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§ 7. The Object of Saving Faith.
It is conceded that all Christians are bound to believe, and that all do believe everything taught in the Word of God, so far as the contents of the Scriptures are known to them. It is correct, therefore, to say that the object of faith is the whole revelation of God as contained in his Word. As the Bible is with Protestants the only infallible rule of faith and practice, nothing not expressly taught in Scripture, or deduced therefrom by necessary inference, can be imposed on the people of God as an article of faith. This is “the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free,” and in which we are bound to stand fast. This is our protection on the one hand, against the usurpations of the Church. Romanists claim for the Church the prerogative of infallible and authoritative 96teaching. The people are bound to believe whatever the Church, i.e., its organs the bishops, declare to be a part of the revelation of God. They do not, indeed, assume the right “to make” new articles of faith. But they claim the authority to decide, in such a way as to bind the conscience of the people, what the Bible teaches; and what by tradition the Church knows to be included in the teaching of Christ and his Apostles. This gives them latitude enough to teach for doctrines the commandments of men. Bellarmin126126De Sacram. lib. ii. c. 2. (?) says: “Omnium dogmatum firmitas pendet ab auctoritate præsentis ecclesiæ.” On the other hand, however, it is not only against the usurpations of the Church, that the principle above mentioned is our security, but also against the tyranny of public opinion. Men are as impatient of contradiction now as they ever were. They manifest the same desire to have their own opinions enacted into laws, and enforced by divine authority. And they are as fierce in their denunciations of all who venture to oppose them. Hence they meet in conventions or other assemblies, ecclesiastical or voluntary, and decide what is true and what is false in doctrine, and what is right and what is wrong in morals. Against all undue assumptions of authority, true Protestants hold fast to the two great principles, — the right of private judgment, and that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The object of faith, therefore, is all the truths revealed in the Word of God. All that God in the Bible declares to be true, we are bound to believe. This is what theologians call fides generalis.
But, besides this, there is a fides specialis necessary to salvation. In the general contents of the Scriptures there are certain doctrines concerning Christ and his work, and certain promises of salvation made through Him to sinful men, which we are bound to receive and on which we are required to trust. The special object of faith, therefore, is Christ, and the promise of salvation through Him. And the special definite act of faith which secures our salvation is the act of receiving and resting on Him as He is offered to us in the Gospel. This is so clearly and so variously taught in the Scriptures as hardly to admit of being questioned.
In the first place, our Lord repeatedly declares that what men are required to do, and what they are condemned because they 97do not do, is to believe on Him. He was lifted up, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John iii. 15.) “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (v. 18.) “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (v. 36.) “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John vi. 40.) “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. . . . . This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, . . . . any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.” (vers. 47-51.) In another place our Lord says, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John vi. 29.) The passages, however, in which faith in Christ is expressly demanded as the condition of salvation, are too numerous to be cited.
We are said to be saved by receiving Christ.
That Christ is the immediate object of saving faith is also taught in all those passages in which we are said to receive Christ, or the testimony of God concerning Christ, and in which this act of receiving is said to secure our salvation. For example, in John i. 12, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not.” (John v. 43.) “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God has made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” (1 John v. 9, 10.) “He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (v. 12.) “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (v. 1.) It is, therefore, receiving Christ; receiving the record which God has given of his Son; believing that He is the Christ the Son of the living God, which is the specific act required of us in order to salvation. Christ, therefore, is the immediate object of those exercises of faith which secure salvation. And, therefore, faith is expressed by looking to Christ; coming to Christ; committing the soul to Him, etc.98
Teaching of the Apostles
Accordingly the Apostle teaches we are justified “by the faith of Christ.” It is not faith as a pious disposition of the mind not faith as general confidence in God; not faith in the truth of divine revelation; much less faith “in eternal verities,” or the general principles of truth and duty, but that faith of which Christ is the object. Romans iii. 22: “The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” Galatians ii. 16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law.” iii. 24: “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” v. 26: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians ii. 20: “I live by the faith of the Son of God,” etc., etc.
Christ our Ransom.
