By Aaron Hills
I. What is Evangelical Faith?
1. The word pistis translated faith means "a firm persuasion, confiding belief in the truth, veracity, or reality of any person or thing." Lexicographers tell us it is derived from peitho-mai-to persuade, then to let one's self be persuaded, to be convinced, to believe. Therefore the proper definition of faith is: "The assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting solely and implicitly on his authority and veracity." "Reliance on testimony." "The assent of the mind, a firm and earnest belief on probable evidence of any kind, especially in regard to important moral truth."
"In the New Testament the word is used specially in reference to God and divine things, to Christ and His Gospel, and thus becomes in some sense a technical word, denoting that faith; that confiding belief which is the essential trait of Christian life and character." (Greek Lexicon) It is: "The belief in the facts and truth of the Scriptures, with a practical love of them; especially that confiding and affectionate belief in the person and work of Christ which affects the character and life, and makes the man a true Christian." It is then called evangelical or saving faith. (Webster) This is in harmony with Heb. 11:1:
1. "Faith is the assurance (confidence) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
2. Let it be clearly understood that faith implies a previous knowledge of that which is made subject or object of belief. Hence knowledge is one of the antecedents or elements of faith. It is impossible to believe that which is not so revealed to the mind as to be an object of faith, because the mind understands it. Jesus asked the once blind man whom he had healed, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" He answered with perfect propriety, "Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on him?" It is an erroneous assumption that faith does not need light. How can we believe, trust, or confide in what we do not sufficiently understand to make it a matter of faith? Dr. Hodge says, "The impossible and the irrational cannot be believed."
3. But let it further be understood that saving faith is more than a state of the intellect. "Evangelical faith cannot be merely a phenomenon of the intellect, for the reason that, it is always regarded as a virtue. But virtue cannot be predicated of merely intellectual states, because these are involuntary and passive states of mind. Faith is a condition of salvation. It is something that we are commanded to do upon pain of eternal death. But if it be something to be done - a solemn duty, it cannot be a merely passive state, a mere intellectual conviction. The Bible distinguishes between intellectual and saving faith. There is a faith of devils, and there is a faith of saints. James clearly distinguishes between them, and also between an antinomian and a saving faith. "Even so faith without works is dead being alone. Yea. A man may say, thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But will thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" James 2: 17-20. Evangelical faith then is not a mere conviction, a perception of the truth. It does not belong to the intellect alone, though it implies intellectual conviction. Yet the evangelical or virtuous element does not consist in it.
4. Nor is faith a mere feeling of any kind; that is, it does not belong to, and is not a phenomenon of the sensibility. The phenomena of the sensibility are passive states of mind, and therefore have no moral character in themselves, Faith regarded as a virtue, cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind whatever. It is represented in the Bible as an active and most efficient state of mind. It works, and works by love. It produces the obedience of faith. Christians are said to be sanctified by the faith that is in Christ. Indeed, the Bible, in a great variety of instances and ways, represents faith in God and in Christ as a cardinal form of virtue, and as the mainspring of an outwardly holy life. Hence, it cannot consist of any involuntary state or exercise of mind whatever (Finney's Theology, pp. 373, 374).
5. "Since the Bible uniformly represents saving or evangelical faith as a virtue we know that it must be a phenomenon of the will. It is an efficient state of mind, and therefore it must consist in the embracing of the truth by the heart or will. It is the will's closing in with the saving truths of the Gospel. It is the soul's act of yielding itself up, or committing itself to the truths of the evangelical system. It is a trusting in Christ, a committing of the soul and the whole being to Him, in His various offices and relations to men. It is a confiding in Him, and in what is revealed of Him, in His Word and providence, and by His Spirit" (Ibid.) In Luke 16: 11 the word for believe is translated "Commit," "Who will commit to your trust the true riches, So saving faith is a committing of one's self to God, and to Christ for pardon, and safe-keeping, and for all that Jesus is represented to be, and to do, for the soul. An unqualified surrender of the whole being to him.
