FAITH AND UNBELIEF
What evangelical faith is not.
1. The term faith, like most other words, has diverse significations, and is manifestly used in the Bible sometimes to designate a state of the intellect, in which case it means an undoubting persuasion, a firm conviction, an unhesitating intellectual assent. This, however, is not its evangelical sense. Evangelical faith cannot be a phenomenon of the intellect, for the plain reason that, when used in an evangelical sense, it is always regarded as a virtue. But virtue cannot be predicated of intellectual states, because these are involuntary, or passive states of mind. Faith is a condition of salvation. It is something which we are commanded to do upon pain of eternal death. But if it be something to be done a solemn duty, it cannot be a merely passive state, a mere intellectual conviction. The Bible distinguishes between intellectual and saving faith. There is a faith of devils, and there is a faith of saints. James clearly distinguishes between them, and also between an antinomian and a saving faith. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:17-26). The distinction is here clearly marked, as it is elsewhere in the Bible, between intellectual and saving faith. One produces good works or a holy life; the other is unproductive. This shows that one is a phenomenon of the intellect merely, and does not of course control the conduct. The other must be a phenomenon of the will, because it manifests itself in the outward life. Evangelical faith, then, is not a conviction, a perception of truth. It does not belong to the intellect, though it implies intellectual conviction, yet the evangelical or virtuous element does not consist in it.
2. It is not a feeling of any kind; that is, it does not belong to, and is not a phenomenon of, the sensibility. The phenomena of the sensibility are passive states of mind, and therefore have no moral character in themselves. Faith, regarded as a virtue, cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind whatever. It is represented in the Bible as an active and most efficient state of mind. It works, and "works by love." It produces "the obedience of faith." Christians are said to be sanctified by the faith that is in Christ. Indeed the Bible, in a great variety of instances and ways, represents faith in God and in Christ as a cardinal form of virtue, and as the mainspring of an outwardly holy life. Hence, it cannot consist in any involuntary state or exercise of mind whatever.
What evangelical faith is.
Since the Bible uniformly represents saving or evangelical faith as a virtue, we know that it must be a phenomenon of the will. It is an efficient state of mind, and therefore it must consist in the embracing of the truth by the heart or will. It is the will's closing in with the truths of the gospel. It is the soul's act of yielding itself up, or committing itself to the truths of the evangelical system. It is a trusting in Christ, a committing of the soul and the whole being to Him, in His various offices and relations to men. It is a confiding in Him, and in what is revealed of Him, in His word and providence, and by His Spirit.
The same word that is so often rendered faith in the New Testament is also rendered commit; as in, "But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men" (John 2:24). "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (Luke 16:11). In these passages the word rendered commit is the same word as that which is rendered faith. It is a confiding in God and in Christ, as revealed in the Bible and in reason. It is a receiving of the testimony of God concerning Himself, and concerning all things of which He has spoken. It is a receiving of Christ for just what He is represented to be in His gospel, and an unqualified surrender of the will, and of the whole being to Him.
What is implied in evangelical faith?
1. It implies an intellectual perception of the things, facts, and truths believed. No one can believe that which he does not understand. It is impossible to believe that which is not so revealed to the mind, that the mind understands it. It has been erroneously assumed, that faith did not need light, that is, that it is not essential to faith that we understand the doctrines or facts that we are called upon to believe. This is a false assumption; for how can we believe, trust, confide, in what we do not understand? I must first understand what a proposition, a fact, a doctrine, or a thing is, before I can say whether I believe, or whether I ought to believe, or not. Should you state a proposition to me in an unknown tongue, and ask me if I believe it, I must reply, I do not, for I do not understand the terms of the proposition. Perhaps I should believe the truth expressed, and perhaps I should not; I cannot tell, until I understand the proposition. Any fact or doctrine not understood is like a proposition in an unknown tongue; it is impossible that the mind should receive or reject it, should believe or disbelieve it, until it is understood. We can receive or believe a truth, or fact, or doctrine no further than we understand it. So far as we do understand it, so far we may believe it, although we may not understand all about it. For example: I can believe in both the proper divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. That He is both God and man, is a fact that I can understand. Thus, far I can believe. But how his divinity and humanity are united I cannot understand. Therefore, I only believe the fact that they are united; the quo modo of their union I know nothing about, and I believe no more than I know. So I can understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. That the Father is God, that the Son is God, that the Holy Spirit is God; that these three are Divine persons, I can understand as a fact. I can also understand that there is no contradiction or impossibility in the declared fact, that these three are one in their substratum of being; that is that they are one in a different sense from that in which they are three; that they are three in one sense, and one in another. I understand that this may be a fact, and therefore I can believe it. But the quo modo of their union I neither understand nor believe: that is, I have no theory, no idea, no data on the subject, have no opinion, and consequently no faith, as to the manner in which they are united. Faith, then, in any fact or doctrine, implies that the intellect has an idea, or that the soul has an understanding, an opinion of that which the heart embraces or believes.
