THE SIMPLICITY OF FAITH.
BY LEO ARD WOOLSEY BACO
— Acts xvi. 31. I I VITE you this morning to the sober study of a graye subject. I am not afraid but that it ^vill be interesting to those who seriously want to know the word of God concerning the salyation of men. To the rest, I think it will be dull. Those who haye come to church to be entertained with fine talk Avill go away disappointed and say, " Ah ! he is not the preacher we took him for." I pray for diyine grace to be a dull preacher to such, and an interesting and helpful preacher to those who want to learn God's truth and man's duty. The question which I propose to discuss this morning is this : What is Faith ? or, in other words, What is it to belieye on the Lord Jesus Christ ? For strangely enough it is a question to this day among Christians, among theologians, What is this thing to which is giyen the promise of eternal salvation ? ot that there is any active controversy on the subject. o, alas, that is the pity of it, that there should be diversity of opinion on the meaning of the great cardinal Avord of practical religion, and no controversy at all. There ought to be controversy. Why isn't there controversy ? Where are our professors of " This Sermon, wliich was too much like a theological treatise to begin with, was presented, for substance, to the Presbyterian Ministers' Association of Philadelphia ; and some of the notes and other additions which were more specially suited to that professional audience are here retained. 24
THE f^IMPLICITY OF FAITH. 25 polemics — of fighting theology? What are such Avarriors good for, if they are not found at the front when questions like this, so vital, so practical, are still undecided, and plain people may be at a loss to know not only what is true, but even what is orthodox? Don't talk of the blessings of theological peace ! What is peace, compared with truth ? First pure, then peaceable, is the wisdom that cometh from above. There is not the slightest difficulty in determining the meaning of this word in the ew Testament. There are four tests by which the true meaning of it may be proved : 1. The word is not a word peculiar to the Gospel, to carry a new idea, but an old word, in common use already, among those to whom the Gospel was first preached. ow when the Gospel says to plain, common people, in plain common words. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, the words are to be taken in their plain common meaning, or the Gospel is a fraud. It won't do to say to people who have accepted the oflTer and claimed the promise, " Oh, but we were using the words in a technical sense of our own." 2. The act of faith is illustrated by multitudes of instances throughout the Old Testament and the ew. The true definition must be one that describes an act that is common to all these believers. 3. To the act of faith, men are exhorted in the Scriptures, with the exhibition of rewards and penalties. Therefore the true definition of it must describe a free act, to which men may be induced by motives, and the neglect of which may be charged as a sin. 4. The act of faith is named in the Scriptures as the indispen'sable condition, and the sole condition, of salvation. " Whosoever believeth shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life." But certain other things are also named in the word of
God as indispensable conditions of salvation, such as Repentance, Obedience, Love, Holiness. We can not reconcile this
26 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS IX CHRIST. difficulty, unless our definition of Faith describes an act which practically involves all these others.* What now are the various definitions of Faith that are offered to us by Christian theologians and preachers ; that we may bring them up, one by one, and try them by these tests ? The first and most generally current of these definitions is this : that Faith is the Assent of the Intellect to Truth. Faith in Christ is the holding of Christian truth. Faith in God is to account as true propositions submitted to the judgment on God's authority. This is the definition given by all Roman Catholic writers, and by many Protestant writers. Dr. Chalmers, for instance, admits in faith " nothing more than the intellectual act of believing" — " a simple credence of the truths of revelation " — "just a holding of the things said in the gospel to be true." f Is this the true definition ? Let us try it by all the tests. (1) Is this the natural, common meaning of the word as it stands in the gospel ? It does look so, doesn't it ? AVhen you believe a thing you hold it to be true. When a man says " I believe the world is round " or " I believe the doctrine of limited atonement," there is no doubt what the words mean. They mean that he holds these things to be true. Suppose he *As John Owen says: ("On Justification," p. 84. Ed. Presb. Board of Publication.) "We allow no faith . . . but what virtually and radically contains in it universal obedience." t otes on Hill. Ed. Harpers, 210, 422. See also John M. Wilsoyi, annotation in Eidgley's Body of Divinity,
p. 124. Ed. Carters. Archibald Alexander, Practical Sermons, p. 150. (Presb, Board of Publication.) Archibald Alexander, Pel. Experience, p. 154. (Ed. Pr. Board.) Ashbel Green, Lectures on the Sh. Catechism vol. II., pp. 295 sqq. (Presb. Board of Pub.) Pearson on the Creed. London, 1835, p. 16. Abp. Tillotson, Ser. on Heb. xi. 6. Alex. Carson on the Atonement.