Christ declares that He gave Himself as a ransom for many; He was set forth as a propitiation for sins; He offered Himself as a sacrifice unto God. It is through the merit of his righteousness and death that men are saved. All these representations which pervade the Scriptures necessarily assume that the faith which secures salvation must have special reference to Him. If He is our Redeemer, we must receive and trust Him as such. If He is a propitiation for sins, it is through faith in his blood that we are reconciled to God. The whole plan of salvation, as set forth in the Gospel, supposes that Christ in his person and work is the object of faith and the ground of confidence.
We live in Christ by Faith.
The same thing follows from the representations given of the relation of the believer to Christ. We are in Him by faith. He dwells in us. He is the head from whom we, as members of his body, derive our life. He is the vine, we are the branches. It is not we that live, but Christ, who liveth in us. These and other representations are utterly inconsistent with the doctrine that it is a vague general faith in God or in the Scriptures which secures our salvation. It is a faith which terminates directly on Christ, which takes Him to be our God and Saviour. God sent his Son into the world, clothed in our nature, to reveal his will, to die 99for our sins and to rise again for our justification. In Him dwells the fulness of the Godhead, from his fulness we are filled. He to us is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Those who receive this Saviour as being all He claimed to be, and commit their souls into his hands to be used in his service and saved to his glory, are, in the Scriptural sense of the term, believers. Christ is not only the object of their faith, but their whole inward, spiritual life terminates on Him. Nothing, therefore, can be more foreign to the Gospel than the Romish doctrine, substantially revived by the modern philosophy which turns the mind away from the historical, really existing, objective Christ, to the work within us; leaving us nothing to love and trust, but what is in our own miserable hearts.
Christ is not received in a Special Office alone.
Admitting that Christ is the immediate and special object of those acts of faith which secure salvation, it is asked, Whether it is Christ in all his offices, or Christ in his priestly office, especially, that is the object of justifying faith? This seems an unnecessary question. It is not raised in the Bible; nor does it suggest itself to the believer. He receives Christ. He does not ask himself for what special function of his saving work he thus accepts Him. He takes Him as a Saviour, as a deliverer from the guilt and power of sin, from the dominion of Satan, and from all the evils of his apostasy from God. He takes Him as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. He takes Him as his God and Saviour, as the full, complete, satisfying, life-giving portion of the soul. If this complex act of apprehension and surrender were analyzed it doubtless would be found to include submission to all his teaching, reliance on his righteousness and intercession, subjection to his will, confidence in his protection, and devotion to his service. As He is offered to us as a prophet, priest, and king, as such He is accepted. And as He is offered to us as a source of life, and glory, and blessedness, as the supreme object of adoration and love, as such He is joyfully accepted.
Is the Sinner required to believe that God loves him?
Again, it is questioned, Whether the object of saving faith is that God is reconciled to us; that our sins are forgiven; that we are the objects of the saving love of God? This is not the question above considered, namely, Whether, as Romanists say, the object of faith is the whole revelation of God, or, as Protestants 100contend, Christ and the promise of redemption through Him, although many of the arguments of the Romanists are directed against the special form of the doctrine just stated. They argue that it is contradictory to say that we are pardoned because we believe; and, in the same breath, to say that the thing to be believed is that our sins are already pardoned. Again, they argue that the only proper object of faith is some revelation of God, but it is nowhere revealed that we individually are reconciled to God, or that our sins are pardoned, or that we are the objects of that special love which God has to his own people.
In answer to the first of these objections, the Reformed theologians were accustomed to say, that a distinction is to be made between the remission of sin de jure already obtained through the death of Christ, and remission de facto through the efficacious application of it to us. In the former sense, “remissio peccatorum jam impetrata” is the object of faith. In the latter sense, it is “remissio impetranda,” because faith is the instrumental cause of justification, and must precede it. “Unde,” says Turrettin,127127Institutio, XV. xii. 6; Works, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. ii. p. 508. “ad obtinendam remissionem peccatorum, non debeo credere peccata mihi jam remissa, ut perperam nobis impingunt; sed debeo credere peccata mihi credenti et pœnitenti, juxta promissionem factam credentibus et pœnitentibus, remissum iri certissime, quæ postea actu secundari et reflexo ex sensu fidei credo mihi esse remissa.”