2. Evangelical faith implies the appropriation of the truths of the gospel to ourselves. It implies an acceptance of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The soul that truly believes, believes that Christ tasted death for every man, and of course for it. It apprehends Christ as the Savior of the world, as offered to all, and embraces and receives Him for itself. It appropriates His atonement, and His resurrection, and His intercession, and His promises to itself. Christ is thus presented in the gospel, not only as the Savior of the world, but also to the individual acceptance of men. He is embraced by the world no further than He is embraced by individuals. He saves the world no further than He saves individuals. He died for the world, because He died for the individuals that compose the race. Evangelical faith, then, implies the belief of the truths of the Bible, the apprehension of the truths just named, and a reception of them, and a personal acceptance and appropriation of Christ to meet the necessities of the individual soul.
3. Evangelical faith implies an evangelical life. This would not be true if faith were merely an intellectual state or exercise. But since, as we have seen, faith is of the heart, since it consists in the committal of the will to Christ, it follows, by a law of necessity, that the life will correspond with the faith. Let this be kept in perpetual remembrance.
4. Evangelical faith implies repentance towards God. Evangelical faith particularly respects Jesus Christ and His salvation. It is an embracing of Christ and His salvation. Of course it implies repentance towards God, that is, a turning from sin to God. The will cannot be submitted to Christ, it cannot receive Him as He is presented in the gospel, while it neglects repentance toward God; while it rejects the authority of the Father, it cannot embrace and submit to the Son.
5. Disinterested benevolence, or a state of good will to being, is implied in evangelical faith; for that is the committal of the soul to God and to Christ in all obedience. It must, therefore, imply fellowship or sympathy with Him in regard to the great end upon which His heart is set, and for which He lives. A yielding up of the will and the soul to Him, must imply the embracing of the same end that He embraces.
6. It implies a state of the sensibility corresponding to the truths believed. It implies this, because this state of the sensibility is a result of faith by a law of necessity, and this result follows necessarily upon the acceptance of Christ and His gospel by the heart.
7. Of course it implies peace of mind. In Christ the soul finds its full and present salvation. It finds justification, which produces a sense of pardon and acceptance. It finds sanctification, or grace to deliver from the reigning power of sin. It finds all its wants met, and all needed grace proffered for its assistance. It sees no cause for disturbance, nothing to ask or desire that is not treasured up in Christ. It has ceased to war with God with itself. It has found its resting-place in Christ, and rests in profound peace under the shadow of the Almighty.
8. It must imply the existence in the soul of every virtue, because it is a yielding up of the whole being to the will of God. Consequently, all the phases of virtue required by the gospel must be implied as existing, either in a developed or in an undeveloped state, in every heart that truly receives Christ by faith. Certain forms or modifications of virtue may not in all cases have found the occasions of their development, but certain it is, that every modification of virtue will manifest itself as its occasion shall arise, if there be a true and a living faith in Christ. This follows from the very nature of faith.
9. Present evangelical faith implies a state of present sinlessness. Observe, faith is the yielding and committal of the whole will, and of the whole being to Christ. This, and nothing short of this, is evangelical faith. But this comprehends and implies the whole of present, true obedience to Christ. This is the reason why faith is spoken of as the condition, and as it were, the only condition, of salvation. It really implies all virtue. Faith may be contemplated either as a distinct form of virtue, and as an attribute of love, or as comprehensive of all virtue. When contemplated as an attribute of love, it is only a branch of sanctification. When contemplated in the wider sense of universal conformity of will to the will of God, it is then synonymous with entire present sanctification. Contemplated in either light, its existence in the heart must be inconsistent with present sin there. Faith is an attitude of the will, and is wholly incompatible with present rebellion of will against Christ. This must be true, or what is faith?
10. Faith implies the reception and the practice of all known or perceived truth. The heart that embraces and receives truth as truth, and because it is truth, must of course receive all known truth. For it is plainly impossible that the will should embrace some truth perceived for a benevolent reason, and reject other truth perceived. All truth is harmonious. One truth is always consistent with every other truth. The heart that truly embraces one, will, for the same reason, embrace all truth known. If out of regard to the highest good of being, any one revealed truth is truly received, that state of mind continuing, it is impossible that all truth should not be received as soon as known.
What unbelief is not.
