Chapter III, Saving Faith (continued)

And once more, the same truth is also expressed inRomans 11 with regard to the relation between the Gentiles and Israel. There the apostle writes, vss. 15, ff.: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” By means, therefore, of that God-given faith, whereby we are engrafted into Christ, we appropriate Him unto ourselves, so that His righteousness and holiness, His life and peace, become our all, and we rejoice in the God of our salvation.

We may make a distinction between the essence of faith and the operation, or activity, of faith, a distinction between the power and the act of saving faith. Faith is, first of all, a spiritual power—the power, or aptitude, to apprehend and appropriate Christ and all His benefits. Remember that faith is not another natural power or natural faculty of the soul, in addition to the faculties of intellect and will. We may rather call it a new disposition of the entire soul. It indeed concerns the whole soul of man, with mind and will and all the inclinations of the heart. It is a power to apprehend spiritual things, to discern spiritual things spiritually. This truth we may illustrate by natural examples. So, for instance, when a child is born, it has all the faculties and powers and gifts it will ever have. But all these powers and gifts do not actually function in their complete capacity. The infant in the cradle certainly has the faculty to think and the faculty to will, the faculty to understand the world about him, even though at that time it does not actually, in the full sense of the word, think and will, perceive and understand, speak and walk. If in later life the child develops into a great mathematician or a very skillful musician, this mathematical bent of mind or artistic tendency was not added to the child’s talents in later life, after he was born, but they were all given unto it with birth. Now the same thing may be said of saving faith. Only, saving faith is not a natural, but a spiritual power. It is given unto us not with natural birth, but with our spiritual birth, that is, with the gift of regeneration. And that spiritual power develops into the conscious activity of believing through contact with the gospel as it is applied by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to the heart of the regenerated sinner. Without this spiritual power it is impossible for any man to believe in Christ. Or, to refer to another illustration, if a child is born blind, he can never see and can never be taught to see. If he is born dumb, he can never be taught to speak. If he is born deaf, he will never be able to hear. The same is true in the spiritual sense of the word. The sinner is born blind, and he can never see the things of the kingdom of God. He is born deaf in the spiritual sense of the word, so that he cannot really hear the gospel. The sinner is born dumb, so that he can never speak of spiritual things. Nor can anyone, any teacher or preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, ever teach him to see and hear and speak concerning the things of the kingdom of God and concerning the salvation that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. O, to be sure, you may instruct him in the things concerning salvation. You may teach him indeed about Christ and all His benefits. But there would never be any spiritual response to the things of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Or rather, there certainly would be some response; but he would reject the gospel. The things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to him.

We understand, of course, that this power of faith is the fruit of the Holy Ghost, and of the Holy Ghost alone. It is really given already in the new birth, or in the regeneration of man. It is true that the power of faith certainly becomes active only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without that gospel faith has no Christ to apprehend or to cling to. And for that reason, it can never become active belief. Nevertheless, we must not make the mistake of presenting the matter of saving faith as if its power were implanted in the heart by the Holy Spirit, while its activity is caused only by the gospel, without the operation of the Spirit of Christ. This certainly is not true. Both the power and the activity of faith are wrought by the Spirit of Christ only. It is the Spirit that applies the preaching of the gospel to the heart of the sinner in whom the power, or aptitude, of faith was already wrought. And it is therefore the Spirit of the Lord that calls and awakens that power of faith into the conscious activity of belief, and that too, through the preaching of the gospel. This power of faith, as it is wrought immediately by the Spirit of Christ, may be wrought in the smallest infant as well as in the adult. And, in fact, we may add that in the sphere of the historical realization of God’s covenant, the Lord usually gives this power of faith to the elect of the covenant in their very infancy.

Finally, we may add that this power of faith can never be lost. It is true, of course, that the activity of saving faith can often be weak, and, in certain circumstances and because of certain sins may often appear to be lost. Nevertheless, the power of faith can never be lost. This is true, not indeed because of any inherent virtue in the power of faith, but only because of the abiding indwelling and continued operation of the Holy Spirit in the innermost recesses of the heart. The bond of faith whereby the sinner is engrafted into Jesus? Christ can never be completely broken because it is constantly preserved by the Holy Spirit.

Faith, indeed, is as many-sided as is the soul of man. Nevertheless we may distinguish different elements in saving faith. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, faith is both knowledge and confidence. In the course of time much has, of course, been written about saving faith. All kinds of conceptions were developed concerning the nature and the essence of faith, the elements of faith and the seat of faith in the human soul, as well as concerning the connection of faith with the benefits of salvation that are received by faith. Some conceive of the essence of faith as consisting mainly in the assent to the truth. According to this conception, faith is really nothing but a mere operation of the intellect by which he that believes accepts the truth. According to others, however, faith is essentially nothing but a certain knowledge. Still others, again, emphasize that the real nature of faith must be sought not in the assent, nor in a certain knowledge, but rather in a hearty confidence. And still others found in saving faith all three elements of knowledge and assent and confidence. Others, however, speak only of knowledge and confidence, on the ground that the, assent of faith is really implied in the knowledge. This also appears to be the idea of the Heidelberg Catechism, although it emphasizes the element of confidence. Still others remark that it is better to speak only of knowledge and confidence, seeing that the assent of faith is really implied in the knowledge. At the same time there was always a difference of opinion concerning the question whether the seat of faith must be sought in the intellect or in the will of man, or even in the feelings or emotions. They that supported the first idea were the same, of course, that also found the essence of faith in knowledge, or in the mere assent to the truth. Others, who emphasized rather the element of confidence, averred that faith is an act of the will. And still others emphasized the mystical experience and blessedness which is being wrought by faith in the heart of the sinner, and therefore placed the seat of faith in the emotions or in the feelings of man.

As is frequently the case, so also with these different ideas concerning faith it may be remarked that they do not always give evidence of proper distinctions, and that they not infrequently separate what may be logically distinguished, but can nevertheless not be separated. Thus, for instance, it was emphasized that the same gift, or characteristic, cannot at the same time have its seat in the intellect and in the will. For that reason, faith must be conceived either as a characteristic, or property, of the intellect or as a property of the will. The fact was lost sight of that faith is not a natural gift, but a spiritual property, according to the presentation of Scripture. And according to the Bible, faith does not have its seat in the intellect or will, but in the heart of man. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, according to Romans 10:10. Scripture always emphasizes the spiritual and ethical nature of man, and therefore preferably speaks of the heart of man. The heart is, after all, the very center of man’s existence and life, that is, of course, from a spiritual, ethical viewpoint. From the heart are the issues of life. Out of the heart proceed all our thinking and willing, our loving and hating, our desires and inclinations. And from the heart these receive a spiritual, ethical direction. By the heart, therefore, both intellect and will, including all our emotions and desires, are controlled. That heart is either believing or unbelieving. There is nothing in between these two. It either turns away from the living God and holds the truth in unrighteousness and loves the lie; or it turns to God in Christ Jesus, seeks His face, hungers and thirsts after righteousness. If we bear this in mind there is no reason whatever to limit faith to intellect or will; but we must rather conceive the truth of the matter in this way, that from the heart of man this spiritual property of faith controls both intellect and will.