THE SIMPLICITY OF FAITH. 27 says " I believe in the existence of God," he uses a form of speech never found in the Scriptures, but he means by it that he is convinced, in his understanding, that God exists. And when he says " I believe in God," " I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" — what does he mean then? That he is convinced of certain propositions — that he holds certain tenets to be true ? I think not. I do not believe you will find that phrase "I believe on" or "I believe in" used in any such sense in all the Scriptures, nor in the Greek language of their time. The Scriptures speak of believing certain facts or certain truths, but not of believing in them.* When the Scriptures speak of Faith in God, or of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a different matter, as we shall see as soon as we apply the other tests of a true definition. (2) Try it by the examples of faith in the Scriptures both Old and ew. There is a long roll of the heroes of faith given in Hebrews xi. What are the truths that have been held in common by all those who have been saved by faith, from the
* The use of language in the early creeds is significant ; and equally significant the later corruption of their text. Calvin remarks with emphasis, Instit. IV. i., ^ 2. " Ideo credere in Deum nos testamur, quod et in ipsum ut veracem animus noster se reclinat, et fiducia nostra in ipso acquiescit : quod in Eccksiam non ita conveniret, quemadmodum nee in remissionem peccatorum aut carnis resurrectionem. He refers, on this point, to Augustine and other early writers. But then this is one of the points on which Calvin was not much of a Calvinist. The same point is strongly put in the ancient Waldensian catechism, long before the Keformation. "A dead faith is to believe that there is a God, and to believe those things which relate to God, and not believe in him." " Qu. Dost thou believe in the Holy Catholic Church ? ^'Ans. o; for it is a creature ; but I believe there is one." — Milner's Church History, Cent. xiii. ch. 3, It would be very shocking, did we not make allowance for modern corruptions of language, to hear worthy people talk of believing in human depravity, or believing in falling from grace, or even believing in the devil !
28 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS IX CHRIST. days of righteous Abel until now, and the holding of which is the condition of salvation ? One party says it is the doctrine of limited atonement. Another says it is the doctrine of the atonement in general. Another says it is the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. The Athanasian Creed (so called because Athanasius never heard of it) declares that it is a certain scholastic statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, " which if a man believe not, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." *
The Roman Catholic Church, which always knows its own mind on points of this kind, declares it to be the whole sum of revealed truth. Presbyterian writers are commonly more liberal, and agree to let you off with " certain essential doctrines or fundamental truths," to use the language of Ashbel Green and the Presbj'terian Board. And this author then submits a little syllabus of dogmas of his own composition, as being " the special object of saving faith." f But it is constantly observed that when a theologian of this stripe gets on the committee of a Tract Society or an Evangelical Alliance, his dogmatic "object of saving faith " undergoes a visible shrinkage ; so that it is difficult to agree upon a single dogma or group of dogmas which a man is saved by holding and lost by rejecting. The one doctrine that comes nearest to uniting modern Christians as the saving doctrine the acceptance of which is the condition of salvation, is the doctrine of Atonement for Sin by the Vicarious Death of Christ. Observe them as they go through the Bible from chapter to chapter trying to read this in between the lines, and to make out that all the old heroes of faith held this tenet of Christian theology. Adam *That genial tlieologian, athanael Emmons, demonstrated that "it is absohitely necessary to approve of the doctrine oC reprobaticn, in order to be saved." — H. B. Smith, Faith and Philosophy, p. 219. t Lectures on Shorter Catechism, II., 295 sq. So Dr. C. Hodge speaks of " the doctrines which the Scriptures present as the objects of faith." Theology, I., 179.
