COMING TO KNOW CHRIST

Thursday, December 29, 2005

BELIEF AND FAITH -- COMING TO BELIEVE

I. A QUESTION OF MEANING

What is the difference between Belief and Faith and Knowledge in a Biblical context? Why should the question be answered, since Faith implies Belief, or since Belief is a constituent of Faith, or because Faith is considered to be synonymous with Belief? After all, the doctrine of an all encompassing, prevailing Faith is presumed in the Church. And knowledge of God appears to be the total sum of Faith and Belief.

The question is exemplified in many ways. The following quotation from Luther’s Commentary provides an excellent example:

Martin Luther advises the Christian Saint, in the introduction of his commentary on Romans:

“Hence Christ calls unbelief the only sin, when he says, in John 16, ‘The Spirit will rebuke the world for sin, because they do not believe in me.’ For this reason, too, before good or bad works are done, which are the fruits, there must first be faith or unbelief, which is the root, the sap, the chief power of all sin.”

Ignoring, for the moment, the substantial truth of Luther’s statement (this will be addressed later) the English translator of Luther’s German uses and juxtaposes the words unbelief and faith, not belief and unbelief, or faith and lack of faith.

This wording is repeated in many other Christian writings. What is the reasoning for this usage? The literal usage does not seem sensible. By confusing the words faith and belief there is a possible loss of meaning and understanding of the basis for Christian doctrine.

This appeared as a fundamental warp in the way believers should think of the majesty and significance of the whole Christian message. It deprives a sense of precision from an intellectual arena where generalizations feed on ethereal speculations regarding the Bible’s message and teachings. It seems to blunt the quest for fundamental understanding, to dull the power of doctrinal discernment.

One may think this to be an odd inquiry, considering the New Testament’s total use and application of the word Faith. Does this query make sense? Is it a relevant inquiry?

Romans 1:18-20 provides a clear statement on the teaching of Belief!

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

There it is in God’s Word. If God has not made it “evident” that His “invisible attributes” are “clearly seen”, then the whole Bible is a lie!

This statement doesn’t imply that you accept the “evidence” in Faith. It is not a statement that a believer “trust” what is known about God. It is a statement which says directly, “that which is known about God is evident within them.”

The basis for Belief is knowledge resulting from evidence, from things seen, all directed at God!

II. A DEFINITION OF TERMS

EPISTEMOLOGY

The major focus of this paper is the question regarding the difference between Faith and Belief, as these two English word concepts are used in understanding God’s revelation in the Bible. It is appropriate to consider a broader philosophical and theological view on this question by considering Epistemology, the study of “the nature and basis for experience, belief and knowledge.”

The following quote from the New Dictionary of Theology helps our understanding of Epistemology:

“It is concerned to differentiate knowledge from feeling sure or believing. It asks how we justify claims to know, whether we can be wrong about what we know, whether we can be wrong about what we know, if we can know only if it makes sense that we can also not know, and whether we know that we know something.”

There are many areas of difficulty in knowledge, whether that knowledge deals with knowing one’s self, the past, the future, our relationship with others, with God, etc.

A further consideration deals with the difference between word concepts such as opinion, faith and belief, and knowledge. Some scholars hold that opinion is the weakest conviction, followed by faith/belief, followed by knowing.

For example, one might have an opinion that it is going to rain tomorrow. That opinion could be considered faith that it would rain if you could site an authority, such as the report of a trusted weatherman. That faith could become a belief if there was evidence of rain, such as the forming of storm clouds. And the belief would become knowledge when tomorrow comes and it is actually raining.

The true delineation of opinion, belief, faith, and knowledge is the quest of the student of Epistemology.

The main point here is that this query deals with a significant subset of the total consideration dealing with understanding “the nature and basis for experience, belief and knowledge”, as this consideration pertains to Faith and Belief in God. For, knowledge is comprehending truth. So the questions as to what is Belief?, and what is Faith?, are not idle considerations when one fully realizes that each word is a form of conviction, a conviction about a truth, a conviction of truths dealing with coming to understand and know God.

III. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BELIEF AND FAITH

God’s revelation to us in His Word has two historic language sources: Hebrew and Greek. The scholar and the serious person seeking the Truth will find many interpretive Bibles seeking a proper translation of the ancient writings representing the Old and New Testaments. But, true scholarship and study is satisfied by the reading and critical examination of the ancient original language texts.

The historical meanings of Belief and Faith, in a biblical context, are important. These two word concepts provide the basis for understanding a believer’s convictions, and the lack thereof in the nonbeliever. In a general context, these convictions pertain to God’s existence, one’s trust in God, and the fulfillment of His promises. In a specific sense, they apply to the personal ministries of the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They also encompass the believer’s trust in the covenant demands and promises of their ministries, as revealed in the New Testament.

IV. THE QUEST FOR DEFINITION

A Christian believes the Bible is the Truth, the written Word of God. Because of this a Christian, or a nonbeliever, wishing instruction on how and what it means to believe, need only read the Bible to be instructed on the “Biblical definition” of Faith.

What is Faith?

Hebrews 11: 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

If this is Faith, what is Belief?

To paraphrase Hebrews 11: 1:

Now Belief is the realization of things hoped for, the conviction of things seen.

The difference between the “assurance” and the “realization” of things hoped for, and the conviction of things “unseen” compared to things “seen,” provides the framework on the considerations and examination of Faith and Belief.

Here is the key that unlocks the mystery of how Belief is attained. To obey the First Commandment, to love God, is the first giant step in attaining Belief. But the key is --- this is a result of the call by the Father and the "prevenient" drawing and enlightenment of the nonbeliever by the Holy Spirit of the Way provided by Jesus Christ.

Prevenient drawing means the anticipatory action and coordination of the Holy Spirit to lead the called individual to exercise his or her free-will to believe – to exercise a belief – to come to belief in God. This is the key that unlocks the profound mystery of how a nonbeliever comes to belief!

Chafer’s Systematic Theology; Volume III; Soteriology (God’s comprehensive plan of salvation):

“It is reasonable to conclude that as man by an act of his own will renounced God at the beginning, in like manner he, by the act of his own will, must return to God. It matters nothing at this point that man cannot of himself turn to God and that he must be enabled to do so. In the end, though enabled, he acts by his own will and this truth is emphasized in every passage wherein salvation is addressed to his will.”

It should be noted here the English verb, “believe,” is not derived from the noun, “faith,” while the equivalent Greek words are definitionally related.

The Greek word for faith is the same word used for belief:

“Pistis.” The verb form of “Pistis” is the Greek word, “pistueo,” with the meaning of the English verb “believe.”

It is probable the derivation of the English words “belief” and “faith” evolved from the contextual use of the Greek word “pistis,” as this word was used in terms of a conviction based on the realization of evidence (belief), as differentiated with a conviction based upon trust, or in accepting a promise (faith).

The only authoritative definitional reference determined by the writer is found in the revered Systematic Theology authored by Charles Hodge, where he states,

“The English word ‘faith’ is said to be from the Anglo-Saxon ‘faegan’ to covenant. It is that state of mind which a covenant requires or supposes; that is, it is confidence in a person or thing as trustworthy. ‘To believe,’ is defined by the Latin ‘credere....’(whence our word credit)".

Hodge goes on to quote Richardson,

“Etymologists do not attempt to account for this important word: it is undoubtively formed of the Dutch Leven; German Leben; the Anglo Saxon Lif-ian, Be-lif-ian....... To believe, then, is to live by or according to, to abide by; to guide, conduct, regulate, govern, or direct the life by; to take, accept, assume or adopt as a rule of life; and, consequently, to think, deem, or judge right; to be firmly persuaded of, to give credit to; to trust, or think trustworthy; to have or give confidence; to confide, to think or deem faithful.”

