« VorigeDoorgaan »
wilderness,-Christ as having borne our sins in his own body on the tree, his blood shed as a propitiation for sin, and the everlasting righteousness which he brought in as the foundation of hope to those who had no hope in themselves. It is false and foolish to suppose, that men may be saved by faith in God as their Creator, and Preserver, and Lawgiver. If they considered him in r) other light, and understood the full import of these characters, they would perceive that he is inaccessible to the guilty, a consuming fire, the avenger of such as do evil. It is in the Gospel only, that a sinner will find those views of his character which will quiet the agitation of his mind, and hold out encouragement to return to him. He will never look to his Maker with comfort and hope, till he behold him in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses to men. There is no other refuge from his wrath but the atonement.
Secondly, To the revelation of the Saviour in the Gospel, the awakened sinner, under the influence of the Spirit, yields a cordial assent; and this act of his mind is therefore denominated faith. Faith is the belief of a testimony ; and it is called human faith, when its object is the testimony of man: divine faith, when its object is the testimony of God. The cold and listless assent which is every day given to the Gospel, by thousands who take no interest in it, and are in no degree influenced by it in their practice, if it be called faith at all, is evidently inferior to the faith of devils, who believe and tremble," while those persons believe and disregard. The awakened sinner is under the conduct of the Spirit, who presents the Gospel to his mind with an evidence which has all the force of demonstration. To this internal revelation, this illumination of the mind by supernatural grace, the Scriptures refer, when they speak of “ the opening of the blind eyes," and of the coming of the Gospel “in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. It is impossible to describe the operations of the mind, so as to render them intelligible to those by whom they have not been experienced; but we can all conceive the difference between the assent that we give to a truth, which we have not properly considered and about which we feel no concern, and our assent to a truth which we understand, and know to be intimately connected with our interests. Such is the difference between the faith of nominal Christians, and the faith by which we are saved. The latter is founded on clear perceptions of the truth, and excellence and infinite importance of the Gospel. An evidence accompanies it, which dispels all doubts, removes all objections, and creates the highest assurance; Christ crucified is seen to be the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. The Gospel appears to be worthy of all acceptation, because it is so admirably adapted to the circumstances of men, and redounds so much to the glory of God. It bears upon it the signature of Heaven. It is the truth, and in the judgment of the enlightened sinner, the only truth which deserves his attention. This is the “excellent knowledge of Christ," for which he is willing to count all things loss.f
Thirdly, Faith implies the reliance or dependence of the soul upon Jesus Christ for salvation. The sinner not only assents to the testimony of God concerning his Son as true, but regards it as worthy of all acceptation Some indeed, as I remarked in a former lecture, make faith consist in simple assent, because this is the strict and logical definition of the term, and consequently consider it as an act of the understanding alone. But as the Scriptures make use of new words and phrases to express new ideas, so they employ some old words in a sense peculiar to themselves; and we should proceed with them as we do with any other book, when we endeavour, by comparing one passage with another, to ascertain the meaning of a particular term which occurs in it.
• Acts xxvi. 18. 1 Thesg. i. 5.
| Phil. iii. 8.
That, in the phraseology of Scripture, faith is not simply an assent of the understanding, but implies an act of volition accepting the Saviour and confiding in him, is evident from the metaphorical terms by which it is described. It is called a receiving of Christ, a coming to him, a fleeing for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, an eating of his flesh, and a drinking of his blood. These terms import such motion or activity as the soul exerts, when it not only contemplates, but desires and embraces the good which is presented to it. In the Old Testament, faith is called trusting in the Lord. Now we know that to trust in a person, is not merely to believe that he is able and willing to deliver us from danger and distress, and to bestow favours upon us, but to accept his proffered assistance, and to commit our interest to his care and disosal. If we reflect upon the situation of a sinner when he believes, we 'hall more distinctly perceive what is, and naturally must be, the exercise of his mind. Finding himself condemned by the law of God and his own conscience, and disappointed in his endeavours to relieve himself, by his prayers, and tears, and fasts, and good works, how is he affected when Jesus Christ is revealed as the only Saviour from sin ? Is he not like the drowning man, who eagerly grasps the plank thrown out to support him; or like the manslayer, who, seeing the avenger of blood close at his heels, ran for safety into the city of refuge? He does not content himself with saying, “the blood of Christ is infinitely meritorious, and happy should I be, if I could share in the blessings procured by it.' This, we need not doubt, devils could say; for they are aware of the efficacy of his sacrifice, and would rejoice if it were possible to be delivered by it from torment. He farther says, “I desire to be sprinkled with his blood, that, like the Israelites in Egypt, I may escape, when the wrath of God shall go forth against his enemies. I place my hope upon the great Atonement, by which the justice of heaven has been appeased; I will draw near to God, pleading the merit of his Son; I will present to him his all-perfect righteousness, of which he has testified his high approbation.' It remains, that faith is an acquiescence in the plan of redemption through the mediation of Christ, a reliance upon him as our Saviour, and consequently, that, if there has not been a concurrence of mind and heart in receiving the testimony of the Gospel, our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins.