THE SIMPLICITY OF FAITH. 29 and Eve were dressed in skins — they must have been sacrificing animals as a type' of Christ! Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's refused — this must have been because Abel held and Cain denied that without shedding of blood is no remission. Rahab the harlot let down a scarlet thread
from her window — scarlet is blood-color, and this was a prefiguring of the Atonement. And so on with Gideon, and Samson, and Barak, with Jephthah, also, and others wiiom time would fail me to mention. " These all died in faith." Did they all accept the doctrine of Vicarious Atonement — whether general or limited? Or is there any other tenet of Christian theology that they agreed in ? When we are trying these painful operations on the simple, straightforward stories of the Old Testament (and the ew Testament too, for that matter) are we not engaged in putting something into the Scriptures, instead of drawing from them the instruction that is there?* This definition of Faith, then, that it is the Assent of the intellect to Truth, does not correspond with the examples of faith given us in the Bible. (3) Try it by the third test. Faith is spoken of in the Scriptures as if it were a voluntary duty. Men are entreated, urged to it with the promise of reward ; the neglect of it is solenmly charged upon them as a sin. Is " the assent of the intellect to religious truth," of this nature ? Do men hold their opinions by an act of the will ? Is the balancing judgment brought to a decision upon doubtful questions of truth by offer of reward or threat of punishment ? Does the intel* It is a curious fact which I have observed in the course of theological reading, that just in proportion as a theologian sets out with extreme views touching the infallibility and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, he practically shows, before he gets through, how insufficient he finds the Scriptures to be until they are supplemented by an extensive system of his own guess-work. For my part I am very well content with the Bible as it stands.
30 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. lect give judgment according to evidence, or is it to be bribed by considerations of expediency ? To ask these questions is
enough. We need not stop to answer them. (4) We come to the fourth and final test. Faith, according to the Scripture meaning of it, is something which carries with it Repentance, Obedience, Love, Holiness. For each one of these is named, on the authority of God, as a sufficient condition of salvation, and each one of them as an indispensable condition. The only conceivable explanation of this is that these things always and inevitably go together. Faith in Christ, then, as the Bible uses the word, is something invariably associated with Obedience, Love, Holiness. Is this true of the holding of sound doctrine? Take whatever standard of sound doctrine you choose, — however strict, however liberal, — is it true that every man that has ever held it has been holy, loving, penitent, obedient ? And if any such man has been unholy, unloving, impenitent, has he been saved ? And if not, is this holding of sound opinions the faith to which is given the promise " Whosoever believeth shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life " ? The fact is that you have here the Roman definition of Faith. And if you accept the Roman definition of Faith, you would do much better to take with it the Roman doctrine of justification. For man surely is not justified by faith alone, if by faith you mean orthodoxy. To hold the Protestant doctrine of Justification with the Roman definition of Faith is putting new" wine into old bottles. The wine runs out, and the bottles perish. II. It is doubtless the feeling how dangerous and demoralizing it may be to announce forgiveness and salvation tis promised simply to those who accept certain truths with the intellect, that leads many conscientious preachers to qualify the offer of divine mercy to " whosoever believeth " by cautions and limitations of their own, and to give us a new definition of " saving faith," as being a peculiar quality or intensity of
THE SIMPLICITY OF FAITH. . Si
intellectual assent, different from ordinary belief " Whosoever believeth " witli saving faith "shall have eternal life."* We need not give a second thought to any such limitations and qualifications as these. o man has a right to interpolate them into the divine promises. This is not the way Christ speaks, not the way the gospels speak, not the way the apostles speak. They take a common word with a plain meaning, and say in all languages " whosoever believeth on him " — " believe and be saved." And for us to amend their words for them, and say that they did not mean them in the common sense in which men use them and understand them, but in a special sense, a theological sense, a spiritual sense, is to accuse them of practicing a fraud on mankind. The difference that the Bible makes between saving faith and other faith is not in the nature of it, but in the object of it. III. But now here is a third definition which has sometimes found great favor with theologians, and is to this day sometimes urged upon us with great zeal and importunity. It is this, that Faith consists in the undoubting assurance of one's own salvation. Justifying faith is assuredly believing one's own self to be justified. To believe on Christ is to be confidently sure that you yourself are saved by him.f This definition fails on every test. (1) It is not in any sense the natural meaning of the words Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
*Thns that excellent preacher, Dr. J. W. Alexander (Sacrl. Ser. 222) after stating the dogma which he holds to be "the object of saving faith," adds, " the man who believes this, vxith a spiritual apprehension oj what he believes is a saved man."