Hodge also quotes Reid from his Essay, On the Intellectual Powers,

“Belief admits of all degrees, from the slightest suspicion to the fullest assurance.....There are many operations of the mind in which....we find belief to an essential ingredient....Belief is an ingredient in consciousness, in perception and in remembrance....We give the name of evidence to whatever is the ground of belief....What this evidence is, is more easily felt than described....The common occasions of life lead us to distinguish evidence into different kinds,....such as the evidence of sense, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of testimony, the evidence of axioms, the evidence of reasoning....They seem to me to agree only in this, that they are all fitted by nature to produce belief in the human mind.”

It appears the English noun “believer” finds its root in the verb “believe” which, in turn, is derived from the noun, “belief.” The Greek noun for believer appears to be derived the same way

V. TEACHINGS

FREE WILL, BELIEF AND FAITH

The “first principle” of this paper confirms it is mankind’s free will - not God’s will - which establishes Belief. Further, the continued application of this Belief is to walk with the Spirit and evolve from a “milk fed” to a mature Christian.

The certainty which leads to being convinced, the conviction which follows the certainty of being convinced, the process of putting on the full armor of God (Eph 6:10-15) by being certain and being convinced, leads to a maturing conviction evolving the believer from an initial Belief to a mature Belief combined with Faith. The Bible, and the analysis presented in the volumes on Chafer’s Systematic Theology fully substantiate this.

It is a further basic premise of this paper that Belief precedes Faith for a number of reasons. The most important reason is the popularly held conviction that Faith is a gift of God (Eph 2:8).

Because of this, the writer concludes the attainment of Belief by the believer is a willful first step to receiving God’s many gracious expressions of His overwhelming Love, even though Belief may be preveniently obtained (in anticipation of the believer’s determination to believe) by the enlightening guidance and enabling conduct of His Holy Spirit.

But, what about Faith if Belief is so important? The decision to believe (to have Belief) is differentiated from Faith in that:

· Belief is a conviction propagated by the Holy Spirit. The called nonbeliever is preveniently drawn and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. But, Belief is finally determined by man’s and woman’s independent free will. It is this human responsibility that attains the conviction called Belief.

· Faith is a conviction, or a trust based on conviction, that is a gracious gift from God to the believer. Man/Woman can not attain the conviction called Faith by the exercise of their free will. It is an unearned gracious gift of God: a divine responsibility as compared to a human responsibility. (Eph 2:8) This gift is received when one attains Belief.

· Belief is based on the evidence of things seen, the evidence resulting from the realization of the things hoped for and the conviction of that seen in loving God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Belief is the direct, convicting result of the willed, obedient Love for God and the dedication to His glory.

· Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” What are these things? They are God’s and Jesus Christ’s many promises. Things that can not be “seen” until they are fulfilled or realized. Faith is trusting God.

What this means is since Adam and Eve, by the exercise of their God given free will, were the first to disobey God and, by that act, were the first ones to sin, we, as descendents from Adam and Eve, must exercise the same God given free will to attain Belief in God the Father and His Son.

Systematic Theology; Volume III; Soteriology (God’s comprehensive plan of salvation):

“It is reasonable to conclude that as man by an act of his own will renounced God at the beginning, in like manner he, by the act of his own will, must return to God. It matters nothing at this point that man cannot of himself turn to God and that he must be enabled to do so. In the end, though enabled, he acts by his own will and this truth is emphasized in every passage wherein salvation is addressed to his will.”

Is this Truth? Remember, to obey the First Commandment, to love God, is the first giant step in attaining Belief, a result of the call by the Father and the “prevenient” drawing enlightenment of the nonbeliever by the Holy Spirit of the Way provided by Jesus Christ. Belief is the Saint’s foundation; the gift of Faith is the Saint’s sustenance on the regenerating, sanctifying walk with the Holy Spirit to glorify the Triune God.

IS THE WILL FREE?

