Faith not mere Assent.

Part 3 of 4

By Robert Whyte


Passing from the strictly exegetical argument, which formed the subject of our last paper, we now proceed to give fuller and separate treatment to various aspects of faith, some of which have already been touched upon, but which admit of discussion from other points of view.

Our third objection, then, to the theory in question is based on a consideration of the moral ground of saving faith.

The proper ground of faith is the Divine testimony. Faith, strictly speaking, includes belief, not only in the truths believed, but also in the ground on which we believe them, i.e. the testimony of God, the former being the material, the latter the formal object of faith.1 This testimony may be either external or internal. The former is that which is conveyed to us through other media than our own moral and spiritual nature, consisting of external evidences, such as miracles. The latter, commonly called the testimony of the Spirit, is that which is furnished by the felt adaptation of the truth to our own moral and spiritual being, in other words, by its self-evidencing power, "the Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirit" that it is of God.

Now waiving for the present the question as to the relative value of these two forms of testimony and the relation of each to saving faith, and postulating only the general principle that faith is grounded on the testimony of God, however borne, we deny that such a faith is purely intellectual. It ultimately resolves itself into trust in the veracity of God; and this is something more than assent to a proposition. The very conception of God as absolutely trustworthy is an essentially moral conception. It can be taken up into the intellect only through the heart and the moral sense. Any conception of God which excludes his moral character is not a true conception of Him, and faith in it is not faith in God at all. The best, many would say the only conclusive, proof of the being of God is that derived from our moral nature. Faith then, in as far as it involves the conception of, and reliance upon, the trustworthiness of God, is more than intellectual assent; it is essentially a moral act.

Take a case in which faith, we do not say saving faith, rests solely on the outward testimony of God, without regard to the inherent reasonableness or moral adaptation of the thing believed. Suppose, e.g. I believe a statement of Scripture, say, its opening statement regarding the creation of the world, simply and solely because I believe the Bible to be the Word of God (no matter how this last belief has been arrived at): my belief, however defective from an intellectual point of view, still derives a certain moral character and value from the fact that it is the outcome and expression of my trust in God. Indeed, Paul adduces it as a rare instance of moral sublimity that Abraham simply and unquestioningly believed God when He promised him a future destiny involving an apparent physical impossibility: "Who against hope believed in hope, . . . and staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform."2 A child's reliance on its father's word is perhaps the nearest analogue to the believer's trust in God; and surely no representation could be more ludicrously inadequate than that which would reduce the child's acceptance of its father's testimony to mere intellectual assent.

Now with regard to saving faith, even if it could be exercised on the ground of external testimony alone, its reference to the moral trustworthiness of God would still be sufficient to impart to it a moral character, and constitute it an affection of the heart. Indeed, it could scarcely be anything else. It would be to a large extent devoid of intelligence, and would resolve itself almost entirely into general trust in the Divine character.

Such a belief, however, it is evident, could of itself have no saving efficacy. To believe the gospel, on external evidence alone, to have come from God, without any appreciation or realization of its content, can have no more power to save than belief in any other divinely attested statement, as that God created the world, or that David slew Goliath. Abraham's faith in the testimony of God had no doubt a high moral value apart altogether from the contents of the promise, but it was not and could not be a personally saving faith except in so far as it realized and " embraced " the promise itself, the promise of redemption for the world through the preservation and development in the line of his posterity of the seed of Divine truth of which he was made the depositary. The conviction or assent produced by external evidence alone requires to be vitalized by an apprehension and appreciation of the internal or moral evidence before it is entitled to be regarded as saving faith; otherwise saving faith will become a mere Deus ex machinâ, effecting our salvation in a purely mechanical or magical fashion, irrespectively of our own intelligence. In point of fact, however, saving faith is usually arrived at by a process in which both kinds of evidence are concomitantly taken into account, each supplementing and supporting the other. The superficial acquiescence or assent produced by external evidence may lie inert for years in what Coleridge terms "the dormitory of the mind," till by some awakening word or providence the slumbering germ or potentiality of faith starts into activity, is quickened by the Divine Spirit into a living conviction, so that what we have been content to take at second hand or on mere authority is verified by our own religious consciousness, what was accepted perhaps as a truism is seen and felt to be a truth. Here, however, it is the combined force of the two kinds of evidence that produces this result. In other cases the internal evidence is that which is first recognized and submitted to. The revelation of fact and doctrine contained in the gospel is felt to meet the deepest wants of our spiritual nature, and not to· contradict any legitimate demand or fundamental principle of reason and conscience. Its discoveries of the Infinite Righteousness and Love of God, and especially of the unique life and character of Christ, of his redemptive energy and atoning grace, commend themselves to our conscience and highest reason, irrespectively of all miraculous attestations of an external kind, and in virtue of this their own inherent reasonableness and correspondence with our deepest needs, constrain our moral and intellectual homage.

