By Adam Clarke
"FAITH is the substance of things hoped
for:"—Faith is the subsistence of things hoped for; the
demonstration of things not seen. The word which we translate
"substance," signifies "subsistence," "that which becomes a
foundation for another thing to stand on." And ελεγχος
signifies such a conviction as is
produced in the mind by the demonstration of a problem, after which
demonstration no doubt can remain, because we see from it that the
thing is; that it cannot but be; and that it cannot be otherwise
than as it is, and is proved to be. Such is the faith by which the
soul is justified; or, rather, such are the effects of justifying
faith: on it subsists the peace of God, which passeth all
understanding; and the love of God is shed abroad in the heart where
it lives, by the Holy Ghost. At the same time the spirit of God
witnesses with their spirits who have this faith that their sins are
blotted out; and this is as fully manifest to their judgment and
conscience, as the axioms, "A whole is greater than any of its
parts:" "Equal lines and angles, being placed on one another, do not
exceed each other."
To provide a Saviour, and the means of salvation, is God's part; to accept this Saviour, laying hold on the hope set before us, is ours. Those who refuse the way and means of salvation must perish; those who accept of the great covenant sacrifice cannot perish, but shall have eternal life.
It is one of the least evils attending unbelief, that it acts not only in opposition to God, but it also acts inconsistently with itself. It receives the Scriptures in bulk, and acknowledges them to have come through divine inspiration; and yet believes no part separately. With it the whole is true, but no part is true. The very unreasonableness of this conduct shows the principle to have come from beneath, were there no other evidences against it.
"He that believeth on my son Jesus shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned." This is God's ultimate design; this purpose he will never change; and this he has fully declared in the everlasting gospel. This is the grand decree of reprobation and election.
He who will not believe till he receives what he calls a reason for it, is never likely to get his soul saved. The highest, the most sovereign reason that can be given for believing, is, that God has commanded it.
God has a right to be believed on his own word alone; and it is impious, when we are convinced that it is his word, to demand a sign or pledge for its fulfilment.
Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man's own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him; the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself: nor does he believe necessarily or impulsively when he has that power; the power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else, why the solemn warnings with which we meet everywhere in the word of God, and threatenings against those who do not believe? Is not this a proof that such persons have the power, but do not use it? They believe not, and therefore are not established. This, therefore, is the true state of the case; God gives the power; man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God: without the power no man can believe; with it, any man may.
Christ never says, "Believe now for a salvation which thou now needest, and I will give it to thee in some future time." That salvation which is expected through works or sufferings must of necessity be future, as there must be time to work or suffer in; but the salvation which is by faith must be for the present moment; for this simple reason, it is by faith, that God may be manifested and honoured; and not by works or by sufferings, lest any man should boast. To say that, though it is of faith, yet it may, and must, in many cases, be delayed (though the person is coming in the most genuine humility, deepest contrition, and with the liveliest faith in the blood of the Lamb,) is to say that there is still something necessary to be done, either on the part of the person, or on the part of God, in order to procure it; neither of which positions has any truth in it.
With Christ, God is ever well pleased; with all that he has done, with all that he has suffered; and with the end and object in reference to which he has lived, suffered, and died, he is well pleased: consequently he is well pleased to dispense the benefits of his priesthood, and sacrificial offering, to man. God requires no entreaty to induce him to pardon and save: he is infinitely disposed to do so; and he has an infinite reason for this disposition. This is a grand principle in theology; and a strong encourager of faith. He that believes that God is thus disposed to save his soul, and for the reasons above mentioned, can neither feel backwardness nor difficulty in coming to the throne of grace in order to obtain mercy. All the difficulties on the doctrine of faith have arisen from not considering this principle: and it is both painful and shameful to see to what magnitude and number these difficulties have been carried. Cases of conscience, cases of doubt, motives to faith, encouragement to weak believers, &c, have been multiplied by systematic preachers, and dealers in "bodies of divinity," to the great distraction of the church of God, and confusion of simple souls. And this is occasioned either by their not knowing or not attending to the principle laid down above. Nothing is plainer than the way of salvation by faith in Christ, had it not been puzzled and blockaded, or broken up by the thriftless systems of men.