. 1 1 have been stoutly assured, by people who thought they knew, that this fantastic and pernicious notion has never been held in the Presbyterian churches; whereas for three generations, and those the most formative in the history of Protestant theology, it was the generally accepted Presbyterian orthodoxy ; as may best be seen in Principal Cunningham's essay on "The Reformers and the Dcctrine of Assurance,"
32 . THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. (2) It does not correspond with the facts in the lives of believers ; for some of the most divinely approved examples of faith are the examples of believers who suffered under many misgivings concerning their personal salvation. (3) The state of mind which it describes is not invariably associated with repentance and holiness. On the contrary it is very common among impious and immoral fanatics. (4) But when you come to this final test : Is it a free act to which a man may be exhorted as a duty, and for failing in which he may be condemned as for a willful sin, the absurdity and folly of this definition become apparent. To exhort an unbeliever to this sort of faith — to tell him Believe that you are saved, and then you will be saved, is to tell him to believe a lie so as to make it true. And to condemn him for unbelief, under this definition, is to hold him guilty for not believing what the very fact of his condemnation proves to have been false. This definition represents the gospel as a cruel Sphinx setting insoluble riddles to all passers-by, and devouring them for not furnishing impossible answers. IV. And here is one more mistaken definition of faith — that faith consists in a succession of states of mind and feeling and action such as constitute what men call " experiencing religion " — that faith means faith and something else. I take
this statement from a tract of the American Tract Society : ( o. 357.) " What is it to believe on Christ ? It is to feel your need of him ; to believe that he is able and willing to save you, and to save you now ; and to cast yourself unreservedly on his mercy, and trust in him alone for salvation." That is, to in " The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation," p. 119. It is by no means extinct at this day ; although it is far less common in this country than in some others, to have people rush at you with the question, " Have you a perfect assurance of your own salvation ? " — as if this was the point of duty and the essence of Christian faith.
THE SIMPLICITY OF FAITH. 33 believe on Christ is first to feel something, and then to believe something, and then to do something, and then — what ?, Whythen — to believe on Christ. Why not say that to begin with and to be done with? Doubtless one does often come to this act of trusting in the Saviour through such successive stages of emotion, and conviction and action. But to confuse these together as parts of the act of trust itself is a misleading, perplexing, mischief-making thing. It is not justified by the plain, common use of words in the Gospel. And when we remember that faith is enjoined on all men as a duty — a voluntary act, to which they are exhorted under force of inducements, and with the alternative of personal guilt, — then the mischief of a bemuddled definition in which the antecedents and incidents of an act are not distinguished from the act itself, becomes apparent. You entreat me to experience certain emotions ! You urge me to entertain certain convictions! But you cannot procure a state of the emotions by oflTering a reward for it. You cannot produce a conviction of the understanding by threats of damnation. What bungling processes of ours are these! How unlike " the wisdom of God to salvation ! " When God wants to
convince an intellect he does it in the only way in which an intellect was ever yet convinced, — by reason and evidence. When he would move the feelings, he does not order a man to agitate himself, but he brings to bear upon us those appliances of love and sympathy that aflfect the heart. And when the question is on the free choices of man's will — will he ? or will he not ? — he throws into the scale the tremendous sanctions of his government, and uses the announcement of infinite reward or infinite loss to sway the free determination which may not be constrained. Of course the question will be put, — " Since these conditions are constant antecedents of faith, is there any practical harm in including them in the definition of it ? " Well, is there any good in it, of any kind ? When you 3