Now in cases of this kind, can it be said that faith is grounded upon Divine testimony, at least in the sense of resting upon the personal veracity or trustworthiness of God? Does not the answering of this question in, the affirmative involve us in the circular argument, that we believe the gospel to be true because it is from God, and to be from God because we believe it to be true? To this we reply that it is not quite accurate to say that, in the case above described, we believe the gospel to be from God because we believe it to be true. We start not from the belief of its truth, but from the faith or feeling of its adaptation to our spiritual wants; and we proceed from this to the recognition of its Divine origin, and thence by necessary implication to the belief of its truth and acceptance of it for salvation. Between the first and second steps, however, another must be posited, namely, faith in the veracity of our nature, in the trustworthiness of the testimony borne by its primary moral sentiments and intuitions. This involves faith in the trustworthiness of the Author of our nature. Its testimony is recognised as his.3 It casts a reflex light upon itself, and is transfigured in the light of our recognition of its Divine origin into the witness of the Spirit. There is a joint-witnessing as there is a joint-working between the Divine Spirit and the human, and in both, the Divine and the human agencies, though not to be confounded, are indistinguishable to consciousness. Saving faith is only then realized, when the Spirit causes the truth to shine in its own light, and the coalescing glories of Christ's person, character, and work reveal themselves to the inward eye. Whether faith, therefore, is supposed to rest on the external evidence, or on the internal, or on both combined, it resolves itself into trust in the veracity of God, and whether recognised as Divine or not, in the testimony of conscience and the heart. Hence Coleridge speaks of faith as "fidelity to our own being—so far as such being is not and cannot become an object of the senses."4 Even science itself rests ultimately on assumptions which must be taken on trust, on belief in the past and in the uniformity of the order of nature. If the view now held by Mr. Bain is correct, that belief is " a primitive disposition to follow out any sequence that bas been once experienced, and to expect the result," then trust in the uniformity of sequences belongs to its essence. But, in any case, all belief and all knowledge, resting as they do on the testimony of consciousness which can be proved by nothing beyond itself, by nothing which does not assume its own validity,—resolve themselves in the last analysis into trust. But saving faith rests on a distinctively moral ground. It has primarily to do with the facts of our moral nature with the verities of right and wrong, of the Divine existence and moral government; of duty and sin, of guilt and retribution, of pardon and redemption. These are, so to speak, the materiel of faith. It deals not with metaphysical so much as with moral conceptions of God, contemplating Him not merely as Abstract Infinitude or Infinite Reason or Will, but essentially as Infinite Righteousness and Love. But these are realities which it is obliged to take on trust, nor feels it strange to do so, which commend themselves to every man's conscience when it is fairly reached, but which can neither be demonstrated nor denied. Here it takes its stand and can no otherwise.


We found another argument on the moral conditions of faith.

Faith, as we have just observed, bas primarily to do with the data of our moral nature. Even as justifying faith, it has to do with a perfect righteousness which it makes its own, as at once the absolute expression of the Divine will in relation to humanity, and a complete satisfaction offered to God in the name of humanity. In whatever aspect, therefore, it may be viewed, it presupposes a certain moral attitude, a sense of moral need, and a craving for righteousness, i.e. for reconciliation with God and for assimilation to his image. Its two essential conditions then are (1) a true sense of sin, with the allied emotions of shame, sorrow, and fear; and (2) a true desire of salvation, with such emotions as it is fitted to excite. Without these conditions assent remains barren and abortive; it is as fuel without the enkindling spark. Some of the advocates of the intellectual theory, however, maintain that these so-called conditions of faith are in reality its consequences, that when first the mind has been intellectually convinced by the truth, then, and not till then, will these and other appropriate feelings necessarily follow, and that to put them before faith is to put them in the place or alongside of Christ's work, make man his own saviour, and thus destroy the simplicity and freeness of the gospel. To this, however, we reply: (1) That these moral states do not necessarily presuppose assent to the gospel, but may exist, and that in a high degree of intensity, where the gospel is not yet fully accepted. A person may experience agonies of remorse, and even desire in a measure to be delivered from the burden and bitterness of sin, without having assented to the truth or even become acquainted with it. The case of the Philippian gaoler is typical of thousands. In the very nature of the case, a sense of misery or danger, and a desire of deliverance, must precede a personal application for deliverance. Certain intellectual convictions, no doubt, are presupposed by these states; but these do not amount to a belief of the essential truths of the gospel, and indeed it were easy to shew that even these partial and preliminary beliefs rest in their turn on an antecedent basis of feeling. (2) We only assert now, what we will afterwards try to shew, that even assent to the gospel is not necessarily productive of those feelings which accompany salvation, but may be purely notional and inoperative. And (3) it no more makes a man his own saviour to say that he must feel than it does to say that he must believe the truth, or even that he must apprehend it; his apprehension and assent are his own equally with his sense of sin and his desire of salvation, so that unless we are prepared to hold with one of the extreme Sandemanians, that salvation is absolutely independent of all our mental states, that "the bare work of Christ is sufficient without a deed or a thought on the part of man to present the chief of sinners spotless before God,"5—an unconscious reductio ad absurdum of the whole theory—the objection falls to the ground. It proves too much. It is based on a confusion of things that are distinct. It confounds the conditions of salvation with the ultimate ground of salvation. It exaggerates, even to the extent of caricaturing, the simplicity of the gospel, sublimating it into something more ridiculous than sublime.

The dependence of faith on moral conditions is correlative with the ascription of unbelief to moral causes. Unbelief is said to proceed generally from unwillingness, "Ye will not (οὐ θέλετε) come to me";6 more definitely, from "an evil heart,"7 from "loving the darkness rather than the light because our deeds are evil,"8 from "not liking to retain God in our knowledge,"9 from self-righteousness,10 from the euslaving and blinding influence of the god of this world,11 and from the love of worldly honour: "how can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only? "12 Hence before faith can be exercised, the predisposing cause of unbelief must be removed, and the opposite moral condition created, at least to such an extent as ensures the determination of the intellect on the side of the truth, and of the will on the side of Christ.

This view is corroborated by the Scriptural doctrines of human depravity and regeneration, and more especially by that of the Divine source of faith. That faith is the product of the Holy Spirit, besides being a corollary of the doctrine of regeneration, is directly and explicitly taught in the Word of God. Without unduly pressing the disputed passage in Ephesians ii. 8, there being reasonable ground for doubting, with Calvin himself, whether it necessarily teaches that it is faith, and not salvation, that is " the gift of God," we merely urge that this view is at all events distinctly favoured by the καὶ τοῦτο, which naturally and in accordance with New Testament usage suggests the addition of something new to the previous statement, and not the mere repetition of it in another form.13

But apart from this passage, faith is expressly included among the fruits of the Spirit.14 It is said to be dealt in measure by God to every man,15 and to have been obtained.16 It is asked by Paul for the Ephesians from the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,17 as it is also asked by the disciples for themselves m the prayer, "Lord, increase our faith." 18 Our Lord also expressly attributes it to Divine power when He says, "No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him";19 and in describing the Spirit's work as that of " convicting the world in respect of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" (Revised Version)20 He describes a process which necessarily involves saving faith either as a particular moment of the process or as co-extensive with it, but in any case, as distinctly due to the operation of the Paraclete. The necessity of a special influence of the Spirit to enable the intellect fully and effectively to apprehend spiritual truth is taught by our Lord when He says, regarding Peter's confession, "Flesh and blood bath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven ";21 and by Paul in his declarations that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God ";22 and that " no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost."23