Lastly, Faith implies the renunciation of our own righteousness as the foundation of our hope. This is an obvious inference from the preceding remarks, without attention to which the nature of faith will not be understood. It is not a partial, but an unreserved reliance upon Christ for salvation. To believe, is not to call upon him to assist us in what we have commenced and carried on to a certain extent, but from a consciousness of our utter inability even to begin, to commit the work of our salvation wholly to him. This is the test of genuine faith. That is the faith of God's elect, which leads away the sinner from himself to the Saviour, fixes his undivided attention upon the cross, and derives his peace and hope solely from the sacrifice which was offered upon it. It is a spurious faith, which, forming a treacherous alliance with good works, attempts to introduce them as a partial cause of our acceptance with God. “. To him that worketh,” says Paul, “ the reward is not reekoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."* These words are worthy of attention. To work and to believe are opposed to each other. He who believes does not work, that is, he does not work that he may live, perform duties with a view to obtain the divine favour, associate his own obedience with that of our Redeemer as the ground of his justification. He simply believes; that is, he receives the testimony of God concerning his Son, and
• Rom. iv. 4, 6.
expects salvation through him alone. It is on this account that true faith is so rare. Men would not object to the aid of Jesus Christ, so far as their own power is insufficient to save them: but to depend upon him to the exclusion of all their own qualifications and good deeds, to owe every thing to him, and to have nothing left of which they may boast as their own,-all this is so contrary to the natural bias of the heart, so mortifying to pride, so destructive of our schemes for appearing respectable in our own eyes, and maintaining what we falsely call the dignity of human nature, that at first we all revolt from it with secret indignation, and will not submit to the humiliating plan, till we have been prepared by the discipline of the law, and the grace of the Gospel. It is the office of faith to receive Christ, as he is revealed in the Scriptures. He is offered freely, and we must receive him without presenting any price in exchange. He is exhibited as the only Saviour; and to receive him as such, is to trust, neither in the merits of any saint, nor in the intercession of any angel, nor in our own repentance and obedience, but in him whose arm brought us salvation, and who claims the undivided glory of a work, which he accomplished without an associate. To believe, is to submit to the righteousness of God; it is to desist from our vain attempts to establish our own righteousness, and to say, “ In the Lord have we righteousness and strength.
What has been said concerning faith in general, and justifying faith in particular, is conformable to the doctrine of our church. “ By this faith,” says our Confession, “a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein ; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth ; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”+
When the question is proposed, whether assurance is of the essence of faith, it is necessary, before we return an answer, to know what is meant by assurance. If it mean a full persuasion of the truth of the divine testimony, to whatever subjeet it relates, we answer, that it is essential to faith. Faith is not a doubting, hesitating assent, but “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The Christian is firmly persuaded of every doctrine and fact which God has attested, and of every promise which he has made. He believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of sinners ; that his death was an atonement for guilt; that there is redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; that he is freely offered to him and others in the Gospel, and that every man who trusts in him shall be saved. But if assurance mean an explicit assurance of our own salvation, we deny that it is of the essence of faith.
In opposition to Papists, who made faith consist in an assent to the truth of the Scriptures in general, and denied that any man could be certain of his final salvation, the Reformers represented it as a firm persuasion, that Christ died for us in particular, and that our sins are forgiven. The founders of our religious society adopted this notion, and in one of their public deeds, have definer' aith to be a persuasion on the part of the sinner, that Christ is his ; that what he did and suffered he did and suffered for him, and that he shall have life and salvation by him. It may be questioned whether in avoiding one extreme, they have not run into another ; or, at least, have not employed language, which must be explained and qualified, in order to make it accord with the truth. A sinner cannot say, in the first instance, Christ is mine in
• Is. xlv. 24.
