Usually a distinction is made between true, saving faith and other kinds of so-called faith, such as historical faith, temporary faith, and miraculous faith.
Historical faith is a mere, objective assent to the truth of some part of the revelation of God in Scripture. It is an operation of the natural mind. It is not rooted in the love of God and in regeneration. And, of course, it is also without personal application. It stands to reason that historical faith is no confidence in the God of our salvation. Just as one may believe that Paul or Apollos existed, so one may also believe that Christ was born in Bethlehem and that He died on Golgotha, without being spiritually affected by the truth whatsoever. I say that historical faith accepts only parts of the truth as it is revealed in the Word of God. It does not accept everything. So, for instance, one may believe that Christ existed and that He taught the people during His thirty years of sojourn, and that after that He was killed by the Jews and crucified by the sentence of Pontius Pilate. But he cannot believe, really believe, in the resurrection and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, the term historical faith is really not quite correct. For it includes not only the facts of history that are recorded in Scripture, but also certain moral and ethical truths. One may, for instance, believe that man is a sinner, that he is not perfect, without, however, being sorry for sin and coming to repentance. And that he cannot accept all the truths that are revealed in Scripture is evident from modern philosophy and modern theology, which deny such things as the virgin birth, the atonement, and the reconciliation of the sinner to God through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a word, the natural mind cannot and will not accept spiritual things. Thus, then, so-called historical faith is very limited. Nevertheless it can accept certain facts and truths that are revealed in Holy Writ. Thus, we read that the devils believe that God is One, and they tremble. James 2:19. And Agrippa, according to Paul, believes the prophets. Acts 26:27. But after all is said, it must not be forgotten that historical faith is essentially different from saving faith. It is not spiritual, but natural. It is not rooted in the regenerated heart of man. And therefore, it is no saving faith whatsoever.
But what is temporary faith? It is an affectation of the emotions, or even of the natural mind and will of man, whereby for a time one apparently embraces Christ and all His benefits, and even evinces an enthusiastic joy and interest in the things of the kingdom of God. Reference is usually made to the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13:5, 6: “Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” One may also perhaps refer to Hebrews 6:4-8, which speaks of those that have once been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and become partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fall away. It is natural that especially under the influence of wild and enthusiastic revivals, such temporary faith reveals itself. But also this has nothing to do with true, saving faith. The latter operates from within, from the principle of the regenerated heart, and through the efficacious calling by the Holy Spirit. Temporary faith is effected from without, especially through emotional preaching and the so-called altar-call, by which the emotions are affected, but not the heart.
Finally, we must call attention to what is called miraculous faith. This kind of so-called faith is either active or passive. Active miraculous faith is the strong conviction that a miracle can be performed by the one that possesses this faith. Sometimes I doubt whether this is true. Did a man like Judas, for instance, possess this miraculous faith? It is true that the Lord sent forth His disciples to preach the gospel and also to heal the sick and to perform miracles. And therefore it would seem that even a man like Judas possessed this miraculous faith. On the other hand, we must not forget that the Lord sent forth His disciples two by two, and that therefore it does not necessarily follow that also Judas performed miracles. But, as I say, I cannot be positive, especially when we consider not only the active miraculous faith, but also the passive. In the passive sense, miraculous faith is the conviction that a miracle can be and will be performed upon one. The question is often asked whether miraculous faith still exists. Our answer would be that God, of course, is able to perform miracles now, in the present dispensation, as well as at the time of Christ and the apostles. Nor can we deny that in exceptional cases, when it is necessary for the establishment and corroboration of the gospel, God will still perform wonders, although we have no proof to establish such facts. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly must be said that signs and wonders were performed before the time when the special revelation of Scripture was completed, and that too, to establish the truth concerning Christ and the gospel. It is not impossible that in the future, immediately before the coming of Christ, God will once more show signs and wonders. Nevertheless, it is essential that also this miraculous faith as such has nothing to do in common with saving faith. One that has miraculous faith, and believes that he can perform miracles or that a miracle can be performed upon him, may or may not have the saving faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We now come to the important subject of justification. And, first of all, I may define justification as that act of God’s grace whereby He imputes to the sinner that is in himself guilty and condemned, but elect in Christ, the perfect righteousness of God in Christ, acquits him on the ground of the merits of Christ Jesus our Lord of all guilt and punishment, and gives him the right to everlasting life.
