Book 3 - Chapter 7: Of Faith - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter VII: Of Faith
I. WE now proceed to explain the nature of true faith in God by Christ, which is the principal act of that spiritual life implanted in the elect by regeneration, and the source of all subsequent vital operations. But it is not any one particular act or habit, nor must it be restricted to any one particular faculty of the soul, for it is a certain complex thing, consisting of various acts, which, without confusion pervade, and by a sweet and happy conjunction, mutually promote and assist one another; it imports a change of the whole man, is the spring of the whole spiritual life, and in fine, the holy energy and activity of the whole soul towards God, in Christ. And therefore its full extent can scarcely be distinctly comprehended under any one single idea.
II. And we need not wonder, that under the name of one Christian virtue so many others are at once comprehended. For as, when any person speaks of life, he signifies by that term something that, diffusing itself through the whole soul and all its faculties, is also communicated to the body, and extends itself to all the actions of the living person: so when we speak of faith, which is the most fruitful spring of the whole spiritual life, we understand by it that which pervades all the faculties, and is well adapted to unite them with Christ; and so to enliven, sanctify, and render them blessed.
III. There are many things both in naturals and morals, which are almost by general consent allowed to extend to the whole soul, without being restricted to any one faculty. In naturals, free-will, which as will is referred to the understanding; as free, rather to the will: so that as Bernard somewhere speaks, “Let man be his own freeman on account of his will; his own judge on account of his reason.” In morals, the image of God and original righteousness; which are to be placed neither in the understanding alone nor in the will alone, but may justly belong to both these faculties.
IV. Should we not then at last see every difficulty removed, and the whole of that controversy among divines, about the subject of faith, settled, if, as we justly may, we should refuse that there is any real distinction of understanding and will, as well from the soul as from each other? For what is the understanding but the soul understanding and knowing? What else the will, but the soul willing and desiring? We must on no account conceive of the soul as of a thing in itself brutish and irrational, which at length becomes intelligent and rational, when something else is given to it. What some affirm, that the understanding comes from the soul by a certain kind of emanation, is what we can scarcely conceive. For if the soul, in its proper and formal conception, does not include the power of reasoning, it can never produce it; for we are in vain to expect from a cause what it contains neither formally not eminently. If the soul is of itself endowed with the faculty of reasoning, no necessity requires that some other faculty be superadded to that wherewith the soul is of itself endowed. The like holds with respect to the will, which is not really distinct from the soul any more than the understanding, but is the very soul itself, as God has given it a natural aptitude to desire good. Since both these faculties are only modally (or in our manner of apprehension) distinct from the soul, so in the same sense they are also distinct from each other. For if the will be so distinct from the understanding as in itself to be blind, it is not possible to explain how it can perceive and so rationally desire the object discovered by the understanding, as good. And for what reason, pray, should we make a real difference between these two? Is it because the object is different? But the object of both is really the same; namely, a true good, though the manner of our consideration differs. For the understanding considers the good as true; and the will desires this true thing as it is good. And do not the objects of the speculative and practical understanding differ far more among themselves? And yet philosophers generally agree that they are but one and the same power of the soul. Is it because their acts are different? But every difference of acts does not infer a difference of power. Indeed, simple apprehension differs from judgment and discourse or reasoning; which yet are all the acts of the same faculty.
V. This ought not to be looked upon as a new assertion. Scotus long ago maintained, that the understanding and will differed neither among themselves, nor from the soul, in 2 dist. xv. qu. 1. Scaliger, in like manner, whose words we shall not scruple to transcribe from his Exercitat. 307 §. 15: “Although the understanding and will,” says he, “are one thing, yet they are distinguished by the manner in which we conceive them. For they are proper and not accidental affections of the soul, and one thing with it. As one, good, and true are the affections of entity or being; nay, one and the same thing with being itself. But they are distinguished from it, and among themselves by definition in this manner: because being itself is placed in the first nature or essence, which nature does in some measure display itself, and is the cause of that one, true, and good. Which is a formality different from the first formality, Because the notion of being is one thing, as it is being, and another, as it is one. For the latter follows and arises from the former; but not without it, for it is one thing. Thus soul, understanding, and will are one thing. Yet the soul denotes the essence; the understanding that very essence as it apprehends; the will, the same with that intelligent essence tending to enjoy the thing known or understood.” Thus far Scaliger. Durandus was of opinion, that indeed, the faculties differ really from the soul, but not from each other. An opinion which Vossius is above all pleased with, de Idolat. lib. iii. e. 42. Which is sufficient for our present purpose: as we are not then to separate those faculties, there is no wonder that we place faith in both.
VI. Meanwhile we observe, that among those acts which we are about to describe, there is one principal act, in which we apprehend the very essence and formal nature of faith consists, as it unites us with Christ and justifies us. This is to be carefully taken notice of in the matter of justification, lest any one should look upon some acts of love, which, in different ways, are implied in the exercise of faith, as the causes of justification.
