The most remarkable account we have of saving faith, in the book of God, is contained in these words: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[Heb. 11:1.] And the most accurate definition of that grace, which is to be found in the writings of men, is the following:—“Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the Gospel.”[Shorter Catechism, Quest, 96.] Guided by this inspired account, and assisted in our views by this high human authority, which is perfectly agreeable to Divine revelation, we shall now proceed in our general observations on faith, which are intended to describe to us the nature of that grace,
OBS. VI. The object of faith may be considered in different points of view. By the object of faith, we must understand that upon which faith acts. It is that particular object, person, or thing, which the Christian by faith believes, or receives, in which he trusts and confides, and upon which he rests and depends. This is the object of faith, Now this object, which the believer embraces in the exercise of his faith, may be considered in different ways. The word of God—Christ the Mediator betwixt God and man—God essentially considered as in Christ. This is the proper and complete object, on which the faith of Christians is acted. The word of God is the object of faith. This truth is confirmed in that description which we have of the exercise of the Israelites in the wilderness. “Then believed they his word.”[Psalm 106:12.] If the word of God is not believed, it is impossible for us, in any respect, to exercise faith upon its object. The word of God contains precepts, threatenings, doctrines and promises, all of which are the object of faith. True faith believes the precepts of the law. This was the exercise of the Psalmist, when he said, “I have believed thy commandments.”[Psalm 119:66.] That which the Christian believes concerning the Divine law, is expressed by Paul:—“Wherefore the law is holy; and the commandment is holy, and just, and good.”[Rom. 7:12.] While the hearts of men condemn the law as unholy, unjust and severe, saving faith has no place in them. Never shall the children of men be able to discern the glory of the Gospel, till they have obtained a discovery of the excellency of the law, and have their minds enlightened in the knowledge of it, as a display of the infinite holiness, justice and goodness of its author. Saving faith is exercised upon the threatenings of the law. The Christian, discerning the reality and awful contents of the threatenings, is persuaded in his mind, that in them is revealed the wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. The stability of the threatening, as the word of God, and the equity of it, or its infinite righteousness, are firmly believed by those who have obtained precious faith. As the word of God makes an application of the threatening to every individual of Adam’s family, the person in whose heart faith is wrought by the power of the Spirit, particularly applies the threatening to himself, by acknowledging that he is the man, who, having transgressed the precept of the law, deserves the execution of its curse. The doctrines of the Gospel belong also unto that word, which is the object of faith. This is evident from the command of Christ, “Believe the Gospel.”[Mark 1:15.] Such is the connection which faith has with these doctrines, that they are called by its name, the faith which is delivered to the saints. The good tidings of great joy, which is to all people, that unto them was born, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, is credited by the believing soul. The promise, in a particular manner, is the object of the Christian’s faith. The great and precious promises are said to be given unto us; and it is the work of faith to receive that which is given from Heaven. What is said of one Divine promise, relative to the exercise of faith concerning it, is true of them all. The actings of this grace, concerning the great and comprehensive promise of the Spirit, are dearly pointed out to us in these words of the apostle: “That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”[Galatians 3:14.] The promises, therefore, which are contained in the word of God, are faith’s object.
It was also observed that the Lord Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith. So soon as faith is exercised upon the word of the Gospel, Christ is set before the view of the soul, and faith immediately acts upon him. The Mediator, who is the author and finisher of faith, is also its glorious object.—The word of God is not properly believed, unless Christ, in the word, is discerned by the Christian, and his faith is fixed on him. It belongs to the exercise of saving faith, that whatever way it views the word, it is still by means of it led unto Christ. These actings of the mind, upon any parts of the word, which do not lead the Christian unto the Lord Jesus, may justly be suspected. The actings of the mind upon the precepts and threatenings of the word, are not the exercise of a saving faith, unless Jesus is seen to be the end of the law, for righteousness, to every one that believeth. And how can the Gospel or the promise be improved by faith, if this grace is not exercised upon the glorious Redeemer? The Scripture clearly represents Jesus as the object of the faith of Christians, when it informs us, in many places, that it is their exercise to receive him, to believe on him, and to trust in him. Jesus is the object of his people’s faith in his incarnate person, as he is God and man in his one Divine person; in his glorious office of Mediator between God and man, and is the prophet, the priest, and the king of his church; in his everlasting righteousness which he wrought out for the justification of his people; in his immeasurable fulness, which it pleased the Father should dwell in him; and in his great salvation, of which he is the Author to all them that obey him.
