I. Its important position.
As disbelief was so prominent in the sin of the first Adam so faith is most prominent in the redemption through the second Adam.
It holds an important connection with every act and condition of salvation. It is by faith that men come into vital union with Christ, through faith that they are justified, through faith that they can acceptably worship, through faith that the Christian lives, through faith that his sanctification progresses, it being the means of his conquering the world, of his exercising hope in his future, and becoming more and more identified with Christ in his spiritual reign here and hereafter. These facts evince its importance and the necessity of fully understanding what is meant by it.
II. Its meaning.
It corresponds with our words, belief and trust,–with belief so far as it refers to the acceptance of facts and statements, or of the veracity of a person,–with trust so far as a person or object is made the foundation of reliance. We believe a fact, a statement, a person; we trust or rely upon that fact, statement or person as something upon which we build. In the one case we have faith in, in the other we put faith in.
The noun pistis and the verb pisteuo are used in each of these senses in the scripture, and also in the two unitedly; (1.) as to mere belief of the truth either savingly or otherwise. 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 10:39; John 2:22; John 5:46; Acts 26:27; Jas. 2:19.
(2.) In the sense of reliance.
John 2:24. “Jesus did not trust himself unto them.”
John 7:5. “For even his brethren did not believe in him.”
2 Tim. 1:12. “I know him whom I have believed.”
1 John 4:1. “Beloved, believe not every spirit.”
(3.) But the almost invariable usage of the New Testament includes both elements, the belief of a person and of the facts about him, and reliance upon them and him for salvation.
The difference between these three forms of belief is apparent.
1. Mere belief may be weak and motiveless, and thus it may result in indifference as to action; or it may be a mere opinion, the holding or not holding of which is not felt to be a matter of consequence; or it may be a mere notion taken up without sufficient evidence.
2. Mere trust in a person or thing, may result from confidence in the word of another, or in the actions of others, or from something in our experience teaching us that we may venture, though we know no reason why we should thus trust. Thus some one tells us that this is the train we wish to take–or we go over a bridge over which others have gone–or we ford a stream through which we see by tracks that others have driven. Here our trust is much more, if not altogether, in the testimony of others than in any knowledge of, or confidence in that to which we commit ourselves.
It is only through the combination of the two that we have faith, which must be an intelligent trust. By it we believe not only in him upon whom we trust, but we do so because we believe the facts which make him trustworthy.
Hence it is that the Scriptures use it in the twofold sense, uniting the two ideas in the case of believers in Christ, because not only do they rely upon Jesus, but, from the belief of the facts concerning him taught in God’s word; they know whom they have believed, and why they should believe him.
Christian faith, therefore, is personal reliance upon Christ for salvation because of belief of God’s testimony as to our sinful and ruined condition, and as to what Christ has assuredly done to save us.
It is based, therefore, upon the knowledge of this testimony as given by our own consciences and the word of God. It is consequently an act of the mind. As the truth thus apprehended is spiritual, so it is apprehended spiritually by the heart. As it occurs in the heart of a sinner, so it must be the act of a regenerated heart which alone is inclined to such belief as constitutes trust. And it is attained by this heart through the illuminating influences of the Spirit of God.
III. The nature of saving faith will further appear by noticing its objects.
These objects are not mere abstract truths, nor opinions, nor facts, but only such as are connected with a person.
1. One object of faith is God the Father, not considered alone as the Father, but both as Father, and as representing the Godhead.
(1.) As representing the Godhead. As such, it has him also for its object, not in all the aspects he bears to man, for it does not apprehend him as Creator, Preserver, Ruler, or Benefactor. These are aspects believed in, but they are not the basis of saving faith.
This has respect to him only in those relations in which he is viewed in special connection with salvation.
(a) As a God of holiness, hating sin, himself infinite in purity, before whom even the angels are chargeable with folly.
(b) As a God of justice, who will certainly punish every sin, even the least.
(c) As the righteous judge, who will show no favor, and who has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world.
(d) As the omniscient searcher of hearts, who knoweth even the most secret thoughts and intents of the heart.
(e) As the almighty and living God, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall.
(f) As the God who delights not in the death, but rather in the salvation of the wicked.
(g) As the God, whose love for the world has sent his own Son for its salvation.
(h) As a God, merciful and gracious, and long suffering, etc. Ex. 34:6, 7.
(i) As a God, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.
(j) As a God, promising and giving the aid of his Spirit to such as seek him.