While some of the advocates of the intellectual theory deny, others admit, the special agency of the Spirit in the production of faith. But the admission sits awkwardly upon them. For such a Divine influence as is affirmed to be necessary cannot well be a purely intellectual influence. For it is the same influence as is necessary to regeneration, according to our Lord's statement, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God";24 and regeneration certainly is not an exclusively or predominatingly intellectual process or result. The enlightening influence of the Spirit is exerted not by the implantation of a new faculty within the soul, nor by the addition of new truth to that contained in the Word of God, but by his enabling the understanding to apprehend and appreciate revealed truth as not only speculatively true, but as of transcendent excellence and importance; and this can only be done by delivering the intellect from the blinding and perverting influence of the depraved affections of the heart. Such intellectual conviction as is possible without a foregoing change of heart really leaves no room for the special operation of the Spirit as its producing cause, and cannot therefore be saving faith; and, on the other hand, such conviction as is practically effective, and is therefore produced by the Spirit, presupposes changed moral conditions. The late Dr. William Anderson, of Glasgow, while vigorously denying in one place the necessity of a change of disposition antecedently to faith, as " a preposterous transposition of cause and effect," and holding that the Spirit's work at that stage is only upon the intellect, falls in another place into the curious inconsistency of urging the corrupt propensities of the heart as reasons for the necessity of that work.25 If the obstacles to faith have their seat in the heart, how can they be removed except by an influence exerted upon the heart?

These, then, being the moral pre-requisites of faith, they necessarily impregnate it with their own moral and emotional energy. It consists not of assent alone, but of assent in combination with a changed moral disposition, of which the two moments are a true sense of sin and a hearty desire of salvation. Such assent as is in saving faith is rooted in moral and spiritual emotions, and therefore is necessarily so informed with feeling as to be inseparably combined with it in the unity of consciousness.26

That our judgments powerfully influence our feelings is beyond dispute. But this statement expresses only one side of the relation between these two factors. Another side, no less important, requires to be taken into account; viz. that our feelings to a large extent determine our beliefs. Our very conceptions or apprehensions of certain objects are dependent on feeling. No one, e.g. can form a real or adequate conception of the quality of sweetness unless he has experienced the pleasurable sensation of· sweetness, or of beauty without a sense or feeling of the beautiful. No amount of reasoning will enable a deaf man, or one entirely devoid of the musical sense, to form any real conception of the delightfulness of a choral harmony. A person entirely devoid of love cannot possibly understand love, as Simon the Pharisee could not understand the demonstrative affection of the woman who, because she was forgiven much, loved much. Now, in like manner, we can form no adequate conception of God unless we have realized Him through the moral nature which bears witness to a righteous moral Ruler; or of sin, unless we have felt the keen and vivid emotions attendant upon an awakened conscience; or of holiness, unless the power of sin has been so far broken within us that it no longer blinds the mind to its own deformity; or of the love of God or Christ, unless we ourselves have loved our enemies; for it is only when we are ourselves " rooted and grounded in love," that we "can comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height, and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."27 As with our conceptions, so also necessarily with our judgments and beliefs. These not only derive intensity from the feelings, but are often determined by them. The judgment takes an instinctive and often unconscious bias in the direction of the dominant temperament, disposition, or passion. The wish, it is said, is father to the thought. Self-interest had much to do with the religious belief of the silversmiths of Ephesus, as also with the pro-slavery convictions of many otherwise humane and upright Christian men. Hobbes maintained with cynical consistency, as the philosopher of selfishness, that " were it for the profit of a governing body that the three angles of a triangle should not be equal to two right angles, the doctrine that they were would by that body inevitably be denounced as false and pernicious."28 Even the scientific interpretation of nature depends to some extent on a certain moral or emotional attitude of reverence, sympathy, love, and loyalty to truth and fact. Her secret, if we may so speak, is with them that fear and love her. Still more is this the case with historical investigation. Here, though freedom from bias of a personal or party kind is an indispensable qualification, the presence of a certain moral or sympathetic bias is often no less essential. The historical sense or insight, so necessary to the ascertainment of truth, is in large measure due to the power of sympathetic imagination—the power, i.e. of realizing by sympathy the moral forces or characteristics of a particular age or individual. Hence the conclusions of the historian are often nothing more nor less than moral judgments. The conclusions, e.g. one shall form regarding the character and life of such men as Cromwell, Luther, Mohammad, or Buddha, will depend largely on the power he possesses of accurately gauging the moral, social, and religious forces of the periods in which they lived, or the over-mastering force of conscience and religious motives on such natures as theirs; and such a power is only possible in conjunction with certain special sympathies and emotional susceptibilities.29

But it is in the sphere of moral and religious truth that this principle finds most abundant verification. An unholy heart, or an immoral life, bas a natural tendency to engender unbelief. We do not say that speculative unbelief invariably proceeds from irreligion or vice; but men do naturally interpret the universe through their dominant emotions and desires, just as the jaundiced eye sees all things tinged with yellow. Hence the gods men. worship are in many cases merely magnified images of themselves, and too often monster embodiments of their own vices and crimes. He who, for any special reason, wishes there were no God at all, is in the mood which makes it easy for him to subscribe the creed that there is none. A sensuous life is apt to issue either in a materialistic creed which denies immortality, or in the belief of a sensuous heaven, like the Moslem paradise, the Walhalla of the Norsemen, or the happy hunting fields of the North American Indians. An utterly selfish and unloving heart finds it difficult, if not impossible, to credit a revelation which proclaims self-sacrificing love as at once the essential nature of God, and the highest law and blessedness of man, just as Satan was incredulous as to the disinterestedness of the piety of Job. And in like manner, one whose moral nature is blunted by a life of sin cannot perceive the enormous evil and deformity of sin, and therefore can with difficulty believe or understand the necessity for the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God. Hence Christ taught that only the pure in heart could see God;30 that the Father revealed Himself not to the wise and prudent, but to babes, not to sophisticated and self-conceited natures, but to the humble and the simple;31 that singleness of eye was essential to full illumination;32 that He would manifest Himself to the heart that loved Him and kept his word;33 and that if any man had the will—the sincere and honest purpose—to do God's will, he should know the doctrine.34 "If," said an unbeliever to a French bishop, "I held your principles, I would lead a better life than you." "Nay," replied the bishop; " if you lived a better life, you would soon hold my principles." "The heart," says Pascal, "has its arguments with which reason is not acquainted.. It is the heart which feels God, and not reason." Coleridge,35 who introduced emotion into the very constitution of reason, as distinguished from the logical understanding, says of the principles which underlie all the precepts of the Bible, that " from their very nature they are understood in exact proportion as they are believed and felt. The regulator is never separated from the mainspring."36

