Saving Faith Differs From Common FaithMiscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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Dated July 1750
This sermon is actually considered part of Edward’s Miscellanies.
1 John 5:1-5, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God; and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
It is a doctrine taught in this text, that saving faith differs from all common faith in its nature, kind, and essence. This doctrine is inferred from the text, thus it is said, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God;” by which is manifest that there was some great virtue that the apostles and Christians in those days used to call by the name of faith or believing, believing that Jesus is the Christ and the like, which was a thing very peculiar and distinguishing, and belonging only to those that were born of God. Thereby cannot be meant, therefore, only a mere assent to the doctrines of the gospel, because that is common to saints and sinners, as is very evident. The apostle James plainly teaches in chapter 2 that this faith may be in those that are not in a state of salvation. And we read in the Evangelists of many that in this sense believed, to whom Christ did not commit himself, because he knew what was in them: John 2 at the latter end and many other places. When it is said, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God;” thereby cannot be meant, whosoever has such an assent as is perfect, so as to exclude all remaining unbelief. For it is evident that the faith of good men does not do this. Thus a true believer said, Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief;” and Christ is often reproving his true disciples, that they have so little faith. He often says to them “O ye of little faith;” and speaks sometimes as if their faith were less than a grain of mustard seed. Nor can the apostle, when he says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God,” mean that whosoever has a predominant assent, or an assent that prevails above his dissent, or whose judgment preponderates that way, and has more weight in that scale than the other, because it is plain that it is not true that everyone that believes in this sense is born of God. Many natural, unregenerate men, have such a preponderating judgment of the truth of the doctrines of the gospel, without it there is not believe of it at all. For believing, in the lowest sense, implies a preponderating judgment, but it is evident, as just now was observed, that many natural men do believe. They do judge that the doctrine is true, as the devils do. And again, when the apostle says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God;” all that he intends cannot be only that whosoever is come to a certain particular intermediate degree of assent between the lowest degree of preponderating assent and a perfect assent, excluding all remains of unbelief. He cannot mean any certain particular intermediate degree of assent, still meaning nothing but mere assent by believing. For he does not say, he that believes or assents that Jesus is the Christ, to such a certain degree is born of God, but whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, by which must be understood that whosoever at all performs that act which the apostle calls by that name, or whosoever has anything at all of that kind of virtue which the apostle calls believing, is born of God, and that he that is not born of God has not that virtue that he meant, but is wholly without it. And besides, it would be unreasonable to suppose that by this believing, which the apostle there and elsewhere lays down as such a grand note of distinction between those that are born of God, and those that are not, is meant only a certain degree of assent, which such have that differs less from what those may have that are not born of God, than nine hundred and ninety-nine from a thousand: yea, that differs from it an infinitely little. For this is the case, if the difference be only gradual, and it be only a certain degree of faith that is the mark of being born of God. If this was the apostle’s meaning, he would use words in a manner not consistent with the use of language, as he would call things infinitely nearly alike by such distant and contrary names. And he would represent the subjects in whom they are, as of such different and contrary characters, calling one believer, and the other unbeliever, one the children of God, and those that are born of God, and the other the children of the devil, as this apostle calls all that are not born of God, in this epistle (see 1 John 3:9-10) and would represent one as setting to his seal that God is true, and the other as making him a liar, as in the 10th verse of the context. And besides, if this were the case, if believers in this sense only, with such an infinitely small gradual difference, was all that he meant, it would be no such notable distinction between those that are born of God and those that are not, as the apostle represents, and as this apostle and other apostles do everywhere signify. Nay, it would not be fit to be used as a sign or characteristic for men to distinguish themselves by. For such minute gradual differences, which in this case would be alone certainly distinguishing, are altogether indiscernible, or at least with great difficulty determined. Therefore, they are not fit to be given as distinguishing notes of the Christian character. If words are everywhere used after this manner in the Bible, and by “faith in Christ,” as the word is generally used there, is meant only the assent of the understanding, and that not merely a predominant assent, nor yet a perfect assent (excluding all remaining unbelief), but only a certain degree of assent between these two, rising up just to such a precise height so that he that has this shall everywhere be called a believer, and he whose