Luther believed strongly in the slavery of the human will. He wrote a book on this question in response to a work on “Freedom of the Will” by Erasmus. Luther’s book was titled, “Slavery of the Will.” Schaff explains Luther’s teaching:

“He represents the human will as a horse or donkey which goes just as the rider directs it; and that rider is the Devil in the state of the fallen nature, and God in the state of grace. The will has no choice of master; it is God and the Devil who are contending for the wills possession. The Scripture’s exhortations to repentance and holy living must not be understood seriously, but ironically, as if God would say to man: Only try to repent and to do good, and you will soon find out that you cannot do it. He deals with man as a mother with the child: she invites the child to walk, in order that the child will stretch out the arm for help. God speaks in this fashion solely to convict us of our helplessness, if we do not implore his assistance.”

The reader must decide whether mankind has the actual free-will to choose. The writer believes that mankind does, but that freedom is greatly diminished for a number of reasons.

The flicker of initiative that resides in the human will is driven by natural imperatives and conscience. That “flicker” is sufficient to respond to the call. It is also sufficient to decide to take life’s journey in hostile ignorance of the evidence that supports God’s existence, for it is all “foolishness” (Cor 2:14) to the nonbeliever.

VI. THE RELATIONSHIP OF BELIEF AND FAITH

The great Truth is there are two instances where man/woman exercise their free will in specific relationship to God, no matter how limited or extensive free will is:

· When Belief is first attained, and;

· When Belief is exercised by the filling with the Holy Spirit.

In all other aspects of man’s/woman’s relationship to God, a true believer is totally reliant on and obedient to God’s Will. Any deviance from this reliance and obedience undermines Belief and constitutes sin.

An important second principle of this thesis holds that when, by the exercise of free will, man or woman attains Belief, God provides a fantastic free gift of another conviction: Faith in His Son’s many promises made in His revealed Word, the Bible. Examples of these promises (which represent separate, incredible, magnificent gracious gifts) include: Salvation, Eternal Life, the promise to answer prayers, His indwelling, the Holy Spirit’s filling of the believer, Spiritual gifts, The fruit of the Spirit.

The result of this second principle bears repeating:

· Faith is not attained by the act of free will except that man/woman must first obtain the conviction called Belief.

· And, by possessing Belief one receives a gift from God, the gift of Faith, a conviction or trust in His promises.

The result of this is:

A Christian BELIEVES because he or she has BELIEF.

A Christian has the gift of FAITH because he or she BELIEVES.



The God provided conviction, obtained through the initial gift of Faith, strengthens the believer’s conviction attained by Belief, thereby yielding a greater and growing Faith based on Belief.

For when the believer’s experience of trust based on Faith yields fruit in the life of the Christian Saint, that fruit is the evidence and proof substantiating a growing Belief.

Theoretically, there is a point in the growth of the maturing Christian Saint where regeneration becomes sanctification. That point varies for each believer based on the growing awareness of the reciprocating effects of Belief and Faith in the walk with the Holy Spirit.

Put another way, the reciprocating Love of God for the believer and the believer’s Love for God results in a profound application of divine and human responsibility, yielding cross linking convictions based on the believer’s Belief and God’s gracious gift of Faith.

So what does the believer have to worry about? He or she must be concerned about believing, having Belief in God and His Son, what it really means to Believe, and being obedient in that Belief! This is the believer’s responsibility.

The surrender to God is the “meat” of man’s/woman’s Belief. The conviction derived from Belief, combined with the conviction derived from God’s gift of Faith, establishes an omnipotent cross-linking super conviction assuring God’s grace and the sanctifying walk with His Holy Spirit. It is a true Saving Faith built on Belief!

VII. WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

ABRAHAM AND BELIEF AND FAITH

Consider the authority of Paul’s inspired teaching on Faith in Romans 4 with the view that, first of all, Abraham had a fundamental Belief in God.
And, why shouldn’t he? God talked to him! (Gen 12:1) Talking to God is a formidable experiential sign! There should be no question about the “evident” experience of talking to God! To talk to God must be the “realization of things hoped for, the conviction of things seen.” Abraham did not need the gift of Faith to know God existed.

