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TO HAVE FAITH IS TO BELIEVE
made to bear upon it with resistless force by faith, (for faith derives its influence from the truth to which it gives credit ;) it is these declarations, and not a mere confidence in the Divine veracity, that accomplishes such mighty moral wonders in the experience and upon the characters of men. On this, as well as on other accounts, I cannot but regard the statements of those, who represent faith as though it were trust or confidence in the Divine Being generally speaking, or a disposition to receive any thing which God may testify, rather than as the actual reception of what he does testify, as unfounded and injurious. Faith must be the reception of something which God testifies, and because he testifies it, or it would not answer the
purposes of moral government to connect with it the enjoyment of the blessings of salvation.
To have faith is, then, to believe the meaning of the gospel; and, consequently, faith cannot exist where that meaning is not understood. Now this meaning is not understood by any, to whom the gospel does not appear possessed of unrivalled importance, and unspeakable glory; and, since it is in all cases the Holy Spirit that causes it to appear in this light, I have ventured to define faith, "The belief of the gospel, its meaning, evidence, and glory, being unveiled to the mind by the special influence of this Divine agent.”
In further elucidation and confirmation of the foregoing statement, viz., that faith includes in it a belief of the meaning of the gospel, I refer with much satisfaction to the following passages from a modern writer. “It is an absolute absurdity to say that a meaning can be believed without being understood; and, therefore, nothing that has a meaning can be believed without being understood. There are many nominal Christians in the present day, who would be astonished and hurt if their Christianity were doubted, who evidently attach no meaning to the words, judgment, eternity, and justification by the faith of Christ. Can these be said to believe? Are there not many, who can speak and reason orthodoxly and logically on the doctrines of the gospel, and yet do not understand the urgency of these doctrines in application to their own soul? These do not believe the meaning of the gospel,
THE MEANING OF THE GOSPEL.
surely. And are there not many, who, mistaking the whole scope of the Bible, see in it merely a list and a description of duties, by the performance of which a man may recommend himself to the favour of God? Those who believe this, believe their own vain imagination, and not the Bible.” “ The Jews believed in the Divine authority and inspiration by which Moses spoke, they had much more reverence for his name and honour than the great bulk of professing Christians have for the name and honour of Christ ;-and yet He who knew the thoughts of the heart, declared that they did not believe Moses; for, says Jesus Christ, ‘had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me; but if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my
words?' He does not mean here to question their belief that God had indeed spoken by Moses ; but to deny their belief of Moses's meaning. They did not understand Moses, and, therefore, they could not believe him ;-they believed their own interpretations of his law, not his own meaning of it."
“ I may understand many things which I do not believe, but I cannot believe any thing which I do not understand, unless it be something addressed to my senses merely, and not to my thinking faculty. A man may with great propriety say, I understand the Cartesian system of vortices, but I do not believe in it. But it is obviously impossible for him to believe in that system without knowing what it is. A man may believe in the maker of a system without understanding it, but he cannot believe in the system itself without understanding it. Now there is a meaning in the gospel, and there is declared in it the system of God's dealings with men. This meaning and this system must be understood, before we can believe the gospel."*
In the further prosecution of this subject, it may be expedient to refer to some of the mistakes, as the author regards them, which have been committed by various writers on the subject of faith. By this means we shall be enabled to exhibit more distinctly what we cannot but deem the scriptural
* Erskine's Essay on Faith, pp. 25—29.
notion of faith, by bringing it into the light of contrast with others. These mistakes may be divided into two classes. In the first class the error is one of defect; in the second, of redundancy. Some writers, it is apprehended, include too much, · -and others too little, in their statements of the nature of faith.
1st. There are writers whose statements of the nature of faith are essentially defective. Amongst these may be included,
First, Those who represent it as an assent to the great facts of the gospel,--thus practically forgetting the important sentiment, that there can exist no saving faith where the scriptural import and moral glory of these facts, are not clearly discerned, and powerfully realized. This is the extreme to which Sandemanianism tends, if it has not exactly reached it. The more spiritually minded advocates of this system may not have proceeded so far into the frigid zone of Christianity; yet, that some of its adherents have done so, is unquestionable. Nor is it to be wondered at. Believing, as they do, that the doctrine of gratuitous justification would be overturned, were they to allow that any thing approaching to spiritual feeling enters into the nature of faith, it is not surprising that they should carry their efforts to strip it of holiness, to the point of denying that it contains any thing more than a bare and naked assent to the facts of the gospel. Such a representation, however, is doubly defective ; for,
In the first place, true and saving faith is more than assent to the gospel. It is not necessary to deny that the term “ is ever used as equivalent in meaning with faith, since it is impossible to doubt, that it is most commonly employed to denote a state of mind in which an individual does not care to rouse himself to the effort of contradicting a proposition ; and such a state of mind must not be identified with believing a proposition. It is both unauthorized and dangerous to adopt the phraseology on which we are now animadverting.
