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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, 1846
In order to determine, whether faith in Christ be the duty of all men who have opportunity to hear the Gospel, it will be necessary to determine what it is or wherein it consists. Some have maintained that it consists in a persuasion of our interest in Christ, and in all the benefits and blessings of his mediation. Others, who would not be thought to go so far, for the sake of many Christians whom they cannot but observe upon this principle to be, generally speaking, unbelievers, yet maintain what fully implies it.
Though they will allow for the comfort of such Christians that assurance is not of the essence of faith, understanding by assurance, an assured persuasion of our salvation; but, that a reliance on Christ is sufficient; yet, in almost all other things, they speak as if they did not believe what, at those times, they say. It is common for such persons to call those fears which occupy the minds of Christians, lest they should miss of salvation at last, by the name of unbelief; and to reprove them for being guilty of this God-dishonoring sin, exhorting them to be strong in faith, like Abraham, giving glory to God; when all that is meant is, that they should, without doubting, believe the goodness of their state.
If this be saving faith, it must inevitably follow, that it is not the duty of unconverted sinners; for they are not interested in Christ, and it cannot possibly be their duty to believe a lie. But, if it can be proved that the proper object of saving faith is, not our being interested in Christ, but the glorious Gospel of the ever-blessed God, (which is true, whether we believe it or not) a contrary inference must be drawn; for it is admitted on all hands, that it is the duty of every man to believe what God reveals.
By saving faith, we undoubtedly embrace Christ for ourselves, in the same sense as Jacob embraced Jehovah as his God, Gen. 28:21; that is, to a rejecting of every idol that stands in competition with him. Christ is all-sufficient and suited to save us as well as others; and it is for the forgiveness of our sins that we put our trust in him. But this is very different from a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation. My objections to this notion of faith are as follow:
Nothing can be an object of faith, except what God has revealed in his Word, but the interest that any individual has in Christ, and the blessings of the Gospel, more than another, is not revealed. God has nowhere declared concerning any one of us as individuals that we shall be saved - all that he has revealed on this subject respects us as characters.
He has abundantly promised that all who believe in him, love him, and obey him, shall be saved; and a persuasion that, if we sustain these characters, we shall be saved is, doubtless, an exercise of faith: but whether we do them or not, is an object not of faith, but of consciousness. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. My little children, let us not love in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth: hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:18, 19)
If anyone imagine that God has revealed to him his interest in his love; and this in a special, immediate, and extraordinary manner, and not by exciting in him the holy exercises of grace, and thereby begetting a consciousness of his being a subject of grace, let him beware, lest he deceive his soul. The Jews were not wanting in what some would call the faith of assurance. “We have one Father,” said they, “even God.” But Jesus answered, “If God were your Father, ye would love me.” (John 8:41, 42)
The Scriptures always represent faith as terminating on something without us; namely, on Christ, and the truths concerning him. But if it consist in a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation, it must terminate principally on something within us; namely, the work of grace in our hearts. For, to believe myself interested in Christ is the same thing as to believe myself a subject of special grace. And hence, as was said, it is common for many who entertain this notion of faith to consider its opposite, unbelief, as a doubting whether we have been really converted.
But, as it is the truth and excellence of the things to be interested in, and not his interest in them, that the sinner is apt to disbelieve; so it is these, and not that, on which the faith of the believer primarily terminates. Perhaps what relates to personal interest may, in general, more properly be called hope than faith, and its opposite, fear, than unbelief.
To believe ourselves in a state of salvation (however desirable, when grounded on evidence) is far inferior, in its object, to saving faith. The grand object on which faith fixes, is the glory of Christ, and not the happy condition we are in, as interested in him. The latter, doubtless, affords great consolation; and the more we discover of his excellence, the more ardently shall we desire an interest in him, and be the more disconsolate while it continues a matter of doubt. But if we be concerned only for our own security, our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins.
