HAVING shown that faith is the medium of interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, we proceeded, in the last Lecture, to inquire into its nature. On this point it was stated, that faith consists in the belief of the testimony of God concerning his Son, the spiritual meaning, and evidence, and glory of that testimony, being unveiled to the mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. This account of its nature was placed in the light of contrast with the statement of those writers who err by defect, and of those again who err by redundancy.

Among the former are to be ranked, it was said, the Sandemanians; and, among the latter, those who identify faith and assurance. In the class of writers who, on this subject, err by redundancy, I also include,

Secondly, those who represent certain affections, which accompany the belief of the gospel, as entering into the very nature of faith. It is not here meant to deny, with the Sandemanians, that there is any thing of true holiness in faith; nor need we do this to support the doctrine of justification by grace. On the contrary, as God commands nothing which is not spiritually good, and as he has commanded men to believe on his Son, there can be no doubt that faith is a holy act of the mind; but then surely it must be an intellectual act, and not an exercise of the will or affections, though it may be induced by them. The apostle, indeed, says, that we "believe with the heart unto righteousness;" but he obviously means to represent the faith which is connected with salvation as an unfeigned faith, in opposition to a mere verbal profession of



faith. He is not to be understood as literally affirming, that faith is an exercise of the affections; for it is not more absurd to say that we perceive with the affections, and love with the intellect, or see with the nose, than to maintain that we literally believe with the heart. There can be no doubt, indeed, that faith is influenced by the state of the heart; or springs out of that primary operation of the Spirit of God upon the mind, which is the source of every thing spiritually good in the human character.

But, to represent it as having its seat any where except in the understanding-or, as that phraseology is unmeaning,—as being any other than an intellectual act, or state of mind, is equally at variance with just views of mental science, and with the general tenour of Divine revelation. Some writers, indeed, represent faith as a cordial or joyful reception of the gospel; and since these words express an emotion of the heart, they maintain that faith is not a mere intellectual act, but that a degree of feeling or emotion enters into its very nature: there is no need, however, of any very extraordinary powers of analysis to show that they are mistaken. To prevent misconception, let it be observed, that I by no means mean to deny that there is an acquiescence of the heart in the gospel method of salvation, wherever the faith which justifies exists. It is fully admitted, on the contrary, that cordiality and joy must accompany the admission of the truth into the mind; but it is not necessary, surely, to represent these emotions as entering into the nature of faith. They have manifestly a different origin. Faith is produced by the evidence—cordiality, or joy, by the excellence,—of the gospel. When the Holy Spirit takes the veil from the heart of a sinner, he discerns the evidence and excellence of the gospel at the same moment. He does not believe it without joy, because it is infinitely excellent and important; but still the joy does not enter into the essence of the faith, any more than the faith enters into the essence of the joy. The latter is kindled by the excellence, the former by the truth, of the gospel. As the gospel is glad tidings, there must be cordiality of heart towards it when its meaning, and evidence, and importance, are made to



appear to the mind; but the act of giving credit to its truth is not modified by the nature of its tidings. Whatever be the nature of a report, the act of believing it is the same. It is not modified by the tidings it brings, be they good or bad; as the act of seeing is not modified by the objects we perceive, be they distressing or delightful. Undoubtedly the complex state of mind produced by a report, powerfully adapted to awaken feeling, is modified by the character of the report. In addition to faith there will, in that case, be cordiality, if the report announce that certain important blessings are in reserve for us; and antipathy, if it be the foreteller of disappointment and misery. Nor is it less certain that the delightful character of the report will render us prone to receive, and the opposite character to reject it. But still the mere act of believing it, if the evidence be so overpowering as to vanquish the reluctance to receive it, is precisely the same in the latter case as in the former. It is in both cases an intellectual act, and an intellectual act alone