(k) As a God, that justifies those who trust in him for pardon through Christ.
(l) As a God, that can and will secure the final salvation of his people. John 10:28, 29; Rom. 11:29; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5.
(2.) In God the Father as Father.
(a) Who hath, from the beginning, chosen us in Christ. 2 Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4.
(b) Who hath loved us. 2 Thess. 2:16; 1 John 4:19.
(c) Who hath adopted us as sons, 1 John 3:1, 2, and consequently as joint heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17.
(d) As the unchangeable bestower of grace. James 1:17; Rom. 11:29.
(e) As the author of exceeding great and precious promises. 2 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:20.
2. Another object of faith is Christ.
(1.) In his person and work.
(a) As Son of God, giving dignity and value to the work of atonement.
(b) As man; as duly representing us, as having properly suffered for us, and as fully sympathizing with us.
(c) As the Godman, so uniting the divine and human natures in one person, that we can say that he that is the Son of God, the Lord of glory, bore our sins and died for our salvation.
(2.) In his testimony, as to himself as sent by God, and as to his work as approved of God.
(3.) In his abounding love and grace, as seen in his humiliation, and the greatness of his personal sacrifice for us.
(4.) In his earnest desire that sinners should come to God through him.
(5.) In his assurances of the answers of our prayers.
(6.) In his promises of grace unto the end.
(7.) In his constant presence with us, sympathizing, aiding, pleading for us, and securing our acceptance with God.
(8.) In all his offices, Prophet, Priest, and King.
3. The Holy Spirit is also an object of faith.
(1.) As to his promised presence.
(2.) As to the work within the heart, being his work.
(3.) As to his power to accomplish it unto the end.
REMARK. It is thus seen that not only the Godhead as such, but the separate persons in it, are objects of saving faith. Hence the union of them all in Baptism. Even if it be true that “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” means that a different formula was used, still this baptism involved a knowledge of the Trinity, and would have been virtually a baptism with respect to that Trinity.
IV. The nature of saving faith may be still further seen by noticing other words by which it is expressed. [See Gill's Divinity, 2:395-400 for full statement of following points taken, except the fourth, from him.]
1. As looking to Christ. Isa. 45:22; Micah 7:7. Illustrated by the uplifted serpent. John 3:14, 15.
2. As coming to him. Isa. 55:1; Matt. 11:28; John 6:37, 44, 45, 65.
3. As fleeing to him and laying hold upon him. Heb. 6:18.
4. As eating and drinking him. John 6:51-58.
5. As receiving him. Col. 2:6.
V. That the above is the nature of saving faith will still further appear by contrasting with it other kinds of faith which have been attempted to be substituted for it.
1. Implicit faith. Romanists claim that faith must be in the church,–simply in it; in its doctrines so far as known; but in them as believed upon the church’s authority and not upon any other apprehension of their truth.
This is really to make the church a fetish, a mere charm which gives salvation simply to one who trusts salvation in its hands.
It is as though, with our belief implicitly in the Bible, we should say that one who believes the Bible is saved, whether he knows its contents or not.
Our trust, neither in Christ, nor in the Bible, is of this kind. It is based upon an intelligent, not a blind confidence of the truths taught. We simply put blind faith in anything we do not comprehend, because God has taught it. But the whole hope of salvation and faith, in every other respect which is effective and operative, is in what we believe, not in the fact that it is true, but in the knowledge which the fact that it is true conveys to us. Our salvation does not rest in the belief that the books of the Bible teach the truth, but in belief of the things which they teach.
2. Historical faith. This is a mere intellectual belief of the truths taught in the Scriptures as historical facts; as that there was such a person as Jesus, who, being the Son of God, wrought out salvation and has now commanded all men to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.
One fact that favours the substitution of this for the faith which trusts in Christ with the heart, is that in the apostolic days, such was the danger of professing Christ that none would be apt to do so, who did not heartily believe in him. Another is that as the new religion presented itself in salient points in opposition to the old, the acceptance of these points could be due only to a heartfelt belief in Jesus. Hence the language of 1 John 4:15, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God,” and other similar passages.
Fortunately, however, we have sufficient teaching to show what is the true faith.
There is the case of Simon Magus, Acts 8:13-24. Manifestly he had historical faith, and yet the Apostle is led to say of him, verse 21, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” The case of Judas also is one of bare historical faith.