assent, though it predominates also, and rises up as high as the other within an infinitely little, shall be called an unbeliever, one that wickedly makes God a liar, etc. this is in effect to use words without any determinate meaning at all, or which is the same thing, any meaning proportioned to our understandings. Therefore, there is undoubtedly some great and notable difference between the faith of those who are in a state of salvation and that of those who are not, insomuch that without that very faith, according to the common use of language in these days, those who were not in a state of salvation, may be said not to believe at all. And besides, that virtue that the apostle here speaks of as such a great and distinguishing note of a child of God, he plainly speaks of as a supernatural thing, as something not in natural men and given only in regeneration or being born of God, which is the great change of men from that which is natural to that which is supernatural. Men may have what is natural, by their being born, born in a natural way, but they have what is supernatural by being born again and born of God. But says the apostle, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” The same faith is plainly spoken of as a supernatural thing in the foregoing chapter, verse 15. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” But common faith is not a supernatural thing, any more than a belief of any history. It is obtained by the same means. If one be natural and the other supernatural, then undoubtedly the difference is not only such a gradual difference, differing but an infinitely little. If all lies in the degree of assent, let us suppose that a thousand degrees of assent be required to salvation, and that there is no difference in kind in the faith of others, how unreasonable is it to say that when a man can naturally raise his assent to nine hundred and ninety-nine degrees, yet he cannot reach the other degree by any improvement, but there must be a new birth in order to the other degree! And as it is thus evident that the faith or believing that Jesus is the Christ, which the apostle speaks of in the text, is some virtue intended by the apostle, differing not only in degree, but in nature and kind, from any faith that unregenerate men have, so I would observe that it is evident that this special faith, of which the apostle speaks, that so differs from common faith, is not only a faith that some Christians only have obtained, but that all have it that are in a state of salvation. Because the same faith is often spoken of as that which first brings men into a state of salvation, and not merely as that which Christians attain to afterwards, after they have performed the condition of salvation. How often are we taught that it is by faith in Christ we are justified, and that he that believes not, is in a state of condemnation, and that it is by this men pass from a state of condemnation to a state of salvation. Compare John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my words, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life;” with John 3:18. “He that believeth on him, is not condemned; but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.” And this faith that thus brings into a state of life, is expressed in the same words as it is in the text, in John 20:31. “But these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name.” Thus it is manifest that the faith spoken of in the text, is the faith that all men have that are in a state of salvation, and the faith by which they first come into salvation, and that it is a faith especially differing in nature and kind from all common faith. In the further prosecution of this discourse, I shall, 1. Bring some further arguments to prove that saving faith differs from common faith in nature and essence. 2. Show wherein the essential difference lies, confirming the same from the Scriptures, which will further prove the truth of the doctrine.
FIRST. I am to bring some further arguments to prove the doctrine, and here I would observe that there is some kind of difference or other, is most apparent from the vast distinction made in Scripture, insomuch, that those who have faith are all from time to time spoken of as justified, and in a state of salvation, having a title to eternal life, etc. Rom. 1:16-17, “The gospel is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth.” And Rom. 3:22, “Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all that believe.” Rom. 10:4, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Acts 13:39, “And by him all that believe are justified.” In these and other places, a state of salvation is produced of everyone that believeth or has faith. It is not said of everyone that believeth and walks answerably, or of everyone that believeth and takes up an answerable resolution to obey, which would be to limit the proposition, and make an exception, and be as much as to say, not everyone that is a believer, but to such believers only as not only believe, but obey. But this does not consist with these universal expressions: “The gospel is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth.” “The righteousness of God is unto all and upon all them that believe.” “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” And by the supposition, they that have not saving faith are in a state of damnation, as it is also expressly said in Scripture, “He that believeth not, shall be damned,” and the like. So that it is evident that there is a great difference between the virtue that the Scripture calls by the name faith, and speaks of as saving faith, let it be what it will, and all that is or can be in others. But here I would observe particularly: the difference must either be only in the degree of faith and in the effects of it, or it is in the nature of the faith itself. And I would, I. Show that it is not merely a difference in degree.