In reference to faith, in general, it has been said, and correctly said, to be a simple act of the mind, of which, of course, no definition can be given. We must perform the act of believing before it can be understood; and none who have performed it can be at any loss respecting its nature. Now, if any one will consult the evidence of consciousness, he must be convinced, it is apprehended, that faith is an intellectual act or state of mind; that as little of emotion enters into its nature, as into an act of judgment. Indeed, it may be doubted, whether there is so much difference between an act of judgment, and an act of faith, as is sometimes imagined. Take one of the simplest cases for the sake of illustration. A report is brought to us, that a certain individual, in certain circumstances, acted in a certain manner. We think of the character of the individual, of the circumstances in which he was placed, of the manner in which he is said to have acted, and we see, or fancy we see, that his reported conduct harmonizes with his character and circumstances. Now, is it of much consequence whether we say we judge, or believe, that the event happened? What really takes place in the mind, but



the recognition of a relation? It is generally said, that faith is built upon evidence; that we first perceive the evidence in support of a report or a proposition, and then receive it as true. It may be doubted, however, whether we have not, in this statement, words, and nothing but words. What is the evidence of which it speaks? What is it in the illustration employed a short time ago? Is it any thing more than the harmony which exists between the character, circumstances, &c., and actions of the individual in question? And, if this be correct, what is the faith which is said to be built upon this evidence, but the recognition of the harmony itself? that is, the recognition of a relation, which has never, I believe, been doubted to be an intellectual act or state of mind.

It will, however, be generally admitted that the term "faith," when used in relation to any but religious subjects, denotes an intellectual act merely; while it is maintained, that in the Scriptures there is a departure from its ordinary signification. In the Bible it is thought to include more than the belief of the gospel; and, perhaps, the general opinion, in reference to the additional item, is, that it consists of trust in Christ for salvation. A distinction is made between believing the doctrines of Christ, and trusting in the person of Christ; and, though it is admitted that the former is included in the latter, it is contended that the belief of the doctrines does not ripen into saving faith, until it issue in this confidence in Christ personally considered. In support of this opinion an appeal is made to those passages which represent trust in God, and Christ, as essential to salvation-to others, which speak of receiving Christ, and believing in him, &c. On these statements the attention of the reader is requested to the following remarks:

First, It is very unlikely that Jehovah, in communicating his revealed will to men, would employ words, without necessity, in a sense different from that which they ordinarily bear. The intention of the Divine Being must have been to be understood; but what could be so likely to frustrate that purpose as to deviate, without apprising us of the fact, from the ordinary signification of terms, in the revelation which he makes to



us? There is no formal definition of faith in the whole of the inspired volume. The passage, in the epistle to the Hebrews, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" is rather a description of faith, a statement of what it does, than of what it is. We are left, therefore, without any rule to form our opinions concerning the meaning of the term, if we are not to be guided by the sense which it bears when used in reference to other matters. We are said to be justified by faith. The apostles were commanded to preach the gospel to all creatures, and to declare, that whosoever believed it should be saved. Now, if the word faith, or belief, in these and in innumerable other cases, means something very different from faith in its ordinary use, how shall we clear the language of Divine revelation from the charge of being adapted to deceive?

Secondly, There is no necessity to suppose any thing of the kind. Granting that faith in the doctrines of the gospel, and trust in Christ personally considered, are different things, yet as the latter must be inseparably connected with the former, it is by no means surprising that the sacred writers should declare "trust in Christ" to be essential to salvation, (as is obedience,) while they may not have intended to intimate, and we think did not intend to intimate, that it enters into the essence of faith. "The belief of the gospel is necessarily con

nected with trust in the work of the Saviour. This arises from the nature of the thing believed, which is good news, and includes promises the most interesting to us ;"-"so glorious, suitable, and interesting, are the declarations and blessings of the gospel, and such the glory of the Saviour's work of which it testifies, that the belief of it must be accompanied with the relinquishment of every false ground of confidence, and with trust in the atonement for the present and final blessedness of the soul. Persuaded of the truth that salvation is to be had through Christ, the sinner comes to him, or trusts the salvation of his soul in his hands. The one perfect offering of the Son of God becomes thus the sole ground on which the mind rests its hopes of mercy." Exhortations to believe in Christ, and to trust in him, are given indiscriminately in the Scripture.


« VorigeDoorgaan »