Thus there is a personal element in all ethical and religious judgments, which forms a most influential factor in determining them. Hence such judgments vary indefinitely with the moral characteristics of different individuals, even where they have precisely the same formal evidence—before them. "There is not always," as Newman puts it, "any common measure between mind and mind."37 What is proof to one is not proof to another. Where one sees beauty, another sees deformity; where one beholds enraptured the clearest manifestations of a Divine presence, another sees only "a yellow primrose," a third, only the operation of mechanical laws, a fourth, the action of a malignant demon. The gospel addresses itself, not to the intellect alone, but to the whole manifold nature of man to his heart and conscience, to his soul and spirit, to his practical judgment and to his imagination. "Man's soul," says a recent writer, "is like a great cathedral, admitting light through many windows, each stained its own colour and having its own picture, yet not falsifying the light, but showing in the varying colours its real elements and its diversified richness and beauty."38

But, perhaps an objector may say, Granting that these feelings are necessary conditions of true faith, may not the faith which is their product be merely intellectual assent after all? Does the fact that a belief has a moral or emotional origin necessarily impart to it a moral or emotional character? Is it not possible to separate the intellectual product from the emotional elements that have produced and that accompany it? and is it not this strictly intellectual element that alone is properly faith?

To this, however, we reply, that it seems arbitrary in the extreme to abstract from what is admitted to be a complex process and indissoluble whole of feeling and judgment, one element· alone, and that not more important or indispensable than the other, and to assign to that alone the title and characteristics of the whole. It is as arbitrary as if one should separate the stem of a rose from the root and flowers, and call it a rose; or hydrogen from the oxygen with which it is chemically combined in water, and call it by the name of the compound; or as if one should separate the intellectual act involved in visual perception from that of the accompanying sensation, and apply to the former alone the name and attributes of vision. An intellectual act rooted in feeling is itself interpenetrated with feeling. The feeling cannot be eliminated, except by a reflex action of the intellect under the direction of a more or less powerful will, in which case, however, the intellect is carried from the region of experience to that of speculation—from the "real" to the "notional." The theory we are now combating ignores alike the complexity and the pervading unity of the inward life of consciousness. It is no doubt convenient, and even necessary, for practical purposes to divide the mental phenomena into different provinces, and refer them to different faculties or powers as intellect, feeling, and will, together with their several subdivisions. But we must not be misled thereby into supposing that

these factors are so many separate and independent entities, or that their action is isolated, self-contained, and mutually independent. Mind is not to be conceived of as a sort of dissecting map, composed of a number of disparate pieces of mental stuff, capable of being taken down and put together again after a mechanical fashion; or as a kind of phrenological model divided into compartments, marked off by spatial boundaries, their contents lying entirely outside of each other. These so-called faculties merely denote separate functions or forms of activity of one and the same subsistence. Through all varieties and combinations of mental phenomena there is a pervading unity of consciousness, which is itself the witness to an underlying unity of personality. It is one and the same conscious ego that says, "I think," "I feel," "I will."39 This unity, indeed, is not to be conceived of as a "punctual " simplicity such as Herbart supposed—a unity, i.e. which has its seat in one particular point of space;—but a spiritual unity, revealing itself in unity of consciousness and the sense of personal identity. Moreover,· it is a complex unity in which the various functions.—cooperate and interact upon each other, producing a constant succession of complex and diversified phenomena. Its states are seldom, if ever, purely intellectual, or purely emotional, or purely volitional. Ideas, judgments, emotions, volitions of every kind interpenetrate each other, and are combined in the unity of consciousness. However distinguishable in thought, however distinct as to the ultimate, and as yet· unknown, ontological ground of their diversity, these various functions are so closely related, and in their action so inseparably involved and interwoven with each other, that it is extremely difficult, indeed hardly possible, to disentangle the various threads that compose the complex skein of consciousness. It is often impossible to determine where intellect ends and feeling begins, or where desire consummates itself in volition; to shew to what extent they act and react upon each other, and to assign them their respective shares of influence in the production of any mental state. Just as each individual sense is assisted by the other four in the perception of any object which engages our attention; e.g. as sight is enabled by association to perceive spatial dimension and distance, the perception of which properly belongs to the sense of touch; so do perception, judgment, imagination, emotion co-operate and coalesce into new and ever-varying combinations. The presentation of an object or idea to the mind all but simultaneously calls into play the most diversified mental activities, quickening the memory, stimulating the imagination, exercising the judgment, exciting the passions, which blend their separate streams of influence into one indistinguishable volume. There is doubtless much truth in Herder's contention, exaggerated though it be, that the best and greatest things in human history, its laws, its poetry, its religion, have been the product of the synthesis of all the human faculties. Even leading disciples of the materialistic school insist on the complexity of all our mental states, belief being no exception.40

Such being the complexity of our mental states in general, and of those involved in faith in particular, it is an arbitrary act of "disconnexion"41 to abstract from the complex process one element alone, certainly not more important than the rest, and call it faith. If it be pretended that philosophical precision demands the severance, we answer that it is as a practical principle, a thing of concrete experience, and not as a philosophical abstraction, that the Scriptures deal with faith, and that what we are concerned to know is not, whether it would tend to enrich our philosophical nomenclature to restrict it to one particular moment in the complex process, or one particular element in the complex whole, but in what sense the Scriptures and the general Christian consciousness understand the term. Even on the score of verbal precision there seems no necessity for such restriction, seeing that the strictly intellectual act is already sharply enough defined by the term "assent," and less sharply by " belief."