1. There are other scriptures, besides the text, that speak of saving faith as a supernatural thing. Mat. 16:15-17, “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” This must evidently be understood of a supernatural way of coming by this belief or faith: such a way as is greatly distinguished from instruction or judgment in other matters, such as the wise and prudent in temporal things had. So Luke 10:21-22, “In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight. No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” So to the same purpose is John 6:44-45, “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they all shall be taught of God: every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” And what is meant, is not merely that God gives it in his providence, for so he gives the knowledge of those wise and prudent men mentioned in the fore-cited passage. It is said that he gives it by the teachings of his Spirit, as appears by 1 Cor. 12:3. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” And the common influences of the Spirit, such as natural men or men that are unregenerated may have, are not meant, as appears by what the same apostle says in the same epistle, 1 Cor. 2:14. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The things of the Spirit of God, to which the apostle has a special respect, are the doctrine of Christ crucified, as appears by the beginning of the chapter and by the foregoing chapter, which he says is to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. And that the influence of the Spirit, in which this saving faith is given, is not any common influence or anything like it, but is that influence by which men are God’s workmanship made over again, or made new creatures, is evident by Eph. 2:8-10. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” And so it is manifest by the text that this influence, by which this faith is given, is no common influence, but a regenerating influence, 1 John 5:1-5. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God; and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments,” etc. It is spoken of as a great work, so wrought by God, as remarkably to show his power, 2 Thes. 1:11. “Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.” And that which makes the argument yet more clear and demonstrative is that it is mentioned as one of the distinguishing characters of saving faith, that it is the faith of the operation of God. Col. 2:12, “You are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Now would this faith be any distinguishing character of the true Christian, if it were not a faith of a different kind from that which others may have? And besides, it is evidently suggested in the words, that it is by a like wonderful operation as the raising of Christ from the dead, especially taken with the following verse. The words taken together are thus, Col. 2:12-13. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Let this be compared with Eph. 1:18-19, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” Now is it reasonable to suppose that such distinctions as these would be taught, as taking place between saving faith and common faith, if there were no essential difference, but only a gradual difference, and they approached infinitely near to each other?
2. The distinguishing epithets and characters ascribed to saving faith in Scripture, are such as denote the difference to be in nature and kind, and not in degree only. One distinguishing epithet is precious, 2 Pet. 1:1, “Like precious faith with us.” Now preciousness is what signifies more properly something of the quality, than of the degree. As preciousness in gold is more properly a designation of the quality of that kind of substance, than the quantity. And therefore, when gold is tried in the fire to see whether it be true gold or not, it is not the quantity of the substance that is tried by the fire, but the precious nature of the substance. So it is when faith is tried to see whether it be a saving faith or not. 1 Pet. 1:7, “That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” If the trial was not of the nature and kind, but only of the quantity of faith, how exceedingly improper would be the comparison between the trial of faith and the trial of gold! Another distinguishing scripture not of saving faith is that it is the faith of Abraham. Rom. 4:16, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” Now the faith of Abraham cannot be the faith of that degree of which Abraham’s was, for undoubtedly multitudes are in a state of salvation, that have not that eminency of faith. Therefore, nothing can be meant by the faith of Abraham, but faith of the same nature and kind. Again, another distinguishing scripture note of saving faith is that it is faith unfeigned. 1 Tim. 1:5, “Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” 2 Tim. 1:5, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Now this is an epithet that denotes the nature of a thing, and not the degree of it. A thing may be unfeigned, and yet be but to a small degree. To be unfeigned is to be really a thing of that nature and kind which it pretends to be, and not a false appearance or mere resemblance of it. Again, another note of distinction between saving faith and common faith, plainly implied in Scripture, is that it differs from the faith of devils. It is implied in Jam. 2:18-19, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me they faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.” Here it is first implied that there is a difference between saving faith and common, that may be shown by works: a difference in the cause that may be shown by the effects, and then it is implied this difference lies in something wherein it differs from the faith of devils. Otherwise there is no force in the apostle’s reasoning. But this difference cannot lie in the degree of the assent of the understanding, for the devils have as high a degree of assent as the real Christian. The difference then must lie in the peculiar nature of the faith.