VII. Moreover, we are likewise to maintain, that those things which we shall, for the greater accuracy, explain distinctly in particular, stand various ways mutually connected in the very exercise of faith. While the whole soul is engaged in this work of God, very many actions may all at once tend towards God and Christ, without observing any certain method; and which the believer engaged in this work itself, has neither leisure nor inclination to range in their proper order; nay, sometimes it is impossible to do it. Yet it is expedient that we attend to the natural process of faith, whereby its entire nature and manner may be the more thoroughly perceived.
VIII. The first thing which faith either comprehends or presupposes, is the knowledge of the thing to be believed. This appears in opposition to Popish triflers. I. From express passages of Scripture, which so speak concerning faith as manifestly to intimate, that knowledge is included in its very notion and exercise, Is. 53:11. John 17:3, compared with Heb. 2:4. John 6:69. 2 Tim. 1:3. II. From the nature of faith itself, which, as it doubtless means an assent given to a truth revealed by God, necessarily presupposes the knowledge of these two things. (1.) That God has revealed something. (2.) What that is to which assent is given, as a thing divinely revealed. For it is absurd to say, that a person assents to any truth which he is entirely ignorant of, and concerning which he knows of no testimony extant worthy of credit. III. From the manner in which faith is produced in the elect, which is done externally by preaching and hearing of the Gospel, Rom. 10:17, revealing that which ought to be believed, with the demonstration of the truth to every man’s conscience, 2 Cor. 4:2; and internally by the teaching of God the Father, John 6:45. If, therefore, faith be generated in the heart by a teaching both external and internal, it must of necessity consist in knowledge; for knowledge is the proper and immediate effect of such instruction. IV. From the consequence annexed, which is confession and ἀπολογιά, or giving an answer, Rom. 10:9, 10, 1 Pet. 3:15. But it is impossible that this should be without knowledge. Hilary saith well, “for none can speak what he knows not, nor believe what he cannot speak.”
IX. But, indeed, it must be confessed that, in the present dark state of our minds, even the most illuminated are ignorant of a great many things; and that many things are believed with an implicit faith, especially by young beginners and babes in Christ, so far as they admit in general, the whole Scriptures to be the infallible standard of what is to be believed, in which are contained many things which they do not understand; and in as far as they embrace the leading doctrines of Christianity, in which many other truths concentre, which are thence deduced by evident consequence, and which they believe in their foundation or principle, as John writes concerning believers, “that they knew all things,” 1 John 2:20; because they had learned by the teaching of the Spirit, that foundation of foundations to which all saving truths are reduced, and from which they are inferred. But I go a step farther: it is possible that one to whom God, who distributes his blessings as he pleases, has measured out a small degree of knowledge, may yet be most firmly rooted in the faith, even to martyrdom. But then it no ways follows, that faith is better described by ignorance than by knowledge: or that they do well who cherish ignorance among the people as the mother of faith and devotion, contrary to Col. 3:16; for we can by no means believe what we are quite ignorant of, Rom. 10:14. And all should strive to have their faith as little implicit and as much distinct as possible; as becometh those who are “filled with all knowledge,” Rom 15:14. For the more distinctly a person sees by the light of the Spirit a truth revealed by God, and the rays of divinity shining therein, the more firm will be his belief of that truth. Those very martyrs who in other respects were rude and ignorant, most clearly and distinctly saw those truths, for which they made no scruple to lay down their lives, to be most certain and divine: though perhaps they were not able to dispute much for them.
X. Moreover, those things which are necessary to be known by the person who would believe, are in general the divinity of the Scriptures, into which, faith must be ultimately resolved; more especially those things which regard the obtaining of salvation in Christ, which may summarily be reduced to these three heads. 1st, To know, that by sin thou art estranged from the life of God, and art “come short of the glory of God,” Rom. 3:23. That it is not possible that either thou thyself, or an angel from heaven, or any creature in the world, nay, or all the creatures in the universe, can extricate thee from the abyss of misery, and restore thee to a state of happiness. 2dly, That thou shouldst know Christ, this Lord to be “full of grace and truth,” John 1:14, “who is that only name given under heaven whereby we can be saved,” Acts 4:12, “and in the knowledge of whom consists eternal life,” John 17:3. 3dly, That thou shouldst know, that in order to thy obtaining salvation in Christ, it is necessary that thou beest united to Christ by the Spirit and by faith, and that thou givest up thyself to him, not only to be justified, but also sanctified and governed by his will and pleasure, “proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” Rom. 12:2.