1. It is not ignorance of truth. Ignorance is a blank; it is the negation or absence of knowledge. This certainly cannot be the unbelief everywhere represented in the Bible as a heinous sin. Ignorance may be a consequence of unbelief, but cannot be identical with it. We may be ignorant of certain truths as a consequence of rejecting others, but this ignorance is not, and, we shall see, cannot be unbelief.
2. Unbelief is not the negation or absence of faith. This were a mere nothing a nonentity. But a mere nothing is not that abominable thing which the scriptures represent as a great and a damning sin.
3. It cannot be a phenomenon of the intellect, or an intellectual skepticism. This state of the intellect may result from the state of mind properly denominated unbelief, but it cannot be identical with it. Intellectual doubt or unbelief often results from unbelief properly so called, but unbelief, when contemplated as a sin, should never be confounded with theoretic or intellectual infidelity. They are as entirely distinct as any two phenomena of mind whatever.
4. It cannot consist in feelings or emotions of incredulity, doubt, or opposition to truth. In other words, unbelief as a sin cannot be a phenomenon of the sensibility. The term unbelief is sometimes used to express or designate a state of the intellect, and sometimes of the sensibility. It sometimes is used to designate a state of intellectual incredulity, doubt, distrust, skepticism. But when used in this sense, moral character is not justly predicable of the state of mind which the term unbelief represents.
Sometimes the term expresses a mere feeling of incredulity in regard to truth. But neither has this state of mind moral character; nor can it have, for the very good reason that it is involuntary. In short, the unbelief that is so sorely denounced in the Bible, as a most aggravated abomination, cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind whatever.
What unbelief is.
The term, as used in the Bible, in those passages that represent it as a sin, must designate a phenomenon of will. It must be a voluntary state of mind. It must be the opposite of evangelical faith. Faith is the will's reception, and unbelief is the will's rejection, of truth. Faith is the soul's confiding in truth and in the God of truth. Unbelief is the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. It is the heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. It is the will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented. Intellectual skepticism or unbelief, where light is proffered, always implies the unbelief of the will or heart. For if the mind knows, or supposes, that light may be had, on any question of duty, and does not make honest efforts to obtain it, this can be accounted for only by ascribing it to the will's reluctance to know the path of duty. In this case light is rejected. The mind has light so far as to know that more is proffered, but this proffered light is rejected. This is the sin of unbelief. All infidelity is unbelief in this sense, and infidels are so, not for want of light, but, in general, they have taken much pains to shut their eyes against it. Unbelief must be a voluntary state or attitude of the will, as distinguished from a mere volition, or executive act of the will. Volition may, and often does, give forth, through words and deeds, expressions and manifestations of unbelief. But the volition is only a result of unbelief, and not identical with it. Unbelief is a deeper and more efficient and more permanent state of mind than mere volition. It is the will in its profoundest opposition to the truth and will of God.
Conditions of both faith and unbelief.
1. A revelation in some way to the mind, of the truth and will of God, must be a condition of faith and of unbelief. Be it remembered, that neither faith nor unbelief is consistent with total ignorance. There can be unbelief no further than there is light.
2. In respect to that class of truths which are discerned only upon condition of divine illumination, such illumination must be a condition both of faith and unbelief. It should be remarked, that when a truth has been once revealed by the Holy Spirit to the soul, the continuance of the divine light is not essential to the continuance of unbelief. The truth, once known and lodged in the memory, may continue to be resisted, when the agent that revealed it is withdrawn.
3. Intellectual perception is a condition of the heart's unbelief. The intellect must have evidence of truth as the condition of a virtuous belief of it. So the intellect must have evidence of the truth, as a condition of a wicked rejection of it. Therefore, intellectual light is the condition, both of the heart's faith and unbelief. By the assertion, that intellectual light is a condition of unbelief is intended, not that the intellect should at all times admit the truth in theory; but that the evidence must be such, that by virtue of its own laws, the mind or intellect could justly admit the truth rejected by the heart. It is a very common case, that the unbeliever denies in words, and endeavors to refute in theory, that which he nevertheless assumes as true, in all his practical judgments.
The guilt and ill-desert of unbelief.
We have seen, on a former occasion, that the guilt of sin is conditionated upon, and graduated by, the light under which it is committed. The amount of light is the measure of guilt, in every case of sin. This is true of all sin. But it is peculiarly manifest in the sin of unbelief; for unbelief is the rejection of light; it is selfishness in the attitude of rejecting truth. Of course, the amount of light rejected, and the degree of guilt in rejecting it, are equal. This is everywhere assumed and taught in the Bible, and is plainly the doctrine of reason.
