Faith and Conversion - by Dr. William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

T.U.L.I.P. - The Doctrines of Grace

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A short meditation on how faith and conversion work in the saving of a sinner.

Everywhere in the Scriptures great stress is laid on faith. In scores of passages, its absolute necessity is explicitly declared. With the Word of God, Christian experience well agrees. The young convert had neither hope nor joy till he believed. His faith being weak, he manifests great instability. But as it increases, he grows stronger until he is undaunted and cries, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). Old Christians speak much of faith and always love to have the truth concerning it clearly explained.

But what is the faith on which the Scriptures so much insist? This is a matter of chief importance. An error here will affect our whole religious life. Faith is either human or divine. In human faith we rely upon what men say. This we do by the constitution of our minds. Thus, children rest upon what their parents tell them. Human faith is properly confined to things on which God has not spoken. Its basis is human testimony. Divine faith rests on the testimony of God. It concerns things which are revealed from heaven…

The faith of God’s people relates to things past, present, and to come. It believes that God made the world. There is the past. It believes that God is. There is the present. It believes that there will be a Day of Judgment. There is the future. Nor are these and other revealed truths believed by different kinds of faith, but all by one and the same faith. As with the same visual organ we look to the east, to the west, to the north, and to the south, at objects far from us or near to us, so with the same eye of faith we look at things thousands of years past, or thousands of years to come, or things now existing in the unseen world. Of old for thousands of years, the pious believed in a Savior to come. In the days of His flesh, His disciples believed in a Savior then come. For nearly two thousand years, God’s people have believed in a Savior that has come. In all these cases the faith was the same in principle and in its effects also.

The Westminster Confession says, “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the word for the authority of God himself speaking therein, and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.” A little consideration of this account of faith will show how full, complete, and Scriptural it is.

The first thing asserted is that saving faith is not of earthly, but of heavenly origin; that it is not of man, but of God. Faith is the gift of God: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him” (Philippians 1:29); “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). When “Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16, 17). This faith is particularly ascribed to the Holy Ghost as its Author. He produces it in the heart. So say the Scriptures: “The fruit of the Spirit is faith” (Galatians 5:22); “To another is given faith by the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:9); “We having the same Spirit of faith…also believe” (2 Corinthians 4:13). The reason why saving faith endures is because it is the incorruptible seed of God.

It is next said that in working this faith in us, God puts honor upon His Word as the ordinary instrument. With this also the Scriptures well agree: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?…So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:14, 17); “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). This is the foundation of all our encouragement in proclaiming the Gospel. That which is sown in the weakness of man is raised in the mighty energy of the Holy Ghost. No wonder that such happy results flow from proclaiming the Gospel whenever God’s Spirit attends it. It is thus the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. “God’s gracious biddings are effectual enablings.”

In like manner this faith is chiefly nourished by the ministry of the Word and other ordinances, and by prayer. “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). The baptism of water is effectual when accompanied by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The breaking of bread and drinking of wine are means of nourishment to all those who drink spiritually of the Rock which follows them, even Christ, and who by faith eat the true bread which cometh down from heaven, even the Son of God. All the saints desire the sincere milk of the Word that they may grow thereby.

True faith respects all God’s Word. It receives narratives, promises, threatenings, doctrines, precepts, warnings, encouragements, all as they were designed for its use. It obeys God’s commands. They were given for that purpose. It is afraid of His threatenings. It trembles at His Word. It relies upon the promises, both as they respect this life and the next. It takes warning from many parts of Scripture. It rejoices in solid Scriptural encouragement. It relies upon God’s Word as testimony that is infallible. Whatever God speaks, faith believes. It receives all He has said. The Word of God liveth and abideth for ever. So faith receives it as His Word and not as the word of man. His authority is perfect.

But saving faith has special reference to Christ. So the Scriptures often teach: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5); “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:9-11); “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31); “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36); “He that believeth on him is not condemned” (John 3:18). In God’s Word, the great theme is Christ Jesus: “To him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43); “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). If to deny the Father is fatal, so is it also to deny the Son. If to do despite to the Spirit of grace involves the loss of the soul, to reject Christ as the Savior makes destruction inevitable. But to receive Christ, to rest upon Him, to look to Him, to come to Him, to flee to Him for refuge, to take Him as our Sacrifice, as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and to do this heartily is the great office of saving faith.

This faith is not of equal strength in all believers, nor in the same believer at all times. We read of “him that is weak in faith,” of “little faith,” and of “great faith.” Faith grows by the divine blessing. The faith of some grows “exceedingly.” Every true disciple says, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It finally gains every needful victory. In some cases it is matured into full assurance. This is all through Christ, Who begins, carries on, and perfects the work of faith in us by His Spirit and grace.