Abraham had Belief in God and Faith in God’s promise he would be the father of nations. (Rom 4:13) But, Abraham’s Faith was not described as Faith in the Old Testament. It is described and fully developed as a pivotal theological concept in the New Testament.

Paul’s articulated and inspired theological premise, the literal amplification of the Old Testament Habakkuk 2:4, that man is justified (made right with God) by Faith (Rom 5:1) and not by his works (man’s effort to follow the Old Testament Law, or by performing good works without Faith to be made right with God) separates Christianity from all other religions regarding the practice and realization of Faith, the gift of God’s Grace for those who have Hope and Love for Him.

As noted by the writer of Hebrews, the gift of Faith was given to only a few outstanding Jews who believed in God before the Apostolic age. (Heb 11) Otherwise, every Jew would have had the gift despite their legalistic preoccupations. The gentile proselyte Cornelius didn’t have it. The Eunuch didn’t have it. The gift was given to only those who came to believe and trust in Jesus Christ, His resurrection and His promises. Even Paul didn’t have it until his conversion on the Road to Damascus, this great inspired Jew who instructs us Christ is the author of Faith (Heb 12:2), the gift of gifts!

VIII. EVIDENCE AND BELIEF

What other verses, then, would support the Belief/Faith thesis?

Evidence constituting Belief (Romans 1:18-20):

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

The use of the words “evident” and “seen” clearly substantiate the Belief thesis.

If God has made it evident to the nonbeliever then it must be evident to the Christian believer, and that evidence constitutes the basis for Belief!

Faith for those who believe (Romans 3:21-22):

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;”

Why would the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to write the phrase, “through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe;” if He didn’t wish to make a distinction between Faith and Belief? For it is one conviction to believe He existed. It is another conviction to trust His promises.

To believe (Romans 3:22):

Again, Chafer provides guidance as follows, “Of the two great salvation books in the New Testament, it may be said of John’s Gospel that it stresses the gift of eternal life, and it may be said of the Epistle to the Romans that it stresses imputed righteousness. Eternal life is defined as ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27), and imputed righteousness is based on the truth that the believer is in Christ. These two supreme truths are compressed by Christ into seven brief and simple words, when He said: ‘ye in me, and I in you’ (John 14:20). Whether it be the reception of eternal life or of imputed righteousness, but one condition in imposed on the human side, namely, to believe on Christ as Savior (John 3:16;Romans 3:33).”

This condition “to believe” means to have Belief since it is a condition imposed on mankind. It also means that “to believe” one must also accept the Gift of Faith (Eph 2:8), the acceptance being previently obtained by the guidance of the Holy Spirit along with the Spirit’s conviction of sin. (John 16:8,9)

IX. BELIEF AND THE EVIDENCE OF SIN

There is no question about one aspect of the Belief/Faith thesis: a prospective believer’s conviction of sin is not based on Faith in one’s sins. It is based on Belief.

There is no better example of the believer’s experience than the conviction one obtains, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s leading, that brings the believer into a understanding of the evident reality of personal sin.

This personal evidence is the first profound Belief experience the believer has:

· Being forgiven for sin, by dieing with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:3,4).

· At the time of being resurrected, being reborn in Christ
(Rom 6:5-11),

· Beginning the sanctifying walk with the Holy Spirit (Rom
8:9-11),

· Anticipating being glorified in Christ (Rom 8:30).

One does not have “faith” in their sins. One does not yield to their promise, or trust them. Yet, the believer must know they are there. The nonbeliever does not acknowledge them in faith. The believer’s knowledge of sin yields a different belief.

X. YOU MUST BELIEVE THAT HE IS

Returning to the great Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, one must visit the most difficult and famous of passages which bear on the Belief/Faith thesis, Hebrews 11:6:

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

The first conclusion one may reach in the reading of this passage is that Faith is Belief in the context “without faith” one would not “believe that He is.”