3. That the difference between common faith and saving faith does not lie in the degree only, but in the nature and essence of it, appears by this: that those who are in a state of damnation are spoken of as being wholly destitute of it, as wholly without that sort of faith that the saints have. They are spoken of as those that believe not, and having the gospel hid from them, being blind with regard to this light; as 2 Cor. 4:3-4, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Now can these things be said with any propriety, of such as are lost in general, if many of them, as well as the saved, have the same sort of faith of the same gospel, but only in a less degree, and some of them falling short in degree, but very little, perhaps one degree in a million? How can it be proper to speak of the others, so little excelling them in the degree of the same light, as having the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining unto them, and beholding as with open face the glory of the Lord, as is said of all true believers in the context? While those are spoken of as having the gospel hid from them, their minds blinded lest the light of the glorious gospel should shine unto them, and so as being lost or in a state of damnation? Such interpretations of Scripture are unreasonable.
4. That the difference between saving faith and common faith is not in degree, but in the nature and mind, appears from this: that in the Scripture, saving faith, when weakest, and attended with very great doubts, yet is said never to fail. Luke 22:31-32, “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” The faith of Peter was attended with very great doubts concerning Christ and his cause. Now if the distinction between saving faith and other faith be only in the degree of assent, whereby a man was brought fully to assent to the truth, and to cease greatly to question it, then Peter’s faith would have failed. He would have been without any saving faith. For he greatly questioned the truth concerning Christ and his kingdom, especially when he denied him. Other disciples did so to, for they all forsook him and fled. Therefore it follows that there is something peculiar in the very nature of saving faith, that remains in times even of greatest doubt, and even at those times distinguishes it from all common faith. I now proceed, II. To show that it does not consist only in the difference of effects. The supposition that I would disprove is this: That there is no difference between saving faith and common faith as to their nature, and that all the difference lies in this, that in him that is in a state of salvation, faith produces another effect; it works another way; it produces a settled determination of mind, to walk in a way of universal and persevering obedience. In the unregenerate, although his faith be the same with that of the regenerate, and he has the same assent of his understanding to the truths of the gospel, yet it does not prove effectual to bring him to such a resolution and answerable practice. In opposition to this notion, I would observe,
1. That it is contrary to the reason of mankind, to suppose different effects, without any difference in the cause. It has ever been counted to be good reasoning from the effect to the cause, and it is a way of reasoning that common sense leads mankind to. But if, from a different effect, there is no arguing any difference in the cause, this way of reasoning must be given up. If there be a difference in the effect, that does not arise from some difference in the cause, then there is something in the effect that proceeds not from its cause, viz., that diversity, because there is no diversity in the cause to answer it. Therefore, that diversity must arise from nothing, and consequently is no effect of anything, which is contrary to the supposition. So this hypothesis is at once reduced to a contradiction. If there be a difference in the effect, that difference must arise from something, and that which it arises from, let it be what it will, must be the cause of it. And if faith be the cause of this diversity in the effect, as is supposed, then I would ask, what is there in faith that can be the cause of this diversity, seeing there is no diversity in the faith to answer it? To say that the diversity of the effect arises from likeness or sameness in the cause, is a gross and palpable absurdity, and is as much as to say that difference is produced by no difference: which is the same thing as to say that nothing produces something.