This whole view of faith is consistent with itself and with all the Scriptures. It explains many things which otherwise would seem to us enigmatical.

First, we see why faith always was and always will be necessary: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Heb 11:4). This was the religion of those early times. “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This will be the religion of the latest times. The reason why no man was ever able or shall ever be able to please God without faith, is, that unbelief at every step sets aside all that God has said and done for man’s salvation. He who would be saved in unbelief, would put perpetual contempt on all the arrangements of heaven for the recovery of lost men.

We also see how reasonable it is that faith should be required of us: “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22); “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established” (2 Chronicles 20:20); “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29); “Be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). These are but specimens of the authoritative tones in which God speaks to us on this subject. He could not say less if He sought our good. To permit us to live in unbelief would be to license all sin.

We can also now understand why the minds of truly religious people are so ready to take up with God’s offers of grace and mercy. Believing all God says, they of course receive as true all that He has alleged concerning their fallen and depraved condition. In other words, they find out that they are sinners, lost, guilty, vile, and helpless. To such the Gospel is always good news. It is indeed life from the dead to a poor, convinced sinner to see the door of mercy wide open and Christ standing ready to receive all that come to Him…

And yet faith, even the simplest and strongest, is not irrational, nor foolish. No man acts so wisely as he who implicitly believes God. Abraham never showed that his faculties were so well regulated and orderly as when he went straight forward at God’s bidding to sacrifice Isaac. He asked no reasons, he stated no difficulties; he simply did as he had been commanded and staggered not through unbelief. The reason why faith is so wise is because it reposes confidence in God, Who cannot lie, cannot change, cannot fail, cannot be deceived, thwarted, or even perplexed; Who sees the end from the beginning, Who loves beyond all names of love known to mortals or even to angels; a God and Savior Who never trampled on a broken heart, Who never despised the cry of the humble, Who never left the penitent to perish in their sins; and Who will infallibly bring to eternal glory all who take refuge in atoning blood…

The following is a good definition: “Justifying faith is a saving grace wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the Gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness therein held forth for the pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.”

Without further comparing formal definitions on this subject, it may be said that sound writers fully agree with the Scriptures in representing faith as a simple act of the mind, in which both the understanding and will are united; that the light of knowledge goes before it so far as to reveal the mind of God, and so it is not blind and credulous, but sober, watchful, and intelligent; and that it is the fruit of warm affections, and so is not cold, speculative, and without practical effect…

The effects of saving faith are many and of great value. Indeed they are so important, that without them salvation in any of its benefits is impossible.

1. True faith is the instrument of a sinner’s justification before God. So the Scriptures abundantly teach: “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38); “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23); “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1); “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). “For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal 2:21). Here is a grand result: sin is forgiven and the sinner is accepted simply by believing on Him Who is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth. This is indeed a mystery and an offence to many…

2. Adoption is also by faith: “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” (John 1:12); “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). What a wonderful effect is this: a child of the devil becomes a child of God, an heir of perdition is changed into an heir of glory, and all by reliance on the Word of God and by confidence in the Person and merits of Jesus Christ. No wonder believers have ever celebrated the wonders of faith.

3. Besides obtaining justification and adoption, we also by faith are made partakers of the Holy Spirit to all the ends of illumination, sanctification, and encouragement in the Lord. Christ says, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive)” (John 7:38, 39). There is no success, progress, or comfort in religion, but through this blessed Spirit. To receive Him in His fullness of grace is to secure the earnest of all good things, the pledge of heaven itself. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). But if a man have the Spirit of Christ, nothing can prove him a castaway, a reprobate, an enemy.

4. Saving faith is an infallible sign of regeneration. None ever thus believed but those who “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God” (1 John 5:1). Genuine faith being ours, our regeneration is no longer doubtful…

5. The powerful effect of true faith in purifying the heart is among its transcendent blessings. This chiefly makes the difference between it and the faith of devils. It awakens intense hatred of sin, eager longings after holiness, blessed hopes of attaining complete conformity to God, and a purpose to do right, whatever may be the result. There is no effectual purifying of the heart but by faith—by faith laying hold of Christ, and obeying the truth. Hooker well says, “To make a wicked and sinful man most holy through his believing, is more than to create a world of nothing.”

From Vital Godliness reprinted by Sprinkle Publications

Bible Verse:

“A bishop (elder) then must be…able to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2).

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