God, essentially considered, is also the object of saving faith. As the word leads the believer’s faith to Christ, so faith, being fixed on him, immediately terminates upon a Three-one-God. “Who by him do believe in God that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”[1 Peter 1:21.] If the person who has seen Christ has seen the Father also, then he who believes in Christ, must exercise the same grace on God the Father. If God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, it must follow that those who come to Christ, by faith, fix their souls on God as he is manifesting himself to them in him. The Scripture frequently speaks of believing in God, coming unto God, and trusting in him, all which set him before our view as the object of our faith. The Great Jehovah is the object of the believer’s faith in his being; for all who come unto him, believe that he is. He is the object of their faith in Three Divine persons; for all who possess true faith believe that there are Three which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these Three are One. He is the object of saving faith in his glorious perfections, all of which are exercised through Christ for the salvation of his people. His sovereignty, wisdom, and holiness, are discerned and improved by faith. His love, grace, and mercy, are objects of the Christian’s faith. His faithfulness, justice, and power, are the resting place of faith.—To conclude this particular, it is proper to observe, that God, essentially considered [i.e., in the Person of the Father], is the ultimate and supreme object of the believer’s faith. But there is no way for the faith of a sinner to act, in a saving and comfortable manner, upon this holy and offended God [i.e., the Father, as the font of Deity], but through a Mediator [i.e., the Son]. This glorious Saviour, therefore, who, by his obedience and death, has opened up a way of access for us to God, becomes a necessary and proper object of the faith of those who are saved. As this glorious Mediator, and Jehovah in him, cannot ordinarily be revealed to men but by the word, this word of Divine revelation, which testifies of God in Christ [cf. John 14:10, 11], is a proper and primary object of our faith. The object of faith, then, is the word of God. Christ manifested in the word, and a Three-one-God reconciled in Christ. When faith acts on these, it hath its whole and complete object before it, upon which it believes unto eternal life. This object is properly One; because faith can make no separation. The believer cannot, in his acts of faith, separate the word from Christ, or Christ from the word; neither can he separate God from Christ, nor Christ from God; but in embracing one, he embraces and improves all, and believes in God, through Christ, by the Gospel, for his eternal salvation.
OBS. VII. The acting of faith upon its object is variously represented in Scripture. Having already seen what is the object of faith, let us now consider how it acts upon this object.—We may take a view of the scriptural representation of the acting of faith upon the law, upon the revelation of grace in the promise, and upon God and Christ. Wherever faith is implanted in the soul, the person exercises that grace upon the law. Paul’s affirmation concerning the law, will be made by every Christian, in the exercise of faith: “The law is holy, and the command holy, and just, and good.”[Romans 7:12.] Faith believes the excellency of the law, as it flows from the infinitely glorious nature of God; the original breach of this law, in the person of Adam, in the guilt and other mournful effects, in which all his posterity are concerned; the numerous and aggravated transgressions of this law, with which men, in general, and the person himself, in particular, are chargeable; the necessity and equity of the penal sanction of this law, which is set before us in the threatening; and his own particular liableness to its execution upon himself, as a law-transgressor, according to that unchangeable statute of heaven, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”[Gal 3:1.] The true Christian will farther believe, the absolute necessity of the vindication of the glory of God, the Author of the law, and of its being magnified and made honorable, in order to the salvation of those who have transgressed its precept, and incurred its penalty. He will be fully convinced, in his very heart, that rather than God should lose his glory in the holy commandment, or one jot or tittle of the law itself, either in its precept or threatening, should fall to the ground, it would be better that all those who have transgressed it, should perish forever.