This passage, then, appears to be the possible “Archilles heal” of the Belief/Faith thesis.

“On the other hand”....would it not be logical to conclude, providing Faith is a gift of God, that He would be displeased if the offered gift of Faith was refused? As an example, would God have been displeased, after establishing that He was God, if Abraham had not trusted His promises?

Although this event is extremely unlikely, considering God’s election and predestination of the believer, (Eph 1) how many lost souls are there who attained, for a short period of time, a tenuous Belief but lost that Belief because they refused God’s gift of Faith? (is this the seed of apostasy?)

Does this famous passage (Heb 11:6) suggest one should accept in Faith that Christ exists? That is to say, I’m really not sure, but I will accept in Faith what the Bible tells me, and that my conviction is based on trust and not on Belief that "He is". Jesus Christ’s existence is the pivotal basis for the objective Faith, Christ’s Church on earth. That objective Faith is based on the solid Belief about Christ’s existence, that He was, “that He is.”

Schaff states (in his comments on the Schoolmen, a group of 13th century theologians headed by Thomas Aquinas),

“Faith manifests itself in three ways, in believing God, trusting God, and believing in God. To believe God is to believe that He is. These two kinds of faith the devils have. To believe God is to love God....”

This, according to Schaff, is the real test of Faith. The great Truth is one’s Faith is the evidence of Belief in God, it is the evidence we do believe, because we have accepted his gracious gift of Saving Faith.

It is the writer’s opinion that there are a minimum of three great acts by God when Belief is attained:

· One is the gracious forgiveness for the believer’s conviction of Sin, through Christ’s blood and atoning sacrifice on the Cross.

· The second act is the gift of Faith, which acceptance, by the believer, lays the foundation for the third act.

· The third is Justification, the result of the believer’s acceptance of the gift of righteousness, based on the believer’s belief in Jesus Christ’s Resurrection.

When considering the answer to the questions, look at the problems God had when He came to us as His Son, Jesus Christ. His credibility was never accepted by His chosen people, the Jews. They would not believe Him! Again, consider what Luther instructs in his commentary on Romans:

“Hence Christ calls unbelief the only sin, when he says, in John 16, ‘The Spirit will rebuke the world for sin, because they do not believe in me.’”

Christ had to perform miracles as signs to prove who He was, and even then, only a very few believed! And, even when they believed after seeing the miracles, many did not persevere in their belief, despite the incredible evidence produced by the miracle! He was betrayed in a number ways and on a number of occasions by His disciples. He died a horrible human death and rose gloriously, so there would be Belief, so that there would be a new “right way” to relate to Him in Belief and Faith, so that His judgment on mankind’s sin heritage from Adam would be obtained in a new covenant. (1Cor 11:25)

He did this and gave His Holy Spirit to administer His Church on earth, with the mandate to “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgement,” (John 16:8) by leading the elected nonbeliever to a willful decision to believe, and by sanctifying the maturing Christian through a discipline of gentle obedience on a road to a greater glory.

With all this, there are two simplified reciprocal acts between mankind and God to affect their relationship:

· Man/woman’s confession of Belief he/she is remorsefully convicted of sin, and God’s forgiveness for that sin, as eternally demonstrated by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

· Man/woman’s act of Belief in loving God and accepting Jesus Christ as His or Her personal savior.

God’s magnificent reciprocal gifts of Faith and Righteousness in Jesus Christ binds the twofold convictions of Belief and Faith.

1 Comments:

  • Posted by Hugh McCann

    Saving Faith

    Gordon H. Clark
    December 1979
    http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=10


    Though the Larger Catechism does not address itself directly to the psychological analysis of faith or belief, this problem is one that has merited the attention, not only of Christian theologians, but also of secular philosophers. These secularists, even when they are not so successful as the theologians, have one advantage; to wit, their task is simpler because they do not consider religious complications. Many theological discussions fall into confusion because elements necessary to saving faith are assigned to any belief whatever. Here one must first try to analyze belief as such, and then characterize those beliefs, or that belief, which justifies.