Is it not strange when man's circumstances and danger are considered, that faith should be so little in action, that it is not one of the most popular, so to speak, of all the Christian graces? And is it not one of the wiles of the devil that persuades him that the exercise of this grace is the most difficult of all, and, in short, almost impossible without a miraculous power? Hence the saying, "We can no more believe than we can make a world." It is readily granted that without God we can do nothing; but as he gives us power to discern, to repent, to hope, to love, and to obey; so does he give us power to believe; and to us the use or exercise of the power belongs. He does not discern, repent, hope, love, or obey for us, no more than he believes for us. By using the grace he gives, we discern, repent, hope, believe, love, and obey. Without the grace we can do nothing; without the careful use of the grace, the grace profits us nothing. To every prescribed duty, God furnishes the requisite grace. The help is ever at hand, but we are not workers together with him; hence we are, in general, receiving the grace of God in vain; and, to excuse our negligence, indolence, and infidelity, we cry out, "We can do nothing!" "We have no strength!" "We can no more believe than we can make a world!" Our adversary knows well how to take advantage of such sayings, and, indeed, they are issues of his own temptations; therefore it is his business to persuade us that these are all incontrovertible truths! How strange, how disgraceful is it, that the words of the devil, and the wicked words of a lying world, and the antinomian maxims of fallen churches or fallen Christians should be implicitly believed, while the words of the living God are not credited! He commands us to believe; reproaches us for our unbelief; tells us that if we believe not, we shall not be established; asserts that he who believes not, has made God a liar; proclaims salvation by faith; and finishes the confutation of our infidel speeches with, "He that believeth not shall be damned." Now, all this supposes, that he gives us the strength, and that we do not use it. Whose word so credible as the word of God? and whose word has less credence? Many are volunteers in faith, where there is no promise,—for they can believe that we cannot be saved from all sin in this life,—that we shall be saved in the article of death, and that there is a purgatorial middle state, where we may be cleansed, by penal fire, from vices that the blood of Jesus either could not or did not purge, and that the almighty Spirit of judgment and burning did not, or could not consume: and where there are exceeding great and precious promises, which in God are yea, and in Christ amen, they can scarcely credit any thing! How abominable is this conduct! How insulting to God! How destructive to the soul! No wonder that many of our old and best writers have declaimed so much against this, calling unbelief "the damning sin," by way of eminence; and that which binds all other sins upon the soul. Men may treat the word of God as they list, but these truths of God shall endure for ever: "He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned;" and, "He is a shield unto all them that put their trust in him."
Many touch Jesus who are not healed by him; the reason is, they do it not by faith, through a sense of their wants, and a conviction of his ability and willingness to save them. Faith conveys the virtue of Christ into the soul, and spiritual health is the immediate consequence of this received virtue.
Christ does not reveal himself to incredulous and disobedient souls.
Without faith Jesus does nothing to men's souls now, no more than he did to their bodies in the days of his flesh.
Faith disregards apparent impossibilities where there is a command and promise of God. The effort to believe is often that faith by which the soul is healed.
Faith seems to put the almighty power of God into the hands of men; whereas unbelief appears to tie up even the hands of the Almighty.
Many are looking for more faith without using that which they have. It is as possible to hide this talent as any other.
The great sacrifice offered by Christ is an infinite reason why a penitent sinner should expect to find the mercy for which he pleads.
A weak faith is always wishing for signs and miracles. To take Christ at his word argues not only the perfection of faith, but also the highest exercise of sound reason, He is to be credited on his own word, because he is the "truth," and, therefore, can neither lie nor deceive.