XI. To this knowledge must be joined assent, which is the second act of faith, whereby a person receives and acknowledges as truths, those things which he knows, “receiving the testimony of God, and thus setting to his seal that God is true,” John 3:33. This assent is principally founded on the infallible veracity of God, who testifies of himself and of his Son, 1 John 5:9, 10. On which testimony revealed in Scripture, and shedding forth all around the rays of its divinity, the believer relies with no less than if he had been actually present at the revelation of these things. For when the soul, enlightened by the Spirit, discerns those divine truths, and in them a certain excellent theoprepy, or beauty worthy of God, and a most wise and inseparable connexion of the whole, it cannot but assent to a truth, that forces itself upon him with so many arguments, and as securely admit what it thus knows, for certain, as if it had seen it with its own eyes, or handled it with its own hands, or had been taken up into the third heavens, and heard it immediately from God’s own mouth. Whatever the lust of the flesh may murmur, whatever vain sophists may quibble and object, though perhaps the soul may not be able to answer or solve all objections, yet it persists in the acknowledgement of this truth, which it saw too clearly, and heard too certainly, as it were from the mouth of God, ever to suffer itself to be drawn away from it by any sophistical reasonings whatever: “For I have not followed,” says the believing soul, “cunningly devised fables, when I believed the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in the Spirit was eye witness of his majesty, and heard his voice from heaven,” 2 Pet. 1:16, 18. And this faith is accompanied with ὑποστασις, substance, and ἔλεγχος, evidence, Heb. 11:1, and πληροφορία, full persuasion or assurance, Rom. 4:21. It will not be unprofitable to consider a little the meaning of these words.
XII. The apostle speaks more than once of πληροφορία, plerophory or full assurance: as Col. 2:2, πληροφορία συνεσἕως, the full assurance of understanding, Heb. 6:11; πληροφορία της ελπίδος, the full assurance of hope, Heb. 10:22; πληροφορία πίστεως, full assurance of faith. According to its etymology the word plerophory, denotes a carrying with full sail, a metaphor, as it should seem, taken from ships, when all their sails are filled with a prosperous gale. So that here it signifies the vehement inclination of the soul, driven forward by the Holy Spirit towards an assent to the truth it is made sensible of. Hesychius, that most excellent master of the Greek language, explains it by Βεβαίοτητα, firmness. And in that sense, πληροφορία πίστεως, plerophory of faith, is nothing but στερέωμα τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως, the stedfastness of faith in Christ, as the apostle varies those phrases, Col. 2:2, 5; and πεπληροφορημένα πράγματα, are things most surely or firmly believed, Luke 1:1. So firm, therefore, must the believer’s assent be to divine truth.
XIII. The term ὕπόστασις hypostasis, substance, is also very emphatical, which the apostle makes use of when he speaks of faith, Heb. 11:1. Nor have the Latins any word that can fully express all its force and significancy. 1st, Ὑπόστασις, hypostasis, denotes the existence, or, as one of the ancients has said, the extantia, the standing up of a thing; in which sense philosophers say, that a thing that really is, has an ὑπόστασις, that is, a real existence, and is not the fiction of our own mind. And, indeed, faith makes the thing hoped for, though not actually existing, to have, notwithstanding, an existence in the believer’s mind, who so firmly assents to the promises of God, as if the thing promised was already present with him. Chrysostom had this in his mind when he thus explained this passage: Ἡ ανάστασις οὐ παραγὲγονεν, οὐδέ ἐστιν ἐν ὑποστάσει, αλλʼ ἡ ἐλπὶς ὑφίστησεν αὐτὴν εν ἡμετέρα ψυχῆ· “the resurrection does not yet exist in itself, but hope (let us say faith) presents it to, and makes it extant in our soul.” A Greek scholiast, cited by Beza, has most happily expressed the same thing: Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ τὰ ἐν ἐλπίσιν ἀνυπόστατά ἐστιν, ὡς τέως μὴ παρόντα, ἡ πίστις, οὐσιά τις αὐτῶν καὶ ὑπόστασις γίνεται εἶναι αὐτὰ καὶ παρεῖναι τρόπον τίνα παρασκευάζουσα, διὰ τοῦ πιστεύειν εἶναι·, “as things hoped for are not yet extant, as not being present, faith becomes a kind of substance and essence of them, making them, in some measure, extant and present with us, in that it believes them to be.” 2dly, Υπόστασις also signifies a base or foundation, in which sense Diodorus Siculus, quoted by Gomarus, has said, ὑπόστασις τοῦ τάφοῦ, that is, the foundation of the sepulchre. And Calvin’s interpretation looks this way, “Faith,” says he, “is hypostasis, that is, a prop or possession, on which we fix our feet.” 3dly, It also denotes subsistence or constancy, without yielding to any assault of the enemy. Thus Plutarch in Demetrius: Οὐδενὸς ὑφιστμένου τῶν ἐναντὶων, ἀλλὰ φευγόντων· “none of the enemy standing their ground, but all giving way.” And Polybius, in his description of Horatius Cocles, they feared οὐχʼ οὑτω την δύναμιν, ὡς την ὑπόστασιν αὐτοῦ· “not so much his strength, as his firmness and resolution, not to give way.” And indeed, there is something in faith that can, with intrepidity, sustain all the assaults of temptations, and not suffer it to be moved from an assent to a truth once known. Now if we join all this together, we may assert that faith is so firm an assent to divine truth, that it sets things future before us, as if they were present, and that it is a prop to the soul, on which it fixes its foot, without yielding to any assault whatever.