    The usual evangelical analysis of belief separates it into three parts: notitia, assensus, and fiducia—or understanding, assent, and trust. Perhaps even theologians who use this analysis might omit fiducia if they confined themselves to belief as such; for in a colloquial manner a person who believes that Columbus discovered America in 1492, or in 1374, is not taken as an example of trust. Yet is he not actually an example of confidence?

    Thomas Manton in his Commentary on James expresses the usual evangelical view quite well; and he distinguished, well or poorly, between saving faith and other faiths. The passage is too long to quote, so a condensation—sometimes verbatim—sometimes not, must suffice.

    Quoting James 2:19 about the devils, Manton remarks that the faith here is a "bare speculation" and cannot possibly save anyone. That this faith cannot save is very true. It is no more than a belief in monotheism. This the Moslems possess. But, however it may be with Moslems, it seems incorrect to call the faith of devils a bare "speculation." This word often is used to refer to some proposition that is so unverifiable as to be more likely false than true. Granted, Manton also calls it a knowledge; and this is better, because on this point, if on nothing else, the devils believe the truth.

    He continues: "Thou believest; that is, assentest to this truth." Belief therefore is an act of assent to the truth. Yet Manton adds, believing is the "lowest act of faith." In view of all the Scriptural commands to believe, this sounds very strange. Is there then a higher act of faith? And if so, is it higher because it has a more detailed object—i.e. a greater number of propositions—or because the elements of the act of believing are different?

    Manton continues with the object of this belief: "There is one God. He instanceth in this proposition, though he doth limit the matter only to this." This is a now rare usage of the verb, not noun, to instance. It means, to give an instance; the proposition, "there is one God," is therefore an instance or specification of what the man believes. Manton suggests that the man believes or assents to "other articles of religion." This is doubtless true, for nearly everyone who believes in any sort of God believes something else about him beyond bare existence. That the man has an extensive Jewish or Christian theology, however, is not clear because the devils are soon said to believe the same propositions.

    "Thou doest well," quotes Manton, "it is an approbation of such assent so far as it is good and not rested in." Again Manton has described the act as voluntary assent. Naturally, all assent must be voluntary. But what also needs to be noted here are the words "rested in." When we say we resting—or should not rest in—this or that, do we mean that in addition to notitia and assensus there is some other psychological element in saving faith called "resting"? Or does it mean that saving faith, rather than being psychologically different, must be an assent to other propositions in addition to monotheism? The latter seems to be the case, whether or not Manton meant it so. We should not "rest in," i.e. be satisfied with, the single proposition, "There is but one God." This proposition even the devils accept. But for salvation men must not only accept the monotheistic proposition, but also other propositions relating to the Atonement.

    On the next page Manton notes that the devils assent to this one truth and to other truths revealed in the word, even to "many truths in the Scriptures" (on the following page). But how much of the Bible the devils believe, justification by faith perhaps, is a question that we in our ignorance of satanic psychology cannot answer. Manton apparently wants to maximize the devils’ orthodoxy.

    "Bare assent," says Manton, "to the articles of religion doth not infer true faith. True faith uniteth to Christ, it is conversant about his person." Two factors seem to be confused in Manton’s mind: the psychology and the propositions. Does this quotation mean that saving faith, in addition to belief in monotheism, must also include the Chalcedonian Christology? Certainly an assent to Chalcedon, however "bare," is "conversant about his person." Or does Manton’s statement mean that the devils themselves subscribe to Chalcedon, and that "conversant" is a psychological element in addition to assent? It would seem so because otherwise no contrast could be made between "assent to the articles of religion" and "conversant about his person."