There are degrees in faith as well as in the other graces of the Spirit. Little faith may be the seed of great faith, and therefore is not to be despised. But many who should be strong in faith have but a small measure of it, because they either give way to sin, or are not careful to improve what God has already given.
To get an increase of faith is to get an increase of every grace which constitutes the mind which was in Jesus, and prepares fully for the enjoyment of the kingdom of God.
He that has faith will get through every difficulty and perplexity; mountains shall become mole hills, or plains, before him.
Unbelief and disobedience are so intimately connected, that the same word in the sacred writings often serves for both.
Why are not our souls completely healed? Why is not every demon cast out? Why are not pride, self-will, love of the world, lust, anger, peevishness, with all the other bad tempers and dispositions which constitute the mind of Satan, entirely destroyed? Alas! it is because we do not believe; Jesus is able; more, Jesus is willing; but we are not willing to give up our idols; we give not credence to his word; therefore sin hath a being in us, and dominion over us.
Many, by giving way to the language of unbelief, have lost the language of praise and thanksgiving for months, if not years.
There would be more miracles, at least of spiritual healing, were there more faith among those who are called believers.
How is it that faith is so rarely exercised in the power and goodness of God? We have not, because we ask not: our experience of his goodness is contracted, because we pray little, and believe less. To holy men of old the object of faith was more obscurely revealed than to us, and they had fewer helps to their faith; yet they believed more, and witnessed greater displays of the power and mercy of their Maker. Reader, have faith in God; and know that to excite, exercise, and crown this, he has given thee his word and his Spirit; and learn to know that without him you can do nothing.
Christ dwells in the heart only by faith, and faith lives only by love, and love continues only by obedience; he who believes loves, and he who loves obeys. He who obeys loves; he who loves believes; he who believes has the witness in himself; he who has this witness has Christ in his heart, the hope of glory; and he who believes, loves, and obeys, has Christ in his heart, and is a man of prayer.
We shall never find a series of disinterested, godly living without true faith. And we shall never find true faith without such a life. We may see works of apparent benevolence without faith; their principle is ostentation; and, as long as they can have the reward (human applause) which they seek, they may be continued. And yet the experience of all mankind shows how short-lived such works are; they want both principle and spring; they endure for a time, but soon wither away. Where true faith is there is God; his Spirit gives life, and his love affords motives to righteous actions. The use of any divine principle leads to its increase. The more a man exercises faith in Christ, the more he is enabled to believe; the more he believes, the more he receives; and the more he receives, the more able he is to work for God. Obedience is his delight, because love to God and man is the element in which his soul lives. Reader, thou professest to believe; show thy faith, both to God and man, by a life conformed to the royal law, which ever gives liberty and confers dignity.
Faith and hope will as necessarily enter into eternal glory as love will. The perfections of God are absolute in their nature, infinite in number, and eternal in their duration. However high, glorious, or sublime the soul may be in that eternal state, it will ever, in respect to God, be limited in its powers, and must be improved and expanded by the communications of the supreme Being. Hence it will have infinite glories in the nature of God, to apprehend by faith, to anticipate by hope, and enjoy by love.
From the nature of the divine perfections, there must be infinite glories in them, which must be objects of faith to disembodied spirits; because it is impossible that they should be experimentally or possessively known by any creature. Even in the heaven of heavens we shall, in reference to the infinite and eternal excellences of God, walk by faith, and not by sight. We shall credit the existence of infinite and illimitable glories in him, which, from their absolute and infinite nature, must be incommunicable. And as the very nature of the soul shows it to be capable of eternal growth and improvement; so the communications from the Deity, which are to produce this growth, and effect this improvement, must be objects of faith to the pure spirit; and, if objects of faith, consequently objects of hope; for as hope is "the expectation of future good," it is inseparable from the nature of the soul, to know of the existence of any attainable good without making it immediately the object of desire or hope, And is it not this that shall constitute the eternal and progressive happiness of the immortal spirit—namely, knowing, from what it has received, that there is infinitely more to be received; and desiring to be put in possession of every communicable good which it knows to exist?