XIV. Nor ought it to be omitted, that the apostle calls faith ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομενων, the evidence of things not seen. But ἔλεγχος denotes two things. 1st, A certain demonstration. Aristotle, Rhetoric. c. 14. says, “Ἔλεγχος δε ἐστιν, ὁ μὲν μὴ δυνατὸς ἄλλως ἔχειν, αλλʼ οὔτως ὡς ἡμεῖς λέγομεν· demonstration is what cannot possibly be otherwise, but must necessarily be as we affirm.” 2dly, Conviction of soul arising from such a demonstration of the truth: as Aristophanes in Pluto, σύ γʼ ἐλέγξαι μʼ οὔπο δύνασαι περὶ τούτου, “you cannot convince me of that.” There is therefore in faith, if it be ἐλεγχος [an elenchus], a demonstration, a certain conviction of soul, arising from that clear and infallible demonstration. But this demonstration of truth rests on the testimony of God, who cannot deceive, from which faith argues thus: Whatever God, who is truth itself, reveals, cannot but be most true, and worthy of all acceptation, though perhaps I may not be able to see it with my eyes, or fully conceive it in my mind.
XV. All this tends to instruct us that the assent, which is in faith, has a most certain assurance which no certainty of any mathematical demonstration can exceed. Wherefore they speak very incautiously, who maintain, there may be falsehood in divine faith, since the proper object of faith is the testimony of God; which is necessarily true and more certain than any demonstration. Nor can any places of Scripture be brought, in which any thing that is not true is proposed to man’s belief.
XVI. But we are here to remove another difficulty: if faith is such a certain and firm assent, are those then destitute of true faith who sometimes waver even with respect to fundamental truths? I answer, 1st, We describe faith, considered in the idea, as that Christian virtue or grace, the perfection of which we all ought to aspire after; and not as it sometimes subsists in the subject. 2dly, There may at times be waverings, staggerings, and even inclinations to unbelief, in the best of believers, especially when they are under some violent temptation, as is evident from the waverings of Asaph, Jeremiah, and others about the providence of God: but these are certain defects of faith, arising from the weakness of the flesh. 3dly, Faith presently wrestles with those temptations; it never assents to those injections of the devil, or the evil desires of the carnal mind, nor is ever at rest, till, having entered the sanctuary of God, it is confirmed, by the teaching Spirit of faith, in the contemplation and acknowledgment of those truths, about which it was staggered. There, at length, and nowhere else, it finds rest for the soles of its feet.
XVII. That which follows this assent is the love of the truth thus known and acknowledged; and this is the third act of faith, of which the apostle speaks, 2 Thess. 2:10. For since there is a clear manifestation of the glory of God in saving truths, not only as he is true in his testimony, but also as his wisdom, holiness, justice, power, and other perfections shine forth therein, it is not possible but the believing soul, viewing these amiable perfections of the Deity in those truths, should break out into a flame of love to exult in them, and glorify God. Hence the believer is said to “give glory to God,” Rom. 4:20, and to “love his praise” (glory), John 12:43. Above all, the soul is delighted with the fundamental truth concerning Christ. Loves it as an inestimable treasure, and as a pearl of great price: it is precious to believers, 1 Pet. 2:7, yea, most previous. It is indeed true that love, strictly speaking, is distinguished from faith; yet the acts of both virtues, or graces, are so interwoven with one another, that we can neither explain nor exercise faith without some acts of love interfering; such as is also that of which we now treat. This also is the observation of some of the greatest divines before me; as, not to mention others at present, Chamierus, Panstrat. T. 3. lib. xii. c. 4, No. 16; Wendelin, Theol. lib. ii. c. 24. ad Thes. 8. And both of them cite Augustine in their favour, who, asking, What is it to believe in God? answers, “It is by believing to love.” See also Le Blanc, a divine of Sedan, in Thes. de fidei justificantis natura, &c. sect. 95. But if any will call this love, according to the gloss of the schools, an imperate or commanded act of faith, he is indeed welcome to do so for us; if he only maintain that it is not possible but the believing soul, while in the exercise of faith, must sincerely love the truth as it is in Christ, when known and acknowledged, rejoicing that these things are true, and delighting itself in that truth: far otherwise than the devils and wicked men, who, what they know to be true, they could wish to be false.
XVIII. Hence arises a fourth act of faith, a hunger and thirst after Christ. For the believing soul knowing, acknowledging, and loving the truths of salvation, cannot but wish that all those things, which are true in Christ, may also be true to him, and that he may be sanctified and blessed in and by those truths: and he seriously desires that, having been alienated from the life of God through sin, he may be again sealed unto the glory of God by free justification, and in that by sanctification. This is that hunger and thirst after righteousness, mentioned Matt. 5:6. And what reason can be given why he, who believes and feels himself a most miserable creature, and is fully persuaded that he can be delivered from his misery by nothing either in heaven or on earth; who sees, at the same time, the fulness of that salvation, which is in Christ, and is assured he can never obtain salvation, unless he be united to Christ; who, from his very soul, loves that truth that treats of the fulness of salvation which is in Christ alone, and in communion with him; how is it possible, I say, that such a person should not seriously and ardently desire to hare Christ dwelling in him, seek and pant after this, and indeed with such longings, as nothing short of the possession of the thing desired can satisfy, as hunger and thirst are only allayed by meat and drink?
