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still occupied their minds, involved their faith in darkness, so that they were almost lost in astonishment. Whence also they are said at length to have believed, when they saw the words of Christ verified by facts; not that their faith then commenced, but the seed of faith, which had been latent and as it were dead in their hearts, then shot forth with additional vigour. They had therefore a true but an implicit faith, because they received Christ with reverence as their only teacher: being taught by him, they were persuaded that he was the author of their salvation; and they believed that he came from heaven, that through the grace of the Father he might assemble all his disciples there. And we need not seek a more familiar proof of this point, than that some portion of unbelief is always mixed with faith in every Christian.
V. We may also style that an implicit faith, which in strict propriety is nothing but a preparation for faith. The evangelists relate that many believed, who only being filled with admiration at the miracles of Christ, proceeded no farther than a persuasion that he was the promised Messiah, although they had little or no knowledge of evangelical doctrine. Such reverence, which induced them cheerfully to submit themselves to Christ, is dignified with the title of faith, of which, however, it was merely the commencement. Thus the nobleman, or courtier, who believed the promise of Christ concerning the healing of his son, when he returned to his house, (6) according to the testimony of the evangelist, believed again: that is, first he esteemed as an oracle, what he had heard from the lips of Christ; but afterwards he devoted himself to his authority to receive his doctrine. It must be understood, however, that he was docile and ready to learn; that the word believe in the first place denotes a particular faith; but in the second place, it numbers him among the disciples who had given their names to Christ. John gives us a similar example in the Samaritans, who believed the report of the woman, so as to run with eagerness to Christ; but who, after having heard him, said to the woman, “ Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know, that this is indeed the
(1) John iv. 50-53.
Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (C) Hence it appears, that persons not yet initiated into the first elements, but only inclined to obedience, are called believers; not, indeed, with strict propriety, but because God in his goodness distinguishes that pious disposition with such a great honour. But this docility, connected with a desire of improvement, is very remote from that gross ignorance which stupifies those who are content with such an implicit faith as the papists have invented. For if Paul severely condemns those who are “ever learning, yet never come to the knowledge of the truth;” (d) how much the greater ignominy do they deserve who make it their study to know nothing!
VI. This, then, is the true knowledge of Christ; to receive him, as he is offered by the Father, that is, invested with his Gospel; for, as he is appointed to be the object of our faith, so we cannot advance in the right way to him, without the guidance of the Gospel. The Gospel certainly opens to us those treasures of grace, without which Christ would profit us little. Thus Paul connects faith as an inseparable concomitant with doctrine, where he says, “ye have not so learned Christ; if so be ye have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” (e) Yet, I do not so far restrict faith to the Gospel, but that I admit Moses and the prophets to have delivered what was sufficient for its establishment; but because the Gospel exhibits a fuller manifestation of Christ, it is justly styled by Paul, “the words of faith and of good doctrine.” (f) For the same reason, in another place, he represents the law as abolished by the coming of faith: (8) comprehending under this term, the new kind of teaching, by which Christ, since his appearance as our Master, has given a brighter display of the mercy of the Father, and a more explicit testimony concerning our salvation. The more easy and convenient method for us will be, to descend regularly from the genus to the species. In the first place, we must be apprised, that faith has a perpetual relation to the word, and can no more be separated from it, than the rays from the sun, whence they proceed. Therefore God proclaims by Isaiah, “Hear, and your soul shall live.”(h) And,
(c) John iv. 42. (d) 2 Tim. iii. 7. (e) Eph. iv. 20, 21.
