By James H. Brookes
BELIEF AND CONFESSION
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."—Romans x. 9, 10.
It is said that soon after the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, a French lady who had been in her service attempted to assassinate Elizabeth, Queen of England. Having been arrested while hanging about the court, she boldly announced her name and design, expressing regret that she had failed to accomplish her purpose. She was brought into the presence of Elizabeth, who said to her, "What, think you, is my duty upon the hearing of such a case?" "Do you put the question to me as a queen or a judge? "asked the prisoner. "As a queen," was the reply. "Then you should grant me a pardon," she answered. "But," inquired the queen, '' what assurance can you give me that you will not abuse my mercy and attempt my life again? Should I pardon, it should be based upon conditions to be safe from your murderous revenge in future." "Grace fettered by precautions—grace that hath conditions—is no grace," exclaimed the woman; and history states that the remark so charmed Elizabeth that she immediately ordered her release, and bound her to her royal person ever afterward by the ties of fervent gratitude and devoted affection.
Whether this incident occurred precisely as here related may be called in question, but it admits of no doubt that "grace fettered by precautions—grace that hath conditions—is no grace." I am unwilling, therefore, to say that belief and confession are the conditions of salvation, because the word condition in popular use implies generally something done by one person or party on account of which another person or party does something promised or stipulated. Now, God has not promised or stipulated to give eternal life to the sinner on account of his belief and confession, but solely on account of the finished work of Christ. Belief and confession are requisites, or they are absolutely necessary, with those old enough to be responsible, in order to enjoy eternal life, but they are not conditions, for "grace fettered by precautions—grace that hath conditions—is no grace." I wish to make the impression upon your mind that the grace of God in saving lost men is entirely unfettered—that it hath no conditions; but if belief and confession are presented as conditions upon which forgiveness is extended, the inquiring soul is sure to be turned back to the law, or works, or the principle of doing, to obtain peace. Very often have I known anxious sinners to keep themselves in darkness and distress because they feared their faith was not of the right kind, and not strong enough, as they express it, or because they were solicitous to confess Christ in a proper form.
Thus do they unconsciously strive to find a Saviour, not in Christ, but in their belief and confession; and owing to the deep-seated legalism of the human heart, they pervert the very purpose of God in ordaining salvation by faith. "Therefore, it is of faith," He says, "that it might be by grace;"1 and again: "By grace are ye saved through faith [not on account of faith, but through faith]; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast."2 But if a man is saved on account of his belief and confession, they obviously become works as truly as his attempted obedience of the law, and they will be regarded as works to be done when set forth as conditions upon which God grants salvation. Hence the desire, on the part of those who have been taught to look upon them as conditions, to discover some evidence of the genuineness and strength of their faith in their good feelings and happy frame of mind, and hence the mad search of thousands for a true Church to furnish a refuge from the frown of incensed justice. Satan, with his practiced cunning, succeeds in turning away their attention from Christ to themselves; and thus, if he cannot destroy he keeps them uncertain in their hopes, feeble in their spiritual growth, and "all their lifetime subject to bondage,"3 instead of going forth the emancipated and rejoicing children of light, and of liberty, and of God.
I cannot consent, then, to speak of belief and confession as conditions of salvation, but rather as the means or channel through which salvation, devised in grace, accomplished in grace, and bestowed in grace, is received by the sinner, who is dependent on the Holy Spirit for every proper exercise of his mind, for every right emotion of his heart, and for every acceptable word of his mouth, from the first to the last stage of his religious experience. His ability both to believe and to confess Christ sincerely and truly is due, as we are plainly taught in the Scriptures, to the sovereign grace of God, and this ability is a Divine gift, not a human work, "lest any man should boast." It is the height of folly, therefore, for my reader to be occupied about his faith in place of fixing his thoughts upon Christ; for, faith being a gift, he ought to know at once that it is imparted in a manner worthy of the glorious Giver, since "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."4 "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"5 and because He gives us faith we should be perfectly satisfied that it is amply sufficient to secure the end for which it is conferred. He intends to have the whole glory of our salvation, to the praise of His dear Son, through the wonder-working power of His Spirit; and consequently the way of life revealed in His Gospel is precisely suited to attain His object and precisely suited to our need as guilty, helpless sinners. Blessed be His name! He proclaims with heavenly sweetness and simplicity "that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
It is possible that some one may be perplexed by the fact that in the first of these two verses confession is mentioned before belief, and hence it is important to observe that in the second verse belief is placed before confession; and evidently, if confession is anything more than the grossest hypocrisy or the merest mockery, it is only the result or expression of the belief already exercised. It must be apparent upon a moment's reflection that we cannot honestly and intelligently confess Jesus to be our Lord until we first believe in the heart that God has raised Him from the dead. Confession, therefore, is mentioned before belief in the former verse, just to mark the character of genuine faith, and this having been done, the mode of statement is changed in the latter verse, and the natural order is given. Both are necessary, but they are necessary for a very different reason. Belief is necessary before we are saved, and confession is necessary after we are saved. Confession sustains to belief the same kind of relation which works do to faith, and as the