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DEFINITION OF JUSTIFYING FAITH.
It being generally admitted by all writers on theology, that justification under the Gospel of Christ, whenever obtained, must be by,or through faith, as an indispensable condition, mean, or instrument, whereby man is to obtain his justification ; of course it will be a most desirable object to ascertain from Scripture what true justifying faith is.
The common acceptation of the meaning of the word faith, is the assent of the mind to a proposition upon the authority, or statement of another person, and this faith will be strong, or weak according to the authority : but to have a scriptural definition of faith, we must refer to Scripture.
In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, St. Paul has given us an enlarged exposition of faith : but sufficient for our purpose may be collected from the first and sixth verses, the other parts of the chapter shew the effects of faith rather than its nature and quality.
Heb. xi. 1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
That is, faith gives us a confident expectation, that all those good things, which are promised in Scripture, and which, by hope, we have a firm reliance, will, through God's merciful goodness, be granted us : and as they cannot at present be seen, faith is the evidence of our minds, that their accomplishment will take place in the manner they have been promised.
Heb. xi. 6. “But without faith it is impossible to please him ; for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
By this verse we see, that it is impossible to please God without faith : and what expectation can a sinner have of receiving justification, who does not please him? The verse shews us what that faith must consist of, and that it is an absolute and indispensable condition for man to have, before he can come to God; which must be understood, either to be brought into the way of obtaining justification, or accepted by him : the words of this verse are so plain to this point, it is unnecessary to remark further upon them; but to another point, the following observation may be useful : although faith is an indispensable condition, or instrument to obtain justification, yet other conditions are not excluded, from any thing that appears, or is stated, there may be other conditions also indispensable as well as faith ; and the latter part of the verse very strongly shews such a conclusion may reasonably be drawn from the words used, and which will be hereinafter considered, and more fully explained in the case of Enoch.
Faith is often restricted to a belief in Christ, and is then called the faith of Christ, but in a more enlarged and general sense, it is a belief in the revealed word of God as set forth in Scripture : there may be many other meanings given to this word, which will be observed upon as they occur, or are found necessary to be brought forward.
We see, according to the explanation of faith by St. Paul, it is “the substance of things hoped for," from these words we find there is a substantial faith ; and in another place by the same Apostle we also learn, there may be a faith, which may be truly called unsubstantial, where he says, faith must work by love to have an available effect with Christ; and in another place, it must be accompanied with charity, otherwise the man who has all faith not so accompanied is nothing ; we then learn from the same authority, there is a substantial, and an unsubstantial faith, or, in other words, a living, or justifying, and a dead faith ; the one as having an effect in justification and salvation, the other, as being ineffectual to every purpose with respect to God and Christ. It will be our present business to enquire, and learn from Scripture, what these two descriptions of faith are, how they are to be known and distinguished from each other, and their different uses, purposes, and effects. We will take the latter of these two sorts of faith first, which may be described an assent, or belief in the mind that there is a God, that Christ is his Son, and that the Gospel is the written word of God; and there this belief or faith stops, and extends no further, and the man possessing this faith deceives himself, and rests satisfied that this is all the faith necessary for his justification and salvation ; but with this faith, he neither has the love, or fear of God in his heart, charity to his fellow man, or does he seek, or pray for the
to assist and enable him to bring forth fruits meet for his repentance; such is the faith alluded to by St. Paul, when he says, “and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” And such must be the faith mentioned by St. James when he says, “even so faith, if it hath
a 1 Cor. iii. 2.
not works, is dead, being alone. This is the faith significantly described by St. Paul as “all faith” that is in God, in Christ, and the Gospel ; but the man possessing this faith profiteth nothing, with respect to God and Christ, unless he has charity, and brings forth fruits meet for repentance; this is the dark part of the picture, we will now pass on to the light part, and endeavour to learn what is truly the substantial faith mentioned by St. Paul : this faith must consist of the same parts that have been stated as contained in the unsubstantial faith, that is, an assent, or belief in the mind, that there is a God, that Christ is his only son, and the Gospel is the written word of God; but the man to have real substantial faith, must not stop here, he must have the love and fear of God in his heart, he must love his neighbour as himself, he must seek and pray for the Spirit of God's grace to assist and enable him to bring forth such fruits of that spirit as are meet for repentance, and when this faith is united to, accompanied, and associated with those works, which St. Paul designates as the fruits of the spirit, then the man possessing, and holding them fast unto the end, may be assured of justification, salvation, and every celestial blessing : this is the substantial and evidential
b James ii. 17.