XIX. This hunger and thirst are followed by a receiving of Christ the Lord for justification, sanctification, and so for complete salvation, which is the fifth, and indeed, the formal and principal act of faith. Thus the heavenly Father freely offers his Son to the sick and weary soul, and Christ the Lord offers himself with all his benefits, and the fulness of salvation which is in him, saying, “Behold me, behold me,” Is. 65:1. And the soul, now conscious of its own misery, and with joy and hope observing the fulness of salvation that is in Christ, and earnestly desiring communion with him, cannot but lay hold on and receive, with the highest complacency of soul, that extraordinary blessing thus offered, and thus by receiving, appropriate or make it his own; and by this act, at length, Christ becomes the peculiar property of the believing soul. Thus it lays claim to whatsoever is Christ’s, which is offered at the same time with Christ; and above all, the righteousness of Christ, which is the foundation of salvation. And in this manner, by apprehending Christ, he is united to him; and being united to him, he is judged to have done and suffered what Christ, as his surety, did and suffered in his room and stead. And thus it is easy to understand, how we are justified by faith on Christ.
XX. The scripture more than once represents this act of faith in express terms. Remarkable is the passage, John 1:12, “As many as received him,” which is equivalent to “them that believe on his name;” and Col. 2:6, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord:” to which may be added what the Lord has very emphatically said, Isa. 27:5, יחזק במעוי, “Let him take fast hold of my strength, or my tower,” so as not to let it go. For חחויק, take fast hold of, and שלח, let go, are opposed, Prov. 4:13.
XXI. But because the soul, thus apprehending Christ for salvation, does, at the same time, recline and stay itself upon him, therefore this act of faith is explained by this metaphor also, as Psalm 71:6, “By thee עליך נסמבתי have I been holden up” (stayed). Isa. 48:2, “Stay themselves upon the God of Israel,” pretending to and feigning a true faith: נשען “He is stayed,” is another term used, Isa. 50:10, “Stay upon his God;” add Isa. 10:20, 2 Chron. 16:7, 8. If you would subtlely distinguish this act of the believing soul, thus reclining and thus staying itself upon Christ, from the act of receiving Christ, and make it posterior thereto, I shall not oppose it. Let us therefore call this the sixth act of faith.
XXII. Which we think is very significantly expressed by the Hebrew word האמין, which properly signifies, to throw oneself, in order to be carried, on the truth and power of another, as an infant throws itself to be carried on the arms of its nurse. For it is derived from אמן, which properly signifies to carry: hence אומן, a carrier, a nursing father, Numb. 11:12; carry them in thy bosom, as האמן, a nursing father beareth the sucking child: and האמן signifies to be carried, Isa. 60:4, thy daughters shall be nursed (carried) at thy side. Instead of which it is said, Isa 66:12, על צד תנשאר, ye shall be borne upon her sides. And Christ really בחיקו ישא, carries, believers as nurslings, in his bosom, Isa. 40:11; for Moses also uses that similitude, “The Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bare his son,” Deut. 1:31; “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” Deut. 33:27. האמין, therefore, in virtue of its signification, denotes to give up oneself to be carried by Christ, and so to cast himself into his bosom and arms. By which similitude the activity of the believing soul towards Christ is most elegantly expressed.
XXIII. Moreover, when the believer so receives Christ and leans upon him, he not only considers him as a Saviour, but also as a Lord. For he receives a whole Christ, and receiveth him just as he is: but he is no less Lord than a Saviour. Yea, he cannot be a Saviour, unless he be likewise a Lord. In this doth our salvation consist, that we neither belong to the devil, nor are our own, nor the property of any creature, but of Christ the Lord. Faith therefore, “receives Christ the Lord,” Col. 2:6. Nor does Christ offer himself as a husband to the soul upon any other condition, but this, that he acknowledge him as his Lord, Psa. 45:10, 11. And when the soul casts himself upon Jesus, he, at the same time renounces his own will, and surrenders himself up to the will of Jesus, to be carried whithersoever he pleaseth. Whence there is also in faith a humble surrender and giving up oneself, whereby the believer, as in duty bound, yield himself and all that is his, to Christ, who is freely given him. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” Cant. 6:3; 2 Cor. 8:5, “Gave their own selves to the Lord.” Almost in the same form as Amasai, with his companions, gave themselves up to David, 1 Chron. 12:18, “Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse.” And this our surrender to Christ, which we account the seventh act of faith, is the continual fountain and spring of all true obedience, which is therefore called “the obedience of faith,” Rom. 1:5.