Faith’s actings upon the revelation of grace in the promise, are set before our view, in these words of the apostle:—“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.”[Heb. 11:13.] The actings of faith, in the ancient patriarchs, upon the promises of God, concerning the coming of Christ, and the glory that should follow, are here distinctly stated. The description of their exercise will apply to the actings of faith in believers, till the end of time. Like these venerable believers, they shall all die in faith; like them, they have not yet received the full accomplishment of the promises; and, like them, they see them afar off, are persuaded of them, and embrace them. The first act of the believer’s faith, relative to the promises, is a seeing them. There is in faith a spiritual discerning of the nature of the promise, as a gracious revelation of Divine blessings, in Christ, to the children of men; of the design of the promise, to bring near and apply to men, all the blessings of the Mediator’s purchase; of the suitableness of the promises, as they contain and exhibit blessings, which are answerable to the case of the soul, and of which the Christian stands in absolute need; of the freedom of the promises, being all freely given us of God; and of the stability of the promises, as they are all yea and amen in Christ. Total blindness, and ignorance of the promise, is not the person’s plague; but, by a spiritual light, shining unto the mind, the promise is savingly understood. Believers not only see, but they are persuaded of the promises; they do not discern their nature only; they are also assured of their truth. They are fully satisfied, that these words of Jehovah’s grace are the true sayings of God, which will never disappoint the hopes of those who rely on them; but will bring them to the full enjoyment of all the blessings which are contained in them. The promise is also embraced by the believer in the exercise of faith. They take home the promise into their heart, that it may richly dwell in them. With the esteem, affection, and desire of their heart, they take hold of that promise, the excellency of which they have seen, and of the truth of which they have been persuaded, joyfully receiving, and fiducially applying it to themselves, as containing their portion, and exhibiting their everlasting rest. Every blessing in the word of grace, either as enjoyed by believers in this world, or to be given them in the next, is received by faith, when the promise is thus embraced. In this manner do the saints of God live, and by these acts are their souls nourished, comforted, and strengthened by the promise.
We are now to consider the scriptural account of the acts of faith upon God and Christ. We join them two together, because the Scripture expressions, which represent the acts of faith on them, are the same, and because it is neither convenient nor proper to separate them. There are five different terms used in Scripture to represent the acts of faith upon God and Christ, the import of which we may endeavor to open.—The acts of faith upon this object are expressed by knowledge. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”[John 17:3.] There is a spiritual discerning of Christ, and of God in him, by all who believe. As the Gospel is not, to believers, a hidden Gospel, so God is not to them an unknown God, nor is Christ a Savior whom they have not seen. Their eyes have seen the King in his beauty, and they have obtained a discovery of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. The acting of faith upon this object, is called a believing, or crediting the declarations of the word of God concerning them. “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God; believe also in me.”[John 14:1.] Faith acts upon the Three-one-God, by believing the Scripture revelation of him in his new covenant character, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our God and Father in him: that he, from his infinite love and grace, having devised the scheme of salvation, sent his Son into our world to purchase it for us; and that he is upon a throne of grace, ready to pardon and save sinners through Christ—is the God of salvation—the portion of the soul—and is exercising his perfections, through the great Redeemer, for our salvation. Faith also credits the Scripture revelation concerning Jesus. The person who believes, is persuaded that Jesus is the Son of God, and Saviour of sinners; that he, from eternity, engaged to accomplish our salvation; that he, in the fulness of time, assumed our nature, obeyed, suffered, and died in our stead; and has wrought out, and brought in an everlasting righteousness, for our justification and salvation: that he rose from the dead, ascended up on high, appears in the presence of God for us, and is on the right hand of God, to see the whole of his purchased salvation applied to the objects of his love. Faith’s acting upon this object, is spoken of under the notion of a coming unto it. “He that cometh unto God;”[Hebrews 11:6.]—“Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[Matt 11:28.] The truths concerning God and Christ, are not believed only, but there is an actual approach made by the believer, in the exercise of faith, to this glorious object. The soul, by faith, draws nigh to God, flies to Christ, and comes to a God, in Christ, by the Gospel. In consequence of this blessed motion of the soul unto God and Christ, the person, though once afar off, is now made nigh by the blood of Christ. By coming unto God, through Christ, in the exercise of faith, the Christian enters with boldness into the holiest of all, by the new and living way, which is consecrated for him through the vail of the Redeemer’s flesh.