Besides, what becomes of the claim put forth on behalf of this theory, that it has the advantage over its rival in respect of practical simplicity? The complexity which the opposite theory imputes to faith itself is not really got rid of, but only assigned to the whole process which culminates in faith. Cui bono, if, after being thrust out by the door, it immediately returns by the window? What else can it do but either mislead or confuse the inquiring soul to tell it that it has nothing to do but to believe or assent to the truth in order to be saved, and that to make faith in any sense a feeling is to substitute a deleterious compound for simple gospel-believing, when the important qualification is either reserved or added that such assent is absolutely impossible or utterly worthless until a complex. train of feelings has first been brought into operation?


Faith has certain moral characteristics attributed to it in Scripture, which are incompatible with the intellectual theory.

All the notes or characteristics of an ethical act are ascribed to it and to its opposite unbelief. They are represented as voluntary, i.e. as acts of the will; as, e.g. in the words of our Lord, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life,''42 the οὐθέλετε, ye are not willing, pointing emphatically to an exercise of moral choice.43

Again, faith is commanded as a duty, while unbelief is condemned as a sin. Our Lord reckons faith one of the weightier matters of the law, along with judgment and mercy.44 "This is his commandment," says John, "That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ''45; i.e. this is pre-eminently his commandment, it is that which He regards as of paramount importance, the chief, and indeed, in one view, the whole duty of man. To the same effect our Lord characterizes it as " the work of God,"46 as being pre-eminently the work or duty God requires us to perform. He had just been saying to his hearers, "Labour not (ἐργάζεσθε μὴ, 'work not,' Revised Version) for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." They then asked Him, taking up his own word, " What must we do that we may work the works of God?" (ἐργαζώμεθα τὰ ἔργα). To which our Lord replied, " This is the work of God (τὸ ἔργον) that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." On this passage Schleiermacher well remarks: " I know not where we can find any passage, even in the writings of the Apostles, which says so clearly and significantly that all eternal life in men proceeds from nothing else than faith in Christ."47 But while this is so, it also sheds important light on the nature of faith. It implies that it is a duty laid upon the conscience by the Lord of the conscience, and is, on our part, an exercise of the will; and not only so, but that it is potentially the whole duty of man, the holy seed which has wrapped up in it the whole future tree of the Christian life, the τὸ ἔργον which has in it the "potency and promise " of all the τὰ ἔργα of an acceptable obedience. Now can all this be predicated of a mere assent of the intellect? Is it competent to bear the tremendous weight here put upon faith? Can a purely intellectual act be called, with any regard to propriety, the command and the work of God? Does it even come under the category of a moral act at all?

Corresponding with these representations of faith is our Lord's virtual description of unbelief as the crowning sin of man. "When he (the Spirit) is come, he will convict the world of sin, because they believe not on Me."48 He means to say that the Spirit would bring home to the world's conscience the conviction of its deep-rooted depravity, by shewing it the criminality of the sin in which it culminated, namely, the rejection of Himself. His words imply, therefore, that the malady of human sin came to a head and shewed its malignancy in the sin of unbelief. In like manner faith is described as an obeying the gospel,49 and an obeying the doctrine from the heart,50 from which it seems obvious that it belongs, not to the intellect alone, but to the heart and will, acting in obedience to the conscience and yielding to the proposals and demands of the gospel. Conversely, unbelief is described as disobedience ἀπειθέω being used as the antithesis of πιστεύω.51 In the Epistle to the Hebrews, what is unbelief in one place is disobedience in another,52 and we are warned against " an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."53 Its voluntary and sinful character is thus made abundantly manifest.

Hence also faith and unbelief are regarded as objects of moral approbation and disapprobation. Our Lord bestowed the warmest eulogium on such signal instances of faith as those of the centurion and the Canaanite, and repeatedly rebuked his disciples for their want of faith. " Without faith it is impossible to please God,"54 says the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the inference being that faith, even as a general principle, is well-pleasing to Him. And as the last ethical note of these acts, we find that the law which commands faith is enforced by the most solemn and momentous sanctions, the promise of eternal life being attached to obedience and the penalty of eternal death to disobedience.55

Now these representations of faith seem fatal to the intellectual theory. The pure intellect is not the proper sphere of command, nor the proper subject of moral approbation and reward. The farther we escape from the region in which our interests and feelings are concerned, and the more purely intellectual our mental exercises are, the less amenable are they to ethical laws and judgments. It would be felt to be altogether out of place, for instance, to command any one to believe in the atomic theory, or in the theory of Darwin, or in the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Take even the most certain of all truths, the mathematical, would it not be absurd for any one to place in my hand the elements of Euclid and say, " I command you to believe all the propositions of this treatise"? If I believe them, it is not because of any moral obligation I am under to do so, but in obedience to intellectual laws which form the very conditions of rational thought-conditions so absolute that when I fully apprehend the meaning and evidence of those propositions I cannot think the possibility of their being false. Mr. J. S. Mill's contention that there may, for aught we know, be a world in which two and two make five, involves the subversion of the ultimate laws of all thought, and lands us logically in hopeless and universal scepticism. But the intellectual necessity, however absolute, which compels belief in mathematical or other truths, is entirely different from the binding force of the " categorical imperative." In the former case, a command is an impertinency. Even exhortations to the exercise of candour and impartiality are out of place. The difference between the two is not only enormous but incommensurable. The Romish Inquisition insulted the human intellect by commanding Galileo, under the severest penalties, to disbelieve what he had demonstrated to be true, and to believe what he knew to be false; And the absurdity of such a demand was signally shewn by the manner in which insulted reason, irrepressible even in the moment of the weaker will's surrender, raised its divine and ever-memorable protest, " But still it moves." It is incompetent for a creature, and—we say it with all reverence—impossible for the Creator, to command us to believe in anything that involves a clear and absolute contradiction; otherwise the foundation of all belief is destroyed—just as surely as the rejection of the evidence of the senses by the believer in transubstantiation undermines the whole superstructure of belief. In either case, we saw off the very branch we sit on.