XXIV. After the believing soul has thus received Christ, and given himself up to him, he may and ought thence to conclude that Christ, with all his saving benefits, are his, and that he shall certainly be blessed by him, according to this infallible syllogism or reasoning of faith: “Christ offers himself as a full and complete Saviour to all who are weary, hungry, thirsty, to all who receive him, and are ready to give themselves up to him: but I am weary, hungry, &c. Therefore Christ has offered himself to me, is now become mine, and I his, nor shall any thing ever separate me from his love.” This is the eighth and the reflex act of faith, arising from consciousness or reflection, Gal. 2:20, 2 Tim. 1:12, Rom. 8:38.
XXV. Hence, in fine, the soul, now conscious of its union with Christ by faith, obtains trust or confidence, tranquillity, joy, peace, and bold defiance to all enemies and dangers whatever, a glorying in the Lord, a glorying in adversity; while the soul leans (stays itself) with delight on its beloved; with stretched-out arms throwing itself, or with its elbow sweetly leaning upon him (מרפק signifies according to the Talmudists, the arm-pit), being assured of mutual communion and mutual love, while it sings, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is towards me,” Song 7:10; it piously exults and delights itself in its Lord, is inebriated with his love, rejoices “with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” 1 Pet. 1:8, and savingly melts at the glowing flames of reciprocal love; in one word, “rejoices in the hope of the glory of God,” Rom. 5:2.
XXVI. We shall now briefly comprise, as it were in one view, what we have so largely explained. Faith comprehends the knowledge of the mystery of God, and of Christ in the light of grace, the truth of which mystery the believer acknowledges with full assent of mind, on the authority of the testimony of God. And not only so, but he is also in love with that truth, exults therein and glorifies God; he likewise ardently desires communion with Christ, that the things which are true in Christ, may be also true to him for salvation: wherefore, when Christ is offered to him by the word and Spirit, he receives him with the greatest complacency of soul, leans and rests upon him, and gives and surrenders himself to him; which done, he glories that Christ is now his own, and most sweetly delights in him, reposing himself under the shadow of the tree of life, and satiating himself with its most delicious fruits. This is the “faith of God’s elect,” Tit. 1:1, an invaluable gift—the bond of our union with Christ; the scale of paradise; the key of the ark of the covenant, with which its treasures are unlocked; the never-ceasing fountain of a holy, quiet, and blessed life.
XXVII. If any imagines that he speaks more exactly, when he distinguishes these acts of faith, so as to think some of them precede or go before faith strictly so called, as the knowledge of revealed truth, to which some excellent divines add a pious affection of the will towards God; that other acts belong to the very form or essence of faith, as assent, hunger and thirst after righteousness, the receiving Christ as Lord and Saviour, and the soul’s flying to him for refuge; and that others are accidental, which agree only to a confirmed and strengthened faith, as the certainty or assurance that Christ is now become mine, and the most delightful reliance upon him as mine, joined with exultation and glorying in him: we see no reason why such a person may not enjoy his accuracy, without any displeasure to us: for we only intended to show, that all these things concur in the full practise and exercise of faith.
XXVIII. From what has been said, it is evident that the faith usually called historical and temporary, though I question the propriety of that name, very widely differs from saving faith, which we have thus far described. They call an historical faith a naked assent to the things contained in the word of God, on the authority of God, by whom they are asserted, but without any pious motion of the will. But since this assent may be given not only to the historical parts of Scripture, but also may extend to the precepts, doctrines, promises, and threatenings, the character historical given to that faith, seems to be too restricted. Unless perhaps it be so called, with respect to the manner in which it is conversant about its object. For, as he who reads histories of transactions, with which he has no concern, barely contemplates them, without being inwardly moved or affected by them; so they who have that kind of faith do only, in an idle and careless manner, observe and think of those things which are taught in the word of God, but do not reduce them to practice: though it is not universally true, that even the most ancient histories, and the things which concern another world, are read without any affection, emotion, and application. It had therefore been better to call this faith theoretic, or a naked assent.
XXIX. Our Lord, Matt. 13:21, calls that a temporary faith, which, besides that general assent, exults in the known and acknowledged truth, makes profession thereof, and stirs up many emotions in the heart and actions in the life, which exhibit some appearance of piety; but for a time only, while every thing is prosperous under the Gospel; but falls off, when the storms of persecution assault it. This is wisely called by our Lord πρόσκαιρος, temporary, or for a while. But as it may, and even does, frequently happen, that, in the prosperous state of the church, men may persevere to the end of their life in this profession of faith and imaginary joy, and in such a course of life, as they suppose to be sufficient for the purposes of piety; so this being a constant but not saving, is not so properly called temporary faith, that being the title which our Lord only gave to the faith of apostates. We might rather perhaps better call it a presumptuous faith.
