To consider more particularly the properties of that faith which is necessary to salvation.
I. We Will Offer Some Remarks on the of Nature of Faith in General
The Greek word which is rendered faith in the New Testament is, from the verb, which means to persuade. Faith, therefore, -according to the etymology of the word, is the persuasion of the truth of a proposition; or, in other words, faith is the assent of the mind to the truth of a proposition on the ground of evidence.
By evidence we mean whatever is a ground or cause of belief. There are various kinds of evidence by which human knowledge is gained and propositions are established. We have the evidence of sense, of reason, of consciousness, and of testimony. It is the evidence of testimony alone which produces faith in its strictest acceptation; and faith is therefore more pure and genuine, in proportion as the truth believed possesses less credibility in itself, and rests solely upon the veracity of the testifier. It was this fact that so eminently distinguished the faith of Abraham. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." Rom. 4:20. But we may proceed to remark,
1. That faith implies a previous knowledge of that which is made the subject of belief.— Hence knowledge has been regarded as an antecedent act of faith; for in order that we might believe, it is necessary that we should have a previous knowledge of what we are to believe. There is, therefore, great propriety in the question of the man who had been healed of his native blindness, when our Lord said to him, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?" John 9:35, 36.
A proposition to be believed may be either directly expressed or only implied. Of the former we have an example in John 4:50, when our Lord said to the nobleman of Capernaum, "Thy son liveth," and of the latter in John 9:7: "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." Jesus did not tell the blind man that by washing in this pool he should receive sight, but this proposition was plainly implied. "He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing."
2. Faith implies evidence.— No man can believe a proposition without evidence, either real or supposed; nor can any one withhold his assent to a proposition which, according to his judgment, is sustained by a sufficient amount of evidence. Belief, therefore, is the natural and necessary result of evidence whenever such evidence is apprehended by the mind; for it is impossible that any one should believe a proposition to be both true and false at the same time.
But to this it may be objected, that if a man cannot believe without evidence, and if belief is the natural and necessary result of evidence, then it will follow either that no man ever believed a falsehood, or that falsehood is sometimes supported by evidence; neither of which can be allowed. To this we reply: It is evident that men often believe that which is false; and it is equally evident that falsehood cannot be supported by real evidence, otherwise the distinction between truth and error would be destroyed. But these facts are in perfect harmony with the position which we have assumed. Thus, a man's judgment, through some improper bias, may decide in favor of a proposition for which there is really no evidence; but then we must make a distinction between what is really evidence and what is supposed to be evidence. A man may take that for evidence which is really no evidence at all, and by this means be led into the belief of error. On the other hand a proposition may be true, and it may be susceptible of the clearest proof; but from some mismanagement of the mind its truth may not be apprehended. Hence it follows that men are responsible for what they believe as well as for what they do.
3. Faith always operates according to the fact or proposition believed.—If the thing proposed appears to be of importance it will, when believed, excite emotion, and perhaps prompt to action; which action is the fruit and external evidence of faith. When God revealed to Noah his determination to destroy mankind by water, and commanded him to prepare an ark as the means of preserving himself and his family, he was "moved with fear:" here was the emotion which his faith produced; and he "prepared an ark to the saving of his house:" here was the action consequent on his faith. When Jonah proclaimed, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown, the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them." Jonah 3:4, 5. When the multitude on the day of Pentecost believed the preaching of Peter they were "pricked in their heart." This was the emotion which accompanied their faith, and they cried out, "Men and brethren, What shall we do?" Acts 2:37. Thus they expressed their emotion in a manner which gave evidence of their faith.
4. Faith may exist in different degrees.— It may not only be more or less extensive in regard to the truths embraced, but it may vary also in its degree of strength. Our Saviour addresses his disciples, saying, "O ye of little faith." Matt. 6:30. So St. Paul speaks (Romans 14:1) of "him that is weak in the faith." On the other hand our Lord says, in regard to the centurion's faith, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Matt. 8:10. Again, addressing the woman of Canaan, he says, "O woman, great is thy faith." Matt. 15:28. Here faith is spoken of as being in some cases little or weak, and in others great; hence it must exist in different degrees.
The same doctrine is taught in all those Scriptures which speak of faith as being progressive. The disciples are exhorted to "have faith as a grain of mustard-seed," which clearly implies its growth and expansion. Accordingly, we find the disciples praying, "Lord, increase our faith." Luke 17:5. St. Paul, when speaking of the Gospel, says, "Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." Rom. 1:17. This can only mean, that faith advances from one degree to another. Again, he says to his brethren, "Your faith groweth exceedingly." 2 Thess. 1:3. It follows, therefore, that there may be degrees in true faith.
II. We Will Consider the Properties of that Faith Which is Necessary to Salvation
Though much is said in the sacred Scriptures in regard to faith, there is only one passage in which it is particularly defined. This is Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen." As this is the only inspired definition of saving faith, it will be proper to examine with suitable attention the terms in which it is expressed.
The word ὑπόστασις, which is rendered substance, means literally something placed under, a basis or foundation. But in its metaphorical application it means a certain persuasion, an assured expectation, a confident anticipation. We think that the last sense, confident anticipation, is the true import of the word in the passage before us, as the apostle connects it with "things hoped for." So also, in Hebrews 3:14, the same original word is rendered confidence in our translation.
The term ελέγχος, rendered evidence, means primarily whatever serves to convince or confute; an argument, proof, or demonstration. But when it is used by metonymy it means refutation or conviction; firm persuasion. The last we take as the true import of the word in the present case. The apostle's definition, therefore, may be stated thus: Faith is the confident anticipation of things hoped for, the firm persuasion of things invisible. But we will now consider, more directly, the properties of saving faith.