As faith goes forward to view, so hope goes forward to desire; and God continues to communicate; every communication making way for another, by preparing the soul for greater enjoyment, and this enjoyment must produce love. To say that the soul can have neither faith nor hope in a future state, is to say that as soon as it enters heaven it is as happy as it can possibly be; and this goes to exclude all growth in the eternal state, and all progressive manifestations and communications of God; and consequently to fix a spirit, which is a composition of infinite desires, in a state of eternal sameness, in which it must be greatly changed in its constitution to find endless gratification.
To sum up the reasoning on this subject, I think it necessary to observe, 1. That the term "faith" is here to be taken, in the general sense of the word, for that belief which a soul has of the infinite sufficiency and goodness of God, in consequence of the discoveries he has made of himself and of his designs, either by revelation, or immediately by his Spirit. Now we know that God has revealed himself, not only in reference to this world, but in reference to eternity; and much of our faith is employed in things pertaining to the eternal world, and the enjoyments in that state. 2. That hope is to be taken in its common acceptation, the expectation of future good; which expectation is necessarily founded on faith, as faith is founded on knowledge. God gives a revelation which concerns both worlds, containing exceeding great and precious promises relative to both. We believe what he has said on his own veracity; and we hope to enjoy the promised blessings in both worlds, because He is faithful who has promised. 3. As the promises stand in reference to both worlds, so also must the faith and hope to which these promises stand as objects. 4. The enjoyments in the eternal world are all spiritual, and must proceed immediately from God himself. 5. God, in the plenitude of his excellences, is as incomprehensible to a glorified spirit, as he is to a spirit resident in flesh and blood. 6. Every created intellectual nature is capable of eternal improvement. 7. If seeing God as he is be essential to the eternal happiness of beatified spirits, then the discoveries which he makes of himself must be gradual; forasmuch as it is impossible that an infinite, eternal nature can be manifested to a created and limited nature in any other way. 8. As the perfections of God are infinite, they are capable of being eternally manifested, and, after all manifestations, there must be an infinitude of perfections still to be brought to view. 9. As every soul that has any just notion of God must know that he is possessed of all possible perfections, so these perfections, being objects of knowledge, must be objects of faith. 10. Every holy spirit feels itself possessed of unlimited desires for the enjoyment of spiritual good; and faith in the infinite goodness of God necessarily implies that he will satisfy every desire he has excited. 11. The power to gratify, in the divine Being, and the capacity to be gratified, in the immortal spirit, will necessarily excite continual desires, which desires, on the evidence of faith, will as necessarily produce hope, which is the expectation of future good. 12. All possible perfections in God are the objects of faith; and the communication of all possible blessedness the object of hope. 13. Faith goes forward to apprehend, and hope to anticipate, as God continues to discover his unbounded glories and perfections. 14. Thus discovered and desired, their influences become communicated, love possesses them, and is excited and increased by the communication. 15. With respect to those which are communicated, faith and hope cease, and go forward to new apprehensions and anticipations, while love continues to retain and enjoy the whole. 16. Thus an eternal interest is kept up; and infinite blessings, in endless succession, apprehended, anticipated, and enjoyed.
The man who professes that it is his duty to worship God must, if he act rationally, do it on the conviction that there is such a Being, infinite, eternal, unoriginated, and self-existent; the cause of all other being; on whom all being depends; and by whose energy, bounty, and providence, all other beings exist, live, and are supplied with the means of continued existence and life. He must believe, also, that he rewards them that diligently seek him; that he is not indifferent about his own worship; that he requires adoration and religious service from men; and that he blesses and especially protects and saves those who in simplicity and uprightness of heart seek and serve him. This requires faith; such a faith as is mentioned above; a faith by which we can "please God;" and, now that we have an abundant revelation, a faith according to that revelation; a faith in God through Christ, the great sin-offering, without which a man can no more please him, or be accepted of him, than Cain was.