XXX. But it is needful for our consolation, that we distinctly know, how this may be distinguished from a true, lively, and saving faith, which it boldly, though falsely resembles. And first, there is no small difference in the acknowledgment of revealed truths; to which, as to truths, this presumptuous faith really assents, but as it is destitute of the true light of the Spirit, it sees not the proper form or beauty of these truths, and as they are truths in Christ; it does not observe the perfections of God shining in them; does not rightly estimate their value: when it begins first to know them, it is indeed taken with the novelty and rarity of them, but neither burns with an ardent love to them, nor labours much to have them expressed in life and conversation, as well as impressed upon the soul: and as often as other things present themselves to the mind, which flatter it with a great pretended show of pleasure or profit, it easily suffers the ideas of those truths, which oppose that advantage, to be blotted out, and almost wishes these were no truths, which, in spite of itself, it is constrained to acknowledge for such. But these things are quite the reverse in true faith, as we showed, Thes. XVII.
XXXI. Secondly. There is a great difference in the application of the promises of the Gospel. For presumptuous faith does not proceed in the right method; it rashly imagines, that the salvation, promised in the Gospel, belongs to itself; but this is either upon no foundation, or upon a false one. For sometimes these persons, without any trial or self-examination, which they avoid as too troublesome, and inconvenient to their affairs, foolishly flattering themselves, proudly lay claim to the grace of our Lord; and securely slumber in this vain dream, without either inquiring, or being willing to inquire, what foundation they have for this their imagination. Sometimes, again, they lay for a foundation of their confidence, either that perverse notion concerning the general mercy of God, and easy way to heaven, of which nothing, that I know of, is mentioned in the Gospel covenant; or an opinion of the sufficiency of their own holiness, because they are not so very vicious as the most profligate: or the external communion of the church in religious worship; or the security of their sleeping conscience, and the pleasing fancies of their own dreams, which they take for the peace of God and the consolation of the Holy Spirit. With these and the like vanities of their own imagination they deceive themselves, as if these things were sufficient marks of grace. But true believers, from a deep sense of their misery, panting after the grace of the Lord Jesus, and laying hold of it with a trembling humility, dare not boast of it as already theirs, till, after a diligent scrutiny, they have found certain and infallible evidences of grace in themselves. It is with a profound humility, a kind of sacred dread, and a sincere self-denial, that they approach to lay hold on the grace of Christ. Nor do they, boast of having laid hold of this, till, after an exact examination, first of the marks of grace, and then of their own hearts. But it is otherwise, in both these respects, with presumptuous persons; who rashly lay hold on what is not offered them in that order (for God does not offer security and joy to sinners, before the soul is affected with sorrow for the guilt of its past sins, and a due solicitude about salvation), and then presumptuously boast of their having laid hold on grace; but they cannot produce any necessary arguments to make the same appear.
XXXII. The third difference consists in that joy, which accompanies or follows both sorts of faith, and that is twofold; 1st, In respect to the rise. 2dly, In respect of the effect of that joy. In presumptuous faith, joy arises partly from the novelty and rarity of the things revealed (for the knowledge of a truth, which is more rare and abstruse gives, delight to the understanding; as the enjoyment of a good does to the will) partly from that vain imagination, that the good things offered in the Gospel, belong to them; of which they have, from the common gifts of the Holy Spirit, some kind of taste, but a very superficial one, affecting only the outside of their liPsa. But in a living faith, there arises a joy much more noble and solid, from a love of those most precious truths, by the knowledge of which the soul, taught of God, rightly esteems itself most happy; from a hope that maketh not ashamed, and a sure persuasion of its own spirit, with the superadded testimony of the divine Spirit concerning the present grace of God and future glory; and lastly, from a most sweet sense of present grace, and a real foretaste of future glory. And as the causes of both these joys are so diverse, no wonder, though the effects are very different too. The first makes the soul full of itself, leaves it empty of the love of God, and, by a vain tickling of its own imagination, heightens the sleep of carnal security. But the latter strikes believers with an incredible admiration of the unmerited philanthropy, or love of God to man, inflames them with a mutual return of love to the most kind and bountiful Jesus, and inspires them with a solicitous care, lest they commit any thing unworthy of that infinite favour of God, or grieve the Spirit of grace, who hath dealt kindly with them.
XXXIII. The fourth difference consists in the fruits. For presumptuous faith either sinks men in the deep sleep of security, which they increase by indulging the flesh; or brings with it some outward change of conduct for the better, and makes them, in a certain measure, to “escape the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” 2 Pet. 2:20; or when it operates in the brightest manner, it excites some slight and vanishing purposes, and endeavours after a stricter piety, but does not purify the heart itself, nor introduce new habits of holiness; and whenever either the allurements of the world and flesh, or some inconveniences attending Gospel piety, assault them more strongly than usual, they immediately grow weary in that course of goodness they had entered upon, and return as “swine that were washed, to their wallowing in the mire.” By that superficial knowledge of evangelical truth, and of a good, so pleasing and useful, as well as honourable, which is held forth by the Gospel, and which is not deeply imprinted on their minds, they are, indeed, stirred up to some amendment of life: but when the matter stands either upon the acquisition of some present good, or the avoiding some imminent calamity, the ideas of true and of good, which the Gospel had suggested to them, are so obliterated and defaced, that they prefer the obtaining a present pleasure or advantage, or the avoiding a present impending evil, to all the promises of the Gospel and all evangelical piety. But a living faith impresses on the soul, in such deep characters, the image of what is right and good, that it accounts nothing more lovely than, to endeavour after it, to the utmost of its power; it paints in such lively colours the most shining holiness of the Lord Christ, that while the soul beholds it with supreme affection, it is transformed into its image, 2 Cor. 3:18; it so pathetically represents the love of a dying Christ, that the believer accounts nothing dearer than, in return, both to live and die to him, Gal. 2:20; the meditation of the promised happiness is so deeply engraved on his mind, that he is ready, for the sake of it, to try all things, to bear all things, 2 Cor. 4:16–18; and thus it purifies the heart itself, Acts 15:9, in order to the practice of a sincere and constant piety; which, in consequence of a more lively or more languid faith, is itself either more lively or more languid.