—By the believer’s receiving God and Christ, is the acting of faith on this object also represented in the Scripture. The Christian, in the exercise of faith, not only comes unto, but also receives or embraces this object. The believing, or crediting act of faith, has a respect to its object as true; but the receiving act of that grace, regards its object as good. The believing act of faith, views its object as revealed; but faith’s receiving act considers the object as given. That the exercise of faith upon God and Christ, is in Scripture called a receiving, is evident from the words of Christ: “He that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me;”[Matthew 10:40.] and the words of John,—“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”[John 1:12.] The Christian, by believing, takes the object of faith to himself, embraces, and takes possession of it. Christ is received and taken hold of by faith, as the only Mediator between God and the person, as the alone and all-sufficient Savior of the soul, as the Christian’s husband, prophet, priest, and king. The Christian, in the exercise of this grace, receives or embraces Christ in his sufferings, in which he was made a curse, as the procuring cause of the pardon of his sin, and deliverance from Divine wrath; and the obedience of Christ, as the meritorious cause of his title to, and enjoyment of, eternal life. He also, by this grace, takes hold of, and embraces the fulness of grace and spirit which is in him, that his spiritual comfort, sanctification, and perseverance, may be promoted. Faith acts likewise by receiving God in Christ, as the Christian’s God and Father in Christ Jesus, and as his everlasting portion. The believer, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, acquiesces in, closes with, and embraces God in Christ, as he is revealed in these characters, saying,—This God is our God—Doubtless thou art our Father—The Lord is my portion. The Scripture account of the exercise of faith, warrants us to affirm, that this grace acts upon its object by trusting in it. In very many portions of Holy Scripture, the acting of faith is thus represented; and therefore, it is needful to mention the two following only:—“He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.”[Psalm 32:10.] That person, who, by saving faith, trusts in the great Jehovah, shall have an interest in the Divine mercy, and shall be forever encompassed about with its effects. The acts of faith upon Christ, are stated in the same manner by the apostle, when he says, of believers, “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”[Eph. 1:12.] Faith, having received its object, does not let it go; but continues ever to rest and depend upon it. Faith’s trusting in this object, includes the person’s dependence upon God and the Mediator, that they will both be unto him, and do all those things for him, which Divine revelation warrants him to expect. The believer trusts in Christ, that he will be his Savior and Redeemer; and in God, that he will be his God and portion, and that he will obtain from them salvation, with eternal glory.
OBS. VIII. The warrant that sinners have to exercise faith upon this object, is the command of God, or call of the Gospel. When the Lord gives unto the children of men a revelation of his grace, it is made known unto all nations for the obedience of faith. The royal order and sovereign command of Jehovah accompanying the Gospel, require the hearers of it every where, and in whatever condition, to entertain it by faith unto their salvation. The law of the King eternal, is in this particular, made subservient unto the Gospel. When he makes a discovery of his will of grace, and proclaims the good tidings of great joy unto all people concerning a Savior, the law of God, which only declares duty unto the moral creature, follows the display of grace, and enjoins men to receive it with the hearing of faith. All these portions of Scripture, which require faith of the children of men, are their Divine warrants to believe. I shall only mention two of them:—“This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.”[1 John 3:23.] The manner in which this commandment is expressed is very remarkable. The Lord has given many commandments to the children of men; but, as if he had never given forth any other precept, it is here said, This is his commandment. This is the chief and principal commandment, without the obeying of which, no precept of his law can be obeyed, and by compliance with it, the soul is infallibly led to yield obedience to the whole law. “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”[John 6:29.] Many good works does the Lord require of his people, and by his grace they are enabled to perform them zealously. But the work of believing in Christ is declared to be, by way of eminence, “The work of God.” These portions of Scripture which contain the call of the Gospel, are nothing else than this command of God, requiring, by his law, that the declarations of his Gospel be suitably entertained. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; Come unto me all ye that labor; If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” These, and many other calls of God, are his sovereign, holy, and royal law, applied unto the consciences of the creatures, with reference to the revelation of the object of faith to them by the Gospel. The holy commandment of the Lord of heaven and earth, is the only warrant that sinners have to believe in Christ to their salvation. The children of men cannot have a warrant to do any thing in their natural, moral, civil, or religious concerns, but what immediately arises from the law and commandment of Jehovah. Their warrant to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they may be saved, must come from the same source. I know not of any other warrant that sinners have to believe in, receive, and rest upon God in Christ by the Gospel, but what flows from the holy commandment. Numerous encouragements and motives to believe, they may have from other things, but their legal warrant for the exercise of this grace can spring only from the command of God. In all their actions, whether mental or corporeal, it is necessary that Christians have some precept of the law before them, as their warrant for doing them; and having this, they have no reason to be afraid of rebellion. This is true also with respect to the exercise of faith. Let a Christian be asked, why he acts faith in Christ for salvation? He will be ready to answer, because his God hath said unto him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”[Acts 16:31.]