"J4 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHillST. have gone through with your description of these antecedents of faith, you come, in your definition, to the word trust, to which all these things are just as necessarily antecedent as they are to faith: so that your definition has tangled up within itself an endless coil of antecedents, through whicli a logical mind would never get at the thing itself, to all eternity. And the practical harm of it is this: it perplexes plain minds by a' complex definition of a simple act. It encourages men in computing the evidence of their faith by the intensity of their preliminary experiences, rather than by their daily life of faith and acts of faith. It takes off from the unbeliever the burden of guilt for refusing his plain duty, to comfort him with the complacent fieeling that he is an unfortunate person, not altogether to blame for not having happened to get hit by a religious experience. We have reached the true definition at last. To believe in
the Lord Jesus Christ is to trust in him. It is so simple that words of explanation would only darken it. We may only try this definition by the several tests, and it will answer to every one of them. (1) It is the natural and obvious meaning of the words as they would be understood by those to whom they were preached. What else could they mean ? What is this object of faith — • " the Lord Jesus Christ " ? It is not a doctrine concerning his person ; not a theory of his atonement ; not a series of fundamentals in theology ; not a system of religious truth ; and yet they who misunderstand the first part of this command are compelled to substitute one or another of these tilings as the object of Christian faith for the Lord Jesus Christ himself.* * 1 mfght quote again my favorite theologian, Ashbel Green ; or, better, the orthodox Wilson, annotator of Ridgeley. Eidgeley had said that faith was an " act of trust or dependence on him who is its object. ' To which Wilson replies: " The object of faith is OT A person, but a proposition or a statement. Trust, on the other hand, has reference
THE SIMIMJCITV (JF FAITH. 35 (2) The act of Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ does involve in itself, of its own nature, Repentance, Obedience, Holiness, and Avhatever things beside arc demanded in the Scriptures as conditions of salvation. The act of obedience is the act of faith. The life of holiness is the life of faith. It is " in welldoing" that we '' commit the kee])ing of our souls to a faithful Creator."^ So in the classical instance of faith, it is written of Abraham, father of believers, *' he believed in Jehovah," — not merely he rested on him, but — '^'^'^ |'".^^ — he built on him. ot merely that he thought probable, or felt certain, that the promise would come true, but that he ventured himself upon the Lord. In the great trial of his life, all his three days' journey to Moriah, he rested all his weight on God. As he climbed the hill with Isaac, his faith was not his convic-
tion what God would do, nor his own pur2)ose of what he would entirely to a person. The difference 1 etween it and faith, in fiict, is just that the one has a person anl tlie other has a statement for its object." II, 125. The Wesleyan theologian, Watson, is very sound an ] judicious ( n this snliject. There is a very curious illustration of how completely the traditionary theological i(l?a of faith,' now so rarely m(t with outside of the theological systems, had, almost to our own day, occupied the mind of the church to the exclusion of the ew Testanient iJea. ever was an honest sermon so searched for hen-sies as Albert Barnes's sermon on " The Way of Salvation " ; and yet of all its gainsayers, no one thought of objecting to the mistake that lay patent on the surface of it. The preacher, drawing out in ample argument his views of the method of the divine government, of atonement, and of rejjeneration, exclaims with impassioned earnestness, " Fly to th'.s scheme !" " Co)nmit your eternal inte.ests to this p.ani" Upon whi.h Di-s. Junkin and Breckenri.lre reply, with equal earnestness, "Don't do anything of the kind! Don't fly to Mr. Barnes's scheme — to the ew England plan ! Fly to our scheme — commit yourself to the Scotch system, or the Dutch ! " — and never saw that the gospel ''Way of Salvation" was, not to commit oneself to anybody's "scheme," but to "commit oneself, in well-doing^ to a faithful Creator." * 1 Peter iv 19.