2. If there were a difference in the effects of faith, but no difference in the faith itself, then no difference of faith could be showed by the effects. But that is contrary to Scripture, and particularly to Jam. 2:18. “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.” The apostle can mean nothing else by this, than that I will show thee by my works that I have a right sort of faith. I will show thee that my faith is a better faith than that of those who have no works. I will show thee the difference of the causes, by the difference of the effect. This the apostle thought good arguing. Christ thought it was good arguing to argue the difference of the trees from the difference of the fruits. Mat. 12:33, “A tree is known by its fruit.” How can this be, when there is no difference in the tree? When the nature of the tree is the same, and when indeed, though there be a difference of the effects, there is no difference at all in the faith that is the cause? And if there is no difference in the faith that is the cause, then certainly no difference can be shown by the effects. When we see two human bodies, and see actions performed and works produced by the one, and not by the other, we determine that there is an internal difference in the bodies themselves. We conclude that one is alive and the other dead, that one has an operative nature (an active spirit in it), and that the other has none, which is a very essential difference in the causes themselves. Just so we argue an essential difference between a saving and common faith, by the words or effects produced, as the apostle in that context observes in the last verse of the chapter, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
I come now, in the SECOND place, to show wherein saving faith differs essentially from common faith, and shall endeavor to prove what I lay down from the Scripture, which will give farther evidence to the truth of the doctrine. There is, in the nature and essence of saving faith, a receiving of the object of faith, not only in the assent of the judgment, but with the heart, or with the inclination and will of the soul. There is in saving faith, a receiving of the truth, not only with the assent of the mind, but with the consent of the heart, as is evident by 2 Thes. 2:10, “Received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.” And the apostle, describing the nature of saving faith, from the example of the ancient patriarchs, Heb. 11, describes their faith thus, verse 13, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises; but, having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them.” And so the evangelist John calls faith a receiving of Christ. John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Here the apostle expressly declares that he whom he means by a receiver, was the same with the believer on Christ, or one that has saving faith. And what else can be meant by receiving Christ, or accepting him, than an accepting him in heart? It is not a taking him with the hand, or any external taking or accepting him, but the acceptance of the mind. The acceptance of the mind is the act of the mind towards an object as acceptable, but that in a special manner, as the act of the inclination or will. And it is further evident that saving faith has its seat not only in the speculative understanding or judgment, but in the heart or will, because, otherwise it is not properly of the nature of a virtue, or any part of the moral goodness of the mind. For virtue has its special and immediate seat in the will, and that qualification that is not at all seated there, though it be a cause of virtue or an effect of it, yet is not properly any virtue of the mind, nor can properly be in itself a moral qualification, or any fulfillment of a moral rule. But it is evident that saving faith is one of the chief virtues of a saint, one of the greatest virtues prescribed in the moral law of God. Mat. 23:23, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” It is a principal duty that God required, John 6:28-29, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom God hath sent.” 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that ye believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” And therefore it is called most holy faith, Jude 20. But if it be not seated in the will, it is no more a holy faith, than the faith of devils. That it is most holy, implies that it is one thing wherein Christian holiness does principally consist.
An objection may be raised against this last particular, viz., that the words “faith” and “believing,” in common language, signify no more than the assent of the understanding.
Answer 1. It is not at all strange that in matters of divinity and of the gospel of Christ, which are so exceedingly diverse from the common concerns of life, and so much above them, some words should be used in somewhat of a peculiar sense. The languages used among the nations of the world, were not first framed to express the spiritual and supernatural things of the gospel of Christ, but the common concernments of human life. Hence it comes to pass that language, in its common use, is not exactly adapted to express things of this nature, so that there is a necessity that when the phrases of common speech are adopted into the gospel of Christ, they should some of them be used in a sense somewhat diverse from the most ordinary use of them in temporal concerns. Words were first devised to signify the more ordinary concerns of life. Hence men find a necessity, even in order to express many things in human arts and sciences, to use words in something of a peculiar sense: the sense being somewhat varied from their more ordinary use, and the very same words, as terms of art, do not signify exactly the same thing that they do in common speech. This is well known to be the case in innumerable instances, because the concerns of the arts and sciences are so diverse from the common concerns of life, that unless some phrases were adopted out of common language, and their signification something varied, there would be no words at all to be found to signify such and such things pertaining to those arts. But the things of the gospel of Christ are vastly more diverse from the common concerns of life, than the things of human arts and sciences: those things being heavenly things, and of the most spiritual and sublime nature possible, and most diverse from earthly things. Hence the use of words in common language, must not be looked upon as a universal rule to determine the signification of words in the gospel: but the rule is the use of words in Scripture language. What is found in fact to be the use of words in the Bible, by comparing one place with another, that must determine the sense in which we must understand them.