That faith, however, is a work of the heart, is manifest from the following passages:
Acts 2:37. “They were pricked in their heart.”
Rom. 10:8-10. “Shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, * * * with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”
See an illustration of the difference between historical faith and hearty acceptance of the truth in John 12:42, 43 and Rom. 10:16-21.
2 Cor. 3:3. “In tables that are hearts of flesh,” also verse 6, “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
Heb. 10:22. “Let us draw near with a true heart.”
2 Tim. 2:22. Christians are described as those who “call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
It is also proved by all we have seen of the necessity and nature of Regeneration, Conversion and Repentance.
Hodge, [Outlines, p. 473,] gives this further proof from the effects of faith. “The Scriptures declare that by faith the Christian `embraces the promises,’ `is persuaded of the promises,’ `out of weakness is made strong,’ `waxes valiant in fight,’ `confesses himself a stranger and pilgrim seeking a better country.'” As faith in a threatening necessarily involves fear, so faith in a promise necessarily involves trust. “Besides, faith rests upon the trustworthiness of God and, therefore, necessarily involves trust. Heb. 10:23 and the whole 11th chapter.”
3. Assurance of personal interest in Christ’s salvation; so that one may say, I know that Christ died for me, that I am one of his elect, that my sins were removed by him, and I have been reconciled to God by him.
Such cannot be the nature of saving faith, because.
(1) This is not the experience of an early, but of an advanced stage of Christian life.
(2) Because this is not the object of Christian faith. That object is Christ, and the statements of God’s truth concerning him and salvation. Those statements are general so far as the revelation is made. They are made personal by our acceptance. But our faith enters into that condition. If we can satisfy ourselves that our faith is undoubtedly genuine, not merely temporary, but actually one rooted in Christ, we may gain this assurance, but that assurance would rest not on God’s word, nor on Christ’s salvation, but on the evidence afforded by the Spirit’s work in our hearts. [See Hodge's Outlines, p. 478.]
(3) The Scriptures give an example in Paul of a true Christian who could say “I buffet my body and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” 1 Cor. 9:27. See also Phil. 3:12-14.
(4) “From the exhortations addressed to those who were already believers to attain to assurance as a degree of faith beyond that which they already enjoyed.” [Hodge's Outlines, p. 478.]
(5) “From the experience of God’s people in all ages.” [Hodge's Outlines, p. 478.]
Rem. 1st. The assurance, however, which is not thus a part of saving faith, is one which can be attained, and doubtless frequently has been attained.
(a) This is directly asserted. Rom. 8:16; 2 Pet. 1:10; 1 John 2:3; 3:14; 5:13.
(b) Scriptural examples are given of its attainment, as Paul. 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:7, 8.
(c) “Many eminent Christians have enjoyed an abiding assurance, of the genuineness of which their holy walk and conversation was an indubitable seal.” [Hodge's Outlines, p. 478.]
Rem. 2d. The grounds upon which a man can be assured of salvation are
(a) The divine truth of the promises of salvation.
(b) The inward evidence of those graces unto which those promises are made.
(c) The testimony of the Spirit of adoption, Rom. 8:15, 16, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit, Eph. 1:13, 14; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22, is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. [West. Conf., chap 18, quoted in Hodge's Outlines, p. 479.]
“This genuine assurance,” says Hodge (Outlines p. 479), “may be distinguished from that presumptuous confidence which is a delusion of Satan, chiefly by these marks. True assurance, 1st, begets unfeigned humility, 1 Cor. 15;10; Gal. 6:14; 2d, leads to ever increasing diligence in practical religion, Ps. 51:12, 13, 19; 3d, to candid self-examination and a desire to be searched and corrected by God, Ps. 139:23, 24; 4th, to constant aspirations after nearer conformity and more intimate communion with God, 1 John 3:2, 3.”
4. Temporary or delusive faith. This has many marks of a true faith. Hence it is not only the intellectual reception of historical facts, but a joyful acceptance of them. This is the case of the seed in the stony places which represents the man that heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it. But the parable teaches us that the soil was not prepared. It is, therefore, not in the regenerated heart that it arises. The evidence of its temporary character, therefore, will soon appear. It lacks the following characteristics of saving faith and may thus be distinguished from it:
(1.) Continuance in trusting Christ, and in devotion to him and his service.
(2.) Desire to be useful in the work of Christ.
(3.) Attendance to Christian duty.
(4.) Love of prayer and the word of God, and of the meetings with his people for worship.