36 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS IX OHEIST. do ; it was, moment by moment, what he did. In his acts w^as his faith perfected. Having trusted God, he trusted him to tho end. In his great surrender, he cast forth upon God's hands the treasure of his heart, the hope of his race, the pledge of God's promise. He flung himself, with his whole weight, on God's faithfulness and love. Herein his faith was made actual.
You see, then, that it is by works, by the act of faith, that a man is justified, and not by faith which does not act, — which is 7iot faith, except in the sense in which a dead man is a man. (3) This principle of personal trust in God is the one principle common to all saints from antediluvian Enoch and Abel down to the latest of those who through faith have obtained a good report. In this view, the practical religion of the Old Testament and the ew are one and the same. Consult your Cruden's Concordance ; in the Old Testament, the word trust occurs two hundred and twenty-five times, — it is the synonym of piety and acceptableness with God. In the ew Testament it is hardly found at all. In the Old Testament the words faith and believe are only met with a few times ; in the ew Testament they occur seven hundred times, and stand as the synonyms of holiness. It is not because God has changed, or that the conditions of his favor have changed ; but simply that in our translations we have shifted a w^ord. There is but " one faith ; " and " the Catholic faith is this." (4) The condition of salvation, thus defined, is a voluntary act and therefore a practicable and reasonable demand to be made of any man. Demanding this, God is no longer presented to the world as one who would bribe or terrify the intellect into a partial or biased decision of questions of evidence ; nor as one who would extort the instantaneous exercise of involuntary emotions ; but only as the stern enforcer, the infinite rewarder, of every man's simple duty toward a faithful Creator.* * There is no point on which the splendid "progress in theology" which has marked the history of the Presbyterian Church during the
THE SIMPLICITV OF FAITH. 3/ That is a sharp criticism upon modern preaching, that instead of teaching men tliat they must " be converted and become as little children," it has taken to teaching little children that they must become converted and become like
grown folks. But the criticism loses its cutting edge when the faith which we preach is the child's own faith — the leaning of the weaker on the Stronger, of the fqolish on the Allwise, of the sinful on the infinitely Merciful, of the w^avering on him that is Faithful and True, — the faith to which the wise and mighty find it hard to bow themselves, but which suffers little children to come unto the Lord, and in the mouths of babes and sucklings doth perfect his praise. Salvation by this faith is a salvation for every one, at all times. AVhen the mind is w^eak and ill-instructed and cannot " understand all mysteries and all knowledge," it can yet trust, and so be saved. When evil habits have seized and bound one, and imperious passions do so dominate the will as to leave no hope in oneself of successful struggle against them, — wdien life is shortening up, moment by moment, and the issues of eternity are compressed within the compass of an hour, — when the sick and bewildered brain swims and the intellect staggers in the vain attempt to grasp new thoughts and arguments, then this gospel " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved " — " Fear not ; only believe " — comes last forty years is more commendable than the point considered in this argument. The view that the act of faith is trust, and the object of faith not dogmas but a person, has grown to be so ortliodox that many are surprised to find how lately it ceased to be a heresy. One of the best utterances on the subject is by a man with whom, on some subjects, it was a pleasure to disagree : " Believe, only believe ; not opinions, but on a personal Saviour; not a creed, but on a Christ." [Discourses on Kedemption, by Stuart Robinson, p. 341.] For some of the most distinct statements of the truth, in honorable inconsistency with the hurtful errors of earlier publications, see some of the more recent issues of that wisely progressive body, the Presbyterian Board of Publication ; — for example, " Plantation Sermons," by A. F. Dickson, p, 82.
38 THE SIMPLICITY THAT IS I CHRIST. to US, to every man, bringing great salvation. Having this promise, in the utmost conscious weakness and ignorance and
sinfulness, one can rest confident in the everlasting arms of Him who " is made to us wisdom and righteousness and sanctiiication." Having this, the frightened soul that is shuddering on the giddy verge of eternity may compose itself U perfect peace, and unperplexed with difficult and painful thoughts may lean the aching head upon the bosom of the Lord, "And breathe its Ufe out sweetly there." Thanks be to God for so great salvation, accessible to every creature ! How shall we escape if we neglect it ?
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