observes,* the Church of Rome has derived her fictitious Sacrament of Confirmation. The same custom was also observed by the Bohemian Brethren; amongst whom parents presented their children, when about twelve years old, to the Pastor, in the church; that the children might make a public profession of their faith, and that it might appear, whether the parents had faithfully discharged their duty in giving them instruction, agreeably to the engagements under which they had come at their baptism.† The manner in which this observance was introduced amongst them, is accurately related in the Account of the Discipline of the Bohemian Brethren.* Something similar, as Durel† shows, is practised in the Church of England.21 It were to be wished that the same observance were in use in our churches also; or, at least, that they who are admitted to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper made a public profession of their faith, in the presence and audience of the whole congregation. As to persons who refuse to make such a profession, even before the Consistory or Session, or before the Pastor in private, alleging the most frivolous apologies for their refusal,—I would they were admonished to consider, in the most serious manner, the awful denunciation of our Lord respecting those who shall be ashamed of him and of his words.
From Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles' Creed (eBook)