OBS. IX. The rule, according to which faith acts upon its object, is the revelation and offer that is made of it unto men in the Gospel. As the command of God, or the call of the Gospel, is the Christian’s warrant to believe; so the manner in which the object of faith is revealed and offered to him in the word of grace, is the rule, according to which his acts of faith upon it are to be regulated. The different properties which belong unto the revelation, and offer of God in Christ to the hearers of the Word, must be found in their acts of faith upon him. The children of men are not allowed to receive the object of faith any way they please; but they are bound to embrace it exactly in the way wherein it is revealed and offered. The believer’s acts of faith upon God in Christ by the Gospel, must have a correspondence unto the revelation and offer, which are the regulating standard of the exercise of this grace, in the following particulars:—In the Gospel, the object of faith is revealed and offered to the children of men freely; and, agreeable to this, the person must, is the exercise of faith, freely receive it. Says God to the children of men, “I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely.”[Rev. 21:6.] In the same manner do they receive it: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”[Rev. 22:17.] These words, “without money, and without price,”[Isaiah 55:1.] do express the terms upon which the object of faith is both given and received. Legal obedience, personal merit, purity of heart or life, are not required by God, nor should they be considered by men, as qualifications which entitle them to receive the Redeemer for their salvation. The Lord reveals and offers a Savior unto sinners, as they are in their lost and ruined condition; when it is impossible there can be any thing in them to recommend them unto his favor. And so far is the person who comes unto God in Christ, by a true faith, from bringing any price in his hand, that he makes this approach under a deep sense of his sin, guilt, condemnation, defilement, and unworthiness in the sight of an holy and just God.—The Gospel reveals and offers the object of faith to the children of men fully; and in this manner does faith receive it. By the complete object of faith we must understand the word in all its parts; God in all his new covenant characters; Christ in all his offices, and salvation through him in all its blessings. The gospel revelation and offer of the complete object of faith, makes no separation in any of these things; neither does faith in its exercise upon them. True faith, wherever it is, leads the soul to believe and delight in the law, as well as the Gospel; the exercise of Divine holiness and justice, as well as his mercy and grace; Christ as a king, as well as a priest; and salvation from sin, as well as deliverance from wrath. The object of faith is revealed and offered in the Gospel particularly, and faith particularly, embraces it. “Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is unto the sons of men.”[Prov. 7:4.] “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.”[John 7:37.] The revelation and offer of the Gospel sets the object of faith before, and brings it unto, every hearer of it; and each of them are hereby encouraged to receive it for themselves. General considerations and exercises concerning this object, will not satisfy true faith; but, as the person finds himself particularly addressed in the Gospel, he receives and rests upon God in Christ for his own salvation.—The Gospel makes a present revelation and offer of Christ to men, and true faith will immediately go forth to receive him. This discovery of Christ has no respect to the time past; nor does it make any allowance for a delay until the time to come. Its invariable language is, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”[2 Corinthians 6:2.] Convinced as believers are, that the time past cannot be recalled, and that of the time to come they have no assurance, they endeavor speedily to embrace this object of faith, when the revelation and offer thereof are before the view of their souls; they make haste, and delay not to keep this commandment. This revelation and offer bring near to the children of men this glorious object with earnestness and sincerity; and in this manner does faith embrace it. God is earnest and sincere in the proposals of his grace, which he makes to the children of men. Christ is equally so in offering himself to sinners as their Savior, whether this is done in the written word, or by the ministrations of his servants. When the hearers of the Gospel are brought to the exercise of faith in Christ, their souls are raised to an high degree of earnestness and sincerity, in this most important transaction. Earnest and sincere as they may have been in managing some of their outward concerns of moment, they will find their souls raised to an higher measure of earnestness and sincerity in the exercise of believing. As the man-slayer of old, that he might escape from the hands of the avenger of blood, fled with earnestness to the city of refuge; with the same concern do convinced sinners fly for refuge, and lay hold on the hope set before them.—The object of faith is presented to the hearers of the word in this revelation and offer, with a glorious promise on the one hand, and with an awful certification on the other. “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned.”[Mark 16:16.] As a promise of eternal salvation in case of receiving the object of faith, and a threatening of everlasting damnation, if it is rejected, accompany this revelation of grace; so the believer exercises faith, that he may obtain the enjoyment of the one, and may escape the misery of the other. Filled with views of these things, as the minds of believers are, when they act faith on Christ, there will be found in them a mixed frame, consisting of an humble hope and holy fear, spiritual joy and godly sorrow, a cordial mirth, and reverential trembling.