6. There are, then, manifestly three elements in saving faith, 1. An intellectual perception of, and assent to the Gospel truths about God's plan of saving sinners through an atoning Savior. 2. A full and hearty consent of the will to the Gospel plan of salvation. We are everywhere addressed in the Bible as voluntary agents. "If ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat the good of the land." "If any man will come after me let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt. 16: 24). "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "Saving faith then implies an enlistment of the whole heart-the will and affections-in the cause of God." "A voluntary and full surrender of ourselves to God" (Wakefield). 3. There is the appropriating act of faith, which lays hold of the blessing. This is usually called trust or reliance on God. "Our fathers trusted in Thee," said David. "They trusted in Thee, and thou didst deliver them" (Ps. 22: 4). Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (13: 15).
In harmony with this blessed truth, Moody said that "Saving faith was assent, consent, and laying hold." Dr. Whedon defines "Saving faith as being that belief of the intellect, consent of the affections and act of the will, by which the soul places itself in the keeping of Christ as its ruler and Savior" Again he says, "Faith, therefore is our self-committment to God and to all goodness." And again he writes: "Faith is not simply the belief of the intellect embracing the historical facts of Christ's character and death: it is the faith of the whole man. It is the act of the assenting intellect, the consenting heart and the accepting will by which man's soul deposits itself in the hands of the Redeemer for salvation, it is self-surrender to Christ. And as Christ is the very incarnation of holiness, goodness and God, so the soul gives itself over to holiness, goodness, and God for time and eternity." We wish to make this very plain to enable preachers and teachers to understand this important subject, that they may successfully point seeking souls to Christ. We therefore give other definitions. Miley says, "Saving faith apprehends the atoning work of Christ as the remedy for sin trusts directly therein and receives forgiveness as the immediate work of grace." Dr. Steele gives the following helpful comment: "The faith by which we are justified is present faith: faith actually existing and exercised now (John 1: 12, 3: 18, 36). We are not justified by tomorrow's faith, foreseen, for that would imply justification from eternity; neither are we justified by yesterday's faith recorded and remembered; for that would imply justification that is irreversible (Ez, 18: 24; 33: 12, 13). The acts of this faith are three. They are distinct yet concurrent exercises of the mind.
1. The assent of the understanding to the truth of God in the Gospel, especially that part of it which related to the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin.
2. The consent of the will and of the affections to this plan of salvation, such an approbation and choice of it as implies a renunciation of every other refuge.
3. From this assent of the enlightened understanding, and consent of the rectified will, result actual trust in the Savior, and personal appropriation of His saving grace. This must necessarily be preceded by repentance (Mark 1: 15; Luke 24: 47; Acts 2: 38; 3: 19; 20: 20, 21) (Theological Compend, pp. 121, 122).
7. It will be apparent from the above, that many are deceived about their supposed faith in Christ. They commit a catechism to memory and perhaps assent to the intellectual propositions, and they assume that that is saving faith. Multitudes are thus deceived, vainly supposing that they are saved, when they are still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity" on the way to hell. This is the standing peril of all the churches that admit members by catechetical instruction, It is perfectly safe to say that the majority of the communicants, so admitted have no saving knowledge of Christ. Their daily walk and conversation prove it to a demonstration. The intellectual element of faith, by itself, has no saving power. The devils believe and tremble at the truths of the catechism, and remain fallen beings still, and so may men, women and children.
On this important subject we quote from President Finney who knew the meaning of saving faith if any man ever did: "Evangelical faith implies an evangelical life. This would not be true if faith were merely an intellectual state or exercise. But since, as we have seen, faith is of the heart, since it consists in the committal of the will to Christ, it follows, by a law of necessity, that the life will correspond with the faith. Let this be kept in perpetual remembrance." Saving faith must also imply the existence in the soul of every virtue, because it is a yielding up of the whole being to the will of God. Consequently, all the phases of virtue required by the Gospel must be implied as existing either in a developed or in an undeveloped state, in every heart that truly receives Christ by faith. Certain forms or modifications of virtue may not in all cases have found the occasions of their development, but certain it is, that every modification of virtue will manifest itself as its occasion shall arise, if there be a true and living faith in Christ. This follows from the very nature of faith.