Answer 2. The words in the original, translated faith, and believing, such as πιστις στευωειθω, ανδ and πεποιθησις as often used in common language, implied more than the mere assent of the understanding: they were often used to signify affiance or trusting, which implies an act of the will, as well as of the understanding. It implies that the thing believed is received as good and agreeable, as well as true. For trusting always relates to some good sought and aimed at in our trust, and therefore ever more implies the acceptance of the heart, and the embracing of the inclination and desire of the soul. And therefore, trusting in Christ for salvation implies that he and his redemption, and those things wherein his salvation consists, are agreeable and acceptable to us. Answer 3. Supposing saving faith to be what Calvinistical divines have ordinarily supposed it to be, there seems to be no one word in common language, so fit to express it, as faith, πιστις, as it most commonly is in the original. Orthodox divines, in the definitions of faith, do not all use exactly the same terms, but they generally come to the same thing. Their distinctions generally signify as much as a person’s receiving Christ and his salvation as revealed in the gospel, with his whole soul; acquiescing in what is exhibited as true, excellent, and sufficient for him. And to express this complex act of the mind, I apprehend no word can be found more significant than faith, which signifies both assenting and consenting, because the object of the act is wholly supernatural, and above the reach of mere reason, and therefore exhibited only by revelation and divine testimony. And the person to be believed in, is exhibited and offered in that revelation, especially under the character of a Savior, and so as an object of trust: and the benefits are all spiritual, invisible, wonderful, and future. If this be the true account of faith, beware how you entertain any such doctrine, as that there is no essential difference between common and saving faith, and that both consist in a mere assent of the understanding to the doctrines of religion. That this doctrine is false, appears by what has been said, and if it be false, it must needs be exceedingly dangerous. Saving faith, as you well know, is abundantly insisted on in the Bible, as in a peculiar manner the condition of salvation, being the thing by which we are justified. How much is that doctrine insisted on in the New Testament! We are said to be “justified by faith, and by faith alone: By faith we are saved; and this is the work of God, that we believe in him whom he hath sent: The just shall live by faith: We are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ: He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Therefore, doubtless, saving faith, whatsoever that be, is the grand condition of an interest in Christ, and his great salvation. And if it be so, of what vast importance is it, that we should have right notions of what it is! For certainly no one thing whatever, nothing in religion, is of greater importance than that which teaches us how we may be saved. If salvation itself be of infinite importance, then it is of equal importance that we do not mistake the terms of it. And if this be of infinite importance, then that doctrine that teaches that to be the term, that is not so, but very diverse, is infinitely dangerous. What we want a revelation from God for chiefly, is to teach us the terms of his favor and the way of salvation. And that which the revelation God has given us in the Bible teaches to be the way, is faith in Christ. Therefore, that doctrine that teaches something else to be saving faith, that is essentially another thing, teaches entirely another way of salvation. And therefore such doctrine does in effect make void the revelation we have in the Bible, as it makes void the special end of it, which is to teach us the true way of salvation. The gospel is the revelation of the way of life by faith in Christ. Therefore, he who teaches something else to be that faith, which is essentially diverse from what the gospel of Christ teaches, he teaches another gospel, and he does in effect teach another religion than the religion of Christ. For what is religion, but that way of exercising our respect to God, which is the term of his favor and acceptance to a title to eternal rewards? The Scripture teaches this, in a special manner, to be saving faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he that teaches another faith instead of this, teaches another religion. Such doctrine as I have opposed, must be destructive and damning, i.e. directly tending to man’s damnation, leading such as embrace it to rest in something essentially different from the grand condition of salvation. And therefore I would advise you, as you would have any regard to your own soul’s salvation, and to the salvation of your posterity, to beware of such doctrine as this.
Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:
Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.
Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.