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Diverse Kinds of Faith.


Diverse Kinds of Faith.

James Dodson

ALL who read the sacred Scriptures will have noticed, that the word faith is not always used in the same sense. And this diversity in the sense of the word, sometimes renders the meaning difficult of apprehension by the reader, whether learned or unlearned. For this and other reasons, Paul found himself “debtor both to the wise and the unwise.” It is proposed in this article to treat a little of the different senses in which the term faith is employed, both in the Bible and in other writing’s.

The general sense of the word is “a belief of a proposition made by another person.” The proposition may be of fact, of argument, or of doctrine. It may be of morals, of physics, or of theology. And because of the established or presumed connection between truth and the mind’s assent to it, the same word is used for both. Thus the Christian with his understanding assents to the testimony or truth of God, and with his heart embraces it. Heb. 11:13. This is called saving faith, and by Peter styled “precious faith.” 2 Pet. 1: 1. And by Paul, “the faith of God’s elect.” Tit. 1:1. All who have this faith belong to the invisible church—have been effectually called by the gospel. But there are, and always have been and always will be such members in the visible church as never possess this kind of faith. The parable of the “tares among the wheat” was intended to teach this. And the same is confirmed and illustrated in many instances; as for example—Simon, the magician, is said to have believed; yet Peter afterward “perceived that he was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” Acts 8:13, 23. The faith possessed by Simon is called the “faith of miracles,” because he believed that the apostles had power to heal bodily diseases in a miraculous way, without the use of ordinary means. The exercise of the same kind of faith is exemplified in the case of the ten lepers, who were cleansed by our Lord. Of the ten who “had faith to be healed,” the faith of miracles, only one returned to give thanks—had saving faith—faith to be healed of his spiritual maladies. Luke 17:12, 18.

Again, there is a faith which is called temporary. This species of faith is exemplified in the parable of the stony ground hearers, and in the case of Herod, who “heard John Baptist gladly, and did many things.” It is called temporary, because, as our Saviour says, it “endures but for a time,” and is extinguished by affliction or persecution. Mark 4:17.

Thus far we have seen that there are three kinds of faith spoken of in Scripture—saving faith, the faith of miracles, and temporary faith. I say, spoken of and exemplified in the Bible.

Faith is also defined or described as either subjective or objective; and hence, as already intimated, truth, and our assent to it, are called by the same word—faith. Thus when we hear of one who had “faith to be healed,” we are to understand the act of believing: but when we are enjoined to “contend earnestly for the faith”—faith means the thing to be believed—the “record which God has given of his Son,” &c.

Besides all that has been said of the scriptural senses of the term faith, and of the different kinds or species of faith, there remains yet another, namely—historical faith. This is the kind of faith with or by which we believe that there is such a city as London, such a country as France, such a man as Napoleon, such a corruption and counterfeit of Christianity as the church of Rome. This faith we call historical, because the evidence on which our minds are called to act is supplied chiefly by history or a statement of facts. And this element of history enters into the composition of faith, whether it be temporary, saving or other kind of faith: so that the external evidence of the divine original and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures, is resolvable into historical evidence. The same is true of the identity of the church of God, and of the witnesses of Jesus. The foregoing positions are susceptible of confirmation and illustration to great extent from the word of God, but the brevity of an article for a monthly periodical [1] does not admit of amplification. Seeing that the term faith is employed in such diversity of senses, a question of much importance is suggested; namely—in which of the foregoing acceptations is, or ought the word to be taken when used as synonymous or interchangeable with, term of communion?

For we speak frequently and familiarly of “articles of faith,” held and professed by this or that church. Moreover, we often speak of an applicant for fellowship in the visible church as desiring to make a profession of his faith. Whether the faith about to be professed in such a case, be considered as subjective—the act of believing, or objective—the thing or things believed; it is very important that we attach to the term a definite meaning—important, as it respects the destiny of the individual, the welfare of Zion, and the honor of her King. This importance will appear if we consider the method of procedure by too many rulers in Israel in modern times, when dealing with applicants for privileges in the church. The primary object of inquiry seems in many instances to be, whether the individual be in a state of grace; that is, whether the applicant has saving faith already in possession? I do not mean to insinuate that the possession or the exercise of grace is of little moment to the individual or to the church: but I do mean to say, that this is not the primary object of judicial investigation. Here, I conceive, church sessions do greatly err, and professing Christian parents also in dealing with their own and the church’s offspring.

It is by no means unusual to meet such cases as the following, between parents and children: “My son, it is time you should join the church. Have you got religion?” “Well, father, I think I have got a change of heart.” “Then, my son, if you are sure of that, you ought to join some branch of the church: but beware of self-deception, by joining the church of Christ,” &c. Doubtless many have been influenced by such process of reasoning, to make a profession of faith in Christ, of whom the writer has known some, who after making a progression, have discovered that “the old man” had the mastery—“sin had still dominion over them.” They gave lose reigns to their lusts, renouncing Christianity and avowing infidelity! And indeed such reasoning has a native tendency to issue in such awful result. The assumption is a fallacy. It is this—the grounds of saving faith and the bond of fellowship in the visible church are the same thing: or, that no sinner is bound to profess faith in Christ till he is a saint. It is indeed the old Pelagian heresy revived in a new dress. The reasoning goes upon the assumption, that the sinner is not required to believe in Christ as a sinner. This is in effect “making void the law through faith,” that is, pretended faith. It is direct rebellion against the great commandment, enforced by the whole moral law, “That we should believe on the name of his son Jesus Christ.” 1 John. 3: 23. Yes, “this is his (the Father’s) commandment,” as if there were no other. Hence result the following corollaries:

1. Faith in Christ is required by the law of God on the part of all who hear the gospel, as their indispensable duty.

2. Our obligation to “believe the record which God has given of his Son,” taking rise solely from the authority of God commanding, cannot be resolvable into our supposed and previous preparation or ability to believe. “The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.”

3. The profession of saving faith cannot be the test of member ship in the visible church. The tares are allowed to grow among the wheat till the harvest, “which is the end of the world.” While examining ourselves whether we be in the faith, let us also regard the Saviour’s injunction—“Hold fast that which thou hast.”—DAVID STEELE.


[1] This was originally published in The Reformed Presbyterian magazine, September, 1860.