"Present evangelical faith implies a state of present sinlessness. Observe, faith is the yielding and committal of the whole will and of the whole being to Christ. This and nothing short of this is evangelical faith. But this comprehends and implies the whole of present true obedience to Christ. This is the reason why faith is spoken of as the condition, and as it were, the only condition, for salvation. It really implies all virtue. ... Its existence in the heart must be inconsistent with present sin there. Faith is an attitude of the will and is wholly incompatible with present rebellion of will against Christ. This must be true, or what is faith?" "Faith implies the reception and practice of all known or perceived truth. The heart that embraces and receives truth as truth, and because it is truth, must of course receive all known truth. For it is plainly impossible that the will should embrace some truth perceived for a benevolent reason, and reject other truth perceived. All truth is harmonious. The heart that embraces, one, will, for the same reason, embrace all truth. If out of regard to the highest good of being, any one revealed truth is truly received, that state of mind continuing, it is impossible that all truth should not be received as soon as known (Theology, 373, 374).
Perhaps these words of this great soul-winner explain why so many professors of religion and church members refuse to accept the experience of sanctification, and draw back from any exalted type of piety. If they ever had it they have lost that saving faith that is a committal of the whole will and being to Christ for a sinless life, and the practice of all known truth. They are not living up to all the light they know, and do not welcome any more light because their faith that committed them wholly to God has either broken down, or they never had it.
2. Here we meet the question much discussed among theologians: "Is faith the gift of God, or is it the act of man?" According to the Antinomian, Calvinistic theory, faith is the gift of God in the same sense that manna was sent from heaven, without any co-operation of man. That is, Calvinists understand that faith is a grace, or a something possessing an abstract existence, as separate and distinct from the existence and operations of the believer, as the manna in question was from the existence and operations of the people who gathered and used it. This has been the avowed sentiment of Calvinists for more than two centuries; and Indeed it is difficult for any interpretation of the subject essentially variant from this to be reconciled with Calvinism, even in the mildest forms it has assumed" (Ralston's Theology, p. 357).
A few quotations from their writings will show this. One of their creeds says of justifying faith: "which faith they have not of themselves it is the gift of God." Again: The grace of Faith whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts." The Shorter catechism says: "In applying redemption to sinners, the Spirit worketh faith in them; He alone is the efficient cause of faith in the soul. It requires the same power to work faith in the soul that was wrought in Christ when he was raised from the dead. The way in which the Spirit works faith is this: He first comes in the Word, and enters into the heart of the elect sinner, dead in sin; and when he has thus entered, he quickens it by working faith in it. By this faith the soul apprehends Christ, and actually unites with him" (p. 115). "None are able of themselves to embrace Christ or believe in Him." We might quote further but it is needless. It is of course an essential element of Calvinism which teaches that there are certain sinners for whom alone Christ died. They alone are elect. Into them alone comes an irresistible, efficacious influence or power from God, working in them or into them, when helpless as a dead man, a life-giving faith, as one might inject a liquid into a corpse!
Ralston well says: "An idea so absurd and unscriptural as the above, and which has been so frequently disproved by arguments perfectly unanswerable, requires, on the present occasion, but a brief notice. Suffice it to say that, according to this notion of faith, to call upon men to believe, and to hold them responsible for their unbelief, would be just as consistent with reason and Scripture as to call upon them to stop the planets in their course, and to hold them responsible for the rotation of the seasons. Such a view is not only inconsistent with the whole tenor of Scripture, which enjoins upon man the exercise of faith as a duty, but it is irreconcilable with the very nature of faith. What is faith? It is no abstract entity which God has treasured up in the magazines of heaven, to be conveyed down to man without any agency of his. Faith has no existence in the abstract. We might as well suppose that there can be thought without an intelligent thinker, as that faith can exist without an intelligent, voluntary believer. Faith is the act of believing: it is an exercise of the mind; and in the very nature of things, must be dependent on the agency of the believer for its existence (p. 357)
In the same strain Fairchild says: "These facts, that Faith is a duty, that it is made a condition of salvation, and that unbelief is a sin, show that Faith is considered a voluntary, responsible exercise, involving not thought or feeling alone, but the action of the will. It must be a voluntary disposition or attitude of the soul, because it is required of all men. We may define Faith as the voluntary acceptance of truth, which calls for moral action (pp. 252, 253). A necessary antecedent of Faith is an intellectual apprehension, of the truth of just so much truth as is necessary to obligation, or as brings moral responsibility. The first apprehension of the truth pertaining to duty puts one under the obligation of Faith. He is bound to act on that truth to treat it as true. Let us observe that the moral attitude is the same, whether the light be greater or less" (p. 254).