OBS. X. The spiritual good, for the enjoyment of which, Christians exercise faith on God through Christ by the Gospel, is eternal life or everlasting salvation. When faith is exercised on Divine revelation, the person finds it to contain the words of eternal life, and words whereby he may be saved. In it he sees this eternal life described in its parts and properties, the method of its communication to the souls of men, and the exercises, privileges, and blessedness of those who enjoy it. When faith is acted upon the Lord Jesus, the Christian considers him as the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; and he believes in him that he may give unto him eternal life, that he may never perish, and that none may ever pluck him out of his hands. Christians also exercise faith upon God in Christ; and in doing so, they both view him as the God of their salvation, and credit the record that God hath given unto them eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The promises of Jehovah’s grace, recorded in the word, exhibit the different blessings which are included in this eternal life and salvation; and the saints expressing their faith, together with their prayers and other exercises contained in the same word, represent their concern about this infinite and eternal good. The inhabitation of the Spirit of God in their souls, the effects of it in their regeneration and union to Christ, their effectual calling, the justification of their persons in the sight of God, their adoption into the Divine family, their sanctification into the Divine image, communion with God, spiritual consolation, their perseverance unto the end, a safe and blessed death, a glorious resurrection, their acquittance at the day of judgment, and their eternal enjoyment of God in heaven, are parts of this life and salvation, for the obtaining of which, Christians believe in God and also in Christ. The connection betwixt this faith and the enjoyment of this salvation, can never be dissolved; for heaven and earth shall pass away, but the promise of the Lord shall never fail. Most assuredly it shall happen, that “he who believeth shall be saved;” and it shall remain an eternal truth, that “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” Faith, therefore, is acted upon its glorious object, that the believer may obtain the inheritance of everlasting life and salvation.
Referring the consideration of a few more observations to the following parts, we shall now conclude with some improvement of what has been offered on the subject.
1. The nature of true faith may be learned from these observations. Saving faith is the person’s flying under a sense of guilt and condemnation by the law, to Christ and to God in him; by believing, receiving, and resting upon this object, on the warrant of the command of God, in agreeableness unto the offer of the Gospel, and for the enjoyment of everlasting salvation by the mercy of God, and through the merits of the Redeemer. This is the exercise of that person’s mind, who has reason to say of himself, “Lord, I believe.” This is the attainment of all those who have in them a well-grounded hope of eternal life. All who have not reached unto this spiritual exercise of soul, whatever they may be before men, they are not believers in the sight of God; and therefore they are in their sins; they are under the curse, and are in a state of condemnation. A discovery of sin and misery by the law; a view of Christ and of a reconciled God in him by the light of the Gospel; a knowledge of the command of God as the person’s warrant; a discerning of the evangelic revelation as the Christian’s rule, and a manifestation of eternal life, as the consequence of believing, are all necessary unto saving faith. Having obtained these discoveries, the person, when he exercises true faith, betakes himself to God in Christ by believing, receiving, and resting upon him, under this conviction, on this warrant, in this way, and for this end.
2. That there is something more in true faith than a speculative belief of the truths of the Gospel, is evident from what has been said. Faith is not seated in the understanding only, but it also influences the will; for “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”[Romans 10:10.] The assent of the mind is not alone in true faith, but it is accompanied with the hearty consent of the will. There is in this grace both a discerning and choosing of its object; the former is an act of the understanding, and the latter is an act of the will. When the scheme of salvation revealed in the gospel is spiritually beheld, the heart acquiesces in it; and this, as well as the other, is chiefly contained in faith. A speculative belief may be, where, the love of the truth is a wanting; but true faith fixes the affections upon it. The former is consistent with a resisting of the calls of the Gospel; but the latter subdues the soul unto their obedience. The one may prevail where indifference about religion reigns; but the other destroys this indifference, and begets a spiritual concern about the things of God. This may be found where inward purity is not studied, and religious and moral duties are neglected; but that effectually engages the soul in the exercises of serving God, and perfecting holiness in his fear.