The second objection was answered by distinguishing between the direct and the reflex act of faith. By the direct act of faith we embrace Christ as our Saviour; by the reflex act, arising out of the consciousness of believing, we believe that He loved us and died for us, and that nothing can ever separate us from his love. These two acts are inseparable, not only as cause and effect, antecedent and consequent; but they are not separated in time, or in the consciousness of the believer. They are only different elements of the complex act of accepting Christ as He is offered in the Gospel. We cannot separate the joy and gratitude with which a great favour is accepted. Although a psychological analysis might resolve these emotions into the effects of the act of acceptance, they belong, as revealed in consciousness, to the very nature of the act. It is a cordial and grateful acceptance of a promise made to all who embrace it. If a general promise of pardon be made to criminals on the condition of the confession of guilt, every one of their number who makes the confession knows 101or believes that the promise is made to him. On this point the early Reformed and Lutheran theologians were agreed in teaching that when the sinner exercises saving faith. He believes that for Christ’s sake he is pardoned and accepted of God. In other words, that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him. We have already seen that the “Heidelberg Catechism,”128128XXI.; Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, p. 434. the symbolical book of so large a portion of the Reformed Church, declared saving faith to be “Certa fiducia, a Spiritu Sancto per evangelium in corde meo accensa, qua in Deo acquiesco, certo statuens, non solum aliis, sed mihi quoque remissionem peccatorum æternam, justitiam et vitam donatam esse idque gratis, ex Dei misericordia, propter unius Christi meritum.” In the “Apology of the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church” it is said,129129V. 60; Hase, Libri Symbolici, Leipzig, 1846, p. 172. “Nos præter illam fidem [fidem generalem] requirimus, ut credat sibi quisque remitti peccata.” Calvin says,130130Institutio, lib. III. ii. 7, 16; edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. i. pp. 357, 364. “Gratiæ promissione opus est, qua nobis testificetur se propitium esse Patrem: quando nec aliter ad eum appropinquare possumus, et in eam solam reclinare cor hominis potest. . . . . Nunc justa fidei definitio nobis constabit, si dicamus esse divinæ erga nos benevolentiæ firmam certamque cognitionem, quæ gratuitæ in Christo promissionis veritate fundata, per Spiritum Sanctum et revelatur mentibus nostris et cordibus obsignatur.” “Hic præcipuus fidei cardo vertitur, ne quas Dominus offert misericordiæ promissiones, extra nos tantum veras esse arbitremur, in nobis minime: sed ut potius eas intus complectendo nostras faciamus. . . . . In summa, vere fidelis non est nisi qui solida persuasione Deum sibi propitium benevolumque patrem esse persuasus, de ejus benignitate omnia sibi pollicetur: nisi qui divinæ erga se benevolentiæ promissionibus fretus, indubitatam salutis expectationem præsumit.”
This is strong language. The doctrine, however, is not that faith implies assurance. The question concerns the nature of the object seen, not the clearness of the vision; what it is that the soul believes, not the strength of its faith. This Calvin himself elsewhere beautifully expresses, saying, “When the least drop of faith is instilled into our minds, we begin to see the serene and placid face of our reconciled Father; far off and on high, it may be, but still it is seen.” A man in a dungeon may see only a ray of light streaming through a crevice. This is very different from broad daylight. Nevertheless, what he sees is light. So what 102the penitent sinner believes is, that God for Christ’s sake is reconciled to him. It may be with a very dim and doubtful vision, he apprehends that truth; but that is the truth on which his trust is stayed.
Proof of this Doctrine.
This is involved in the appropriation of the general promise of the Gospel. The Scriptures declare that God is love; that He set forth his Son to be a propitiation for sin; that in Him He is reconciled; that He will receive all who come to Him through Christ. To appropriate these general declarations, is to believe that they are true, not only in relation to others, but to ourselves that God is reconciled to us. We have no right to exclude ourselves. This self-exclusion is unbelief. It is refusing to take of the waters of life, freely offered to all.