XXXIV. Having considered these things concerning the nature of a living faith, and how it differs from that which is presumptuous, let us now further inquire, how a person may be conscious of his own faith. Now that it is both possible and frequent for believers to have a consciousness of their own faith, Paul not only teacheth us by his own example, 2 Tim. 1:12, “I know whom I have believed,” but also by that admonition directed to all, 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” Which admonition would have been in vain, was it impossible for them, by examining and proving themselves, to attain to the knowledge of what they search after. Yea, that it is possible, he expressly enough insinuates, by adding, “know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?”
XXXV. Nor is it difficult to understand, how this consciousness of faith may arise in believers: for first it becomes them to be well instructed, from the word of God, about the nature of saving faith. Nor is it necessary to harass the minds of the weak with a multiplicity of marks; only let the principal and essential acts of a true faith be explained to them in a simple and clear manner, let the difference between a strong and weak faith be inculcated; between a lively and a languid; between a calm faith, and that shaken by many temptations; and let them be put in mind, that not only a weak, a languid, and a shaken faith is nevertheless genuine and true; but also that, in examining themselves, a weak faith is not to be tried by the idea of a strong faith; nor a languid by that of a lively; nor that which is shaken by the idea of a calm and quiet faith; but that each is to be compared with its own proper idea. This being well observed, let every one examine himself, whether he puts forth acts agreeable to what we have now described. Which none who attends to himself can be ignorant of: as every one is immediately conscious to himself of what he thinks and wills, for this very reason that he thinks and wills it: for faith is an act of the understanding and will.
XXXVI. But some one may, perhaps, reply, if it is so very easy to have a consciousness of one’s own faith, whence then is it, that very many believers are tormented with such troublesome waverings about this matter? There is more than one reason for this: 1st, It often happens, that they have either formed to themselves a wrong notion of saving faith, or unadvisedly taken up with what others have as incautiously drawn up to their hand. Thus we have learned by experience, that not a few afflicted souls have thought, that the essence of faith consists in the assured persuasion, and delightful sense of divine love, and in the full assurance of their own salvation. And not observing these things in themselves, they have, by an unfavourable sentence, crossed themselves out of the roll of believers. But these very persons being better informed of the nature of faith, and taught that these things were rather glorious fruits of an established, than essential acts of a true faith, have gradually returned to a more composed mind. 2dly, It also sometimes happens, that believers being tossed with so many storms of temptations, do but little, nay, are unable to distinguish the proper acts of their own souls: for, while they are in that case, they perform every thing in such a confused, such a feeble and inconsistent manner, that, during that disorder, they cannot clearly discern the state and frame of their own heart; while the thoughts of their mind, and the emotions of their will succeed and cross each other with a surprising variety. 3dly, Sometimes too it is difficult, especially in an afflicted state of soul, to compare their own actions with the description of true faith, or, to speak more clearly, to compare the rule with that which they want to bring to it, especially when one has proposed to himself the idea of a lively faith, and finds in himself only a languid one. In that case, it can scarcely be otherwise, but that, when he sees so little agreement, nay, the greatest difference between the two, he must form a less favourable judgment of his own faith.
XXXVII. It is not, indeed, absolutely necessary to salvation, that one should know that he believes: for the promise of salvation is annexed to the sincerity of faith, Mark 16:16; John 3:16; not to the knowledge one may have of his faith. Yet it is nevertheless expedient, that every one should, by an accurate scrutiny, inquire into the sincerity and truth of his faith. 1st, In order to render due thanks to God for this invaluable gift. For if Paul did so often return thanks to God for the faith of others, Eph. 1:15, 16; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3, 4; 1 Thess. 1:2, 3; 2 Thess. 1:3, how much more incumbent is it to do so for one’s own faith? But he cannot do this, unless he knows that he does believe. 2dly, That he may have strong consolation in himself: for the consciousness of our faith gives us assurance of salvation; thus the apostle joins these two together, 2 Tim. 1:12: “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” 3dly, That with the greater alacrity he may run the race of piety: for he who is assured that he acts from faith, is also assured that “his labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;” and this assurance makes the believer “steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” 1 Cor. 15:58.