    Faith "is not only assensus axiomati, an assent to a Gospel maxim or proposition; you are not justified by that, but by being one with Christ. It was the mistake of the former age to make the promise, rather than the person of Christ, to be the formal object of faith." The mention of the person of Christ is pious language. Similar expressions are common today. One slogan is, "No creed but Christ." Another expression, with variations from person to person, is, "Faith is not belief in a proposition, but trust in a person."

    Though this may sound very pious, it is nonetheless destructive of Christianity. Back in the twenties, before the Methodist Church became totally apostate, a liberal in their General Conference opposed theological precision by some phrase centering on Christ, such as, Christ is all we need. A certain pastor, a remnant of the evangelical wing of the church, had the courage to take the floor and ask the pointed question, "which Christ?"

    The name Jesus Christ, at least since 1835 in Strauss’s Leben Jesu, has been applied to several alleged persons. Strauss initiated the "Life of Jesus Movement." It ran through Ernest Renan to Albert Schweitzer. But the persons described are nothing like the person described in the Creed of Chalcedon, nor, for that matter, are they alike amongst themselves. It is necessary therefore to ask, which Christ, or, whose Christ? The Christian or Biblical answer is the Creed of Chalcedon. A person can be identified only by a set of propositions.

    This is what Manton refers to as "the mistake of the former age." Thomas Manton was a Puritan of the seventeenth century, and when he speaks of "the former age," he is not referring to apostate Romanism, but to the Reformers themselves. Hence he is a witness that they defined fait has an assent to the promise of the Gospel. By the same token, he wishes to introduce some other element into faith in addition to this act of will. What is it? He answers, "There is not only assent in faith, but consent; not only an assent to the truth of the word, but a consent to take Christ…True believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of all the heart."

    A careful study of these words and of the complete context in Manton, plus a comparison with the Scripture, should conclude that Manton is confused. The first point is that the word consent receives no explanation. It makes a pleasant alliteration with assent, but literary style is no substitute for analysis. Is "consent" an act of will? Ordinary language would make it seem so; but if so, how is it different from assent? If "consent" is not voluntary, and if it cannot be an act of the understanding either, what sort of mental state is it? Then too, when he says that "true believing is not an act of the understanding only, but a work of all the heart," he is not accurately confronting "the former age." The former age never said that true believing, or false believing either, is an act of the understanding only. The former age, and much of the later ages too, specify as sent in addition to understanding. They make this specification with the deliberate aim of not restricting belief to understanding alone. One can understand and lecture on the philosophy of Spinoza, but this does not mean that the lecturer assents to it. Belief is the act of assenting to something understood. But understanding alone is not belief in what is understood.

    Manton himself acknowledges, "I confess some expressions of Scripture seem to lay much upon assent as 1 John 4:2 and 5:1; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Matthew 16:17; but these places [Manton strangely says] do either show that assents, where they are serious and upon full conviction, come from some special revelation; or else, if they propound them as evidence of grace, we must distinguish times."

    Now, Matthew 16:17 is not clearly a special revelation. It can well be, and more probably is, an illumination such as God gives to every believer. Nor is 1 Corinthians 12:3 a special revelation: It refers to all men—it is a completely general statement—and cannot apply only to the recipients of special revelation. Unless, therefore, one wishes to be very dogmatic about Peter in Matthew, all of these verses—in Manton’s opinion—are to be set aside, are to be explained away by "distinguishing the times." True enough, God administered the covenant in the Old Testament in a manner different from his administration of the New. Then too, but the differences are much less important, the apostolic age and the following two centuries faced difficulties that do not so directly trouble us now. But such historical differences are entirely irrelevant to the present discussion. Whether the propositions and promises of the Old Testament were more vague and less specific than those in the New, and whether the truths of the Gospel seemed more "contrary to the ordinary and received principles of reason" there than now (which is much to be doubted), all this is irrelevant because the mental act of believing is the same in every age and every place. Manton’s account of faith is therefore confused, and it has led him to set aside some instructive New Testament material.

    The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.

    December 1979

    By Blogger Otis Sherman Page Jr, At 11:10 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]



<< Home