« AnteriorContinuar »
Christ promised to send to his disciples, “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive,” (k) that they might be capable of attaining heavenly wisdom. He ascribes to him the peculiar office, of suggesting to their minds all the oral instructions which he had given them. For, in vain would the light present itself to the blind, unless this spirit of understanding would open their mental eyes: so that he may be justly called the key, with which the treasures of the kingdom of heaven are unlocked to us; and his illumination constitutes our mental eyes to behold them. It is therefore that Paul so highly commends the ministry of the Spirit; (1) because the instructions of preachers would produce no benefit, did not Christ himself, the internal teacher, draw to him those who were given him by the Father. (m) Therefore, as we have stated, that complete salvation is found in the person of Christ: so to make us partakers of it, he “baptizes us with the holy Spirit and with fire,” (n) enlightening us into the faith of his Gospel, regenerating us so that we become new creatures, and, purging us from profane impurities, consecrates us as holy temples to God.
CHAPTER II. Faith defined, and its Properties described. ALL these things will be easily understood when we have given a clearer definition of faith, that the reader may perceive its nature and importance. But it will be proper to recal to his remembrance, what has been already stated; that God hath given us his law as the rule of our conduct, and that, if we are guilty of even the smallest breach of it, we are exposed to the dreadful punishment of eternal death, which he denounces. Again, that since it is not only difficult, but entirely above our strength, and beyond the utmost extent of our ability, to fulfil the law as he requires; if we only view ourselves, and consider what we have demerited, we have not the least hope left, but, as persons rejected by God, are on the verge of eternal perdi
(6) John xiv. 17.
(1) 2 Cor. iii. 6.
(m) John vi. 44.
(n) Luke iii. 16.
tion. In the third place, it has been explained, that there is but one method of deliverance, by which we can be extricated from such a direful calamity, that is the appearance of Christ the Redeemer, by whose means our heavenly Father, commiserating us in his infinite goodness and mercy, hath been pleased to relieve us; if we embrace this mercy with a sincere faith, and rely on it with a constant hope. But we must now examine the nature of this faith, by which all who are the adopted sons of God enter on the possession of the heavenly kingdom: since it is certain, that not every opinion, nor even every persuasion, is equal to the accomplishment of so great a work. And we ought to be the more cautious and diligent in our meditations and inquiries on the genuine property of faith, in proportion to the pernicious tendency of the mistakes of multitudes in the present age on this subject. For a great part of the world, when they hear the word faith, conceive it to be nothing more than a common assent to the evangelical history. And even the disputes of the schools concerning faith, by simply styling God the object of it (as I have elsewhere observed), rather mislead miserable souls by a vain speculation, than direct them to the proper mark. For, since God “ dwelleth in the light, which no man can approach unto,” () there is a necessity for the interposition of Christ as the medium of access to him. Whence he calls himself “the light of the world,” (p) and in another place, “the way, and the truth, and the life;" because “no man cometh unto the Father," who is the fountain of life, “but by him:" (7) because he alone knows the Father, and reveals him to believers. ()
For this reason Paul asserts, that he esteemed nothing worthy of being known but Jesus Christ; (s) and in the twentieth chapter of the Acts declares, that he had preached faith in Christ: and in another place, he introduces Christ speaking in the following manner: “ I send thee unto the Gentiles, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith, that is in me.” (t) This Apostle tells us, that the glory of God is visible to us in his person, or (which conveys the same idea) that "the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God” shines “in his face.” (u) It is true, that faith relates to the one God; but there must also be added, a knowledge of Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. (w) For God himself would be altogether concealed from us, if we were not illuminated with the glory of Christ. For this purpose the Father hath deposited all his treasures with his only-begotten Son, that he might reveal himself in him, and, that by such a communication of blessings, he might express a true image of his glory. For as it has been observed, that we require to be drawn by the Spirit, that we may be excited to seek Christ; so we should also be apprised, that the invisible Father is to be sought only in this image. On which subject, Augustine, treating of the object of faith, elegantly remarks, “ that we ought to know whither we should go, and in what way;" and immediately after he concludes, “ that he who unites deity and humanity in one person, is the way most secure from all errors; for that it is God towards whom we tend, and man by whom we go:but that both together can be found only in Christ.” Nor does Paul, when he speaks of faith in God, intend to subvert what he so frequently inculcates concerning faith, whose stability is wholly in Christ. And Peter most suitably connects them together, when he says, that “by him we believe in God.” (a)