3. From what has been said, we may also see the absolute necessity of saving faith, in order to our salvation. All who are come to the years of maturity must be brought to the exercise of faith upon this object, and in the manner we have described; otherwise they cannot be saved, but must perish forever. The Divine threatening, “He that believeth not shall be damned,” confirms the truth of this observation. All the children of men who remain under the power of unbelief while they live, must at death be driven away in their wickedness, into that place where “there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” The apostle’s observation, “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” farther establishes this alarming truth. If, while we continue destitute of saving faith, we cannot be pleasing to God in our state, disposition, exercise, or works; surely without it we cannot be saved. The necessity of this grace is evident, from the promise which is annexed unto it: “He that believeth shall be saved.” Faith and salvation are joined together by the Lord; and earth, and hell, shall never be able to separate them. Those who possess true faith shall enjoy eternal salvation, and those who are strangers to it shall perish in their sin. The truth of this inference appears also, from the impossibility of our obtaining spiritual advantage, by the dispensation of the Gospel, without saving faith. The words of the apostle declare, “The word preached did not profit them.” Alarming case! But what was the reason? “Not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Faith is the bond of our union with Christ, and therefore it is necessary to our salvation. As Christ unites himself with us by his Spirit, so we are made to close with him by faith. Till this exercise is produced in our souls, we remain destitute of a vital union to his person, of an interest in his righteousness, and of the participation of his grace; and therefore without it there is no salvation. This grace is the divinely appointed instrument of the believer’s receiving Jesus, and the salvation that is in him; consequently, those who have not obtained this precious grace, can have no interest in Christ or his benefits. Consider this, ye who are strangers to saving faith, lest, in your state of unbelief, destruction overtake you.
4. This subject informs us, that believers have a glorious object, upon which they exercise their faith. It is a Divine object—the great Jehovah—the Divine Mediator—the Word of God. This object is infinitely glorious, and fills the eye of faith; infinitely beautiful, and engages the believer’s delight; infinitely powerful, and attracts to itself the Christian’s believing look; infinitely sure, and will always satisfy, and never disappoint, the believer’s hope; and infinitely near, and may be approached unto and improved in every time of need, O what glorious satisfaction and rest have the souls of believers, when they grasp this object in the arms of their faith! The lofty descriptions of God which are contained in his word; the exalted representations of the blessed Jesus which are found there; and the striking accounts which we have of the blessings of salvation, sufficiently manifest the glory of the object of faith. They infinitely degrade and totally destroy this glorious object, who consider Jesus to be a person of our own order, and do not acknowledge him to be over all, God blessed forever. Since the Scriptures uniformly represent the object of faith to be glorious, the true Christian, complying with this design, always entertains exalted views of it. They are not believers, in God’s estimation, by whatever names they are called among men, who do otherwise. Those who obtain a saving view of the object of faith, know him in whom they trust to be the God of glory; are convinced that Jesus is the Lord of glory; know the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of glory; see the word, by which they are led to him, to be the glorious Gospel; and are convinced, that the good they expect from God in Christ, is an eternal weight of glory.
5. The nature of the sinner’s warrant to believe in Christ, may be learned from what has been said. There are few things which convinced sinners are more concerned to know, than their warrant to come unto and improve the Lord Jesus for their salvation. When they obtain a saving scriptural view of it, they see it to be Divine. It is not any creature, but the Lord himself, that authorizes them to be thus employed. They hear the Lord speaking unto them, for their encouragement in the exercise of faith, as Absalom did unto his servants, “Fear not; have not I commanded you?”[2 Sam. 13:28.] The work of believing in Christ, for the salvation of the soul, is so glorious and important, that nothing less will support the mind of a conscientious believer in it, than Divine authority. The warrant to believe is exceedingly clear. The portions of Scripture which contain it, give such an account of the object of faith, of the exercise of this grace, of the wretched condition of those who are called to believe, and of the design and issue of their faith, that no doubt of the clearness of their warrant to believe, can reasonably be entertained. Nothing more appears necessary for illustrating and confirming this truth, than to mention the two following texts of Scripture:—“Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[Matthew 11:28.] “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou,” a poor miserable sinner, who hadst a design of self-murder, “shalt be saved.”[Acts 16:31.] The sinner’s warrant to believe is absolutely free. No condition is required of him to make this warrant his. The command of God, which obliges the sinner’s conscience to believe in the revealed Savior, makes it his, whether he improves it or not. Whatever evangelical or instrumental conditionality there is in faith, in order to our actually enjoying Christ and his salvation, there cannot be any condition required of the sinner to warrant him to believe. The Gospel finds the children of men lying under the curse of the law, and sets before them an open door of escape, into which it freely authorizes them to enter. This blessed warrant is universal and unlimited, and extends to all the hearers of the Gospel. By such an unrestricted allowance as this, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,”[Revelation 22:17.] is this warrant set before the view of Adam’s guilty race. Every individual hearer of the Gospel, is divinely commanded, and has a full warrant to believe in Christ for salvation. Every one of them, whatever their condition is either before God or man, has the same revealed warrant to believe, that any of the saints of God, who are now on earth or in heaven, had before they actually believed. Those who deny this truth, would do well to consider, that they not only destroy the nature of the Gospel, as a revelation of Jehovah’s grace to the children of men; but, upon the matter, they must maintain, that some of the hearers of the Gospel are not bound by the Divine law, and that their consciences are relieved from the obligation of that mandate of the King eternal,—“This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Since guilty sinners have such a warrant to believe, what glorious encouragement must they have to fly to the consecrated Savior! How aggravated must their condemnation be, who, rejecting him, shelter themselves under refuges of lies!