apostle argues, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith [that is, such faith, his saying he hath faith] save him?"6 So what does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he believes in his heart that God hath raised Christ from the dead, and yet refuses to confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus? Can his saying he believes this save him while he gives no outward manifestation of the reality of his belief? Confession, then, forms no part of the meritorious cause or reason of our salvation, but it is equally true that real belief will be sure to result or express itself in confession. Lazarus was not made alive because he came forth from the grave and appeared among men, but he came forth and appeared because he was made alive. Neither do we confess Christ with the mouth that we may have life, but because through faith we already have life. I^ay, I will go farther and assert that where the belief is intelligent and sincere it will manifest itself in confession as surely as the healthful life of a child will manifest itself in constant activity and joyous gambols. If a true believer were cast on an uninhabited island, I think his songs of praise would echo along the lonely shore and the voice of his thanksgiving would daily break the silence of nature. If he were dumb, the soul-stirring belief that he "is passed from death unto life" and become a "joint heir with Christ" would sparkle in his eye, and give shape to his gestures, and regulate his gait, and lead him by the powerful instincts of the '' new man "to seek the society and fellowship of those who like himself are "born again." Tell me, if you will, of one who, having been rescued from flame or flood by the heroic efforts of a friend, ever after persistently refuses to recognize his deliverer, or to take his proffered hand in an assembly, but do not tell me that a sinner, saved from the fires of hell and from the boundless sea of God's indignation and wrath through the death of Jesus, can deliberately decline to confess his Lord or to acknowledge his indebtedness for redeeming grace.
The time has been when those who confessed Christ *'had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."7 "When this time again comes, and the faithful witnesses for the truth shall be slain, it will be no less the duty—no, I will not say duty, but it will be no less the exalted privilege—of the saints then on the earth to confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus, because they believe in the heart that God hath raised Him from the dead. Animated by the sublime hopes of the Gospel, and rendered fearless by the fervor of a personal affection for Christ, every true believer will be ready to exclaim, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul."8 So it is now; for wherever a sincere, heartfelt belief exists, it always causes the knee to bow at the name of Jesus and the tongue to "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."9 Levity may laugh and scepticism sneer, false friends may entreat and foes assail, but the soul linked to God in holy communion by faith in the Son of His love will be lifted above the reach of this poor world's temptations and threats, and look down upon it in tender pity and with undisturbed composure. It is enough for such a soul to hear the Master say, "Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."10 It is enough to read the solemn declaration of the Holy Ghost recorded by the pen of the inspired apostle: "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God."11 "Ye are my friends," says the Saviour, "if ye do whatsoever I command you;"12 and knowing that He has commanded us to confess Him before men, to be baptized in His name, and to eat the bread and drink the cup at the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Him to show His death till He come, the believer cannot hesitate to wear the badge of discipleship—not, as I said before, that he may be saved, but because he is saved.
But you will notice that confession is a personal thing: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus." It is not enough that you confess Jesus to be Lord, or the Lord of others, but thy Lord, thus acknowledging your individual obligation to Him, and His Divine sovereignty and rightful authority over you as redeemed by His blood and the object of His love. Confession, then, is the necessary result and external evidence of your personal faith in Christ, who came down from heaven to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and is now exalted "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."13 Hence it is written, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost;"14 for no man can say this intelligently, and as the expression of his firm conviction, until he believes in Jesus as his Divine and almighty Saviour; and no man can believe that the meek and lowly "carpenter, the Son of Mary," was God manifest in the flesh, until he is enlightened by the Holy Ghost. "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every Spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every Spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God."15
What is it, then, to "confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus"? Let us suppose that you should say to some friend entering your room while reading this chapter, or to any number of persons assembled on any occasion, "I sincerely confess that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified between two thieves was not what the world took Him to be,—an impious impostor or weak fanatic,—but that He was the Son of God and the Saviour of men; and I joyfully acknowledge Him to be my Lord, entitled to my faith, and worship, and obedience." This would surely be confessing Him with the mouth, and this is so simple a child can understand it. If a true Christian were in your presence, or in the presence of "governors and kings," or in the presence of the whole human race, and a fitting opportunity should occur, he would gladly speak of Jesus as Thomas did when he said to the risen Saviour, "My Lord and my God,"16 and he would carefully avoid the fearful sin of Joseph of Arimathea, who was "a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews,"17 and who, in consequence of his unmanly fear, did nothing worthy of a disciple until compelled, after the Saviour's death, to confess Him in an imperfect manner by begging of Pilate the privilege of burying the mangled body. There can be no difficulty, then, in understanding what is meant by confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus, since it implies a readiness on your part on all suitable occasions to own Him in His true character and relation to yourself as your Lord and Saviour.