II. This evil then, as well as innumerable others, must be imputed to the schoolmen, who have, as it were, concealed Christ, by drawing a veil over him; whereas, unless our views be immediately and steadily directed to him, we shall always be wandering through labyrinths without end. They not only, by their obscure definition diminish, and almost annihilate all the importance of faith, but have fabricated the notion of implicit faith, a term with which they have honoured the grossest ignorance, and most perniciously deluded the miserable multitude. Indeed, to express the fact more truly and plainly, this notion has not only buried the true faith in oblivion, but has entirely destroyed it. Is this faith—to understand nothing, but obediently to submit our understanding to the Church? Faith consists, not in ignorance, but in knowledge; and that, not only
of God, but also of the Divine will. For, we do not obtain salvation by our promptitude to embrace as truth, whatever the Church may have prescribed, or by our transferring to her the province of inquiry and of knowledge. But when we know God to be a propitious Father to us, through the reconciliation effected by Christ, and that Christ is given to us for righteousness, sanctification, and life: by this knowledge, I say, not by renouncing our understanding, we obtain an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. For, when the apostle says, that “ with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation;" (y) he indicates, that it is not sufficient for a man implicitly to credit what he neither understands, nor even examines: but he requires an explicit knowledge of the divine goodness, in which our righteousness consists.
III. I do not deny (such is the ignorance with which we are enveloped) that many things are very obscure to us at present, and will continue to be so, till we shall have cast off the burden of the flesh, and arrived nearer to the presence of God. On such subjects, nothing would be more proper than a suspension of judgment, and a firm resolution to maintain union with the Church. But, that ignorance combined with humility should, under this pretext, be dignified with the appellation of Faith, is extremely absurd. For faith consists in a knowledge of God, and of Christ, (2) not in reverence of the Church. And we see what a labyrinth they have fabricated by this notion of their's, so that the ignorant and inexperienced, without any discrimination, eagerly embrace as oracular, every thing obtruded upon them, under the name of the Church; sometimes even the most monstrous errors. This inconsiderate credulity, though it be the certain precipice of ruin, is, nevertheless, excused by them on the plea that it credits nothing definitively, but with this condition annexed, If such be the faith of the Church. Thus they pretend that truth is held in error, light in darkness, and true knowledge in ignorance. But, not to occupy any more time in refuting them, we only admonish the reader to compare their doctrine with ours: for the perspicuity of the truth will
of itself furnish a sufficient refutation. For the question with them is not, whether faith be yet involved in many reliques of ignorance, but they positively assert, that persons are possessed of true faith, who are charmed with their ignorance, and even indulge it, provided they assent to the authority and judge ment of the Church concerning things unknown: as if the Scripture did not universally inculcate that knowledge is united with faith.
IV. We grant, that during our pilgrimage in the world, our faith is implicit, not only because many things are yet hidden from our view, but because our knowledge of every thing is very imperfect, in consequence of the clouds of error by which we are surrounded. For the greatest wisdom of those who are most perfect, is to improve, and to press forward with patient docility. Therefore, Paul exhorts the faithful, if they differ from each other on any subject, to wait for farther revelation.(a) And, experience teaches us, that till we are divested of the flesh, our knowledge falls far short of what might be wished; in reading also, many obscure passages daily occur, which convince us of our ignorance. With this barrier God restrains us within the bounds of modesty, assigning to every one a measure of faith, that even the most learned teacher may be ready to learn. We may observe eminent examples of this implicit faith in the disciples of Christ, before they were fully enlightened. We see with what difficulty they imbibed the first rudiments; how they hesitated even at the most minute particulars; what inconsiderable advances they made even while hanging on the lips of their Master; and when they ran to the grave at the intelligence of the women, his resurrection was like a dream to them. The testimony already borne by Christ to their possession of faith, forbids us to say that they were entirely destitute of it; indeed, if they had not been persuaded that Christ would rise from the dead, they would have felt no farther concern about him. The women were not induced by superstition to embalm with spices the body of a deceased man, of whose life there was no hope; but though they credited his declarations, whose veracity they well knew; yet the ignorance, which
(a) Phil. iii. 15.