We are far from denying that God may, and actually does, require us to believe certain facts or truths, and holds us morally responsible for believing or disbelieving them. But it will be found, we venture to think, that in all such cases the command is addressed, not to the pure intellect~ but to the conscience and the heart. For the most part these facts and truths—certainly the most important of them—possess more than a mere historical or speculative interest. They involve moral elements and have important moral bearings. The doctrine of the Incarnation carries at the heart of it such sublime moral principles as the self-sacrificing love of God, the kinship of the Divine nature with the human, and the consequent possibility of man's reconciliation with and assimilation to God; and thus its ultimate appeal is to the heart or moral nature. Even the doctrine of the creation of all things by God directly affects the unity, spirituality, and moral sovereignty of God, and also the nature of the worship and obedience we owe to Him, and thus is tantamount to a prohibition of idolatry, and of the immorality in which a polytheistic or a purely pantheistic creed inevitably issues. The doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul answers, as Kant shewed, the cravings of the heart and conscience for perfect righteousness. The doctrine of the Resurrection condemns the practical heresy of Manicheanism, that matter is essentially evil, and the resultant folly of monachism and asceticism.

Thus it will be found that the doctrines we are required to believe are so informed with moral elements, that they address themselves to the conscience no less than to the understanding; and therefore we are justified in holding that it is not our intellectual but our moral nature that feels the pressure of moral obligation. Sin lies not at the door of the intellect, but of the perverse heart or will. The act of the intellect in assenting or not assenting to the truth is virtuous or sinful only in so far as it is the index and product of virtuous or sinful moral states. We are responsible, therefore, for our religious beliefs just because, and only in so far as, they are not purely intellectual, but are interwoven with states of feeling which colour and bias them, and which bring them more or less under the control of the will as well as the judgment of the conscience.

Lord Brougham certainly spoke unadvisedly with his lips when, in his inaugural address as Lord Rector of Glasgow University (1825), he declared that "over his belief a man has no control, any more than he has over the hue of his skin or the height of his stature." Every one must recognize that there are many questions in regard to which he can control his beliefs. He has it in his power, first of all, to resolve or refuse to consider them, and whichever course he takes he acts voluntarily and incurs responsibility. By declining to consider them he may be highly blameworthy. Then, supposing he makes up his mind to consider them, he has it in his power to exclude from his view such considerations as appear to conflict with his interests and wishes, or to suppress the inclination to do so. He may admit or reject the evidence on one side or another; he may shut his eyes to one particular aspect of the question, to which his feelings and prejudices are strongly opposed and none, as the proverb has it, are so blind as those who will not see. And, finally, in weighing the evidence actually received, and forming his conclusion from it, he may attach more or less importance to it according as he sees it through the medium of a favourable or of an unfavourable wish. Not that our wishes are necessarily illegitimate as a factor in the formation of our opinions; on the contrary, it is one of our main contentions that certain wishes or feelings are not only legitimate, but positively indispensable to our arriving at a sound conclusion on moral and religious questions. But what we now submit is, that these are so far under our control that we have it, more or less, in our power either to allow them to influence us or to eliminate them from our dealings with the case. Hence two men of equal intellectual power may arrive at entirely different conclusions on the same question with precisely the same evidence before them, either because one of them reprehensibly allows his judgment to be biassed by unworthy prejudices and motives which the other sternly suppresses; or because one of them allows, and the other refuses, their due weight to certain moral or spiritual sympathies and aspirations relevant and even necessary to the inquiry. In the former case we blame the one for partiality, and extol the other for candour; in the latter, we commend the one for a partiality which is indeed the highest reason, and condemn the other for a candour which in reality is apathy. But, in either case, the very fact that we praise and blame the men, and exhort them to the exercise either of candour or of right feeling, implies that we regard them as having power over their conclusions and as morally responsible for them.

The theory of the intellectual necessity of our moral and religious beliefs not only renders moral error innocent, but even makes the reduction of it to practice a virtue. The only test of virtue it leaves us is the conformity of our conduct with our belief. The virtuous man is he who acts in accordance with his belief, whether it be true or false. The idolater who bows before a hideous fetish which he believes divine, or who practises the rites of a licentious worship which he regards as acceptable to his god; the persecutor who believes that in burning heretics he is doing God service; the thug or the nihilist who assassinates his fellowmen in the name of religion or of liberty;—these men, forsooth, must not only be exculpated, but extolled, for giving effect to convictions which they could not choose but form. The only alternative to this conclusion, and it seems the more reasonable of the two, is the determinism which denies free-will and moral responsibility altogether, which includes our actions as well as our opinions in the chain of necessary causation, and makes man in every department of his nature the puppet of an uncontrollable necessity.

But it may be asked, Is there not ~ large part of the Bible for the truth of which we have only God's bare word, unsupported by any subjective or moral presumption? and does He not require us to believe this simply on the objective ground that it is his Word? Certainly, if we have previously convinced ourselves that it is his. But here again it is not our intellect but our moral nature that feels the pressure of moral obligation. We first believe the Bible to be from God, not because He commands us, for we do not yet acknowledge that it is his, but because the evidence constrains us. And then we credit it, in whole or in its separate parts, not directly because God commands, but because we feel bound to confide in his trustworthiness, and we should believe it exactly the same (so far as the strictly intellectual act is concerned) if no positive authoritative injunction accompanied it. Such an injunction, therefore, addressed to the pure intellect, would be at once superfluous and inept. A father does not need to command his child to believe that the earth is round, or that Columbus discovered America; he simply teaches him these facts, with or without scientific proof, and his child has such implicit confidence in his trustworthiness that he accepts them as true. Disbelief on the part of the child would argue an unfilial want of confidence in his father's character, and as such would be morally blameworthy. The moral pressure lies in the obligation to trust his father's character and superior wisdom; and this, when yielded to, carries with it the assent of the mind. Assent in this case presupposes and is motived by confidence and loyalty, otherwise it has no moral value, and no moral obligation attaches to it. With regard to the case supposed, however, it must be remembered that a faith which rests solely on external evidence and not on the witness of the Spirit is not saving at all, and therefore the case has no relevancy to the main question.