Neither can there be any trouble in understanding what is meant by believing in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, unless the expression, to believe in thine heart, may cause some perplexity. About this it is only necessary to state that the Holy Ghost in the Bible takes very little notice of the distinctions made by modern science between the different faculties and departments of the soul. We are in the habit of referring the understanding to the mind and the affections to the heart as their appropriate seat; but the word of God very often includes the whole inner man, embracing the understanding, the will, and the affections, under the term heart. But even if we observe our human definitions and distinctions, it is still true that we must believe in the heart that God raised Christ from the dead in order to be saved. It is no idle speculation with which we are now engaged; it is no cold system of philosophy commanding the homage of the intellect by its logical force and beauty; but there is a Divine person inviting our confidence and a divinely-attested fact requiring our faith.
It is an easy thing to crush the cavils of such sceptics as Strauss and Renan, and to bring forward an array of arguments to prove the resurrection of our Lord that will force the assent of the mind; and yet, if the heart remains unaffected, not a step will be taken to secure the salvation of the soul. There are multitudes, doubtless, among the worldly and ungodly, who profess to believe that Christ rose from the dead, or at least they can claim that they do not dispute it. But there is a vast difference between not disputing a truth and believing a truth. They may not dispute it because they never had sufficient interest to investigate the question; or they may make a careless, unthinking avowal of their faith in this important teaching of God's word, not upon His testimony, but because it seems to be generally accepted by the better class of persons among whom they live; or they may be convinced it is true without the slightest personal concern in its momentous consequences. Absorbed in the business and the pleasures of the world, they receive it as they receive any other well-established historical statement, and it produces no more marked effect upon them. It is to guard us against the fatal mistake of supposing that such a faith as this can be of any real value we find it written "that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
Let a few simple illustrations exhibit the difference between believing with the mind and believing with the heart; or rather let them show what is meant by believing both with the mind and heart. All belief in the first instance is necessarily an act of the mind, but there are some things we believe with the mind alone, and there are other things we believe with the heart also. "We may believe that Alexander invaded Asia; that Hannibal crossed the Alps; that Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome; that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost; that the sun is ninety -five millions of miles distant from the earth; that light travels with the velocity of more than one hundred and ninety thousand miles in a second; but we do not believe these facts with the heart. If a friend should inform you that he had received a letter from England announcing the disposition by will of an immense estate without giving the name of the heir, you would probably believe him, but you would believe him with the mind only, because the news could be of no personal interest to you. But if he should proceed with his information and declare that you yourself are the heir to whom this estate immediately descends, you would then believe with the heart, provided wealth seems to you, as it does to many, a most desirable object. You might doubt whether such good news could be true; but if there was no room to question the credibility of the statement, you would believe it with more than your mind, because your heart would be at once summoned to rejoice. A criminal under sentence of death might believe the testimony of his jailer that a certain man had been elected governor during the period of his imprisonment, but he would believe it only with the mind. If, however, the jailer should go on to tell him that this newly-elected governor had extended to him an unconditional pardon, and that he was at liberty to leave his dungeon, he would believe the second statement both with the mind and the heart. When absent from your home a correspondent might relate many ordinary occurrences that had transpired after your departure, and you would doubtless believe the statements, but only with the mind. If, however, a letter or telegraphic despatch should at length be received announcing the sudden death of your child, or the one who was dearest to you on earth, you would know what is meant by believing with the heart as well as with the mind.
1) Rom. iv. 16.
2) Eph. ii. 8, 9.
3) Heb. ii. 15.
4) James i. 17.
5) Rom. viii. 32.
6) James ii. 14.
7) Heb. xi. 36-38.
8) Ps. lxvi. 16.
9) Phil. ii. 11.
10) Matt. x. 32, 33.
11) 1 John iv. 15.
12) John xv. 14.
13) Eph. i. 21.
14) 1 Cor. xii.
15) 1 John iv. 2, 3.
16) John xx. 28.
17) John xix. 38.