"Ability is the condition of obligation, and obligation presupposes the ability. If the sinner has no ability to be holy without God's help, he is under no obligation to be holy without that help; and there is no sin in not being holy. That help is a part of the ability necessary to obligation. If a man can sin without divine help, he can stop sinning without it; the same ability is necessary to the one as to the other. No one questions that the sinner is under obligation to repent and turn to righteousness; therefore he can. The sinner is required to exercise faith, to believe on the Son of God; therefore he can. He can treat the truth as true, which is the moral clement of faith, the duty. These exercises are simply acts or attitudes of the will, and the will is free; therefore these attitudes are always possible.
But here an important fact meets us. With this full ability to meet obligation, men do not turn from a sinful life without some divine persuasion; they do not, self-moved, set out on a life of obedience. They must be persuaded. But this persuasion presupposes ability, not inability. Persuasion is absurd except on this condition. The whole substance and manner of God's address to sinners imply His ability. He commands, admonishes, warns, entreats; if the sinner has no ability-all this is a show. A delusion. Thus there is demonstration of the sinner's ability on every page of the Scriptures (Theology, pp. 268, 269).
Thus all sinners have the ability to believe God's truth revealed to them, and to exercise faith in Christ, unto salvation. And faith is a gift of God, only as a crop of wheat is a gift of God. God gives the seed and the ground and the season, and man makes the crop. So, and only so, does God give faith. He gives the requisite faculties to every man, and reveals to him the saving truth and then commands man himself to believe on peril of damnation. God gives us eyes and pours light around us, and then tells us to lift up our eyes and behold," and He holds us responsible for seeing. God creates the laws of sound, and our auditory nerves, and commands us to hear, AND HOLDS US RESPONSIBLE FOR hearing. So, after all that God has done, man must act; his agency must be put forth, or faith cannot exist. God has never promised to insert faith into a man, or believe for any man; nor can any man ever possess faith till he exercises the ability, which God has given to all, and receives and acts upon the saving truths of the Gospel.
Dr. Daniel Steele names two errors respecting saving faith:
1. That it is not the act of a graciously aided penitent, but the gift of God, sovereignly bestowed, when and to whom He wills. It is refuted in 2 Thess. 2: 12, "That they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Also in Heb. 3: 18, "And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest but to them that believed not." In 1 Cor. 12: 9 faith is not a grace, but a miraculous endowment. In Eph. 2: 8, "Faith is feminine, and "it" is neuter, "touto." The "gift" is not faith, but the plan of salvation by faith is the gift of God. '
2. That the unregenerate are incapable of the act of saving faith, and that it does not precede regeneration as a condition, but follows it as a result. It is refuted in John 3: 18 and 36. "He that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." Also by Acts 10: 43, "Every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." Also by Rom. 1: 16. "The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth." Also by Rom. 3: 26 and Eph. 1:13.
Both of these are the stock errors of Calvinism, and logically throw all the blame on God for the unbelief and eternal death of Sinners. Sinners are commanded by God to believe; but they are incapable of believing themselves: and God will not give faith to any but the elect sinners. Therefore the non-elect unbelievers go to hell because God does not care to save them! Such doctrines are wicked reflections on God, even blasphemous.