Accordingly the Apostle in Galatians ii. 20, says, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” The object of the Apostle’s faith, therefore, the truths which he believed, and faith in which gave life to his soul, were, (1.) That Christ is the Son of God; (2.) That He loved him; (3.) That He gave Himself for him. The faith by which a believer lives, is not specifically different in its nature or object from the faith required of every man in order to his salvation. The life of faith is only the continued repetition, it may be with ever increasing strength and clearness, of those exercises by which we first receive Christ, in all his fuiness and in all his offices, as our God and Saviour. “Qui fit ut vivamus Christi fide? quia nos dilexit, et se ipsum tradidit pro nobis. Amor, inquam, quo nos complexus est Christus, fecit ut se nobis coadunaret. Id implevit morte sua nam se ipsum tradendo pro nobis, non secus atque in persona nostra passus est. . . . . Neque parum energiæ habet pro me: quia non satis fuerit Christum pro mundi salute mortuum reputare, nisi sibi quisque effectum ac possessionem hujus gratiæ privatim vindicet.”131131Calvin in loco.
It is objected to this view of the case that by the “love of God,” or “of Christ,” in the above statement, is not meant the general benevolence or philanthropy of God, but his special, electing, and saving love. When Paul said he lived by the faith of Christ who loved him, and gave Himself for him, he meant something 103more than that Christ loved all men and therefore him among the rest. He evidently believed himself to be a special object of the Saviour’s love. It was this conviction which gave power to his faith. And a like conviction enters into the faith of every true believer. But to this it is objected that faith must have a divine revelation for its object. But there is no revelation of God’s special love to individuals, and, therefore, no individual has any Scriptural ground to believe that Christ loved him, and gave Himself for him. Whatever force there may be in this objection, it bears against Paul’s declaration and experience. He certainly did believe that Christ loved him and died for him. It will not do to say that this was a conclusion drawn from his own experience; or to assume that the Apostle argued himself into the conviction that Christ loved him. Christ specially loves all who believe upon Him. I believe upon Him. Therefore Christ specially loves me. But a conclusion reached by argument is not an object of faith. Faith must rest on the testimony of God. It must be, therefore, that God in some way testifies to the soul that it is the object of his love. This he does in two ways. First, by the general invitations and promises of the Gospel. The act of appropriating, or of accepting these promises, is to believe that they belong to us as well as to others. Secondly, by the inward witness of the Spirit. Paul says (Rom. v. 5), “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” That is, the Holy Ghost convinces us that we are the objects of God’s love. This is done, not only by the various manifestations of his love in providence and redemption, but by his inward dealings with the soul. “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John xiv. 21). This manifestation is not outward through the word. It is inward. God has fellowship or intercourse with the souls of his people. The Spirit calls forth our love to God, and reveals his love to us. Again, in Romans viii. 16, the Apostle says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” This does not mean that the Spirit excites in us filial feelings toward God, from whence we infer that we are his children. The Apostle refers to two distinct sources of evidence of our adoption. The one is that we can call God Father; the other, the testimony of the Spirit. The latter is joined with the former. The word is συμμαρτυρεῖ, unites in testifying. Hence we are said to be sealed, not only marked and secured, but assured by the 104Spirit; and the Spirit is a pledge, an assurance, that we are, and ever shall be, the objects of God’s saving love. (Eph. i. 13, 14; iv. 30. 2 Cor. i. 22.)
This is not saying that a man must believe that he is one of the elect. Election is a secret purpose of God. The election of any particular person is not revealed, and, therefore, is not an object of faith. It is a thing to be proved, or made sure, as the Apostle Peter says, by the fruits of the Spirit. All that the doctrine of the Reformers on this subject includes is, that the soul in committing itself to Christ does so as to one who loved it and died for its salvation. The woman healed by touching our Saviour’s garment, believed that she was an object of his compassionate love, because all who touched Him with faith were included in that number. Her faith included that conviction.
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