6. The glorious issue of the exercise of faith, is in this subject presented to our view. If any are disposed to ask, What shall be the conclusion of the Christian’s exercise and life of faith? let the words of the apostle answer the important inquiry: “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”[1 Peter 1:9.] Of all them that believe in Christ, it may be safely affirmed, that their end shall be peace. While all those who reject Christ shall be driven away in their wickedness, those who receive him shall have hope in their death. The Christian, therefore, may be encouraged, while he is fighting the good fight of faith, that, after he has in this conflict suffered awhile, the God of all grace will make him perfect—stablish—strengthen—settle him. The believing followers of the blessed Jesus, enduring temptations of various kinds in their Christian course, shall, when the trial of their faith comes to an end, receive a crown of life and glory that fadeth not away. Those who study the exercise of faith in God, through Christ, by the Gospel, are “the ransomed of the Lord,” who “shall return, and come to” the heavenly “Zion, with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”[Isaiah 35:10.] The promise of God, the purchase of Christ, the inhabitation of the Spirit, the tenure of the covenant of grace, and the nature of that holiness which is in the souls of believers, do all concur in securing this. It is of much importance to the Christian’s comfort in this present state, as it is also his indispensable duty, to contemplate the eternal rest and glory, which remain for them that believe. Let all the children of the promise, therefore, comfort their own souls, and the souls of one another, with the assured hopes of eternal life.
7. That faith in Jesus Christ is the duty of every hearer of the Gospel, and that they can have no sustainable objection against this exercise, are clearly evident from what has been said. It is the duty of all who hear of Christ, to believe in him. To every one of them, God is saying, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” What reasonable objection can be made, against this exercise? Ignorance of the object of faith cannot be our plea; for this is clearly set before us in the revelation of the word, and in the preaching of the gospel. Unacquaintedness with the exercise of faith cannot be the excuse; for this is no less particularly described unto all Christians. The want of a warrant can be no reason, while it is Jehovah’s address unto the children of men, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”[Isaiah 45:22.] The want of information concerning the manner of believing, must not be urged; for in this particular also, we are directed to receive and rest upon Christ, as he is offered to us in the Gospel. Neither can any plead ignorance of the end of this exercise; for we are called to believe, that God may be glorified, and that our souls may be saved. Guilt and unworthiness can be no objection; for the stouthearted, and those who are far from righteousness, are called to hearken;· and to them a God of grace, in the everlasting Gospel, is bringing near his righteousness and his salvation. A moral inability in the creature to perform this duty cannot be sustained as an argument for unbelief; for the Lord’s gracious promise, is, “I shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live.”[Ezekiel 37:14.] Even a reigning unwillingness in the mind of man to believe, will not be a sufficient pretext for neglecting this exercise; because the promises of the covenant make provision for this also: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.”[Psalm 110:3.]—Where then, is the sinner’s excuse for continuing in unbelief, and for refusing to believe in Christ for salvation? It is no where to be found. Come then, gospel hearers, urge no more, and entirely abandon all your objections against believing. Study to affect your souls with a sense of the many obligations you are under, and the encouragements you have to believe. O pray for faith, and strive to exercise it. As faith is the gift of God, and as he giveth unto all men liberally, and upbraideth not, go ye unto his throne of grace, and ask this blessing from him. Let your prayers to him be accompanied with endeavors to believe. In an approbation and improvement of the way of salvation in Christ, strive to fix your souls on the object of faith; so shall you find your mind both delivered from that unbelief, by which you have staggered at the promise, and helped to the exercise of that faith, which gives glory to God.