3. It may be asked in what sense are there degrees of faith. We may answer:
1. There can be degrees in the content of faith. One man may believe more than another because he knows more truth to believe. So a man may grow in faith from the dimmest light of duty to the fullest comprehension of Gospel truth.
2. Again, one grows in his experience of the faithfulness of God, until nothing will disturb his unshaken confidence in his heavenly Father. Such a full grown faith came to be Abraham's. It grew by experience, till "He staggered not at the promise of God."
3. There come to be degrees of faith in one's establishment. One can get where he will not surrender his confidence in God under any trial or temptation, and will exclaim like Job, "Though he slay me yet will I trust him." Faith is weak in the sense that Christian character is weak, and becomes strong as the Christian character matures into heroic proportions.
4. But there cannot be degrees of faith in the responsible moral element, in the sense that one may partly accept the truth in his soul, and partly refuse or neglect it at the same time. This is the same as to have a divided will, to be partly benevolent, and partly not, partly honest and partly not, partly loyal to God and partly not, involving a dual, self-contradictory action of the will which is impossible.
5. Fairchild wisely observes: "Just here we must put ourselves on guard against the mistake that it is of small account what men believe so that they have an honest and believing heart; or that error will answer the same purpose as truth, provided one is honest and right at heart. It is true that the right heart persistently maintained in the greatest possible error of the head, will bring salvation at last. But the faith once delivered to the saints, - the Gospel of Christ, is the power of God unto salvation. The victory which over-cometh the world is a faith which embraces this truth; and there will be an end of all honesty of belief, of all moral faith, when the great doctrines and truths which call out faith and sustain it have dropped out of the knowledge and thought of men. A sound theology, in its essential features, is necessary to any permanent or established Faith among men.
The way to promote Faith, the moral exercise, is to give men an object of Faith; a great truth to believe. "This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent" (John 6: 29). Faith will not spring up or abide in the soul without an object which commands regard or acceptance.
Human passion and selfishness are too strong to be overcome, except by mighty truths (Theology, pp. 261, 262).
More might be said along this line. A man may take a dose of arsenic honestly thinking that it is sugar; his honesty will not change the natural results. A person may sincerely believe a dangerous error; but it will be a dangerous error none the less, and its evil effects will be equally certain. There is but one Gospel, and one Savior, and "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4: 12). Our faith and moral attitude toward Christ and His Gospel, or our unbelief, however sincere, makes all the difference between heaven and hell.
Let us contrast Faith and Unbelief.
Let it be remembered that Saving Faith is a loving voluntary acceptance of apprehended truth about Christ and Salvation. Now unbelief must be the opposite of evangelical faith. It is not therefore mere ignorance of truth. Ignorance is a blank, the absence of knowledge. This cannot be the unbelief everywhere represented in the Bible as a grievous sin. Nor again is unbelief a mere negation or absence of faith. This were a mere nothing, a nonentity. But a mere nothing is not that abominable thing which damns the soul. It cannot be a mere phenomenon of the intellect, or of the feelings or emotions, a state of intellectual incredulity, doubt, distrust, skepticism. If faith is a loving, voluntary acceptance of apprehended truth, the unbelief which damns the soul, must be a malignant willful rejection of apprehended truth. It is the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. It is the heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. It is the will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, -or evidence presented. Intellectual skepticism or unbelief, where light is proffered, always implies the unbelief of the will or heart. Light is rejected. This is the sin of unbelief. ... It is the will in its profoundest opposition to the truth and will of God (see Finney's Theology, p. 378).
"And this is the judgment that light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil" (John 3: 19).
Plainly, then, "it is no arbitrary thing in God, that faith is made the condition of salvation. It is for the same reason that repentance or conversion is a condition of salvation. It is essentially the same thing, or rather; the beginning of faith in a sinner brings repentance or conversion. A sinner cannot have repentance without faith, nor faith without repentance." Faith is an affectionate voluntary acceptance of all apprehended truth about sin; Christ and salvation (see Fairchild, p. 262).
It falls in with God's plan of saving us, and links the soul with Christ forever, Unbelief malignantly rejects the plan of salvation and separates the soul from Christ forever,