(5.) Devoted love to the children of God as such.
(6.) Progress in knowledge of self and sin, and of Christ as a Saviour.
(7.) Progress in loving holiness and hating sin, with increased conviction of, and humility concerning sinfulness.
VI. It is through this saving faith that we attain vital union with Christ. It is, however, not a meritorious ground, nor a procuring cause of such union, but simply the mere act of clinging to him and trusting in him which becomes the instrumental cause of such union. Rom. 4:16.
1. There are several senses in which Christians are spoken of as in Christ.
(1.) By election; “Chosen in him.”
(2.) By federal representation in his atoning work.
(3.) From the union of believers with him by faith.
Rom. 16:7. “Who also were in Christ before me.”
2 Cor. 5;17. “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.”
2. This union is represented in the Scriptures by the figure of a vine and its branches in John 15:1-6, by that of a living stone unto which as lively stones Christians are built up a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:4-6), by Christ, as the head, of whom Christians are the members (Eph. 4:16), and as husband and bride (the church), Eph. 5:25-32. [Hodge's Outlines, p. 483.]
3. On the one hand this union does not involve any mysterious confusion of the person of Christ with the persons of his people; and on the other hand it is not such a mere association of separate persons as exists in human societies. But it is a union which (1.) determines our legal status on the same basis with his, (2.), which revives and sustains, by the influence of his indwelling Spirit, our spiritual life from the fountain of his life, and which transforms our bodies and souls into the likeness of his glorified humanity.
It is therefore
“(1.) A spiritual union. Its actuating source and bond is the spirit of the head, who dwells and works in the members.” 1 Cor. 6:17; 12;13; 1 John 3:24; 4:13.
“(2.) A vital union, i.e. our spiritual life is sustained and determined in its nature and movement by the life of Christ through the indwelling of the Spirit.” John 14:19; Gal. 2:20.
“(3.) It embraces our entire persons, our bodies through our spirits.” 1 Cor. 6:15, 19.
“(4.) It is a legal or federal union, so that all of our legal or covenant responsibilities rest upon Christ, and all his legal or covenant merits accrue to us.”
“(5.) It is an indissoluble union.” John 10:38; Rom. 8:35, 37; 1 Thess. 4:14, 17.
“(6.) This union is between the believer and the person of the Godman in his office as Mediator. Its immediate instrument is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, and through him we are vitally united to and commune with the whole Godhead since he is the Spirit of the Father, as well as of the Son.” John 14:23; 17:21, 23. [Hodge's Outlines, pp. 483 and 484.]
VII. The difference between faith and hope.
That they are not the same is evident from 1 Cor. 13:13, where they are plainly distinguished from each other; also in Rom. 5:2-5; 1Pet. 1:21; Heb. 11:1. Illustrated by Rom. 4:18.
It is objected that the view taken, that saving faith involves trust, makes it the same as hope, and, therefore, faith must be of such a nature, as not to include trust.
But Christian faith and hope differ,
1. In their nature. (a) Faith is a reliance upon something now present as known or believed. Hope is looking forward to something in the future, with more or less expectation of receiving it. Faith may become the assurance of things hoped for but not the hope that looks forward to them.
Faith is belief, Hope is expectation. Each involves the idea of trust, but with the use of different prepositions. Faith is trust in or reliance upon any person or thing. Hope is trust of some person or thing, or expectation of the happening of something desirable.
See every passage in Cruden’s Concordance where “hope” is, of which the following are specimens: Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 28:20; Rom. 8:24; 15:4; 1 Cor. 15:19; 2 Cor. 3:12; Col. 1:5, 23, 27; 1 Thess. 5:8.
(b) Joyful expectation enters into the nature of hope, but not into that of faith. It is only because the things believed beget a joyful hope, that the Christian’s trust can be mistaken for hope.
2. Hope is the result or effect of faith and, therefore, not faith itself. Rom. 5:2-5; Rom. 15:4, 13; Gal. 5:5; Heb. 11:1.
3. They differ in their objects. Faith rests upon Christ and his work for our salvation and upon the promises made of blessings. Hope rests in the blessings resultant from that work and those promises. Its object is salvation, freedom from sin, heaven, glory hereafter. We cannot say we have faith in salvation, but in the Saviour and his work; we have not faith in future freedom from sin; but we have it in the promised deliverance. Likewise we have not faith in heaven or glory; but in these as promised to us.
Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887