On the whole, then, we conclude that as God does not address his commands to our intellects but only to our wills, and as saving faith is declared in Scripture to be morally obligatory and a cardinal Christian virtue, it must be something more than bare intellectual assent.


That faith cannot be mere assent may likewise be inferred from its. general scope and intention. Its object being Christ, its scope and aim is salvation in the full sense of the word. It is described by John, in a passage already referred to, as a receiving of Christ.56 This is more than believing his credentials; it is receiving Him in the character in which, and for the purposes for which, He has been sent. Receiving Him is explained in the passage as "believing on his name." The name is that by which a person is known: Christ's name is the character in which He is revealed and offered to us in the gospel; and it is the whole of that character, at least in all its principal aspects as Saviour. Faith therefore receives Christ at once as " Prophet," "Priest," and " King"; as Example, Lawgiver, and Judge; as made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption: in short, with a view to full salvation. Dr. Chalmers, in vindicating the assent—theory from the charge of antinomianism, insisted on "a whole faith in a whole Bible," including faith in the moral and preceptive, as well as in the evangelical and promissory, portions of Scripture; but by substituting for this " a whole faith in a whole Christ " we shall set in a significant light the entire difference between the intellectual theory and its opposite. The gospel is not a one-sided scheme, having for its end the enlightenment of the intellect to the neglect of the conscience and the heart, or the excitement of the emotions without a corresponding invigoration of the understanding and the will; or mere outward activity without intelligence or love. It aims at the complete possession and consecration of our manifold nature; and Christ holds the key that fits into every lock and opens every door: as prophet, enlightening the understanding; as priest, pacifying the conscience; as king, winning the heart by his love, and ruling the will by his law. A whole faith, therefore, receives a whole Christ, with a view to a whole salvation; and it does so from the first. The faith that contemplates merely the acquisition of knowledge leaves out of view the most essential parts of salvation, and cannot therefore be called saving faith at all. Christ must be received as priest, or propitiation, with a view to the pardon of our sins; and this necessarily involves the acquiescence and reliance of the heart,· in the same way as would the receiving of an ambassador sent by a gracious sovereign to proclaim an amnesty to his rebellious subjects, especially if he sealed his message with his blood. But more than this is implied in a whole faith in a whole Christ. He who attempts to secure the forgiveness of his sins without the design to forsake them attempts a moral impossibility, and adds criminal presumption to his folly. It is a mistake to suppose that faith has at first exclusive regard to pardon or justification, and that it is only after we are justified that it begins to have respect to sanctification. Though justification is not to be confounded with sanctification, and though the former, in the Pauline sense, is an accomplished fact as soon as we believe, yet faith at its first exercise, the very faith that justifies, contemplates sanctification as necessary to be also accomplished. It is exercised with a view to both. It acquiesces in the entire design of Christ's redemptive work. It "embraces" Him for the purpose of being pardoned, purified, and made perfectly like Him. Now a faith of this kind cannot possibly be resolved into a mere intellectual conviction; for besides presupposing the moral conditions already considered, a sense of moral need and the desire of recovering our lost ideal, it involves confidence in Christ, both as Himself the living realization of this ideal, and as having power to reproduce it in ourselves. But more than this is involved in faith, though this alone would suffice to prove our case. To conviction of the truth, and confidence in the saving power of Christ, must, we think, be added a third element; namely, an act of will surrendering ourselves to Christ's moral sovereignty. It includes a full purpose of obedience. It is 'the abnegation of our old sinful self and the yielding up of our whole being to Christ as our spiritual sovereign and as our true and deepest self; the surrender of our individual reason to his Divine Reason; of our utterly insufficient righteousness to his perfect Righteousness, and of our weak and wayward wills to his personal governance and perfect law of liberty. As Bushnell somewhere puts it: "Christian faith is the faith of a transaction; it is not the committing of one's thought in assent to a proposition, but it is the trusting of one's being to a Being, there to be rested, kept, guided, moulded, governed, and possessed for ever." Bare trust without self-surrender would be sheer presumption. If when I am sick a physician is recommended to me, I may have confidence that he is skilful and able to do me good; but unless my confidence leads me to surrender myself to him or place myself in his hands with a view to submitting to his treatment and following his directions, it cannot be considered genuine, as certainly it can avail me nothing. In like manner confidence that Christ will completely save me without any submission on my part to his authority is mistaken and cannot but miscarry. My assent and confidence must carry with them the surrender of my will, and with it of my whole being, to be possessed by his Spirit and devoted to his service. Not only must thought be steeped in, not to say "touched with emotion," but both must be absorbed by the will ·and reproduced in the form of a determinate act of self-surrender; otherwise they remain in the category of seeds that never come to maturity, except, it may be, in the form of antinomian license. Saving faith, therefore, is the consensus or synthesis of Intellect, Feeling, and Will. It is the assent of each of them to Christ's claims—the affirmative assent of the judgment, the sympathetic assent of the heart, the practical assent of the will. It is at once shot, powder, and pull of the trigger.

We shall arrive at the same conclusion if we consider faith for a moment in relation to its ethical concomitant or equivalent, repentance. The fact that each of the two is separately represented as if it were the one sole, absolute condition of salvation, implies that, though ideally they may be separated, practically they are one. Though μετάνοια means literally afterthought, or, a thinking back, or mental retracing of one's previous history, and thus change of mind (so natural is it for us to have erred, that to retrace our steps mentally is to change our mind), the essential change implied in it is not change of opinion, but change of feeling, inclination, or purpose in relation to sin, duty, and God. It is the set of the whole soul in a new and opposite direction to that in which it formerly tended. Faith is practically the same; but they may be distinguished as the negative and positive poles of one and the same spiritual energy. Repentance is a turning from sin, faith is a turning to Christ, the antithesis of sin; and the one implies the other as necessarily as turning one's back upon the west involves turning one's face towards the east. Faith is the complement of repentance, as the latter must take with it "the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ."57 Repentance is the complement of faith, which thereby carries with it " grief and hatred of the sin"58 from which it seeks to be delivered. Of the two previously postulated conditions of faith, the sense of sin consummates itself in repentance, the desire of salvation culminates in faith. In actual experience, however, the two are practically simultaneous and identical; and each of them, when fully interpreted in the light of the other, is seen to be a congeries of moral judgments, feelings, and volitions. Jonathan Edwards, remarking on the conjunction of "repentance towards God" with "faith towards Jesus Christ,"59 says that " the one is exegetical of the other."