The words for justification, both in the Old and in the New Testament, have uniformly a legal, or judicial, significance. In other words, they do not refer to ethical righteousness, or sanctification, but rather to juridical righteousness. Justification means that God declares a sinner just, and places him in a state of righteousness. Thus, for instance, we may refer to the text in Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and condemneth the just . . . .” The same is true ofDeuteronomy 25:1: “They shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” The same meaning is also evident from Isaiah 50:8, where the Servant of the Lord speaks as follows: “He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me?’ This is also true of the meaning of the verb that is used in the New Testament. Justification does not refer to one’s ethical righteousness, but to the state of righteousness which is the result of a legal declaration. Thus we find inRomans 2:13: “The doers of the law shall be justified.” And in Romans 3:20 we read: “Out of the works of the law no flesh shall be justified before him.” In Romans 4:5 the apostle Paul makes the apparently unjustifiable expression: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” God justifies the ungodly. But in the passage of Romans 3:26 this apparently unjustifiable declaration of the apostle is justified, and the assertion is made: “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” The same truth is expressed in Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Virtually the same truth is expressed in Romans 5:19, now with a view to the obedience of Christ: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” From all these passages, and from many others in the New Testament, it is evident that righteousness does not refer to any ethical righteousness, but to the legal act of justification, that is, of placing man, and particularly the sinner, in the state of righteousness before God.
This emphasizes at the same time the difference between sanctification and justification, to which we must refer later. Sanctification removes the pollution of sin, and causes the life of regeneration to triumph over the old man of sin. But justification is a legal concept. It removes the guilt of sin, clothing the sinner with a righteousness of God in Christ.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century emphasized this truth of justification as a legal act of God whereby He declares the sinner righteous. Before the Reformation, the truth of justification was not always clearly confessed and understood. The making just, or righteous, was often confused with the forensic act whereby God declares the sinner righteous. In the Middle Ages justification was presented as really including sanctification. The sins of man are forgiven, and he is made righteous in the spiritual, ethical sense of the word. And this, really, became the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. The grace of justification is infused in man. And on the basis of that infused righteousness, his sins are forgiven. Hence, justification is based, at least in part, on the good works of the sinner himself. The Reformation, however, changed this, and emphasized the truth that justification is a purely legal act, changing the state of the sinner without changing his condition. Sanctification is based on justification, never the reverse. And this is the expression of all the Reformed symbols.
This is also true, as we might indeed expect, of the Lutheran confession. In the Formula of Concord, Article 3, we read: “We unanimously believe, teach, and confess that Christ is truly our righteousness, but yet neither according to the divine nature alone nor according to the human nature alone, but the whole Christ according to both natures, to wit: in his sole, most absolute obedience which he rendered to the Father even unto death, as God and man, and thereby merited for us the remission of all our sins and eternal life. As it is written: ‘As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous’ (Rom. 5:10).
“We believe, therefore, teach, and confess that this very thing is our righteousness before God, namely, that God remits to us our sins of mere grace, without any respect of our works, going before, present, or following, or of our worthiness or merit. For he bestows and imputes to us the righteousness of the obedience of Christ; for the sake of that righteousness we are received by God into favor and accounted righteous.
“We believe also, teach, and confess that Faith alone is the means and instrument whereby we lay hold on Christ the Savior, and so in Christ lay hold on that righteousness which is able to stand before the judgment of God; for that faith, for Christ’s sake, is imputed to us for righteousness (Rom. 4:5).” Cf. Schaff, “Creeds of Christendom,” III, pp. 115, 116.