that the word is the fountain of faith, is evident from this language of John: “ These are written, that ye might believe.”(i) The Psalmist also, intending to exhort the people to faith, says, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice:” (k) and to hear, is generally meant to believe. Lastly, it is not without reason that in Isaiah, God distinguishes the children of the church from strangers, by this character, that they shall all be his disciples, and be taught by him:(1) for, if this were a benefit common to all, why should he address himself to a few? Correspondent with this, is the general use of the words, “ believers,” and “disciples," as synonymous, by the evangelists, on all occasions, and by Luke in particular, very frequently in the Acts of the Apostles; in the ninth chapter of which, he extends the latter epithet even to a woman. Wherefore, if faith decline in the smallest degree from this object, towards which it ought to be directed, it no longer retains its own nature, but becomes an uncertain credulity, and an erroneous excursion of the mind. The same divine word is the foundation by which faith is sustained and supported, from which it cannot be moved without an immediate downfal. Take away the word then, and there will be no faith left. We are not here disputing whether the ministry of men be necessary to disseminate the word of God, by which faith is produced, which we shall discuss in another place; but we assert, that the word itself, however it may be conveyed to us, is like a mirror, in which faith may behold God. Whether, therefore, God in this instance use the agency of men, or whether he operate solely by his own power, he always discovers himself by his word to those whom he designs to draw to himself. (m) Whence Paul defines faith as an obedience rendered to the Gospel, and praises the service of faith. (n) For the apprehension of faith is not confined to our knowing that there is a God, but chiefly consists in our understanding what is his disposition towards us. For, it is not of so much importance to us to know what he is in himself, as what he designs to be to us. We find, therefore, that faith is a knowledge of the will of God respecting us, received from his word. And the foundation of this is a previous persuasion
of the divine veracity; any doubt of which being entertained in the mind, the authority of the word will be dubious and weak, or rather it will be of no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that the veracity of God is incapable of deception or falsehood, unless you also admit, as beyond all doubt, that whatever proceeds from him is sacred and inviolable truth.
VII. But as the human heart is not excited to faith by every word of God, we must farther inquire what part of the word it is, with which faith is particularly concerned? God declared to Adam, “Thou shalt surely die;" () and to Cain, “The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground:"(P) but these declarations are so far from being adapted to the establishment of faith, that of themselves they can only shake it. We do not deny that it is the office of faith to subscribe to the truth of God, whatever be the time, the nature, or the manner of his communications; but our present inquiry is only, what faith finds in the Divine word, upon which to rest its dependence and confidence? When our conscience beholds nothing but indignation and vengeance, how shall it not tremble with fear? And if God be the object of its terror, how should it not fly from him? But faith ought to seek God, not to fly from him. It appears then, that we have not yet a complete definition of faith; since a knowledge of the Divine will indefinitely ought not to be accounted faith. But suppose, instead of will, the declaration of which is often productive of fear and sorrow, we substitute benevolence or mercy? This will certainly bring us nearer to the nature of faith. For we are allured to seek God, after we have learned that salvation is laid up for us with him; which is confirmed to us, by his declaring it to be the object of his care and affection. Therefore we need a promise of grace, to assure us that he is our propitious Father; since we cannot approach to him without it, and it is upon that alone that the human heart can securely depend. For this reason, in the Psalms, mercy and truth are generally united, as being closely connected; because it would be of no avail for us to know the veracity of God, if he did not allure us to himself by his mercy; nor should we embrace his mercy,
if he did not offer it with his own mouth. “I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth. Let thy loving-kindness and thy truth continually preserve me." (9) Again; “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” (r) Again; “ All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant.” (s) Again; “ His merciful kindness is great towards us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.” (t) Again; “I will praise thy name for thy loving-kindness, and for thy truth.” (u) I forbear to quote what we read in the prophets to the same purport, that God is merci. ful and faithful in his promises. For it will be temerity to conclude that God is propitious to us, unless he testify concerning himself, and anticipate us by his invitation, that his will respecting us may be neither ambiguous nor obscure. But we have already seen, that Christ is the only pledge of his love; without whom, the tokens of his hatred and wrath are manifest both above and below. Now, since the knowledge of the divine goodness will not be attended with much advantage, unless it lead us to rely upon it, we must exclude that apprehension of it, which is mixed with doubts, which is not uniform and steady, but wavering and undecided. Now the human mind, blinded and darkened as it is, is very far from being able to penetrate and attain to a knowledge of the Divine will; and the heart also, fluctuating in perpetual hesitation, is far from continuing unshaken in that persuasion. Therefore, our mind must be illu- \ minated, and our heart established by some exterior power, that the word of God may obtain full credit with us. Now we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say, that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence towards us, which being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds, and confirmed to our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
VIII. But before I proceed any farther, it will be necessary to make some preliminary observations, for the solution of difficulties, which otherwise might prove obstacles in the way of the reader.
(9) Psalm xl 10, 11. . (1) Psalm cxvii. 2.
(r) Psalm xxxvi. 5.
(s) Psalm xxv. 10.