The guilt of unbelief under the light of the gospel must be indefinitely greater, than when merely the light of nature is rejected. The guilt of unbelief, in cases where special divine illumination has been enjoyed, must be vastly and incalculably greater, than where the mere light of the gospel has been enjoyed, without a special enlightening of the Holy Spirit.
The guilt of unbelief in one who has been converted, and has known the love of God, must be greater beyond comparison, than that of an ordinary sinner. Those things that are implied in unbelief show that it must be one of the most provoking abominations to God in the universe. It is the perfection of all that is unreasonable, unjust, ruinous. It is infinitely slanderous and dishonorable to God, and destructive to man, and to all the interests of the kingdom of God.
Natural and governmental consequences of both faith and unbelief.
By natural consequences are intended consequences that flow from the constitution and laws of mind, by a natural necessity. By governmental consequences are intended those that result from the constitution, laws, and administration of moral government.
1. One of the natural consequences of faith is peace of conscience. When the will receives the truth, and yields itself up to conformity with it, the conscience is satisfied with its present attitude, and the man becomes at peace with himself. The soul is then in a state to really respect itself, and can, as it were, behold its own face without a blush. But faith in truth perceived is the unalterable condition of a man's being at peace with himself.
A governmental consequence of faith is peace with God:
(1.) In the sense that God is satisfied with the present obedience of the soul. It is given up to be influenced by all truth, and this is comprehensive of all duty. Of course God is at peace with the soul, so far as its present obedience is concerned.
(2.) Faith governmentally results in peace with God, in the sense of being a condition of pardon and acceptance. That is, the penalty of the law for past sins is remitted upon condition of true faith in Christ. The soul not only needs present and future obedience, as a necessary condition of peace with self; but it also needs pardon and acceptance on the part of the government for past sins, as a condition of peace with God. But since the subject of justification or acceptance with God is to come up as a distinct subject for consideration, I will not enlarge upon it here.
2. Self-condemnation is one of the natural consequences of unbelief. Such are the constitution and laws of mind, that it is naturally impossible for the mind to justify the heart's rejection of truth. On the contrary, the conscience necessarily condemns such rejection, and pronounces judgment against it.
Legal condemnation is a necessary governmental consequence of unbelief. No just government can justify the rejection of known truth. But, on the contrary, all just governments must utterly abhor and condemn the rejection of truths, and especially those truths that relate to the obedience of the subject, and the highest well-being of the rulers and ruled. The government of God must condemn and utterly abhor all unbelief, as a rejection of those truths that are indispensable to the highest well-being of the universe.
3. A holy or obedient life results from faith by a natural or necessary law. Faith is an act of will which controls the life by a law of necessity. It follows of course that, when the heart receives or obeys the truth, the outward life must be conformed to it.
4. A disobedient and unholy life results from unbelief also by a law of necessity. If the heart rejects the truth, of course the life will not be conformed to it.
5. Faith will develop every form of virtue in the heart and life, as their occasions shall arise. It consists in the committing of the will to truth and to the God of truth. Of course as different occasions arise, faith will secure conformity to all truth on all subjects, and then every modification of virtue will exist in the heart, and appear in the life, as circumstances in the providence of God shall develop them.
6. Unbelief may be expected to develop resistance to all truth upon all subjects that conflict with selfishness; and hence nothing but selfishness in some form can restrain its appearing in any other and every other form possible or conceivable. It consists, be it remembered, in the heart's rejection of truth, and of course implies the cleaving to error. The natural result of this must be the development in the heart, and the appearance in the life, of every form of selfishness that is not prevented by some other form. For example, avarice may restrain amativeness, intemperance, and many other forms of selfishness.
7. Faith, governmentally results in obtaining help of God. God may and does gratuitously help those who have no faith. But this is not a governmental result or act in God. But to the obedient He extends His governmental protection and aid.
8. Faith lets God into the soul to dwell and reign there. Faith receives, not only the atonement and mediatorial work of Christ as a redeemer from punishment, but it also receives Christ as king to set up His throne, and reign in the heart. Faith secures to the soul communion with God.
9. Unbelief shuts God out of the soul, in the sense of refusing His reign in the heart. It also shuts the soul out from an interest in Christ's mediatorial work. This results not from an arbitrary appointment, but is a natural consequence. Unbelief shuts the soul out from communion with God.
These are hints at some of the natural and governmental consequences of faith and unbelief. They are designed not to exhaust the subject, but merely to call attention to topics which any one who desires may pursue at his pleasure. It should be here remarked, that none of the ways, commandments, or appointments of God are arbitrary. Faith is a naturally indispensable condition of salvation, which is the reason of its being made a governmental condition. Unbelief renders salvation naturally impossible: it must, therefore, render it governmentally impossible.