Unauthorized; for we have no warrant for it in Scripture. The New Testament does not say, that if we assent to the gospel, but that if we believe it, we shall be saved. How is
it that they, who are in the habit of employing this phraseology, do not shrink from the thought of altering terms which were dictated by the Spirit of God?
Dangerous; for it is powerfully adapted to foster that spirit of self-deception, which beguiles so many to their final ruin. When a minister tells his congregation, that if they assent to the gospel they shall be saved, he may doubtless mean that if they believe the gospel, they shall be saved; but, then, why does he not say so? Why, without necessity, does he employ language at variance with what an infallible, a Divine teacher has sanctioned ?-language which can scarcely fail to mislead many who hear him, and which is in itself adapted to mislead all? If he does not intend to intimate that any thing short of the enlightened and unfeigned belief of the gospel will bring a sinner into personal union with the Saviour, the question returns, “Why, then, does he continue the use of such equivocal phraseology?" If, on the contrary, he really designs to teach, that a man who does not actually reject and contradict the gospel, though he may not sincerely believe it, is in a state of salvation, he perverts the Scriptures altogether : and, let his intention be what it may, the phraseology adopted by him, can scarcely fail to operate unfavourably, both upon himself and others ;—to induce, if frequently employed, a partial forgetfulness of the important sentiment, that nothing short of that entire and unfeigned belief which brings the truth into contact with the soul, which enables the mind to feed upon it, and so to incorporate it into the spiritual system, as that it shall prove the source of purity, and self-denial, and watchfulness, and activity, can be of any avail to an individual, either in this world, or that which is to come.
In the second place, saving faith includes in it not only more than assent to the great facts of the gospel, but more than a mere belief of those facts. There are, indeed, many who do not allow this,--who cannot persuade themselves that any unconverted man can truly believe the great doctrines of the Saviour's divinity, for instance, his incarnation, atonement, intercession, &c. It were impossible, say
It were impossible, say the objectors,
FAITH IS MORE THAN BELIEF OF THE FACTS, &c.
that they should remain unaffected by these solemn and glorious truths, if they really gave credit to them. I am constrained to think differently. I see no difficulty in supposing, and no reason whatever to doubt, that, as far as an unconverted man can understand the gospel, he may believe it. He has, indeed, no spiritual knowledge of the gospel,-no proper conception of the import of its doctrines, of their unrivalled glory, and infinite importance; and, of course, he has no faith in reference to these things. But to say that unconverted men have no knowledge of the facts of the gospel,-no acquaintance with the theory of Divine truth in general,-is to affirm what universal experience contradicts. Now, if they possess knowledge, why not faith? Why may they not believe the facts of the gospel, as these facts stand in the view of their minds, as well as understand them? They are not more incapable of faith than of knowledge ; for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God-neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.” I see no reason whatever to suppose that certain writers, who have ably advocated some of the doctrines of the gospel, while, alas! they have given us little reason to hope that they were regenerated men, had the consciousness of hypocrisy in what they were doing,—were the false advocates of sentiments which in no sense they believed. Why should it be doubted that their faith was of equal extent with their knowledge? But, though possessing both, they were not saved by either, because after all they did not know, and consequently could not believe, THE GOSPEL; since to have faith, as we have seen, is not merely to believe the facts of the gospel, but the meaning of the gospel ; it is to give credit to the gospel, as it appears to an individual whose mind has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, to perceive its unrivalled glory, and its infinite importance. Nothing but faith in the gospel thus understood, carries with it any sanctifying influence upon the heart. The mere belief of the facts of the gospel will no more sanctify, than a mere knowledge of the theory of the gospel. Both are vain, uninfluential, profitless.