Should it be objected to the foregoing view of faith that by making justification dependent on a moral act it makes it to be no longer of grace but of debt, or works, our answer is, that while faith relies upon Christ's righteousness alone for justification, it is by no means incompatible with this that there should be a certain moral fitness in the individual to receive it, and the fitness is surely apparent when the very faith which trusts in Christ alone involves in it self-surrender to Him in whom it trusts. Were God to justify a man while still he is ungodly, unregenerate, impenitent, as Sandeman maintained, He would be only setting a premium on iniquity, and exposing his moral government to the contempt of the universe, including the pardoned themselves.60

Our theory steers clear of the Scylla of antinomianism without being caught in the vortex of legalism. Had Bishop Bull made faith an " act " instead of a " work," a decision of the will for God instead of a course of conduct, the spirit of obedience instead of the sum of obedience, he would have sufficiently safeguarded the gospel against antinomian abuse, without sacrificing its simplicity and despoiling it of more than half its grace. The new life of faith must no doubt externalize itself in outward obedience; but, as Aristotle shrewdly remarks, the inward choice or determination of the will is often a truer index of one's state and character than a course of outward acts. God looks to the man who is of a humble and contrite heart, and is pleased with the sacrifice of a broken spirit more than with a hecatomb of victims, or the laceration and maceration of the flesh. When He beholds the sinner coming to himself, mentally retracing his career, and resolving to arise and go to his Father, He makes haste, with every demonstration of joy, to fold him in his embrace and reinstate him in his family. For Christ's sake He counts this his faith for righteousness, and accepts the will for the deed.


1) Newman's Grammar of Assent, p. 99.

2) Rom. iv. 18-21.

3) Tertullian strikingly says: " Hooe testimonia animre, . . . quanto naturalia, tanto divina. . . .  Magistra natura, anima discipula. Quicquid aut ilia edocuit, aut ista perdidicit, a Deo traditum est, magistro scilicet ipsius magistrre."—De Testimonio Anima?, c. v.

4) Essay on Faith.

5) Cooper's Letters, quoted by Fuller.

6) John v. 40.

7) Heb. iii. 12.

8) John iii. 19,

9) Rom. i. 28.

10) Rom. x. 3.

11) 1 Cor. iv. 4.

12) John v. 44.

13) O'Brien, Note I.; and Prof. Lee on Increase of Faith, chap. v.

14) Gal. v. 22.

15) Rom. xii. 3.

16) 2 Pet. i. 1.

17) Eph. vi. 23.

18) Luke xvii. 5.

19) John vi. 44.

20) John xvi. 8-11.

21) Matt. xvi. 23.

22) 1 Cor. ii. 11-14.

23) 1 Cor. xii, 3.

24) John iii. 3,

25) Regeneration, pp.166, 146. Ed.1875.

26) See Essay on the Extent of the Human and Divine Agency in the Production of Saving Faith, Edinburgh, 1828, Anon., but we believe by Mr. T. T. Crybbace. It gives prominence to the element of desire.

27) Eph. ii. 17, 18.

28) Quoted by Sir William Hamilton, Disc. in Phil., p. 637.

29) Professor Tyndall, in his address to the British Association of Science, censured Mr. Buckle for seeking to detach intellectual achievement from moral force, on the ground that "without moral force to whip it into action, the achievements of the intellect would be poor indeed."

Carlyle in Hero Worship, p. 99 (ed. 1872), says "without morality intellect were impossible." The whole passage is admirable.

30) Matt. v. 8.

31) Matt. xi. 25.

32) Matt. vi. 22.

33) John xiv. 23.

34) John vii.17.

35) Thoughts, p. 157.

36) Essay on Faith. So also Schelling and Jacobi (Ueberweg's Hist of Phil.).

37) Grammar of Assent, p. 362.

38) Harris's Philosophical Basis of Theism, p. 33.

39) On Faculties see Spinoza, Eth.ii., xlviii. Schol., and xlix.; Locke's Essay on Understanding, bk. ii. c. 21, 17; Principal Caird's Philosophy of Religion, chap. vi.; Max Müller's Hibbert Lectures, lect. i.

40) Mr. G. H. Lewes regards every mental state as compounded of three factors, a process of sensible affection, of logical grouping, and of motor impulse (Encycl. Brit., Art." Lewell "). Mr. Leslie Stephen says that sympathy is implied from the first in the structure of knowledge (Science of Ethics). Bagehot says that all belief is emotional (essay on Emotion of Conviction). Helmholtz regards intellectual action as determined by the activity of the will. Mr. J. S. Mill analyses belief into memory and expectation (Sully's essay on Belief).

41) Wordsworth deprecates the spirit which views all things "in disconnexion dull and spiritless."

42) John v. 40.

43) Clement of Alexandria defines faith as πρόληψις ἑκοόσιος, θεοσεβείας συγκατάθεσις, "a voluntary apprehension, the assent of piety," Strom. I. ii. Fichte calls it 11 the will's determination to let knowledge have its legitimate effect," quoted by Luthardt, Fundamental Truths of Christianity, p. 1B7.

44) Matt. xxiii. 23.

45) 1 John iii. 23.

46) John vi. 29.

47) Quoted by Stier.

48) John xvi. 8, 9.

49) Rom. x. 16.

50) Rom. vi. 17.

51) John iii. 36; 1 Pet. ii. 7, 8; iv.17.

52) Heb. iii.19; iv.11.

53) Heb. iii.12

54) Heb. xi. 6.

55) John iii. 16, 18, 36; Rev. xxi. 8.

56) John i. 12.

57) Shorter Catechism.

58) Ibid.

59) Acts xx. 21.

60) See Fuller's Strictures, Letter viii.