As that repentance which fixes merely on the consequences of sin, as subjecting us to misery, is selfish and spurious, so that faith which fixes merely on the consequences of Christ's mediation, as raising us to happiness, is equally selfish and spurious. It is the peculiar property of true faith, to endear Christ. Unto you that believe, HE is precious. And, where this is the case, if there be no impediments, arising from constitutional dejection or other accidental causes, we shall not be in doubt about an interest in him. Consolation will accompany the faith of the Gospel: Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
All those exercises of faith which our Lord so highly commends in the New Testament—as that of the centurion, the woman of Canaan, and others—are represented as terminating on his all-sufficiency to heal them, and not as consisting in a persuasion that they were interested in the divine favor, and, therefore, should succeed. “Speak the word only,” says the one, “and my servant shall be healed; for I am a man in authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”
Such was the persuasion which the other entertained of his all-sufficiency to help her, that she judged it enough if she might but partake of the crumbs of his table—the scatterings, as it were, of mercy. Similar to this is the following language:—“If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” (Matt. 9:21)—“Believe ye that I am ABLE to do this?” They said unto him, “Yea, Lord”. (Matt. 9:28)—“Lord, if thou wilt, thou CANST make me clean.” (Matt. 8:2)—“If thou CANST do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” Jesus said, “If thou CANST believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:22, 23)
I allow that the case of these people, and that of a sinner applying for forgiveness, are not exactly the same. Christ had nowhere promised to heal all who came for healing, but he has graciously bound himself not to cast out any who come to him for mercy. On this account, there is a greater ground for faith in the willingness of Christ to save, than there was in his willingness to heal, and there was less unbelief in the saying of the leper, “If THOU WILT, thou canst make me clean,” than there would be in similar language from one who, convinced of his own utter insufficiency, applied to him for salvation.
But a persuasion of Christ being both able and willing to save all them that come unto God by him, and, consequently, to save us, if we so apply, is very different from a persuasion that we are the children of God, and interested in the blessings of the Gospel.
That the belief of the truth which God hath revealed in the Scriptures concerning Christ in saving faith, is evident from the following passages:
Peter confessed, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:16, 17) Here it is plainly intimated that a belief of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God, is saving faith, and that no man can be strictly said to do this, unless he be the subject of a spiritual illumination from above. To the same purpose are those express declarations of Paul and John:
God hath chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. (II Thess. 2:13) It cannot be doubted, that, by the belief of the truth, is here meant faith in Christ; and its being connected with sanctification of the Spirit, and eternal salvation, proves it to be saving.
If the foregoing passages be admitted to prove the point (and if they do not, we may despair of learning any thing from the Scriptures) the duty of unconverted sinners to believe in Christ cannot fairly be called in question; for, as before said, it is admitted on all hands that it is the duty of every man to believe what God reveals.
But to this statement it is objected that Christianity having at that time great opposition made to it, and its professors being consequently exposed to great persecution and reproach, the belief and acknowledgment of the Gospel was more a test of sincerity than it now is. Men are now taught the principles of the Christian religion from their youth, and believe them, and are not ashamed to acknowledge them, while yet they give no evidence of their being born of God, but of the contrary. There is some force in this objection, so far as it respects the confession of Christ's name, but I do not perceive that it affects the belief of the Gospel. It was no more difficult to believe the truth at that time than at this, though it might be much more so to avow it. With respect to that traditional assent which is given to Christianity in some nations, it is of the same nature as that which is given to Mohammedanism and Paganism in others.
It is no more than that of the Jewish nation, in the time of our Lord, towards the Mosaic Scriptures. They declared themselves to be Moses' disciples, and had no doubt that they believed him; yet our Lord did not allow that they believed his writings. “Had ye believed Moses,” says he, “ye would have believed me; for he wrote If me.” (John 5:46)
The same is doubtless true of all others who assent to his Gospel, merely from having been educated in it. Had they believed it, they would be consistent, and embrace those things which are connected with it. It is worthy of remark that those professors of Christianity who received not the love of the truth that they might be saved are represented as not believing the truth, and as having pleasure in unrighteousness. (II Thess. 2:10, 12)
To admit the existence of a few facts without possessing any sense of their humiliating implication, their holy nature, their vast importance, or the practical consequences that attach to them, is to admit the body without the spirit. Paul, notwithstanding his knowledge of the law, and great zeal on its behalf, while blind to its spirituality, reckoned himself to be without the law. (Rom. 7:9) And such are those professing Christians, with respect to the Gospel, who receive not the love of the truth that they may be saved.
It is further objected, that men are said to have believed the Gospel, who, notwithstanding, were destitute of true religion. Thus, some among the chief rulers are said to have “believed Jesus, but did not confess him; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” It is said of Simon, that he “believed also; yet he was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” Agrippa is acknowledged, by Paul, to have “believed the prophets.”