1. All saving faith is grounded upon revealed truth.— The apostle tells us that the Gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," Romans 1:16; and that men are chosen to eternal life "through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." 2 Thess. 2:13. He accordingly inquires, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Rom. 10:14, 17. That revealed truth is the ground of saving faith will further appear from the following passages. Our Saviour says, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." John 17:20. "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." John 20:30, 31.
It is worthy of remark, that while the Scriptures propose to us truths to be believed, they also afford the evidence on which a rational faith may be founded. This will appear from the following passages: "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in. him." John 10:37, 38. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" Heb. 2:3, 4. Again: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 2 Peter 1:16, 17. Thus we see that the faith which the Scriptures require is not a blind assent of the mind without any rational foundation. It is a well-grounded and reasonable confidence, based upon good and sufficient evidence.
2. Saving faith is something more than a mere intellectual assent to Gospel truth.— It is admitted that this intellectual assent is included in saving or justifying faith, and that without it there can be no salvation; but that it does, in itself, necessarily produce salvation, is what we deny. So far is this from being the fact, that moral creatures may possess a high degree of intellectual assent to Divine truth, while they are involved in sin and far from God. Thus St. James, in speaking of a mere intellectual and inoperative faith, says, "The devils also believe and tremble." James 2:19. In accordance with this is the language of one of those wicked spirits, when our Lord was about to cast him out:
"I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." Mark 1:24. We see, therefore, that devils possess faith; and if the Gospel required nothing more than an intellectual assent to Divine truth, it would only require of men the faith of devils. But as no one can suppose that justifying faith is the same as that which is possessed by devils, the inference is obvious, that it must be something more than the bare assent of the understanding.
It is evident, moreover, that men may be convinced of the Messiahship of Christ and the truth of revealed religion without being the subjects of saving grace. Of Simon Magus it is said that he "believed," and "was baptized;" that is, he "believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ." But Peter said to him immediately afterward, "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." St. Paul, in his defense before Agrippa, said, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest." Acts 26:27. But did he possess saving faith? Certainly he did not. It follows, therefore, that saving faith is something more than an intellectual assent to the truth.
3. Saving faith implies a full and hearty consent of the will to the Gospel plan of salvation.— We are everywhere addressed in the word of God as voluntary agents. "If ye be willing and obedient," saith the Lord, "ye shall eat the good of the land." And "if any man will come after me," said Christ, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Matt. 16:24. When the Ethiopian eunuch desired to be baptized, "Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Acts 8:37. So St. Paul testifies, that "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Rom. 10:10. It follows, therefore, that true and saving faith implies an enlistment of the whole heart—the will and affections—in the cause of God.
It is said of a certain young man who came to our Lord, saying, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" that "he went away sorrowful." But why? Doubtless, because he was not willing to comply with the terms which Christ proposed. On another occasion "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him," because they were offended at his doctrines. We are moreover informed, that "among the chief rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." John 12:42, 43. These rulers were believers in Christ, but they were not willing to make the sacrifices which the religion of Christ requires; consequently, they did not possess justifying or saving faith. To such our Lord refers when he says, "Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Mark 8:38. Thus it is evident that saving faith requires a voluntary and full surrender of ourselves to God. But,
4. It implies also unshaken trust in God.— This refers to whatever is revealed or asserted on Divine authority, whether it relates to the past, the present, or the future. It is very evident, from the testimony of Scripture, that the faith which God requires of men always comprehends trust or reliance, as well as persuasion and consent. The faith by which "the elders obtained a good report" was clearly of this character, uniting a noble confidence in the word and promises of God with an assent to the truth of his revelations. "Our fathers trusted in thee," said David; "they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them." Psa. 22:4. This is the faith which was exercised by Abraham when "he went out, not knowing whither he went;" when he rested in the promise of God, and obtained justification and when he obeyed the Divine command, in offering up his. son Isaac. This faith, too, pious Job possessed when he said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Job 13:15. And the psalmist, in characterizing a good man, says, "His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." Psa. 112:7.
The same view of this subject is fully established in the New Testament. When our Lord said to his disciples, "Have faith in God," he did not question their belief in his existence, but exhorted them to confide or trust in his promises. He therefore adds, "Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." Mark 11:22, 23. It was in reference to the centurion's simple trust in the power of Christ that our Lord so highly commended him, saying, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Matt. 8:10. In all the instances in which persons were miraculously healed by Christ their faith was also of this kind. It was belief in his claims, and trust in his goodness and power.
That faith in Christ which is connected with salvation is clearly of this nature. He is set forth, both to Jews and Gentiles, as a propitiation "through faith in his blood," which faith cannot mean a mere assent, either to the historical fact that his blood was shed by a violent death, or to the doctrine that it possesses an atoning quality. But as all expiatory offerings, both among Jews and Gentiles, were trusted in as the means of propitiation, so now we are to trust exclusively in the blood of Christ as the meritorious cause of our salvation. "In his name shall the Gentiles trusty Matt. 12:21. "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth." Eph. 1:13. "We both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." 1 Tim. 4:10. This firm and unshaken trust in God is the crowning exercise of saving faith. It is by this that the humble penitent throws himself upon the mercy of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and claims the blessing of pardon. It is by this that the Christian wars a good warfare, overcomes the world, and obtains everlasting life.
It must be remembered, however, that the trust which leads to salvation is not a blind and superstitious trust in the sacrifice of Christ, like that of the heathen in their sacrifices; nor is it the presumptuous trust of wicked and impenitent men, who depend on Christ to save them in their sins; but it is such a trust as is exercised according to the authority and direction of the word of God. To know the Gospel in its leading principles, to assent to its truth, and to comply with its injunctions, are, therefore, necessary to that more specific act of faith which is called trust or reliance; or, in theological language, fiducial assent, of which cometh salvation.