# Act of Assoc. Pres. 21st Oct. 1742.
+ Confes. ch. xiv. & 2.
possession ; because this becomes true, only when he has believed, and cannot belong to the nature of faith, as it is a consequence of it. If the words mean only, that Christ is his in the offer of the Gospel, or is offered to him in particular, we allow it, but have a right to complain, that a fact about which there is no dispute, should be expressed in terms which are apt to suggest a quite different sense. The sinner cannot say, till he have believed, that Christ died for him, unless he died for all men without exception; but, consistently with the doctrine of particular redemption, no man can be assured that he was one of the objects of the sacrifice of the cross, unless he have first obtained an interest in it by faith. Neither can every sinner say, in the first moment of faith, that he shall certainly have eternal salvation. He desires salvation no doubt, and his faith implies an expectation of it; but how many believers have been harassed with doubts at first, and during the whole course of their lives have rarely been able to use the language of confidence! This the advocates of this definition are compelled to admit; and it is curious to observe how, in attempting to reconcile it with their system, they shift and shuffle, and almost retract, and involve themselves in perplexity and contradiction, as those must do who are labouring to prove that, although it is a fact that many believers are not assured of their salvation, yet assurance is of the essence of faith. It is manifest that, if assurance is of the essence of faith, it can never be separated from it. The exercise of faith is regulated by the word of God, and its object is there defined. But it is nowhere revealed in the Scriptures, that Christ died for any particular person, and that his sins are forgiven. How, then, can an assurance of these things belong to the nature of faith? How can it be our duty to believe what is not in the testimony? It is an objection against this definition, that it makes faith consist rather in the belief of something regarding ourselves, than in the belief of the testimony of God; in the belief of the goodness of our state, rather than of the all-sufficiency and will ingness of Christ. It may be farther objected, that it confounds the inferences from faith with faith itself; nothing being plainer than that these propositions, • Christ died for me,''my sins are forgiven,' are conclusions to which the mind comes, from the previous belief of the doctrines and promises of the Gospel. Farther, it is chargeable with this error, that it defines faith in its highest and most perfect state, and excludes the lower degrees of it, and thus lays a stumbling-block before thousands of the people of God, who, not finding in themselves this assurance, are distressed with the melancholy thought that they are unbelievers. Although adopted by our fathers, it is contrary to the doctrine of our standards, to which only we are bound to conform, and in which it is expressly said, “ This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be a partaker of it."'* In a word, this definition of faith has been rejected by many of the greatest divines. I shall mention only one, the learned and pious Bishop Davenant, who observes, in his work entitled Determinationes Quæstionem quarundam Theologicarum, that the word confidence or assurance has two meanings. It signifies the act of resting upon, and adhering to Jesus Christ, by which we embrace him as with both our arms, and seek to obtain pardon, grace, and glory from the Father. Justification follows this act, whether the sinner be fully persuaded of the remission of his sins or not. But sometimes it denotes an effect consequent to justification, namely, the full persuasion and lively sense of pardon, and the favour of God. We confess, he says, that this confidence or assurance is not justifying faith, but its daughter, and that the justified soul is not wont to obtain it, but after many exercises of faith and holiness.
• Conf. ch. xviii. $ 3.
It is admitted, that an assurance of salvation is attainable in the present life, An apostle exhorts Christians “ to make their calling and election sure.”* The exhortation implies that they may not be assured of the goodness of their state, for no man would be exhorted to seek what he already possesses, and, consequently, that this persuasion is not found in every believer, as it would be if it belonged to the nature of faith. They are called upon to examine themselves, whether they be in the faith ; but this would be unnecessary, in there were an evidence in faith itself which satisfied the mind. The assurance of which we speak, is not obtained by the direct act of faith, but by reflection. It is the result of evidence, collected by observation and inquiry, that the person is possessed of the faith to which salvation is promised. It is “founded,” our Church says, “ upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”+ By many theological writers this assurance has been called the reflex act of faith, but with manifest impropriety. It is not an act of faith, but a process of reasoning founded upon faith, and may be reduced to a regular syllogism : Every man who believes in Jesus Christ shall be saved; but I have believed in Christ, as is proved by the operations of divine grace in my heart; therefore I shall be saved.
'I'he major of this proposition is a matter of faith, because it is a revealed truth; the minor is a matter of experience; and the conclusion is of a mixed nature, partaking of the character of both. It is more accurate to call it the assurance of sense, because it is founded on our feelings and dispositions. • We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “ Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”+
It is evident, from the preceding account, that “ faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God."'S Without particular assistance, we may assent to the Gospel, upon perceiving the evidence of its truth ; but, unless our minds be enlightened, and our hearts be renewed by almighty grace, we will not cordially embrace it, and comply with its design, by placing our whole dependance upon Christ and renouncing every other foundation of hope. Faith is an act, not of the carnal, but of the regenerated man. This important truth we should always bear in mind, that we may seek faith from Him who only can bestow it; and, if we have obtained it, may give all the praise and glory to God. It is explicitly laid down by our Lord in the following words : “ No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”'ll
2 Pet. i. 10.
| Conf. chap. xviii. $ 2. # 1 John üü, 14, 19-21.
| John vi. 44.
$ Eph. ii. 8.