And faith is attributed even to the devils. The term belief, like almost every other term, is sometimes used in an improper sense. Judas is said to have repented, and hanged himself though nothing more is meant by it than his being smitten with remorse, wishing he had not done as he did on account of the consequences. Through the poverty of language, there is not a name for every thing that differs; and, therefore, where two things have the same visible appearance, and differ only in some circumstances which are invisible, it is common to call them by the same name.
Thus men are termed honest who are punctual in their dealings, though such conduct in many instances may arise merely from a regard to their own credit, interest, or safety. Thus the remorse of Judas is called repentance, and thus the convictions of the Jewish rulers, of Simon, and Agrippa, and the fearful apprehension of apostate angels, from what they had already felt, is called faith. But as we do not infer from the application of the term repentance to the feelings of Judas that there is nothing spiritual in real repentance, so neither ought we to conclude from the foregoing applications of the term believing that there is nothing spiritual in a real belief of the Gospel.
Some writers have considered faith in Christ as a dependence on him, a receiving him, a coming to him, and trusting in him for salvation. There is no doubt but these terms are frequently used in the New Testament to express believing:
Whether these terms, however, strictly speaking, convey the same idea as believing, may admit of a question. They seem, rather, to be the immediate effects of faith, than faith itself. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the order of these things, in what he says of the faith of Enoch. He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6)
Here are three different exercises of mind: First, believing that God is; second, believing that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; third, coming to him: and the last is represented as the effect of the former two. The same may be applied to Christ. He that cometh to Christ must believe the Gospel testimony that he is the Son of God and the Savior of sinners—the only name given under heaven and among men by which we must be saved. He must also believe the Gospel promise that he will bestow eternal salvation on all them that obey him; and under the influence of this persuasion, he comes to him, commits himself to him, or trusts the salvation of his soul in his hands. This process may be so quick as not to admit of the mind being conscious of it; and especially as, at such a time, it is otherwise employed than in speculating upon its own operations.
Let it but be granted that a real belief of the Gospel is not merely a matter presupposed in saving faith, but that it enters into the essence of it, and the writer of these pages will be far from contending for the exclusion of trust or dependence.
The term trust appears to be most appropriate, or best adapted of any, to express the confidence which the soul reposes in Christ for the fulfillment of his promises. We may credit a report of evil tidings as well as one of good; but we cannot be said to trust it. We may also credit a report, the truth or falsehood of which does not at all concern us; but that in which we place trust must be something in which our well-being is involved.
The relinquishment of false confidences which the Gospel requires, and the risk which is made in embracing it, are likewise better expressed by this term than by any other. A true belief of the record which God has given of his Son, is not companied with all this; but the term belief does not, of itself, necessarily convey it. When Jacob's sons brought the coat of many colors to him, he credited their story; he believed Joseph to be torn in pieces; but he could not be said to trust that he was. When the same persons, on their return from Egypt, declared that Joseph was yet alive, Jacob, at first, believed them not. But, on seeing the wagons, he was satisfied of the truth of their declaration, and trusted in it too—leaving all behind him on the ground of it.
But, whatever difference there may be between credit and trust, they agree in those particulars which affect the point at issue: the one no less than the other has relation to revealed truth as its foundation. In some cases, it directly refers to the divine veracity, as in Ps. 119: 42, "I trust in thy word." And where the immediate reference is to the power, the wisdom, or the mercy of God, or to the righteousness of Christ, there is a remote relation to veracity; for neither the one nor the other would be objects of trust, were they not revealed in a way of promise. And from hence it will follow, that, trusting in Christ, no less than crediting his testimony, is the duty of every sinner to whom the revelation is made.
If it be asked, what ground could a sinner who shall at last prove to have no interest in the salvation of Christ ever possess for trusting in him? Let it be considered what it was for which he was warranted or obliged to trust. Was it that Christ would save him, whether he believed in him or not? No—there is no such promise; but an explicit declaration of the contrary. To trust in this, therefore, would be to trust in a falsehood. That for which he ought to have trusted in him was the obtaining of mercy, in case he applied for it. For this there was a complete warrant in the Gospel declarations. I may add, if any man distrust either the power or willingness of Christ to save those that come to him, and so continue to stand at a distance, relying upon his own righteousness, or some false ground of confidence, to the rejection of him, it is criminal and inexcusable unbelief.