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§ 5. Faith and Feeling.

It has already been seen, —

1. That faith, the act of believing, cannot properly be defined as the assent of the understanding determined by the will. There are, unquestionably, many cases in which a man believes against his will.

2. It has also been argued that it is not correct to say that faith is assent founded on feeling. On this point it was admitted that a man’s feelings have great influence upon his faith; that it is comparatively easy to believe what is agreeable, and difficult to believe what is disagreeable. It was also admitted that in saving faith, the gift of God, resting on the inward illuminating testimony of the Holy Spirit, there is a discernment not only of the truth but of the divine excellence of the things of the Spirit, which is inseparably connected with appropriate feeling. It was moreover conceded that, so far as the consciousness of the believer is concerned, he seems to receive the truth on its own evidence, on its excellence and power over his heart and conscience. This, however, is analogous to other facts in his experience. When a man repents and believes, he is conscious only of his own exercises and not of the supernatural influences 89of the Spirit, to which those exercises owe their origin and nature. Thus also in the exercise of faith, consciousness does not reach the inward testimony of the Spirit on which that faith is founded. Nevertheless, notwithstanding these admissions, it is still incorrect to say that faith is founded on feeling, because it is only of certain forms or exercises of faith that this can even be plausibly said; and because there are many exercises of even saving faith (that is, of faith in a true believer,) which are not attended by feeling. This is the case when the object of faith is some historical fact. Besides, the Scriptures clearly teach that the ground of faith is the testimony of God, or demonstration of the Spirit. He has revealed certain truths, and attends them with such an amount and kind of evidence, as produces conviction, and we receive them on his authority.

3. Faith is not necessarily connected with feeling. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it is not. Whether it is or not, depends, (a.) On the nature of the object. Belief in glad tidings is of necessity attended by joy; of evil tidings with grief. Belief in moral excellence involves a feeling of approbation. Belief that a certain act is criminal, involves disapprobation. (b.) On the proximate ground of faith. If a man believes that a picture is beautiful on the testimony of competent judges, there is no æsthetic feeling connected with his faith. But if he personally perceives the beauty of the object, then delight is inseparable from the conviction that it is beautiful. In like manner if a man believes that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, on the mere external testimony of the Bible, he experiences no due impression from that truth. But if his faith is founded on the inward testimony of the Spirit, by which the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is revealed to him, then he is filled with adoring admiration and love.

Religious Faith more than Simple Assent.

4. Another question agitated on this subject is, Whether faith is a purely intellectual exercise; or Whether it is also an exercise of the affections. This is nearly allied to the preceding question, and must receive substantially the same answer. Bellarmin,118118De Justificatione, lib. i. cap. 4, Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. p. 706, d, e. says, “Tribus in rebus ab hæreticis Catholici dissentiunt; Primum, in objecto fidei justificantis, quod hæretici restringunt ad solam promissionem misericordiæ specialis, Catholici tam late patere volunt, quam late patet verbam. . . . Deinde 90in facultate et potentia animi quæ sedes est fidei. Siquidem illi fidem collocant in voluntate [seu in corde] cum fiduciam esse definiunt; ac per hoc eam cum spe confundunt. Fiducia enim nihil est aliud, nisi spes roborata. . . . Catholici fidem in intellectu sedem habere docent. Denique, in ipso actu intellectus. Ipsi enim per notitiam fidem definiunt, nos per assensum. Assentimur enim Deo, quamvis ea nobis credenda proponat, quæ non intelligimus.” Regarding faith as a mere intellectual or speculative act, they consistently deny that it is necessarily connected with salvation. According to their doctrine, a man may have true faith, i.e., the faith which the Scriptures demand, and yet perish. On this point the Council of Trent says: “Si quis dixerit, amissa per peccatum gratia, simul et fidem semper amitti, aut fidem, quæ remanet, non esse veram fidem, licet non sit viva; aut eum, qui fidem sine caritate habet, non esse Christianum; anathema sit.119119Session vi., Canon 28; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. p. 37.

Protestant Doctrine.

On the other hand Protestants with one voice maintain that the faith which is connected with salvation, is not a mere intellectual exercise. Calvin says:120120On Romans x. 10; Commentaries, edit. Berlin, 1831, vol. v. p. 139. Verum observemus, fidei sedem non in cerebro esse, sed in corde: neque vero de eo contenderim, qua in parte corporis sita sit fides: sed quoniam cordis nomen pro serio et sincero affectu fere capitur, dico firmam esse et efficacem fiduciam, non nudam tantum notionem.” He also says:121121Institutio, III. ii. 8; edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. i. p. 358. Quodsi expenderent illud Pauli, Corde creditur ad justitiam (Rom. x. 10): fingere desinerent frigidam illam qualitatem. Si una hæc nobis suppeteret ratio, valere deberet ad litem finiendam: assensionem scilicet ipsam sicuti ex parte attigi, et fusius iterum repetam, cordis esse magis quam cerebri, et affectus magis quam intelligentiæ.

The answer in the Heidelberg Catechism, to the question, What is Faith? is, “It is not merely a certain knowledge, whereby I receive as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a cordial trust, which the Holy Ghost works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, the forgiveness of sin, and everlasting righteousness and life are given by God, out of pure grace, and only for the sake of Christ’s merit.”122122Question 21.


That saving faith is not a mere speculative assent of the understanding, is the uniform doctrine of the Protestant symbols. On this point, however, it may be remarked, in the first place, that, as has often been stated before, the Scriptures do not make the sharp distinction between the understanding, the feelings, and the will, which is common in our day. A large class of our inward acts and states are so complex as to be acts of the whole soul, and not exclusively of any one of its faculties. In repentance there is of necessity an intellectual apprehension of ourselves as sinners, of the holiness of God, of his law to which we have failed to be conformed and of his mercy in Christ; there is a moral disapprobation of our character and conduct; a feeling of sorrow, shame, and remorse; and a purpose to forsake sin and lead a holy life. Scarcely less complex is the state of mind expressed by the word faith as it exists in a true believer. In the second place, there is a distinction to be made between faith in general and saving faith. If we take that element of faith which is common to every act of believing; if we understand by it the apprehension of a thing as true and worthy of confidence, whether a fact of history or of science, then it may be said that faith in its essential nature is intellectual, or intelligent assent. But if the question be, What is that act or state of mind which is required in the Gospel, when we are commanded to believe; the answer is very different. To believe that Christ is “God manifest in the flesh,” is not the mere intellectual conviction that no one, not truly divine, could be and do what Christ was and did; for this conviction demoniacs avowed; but it is to receive Him as our God. This includes the apprehension and conviction of his divine glory, and the adoring reverence, love, confidence, and submission, which are due to God alone. When we are commanded to believe in Christ as the Saviour of men, we are not required merely to assent to the proposition that He does save sinners, but also to receive and rest upon Him alone for our own salvation. What, therefore, the Scriptures mean by faith, in this connection, the faith which is required for salvation, is an act of the whole soul, of the understanding, of the heart, and of the will.

Proof of the Protestant Doctrine.

The Protestant doctrine that saving faith includes knowledge, assent, and trust, and is not, as Romanists teach, mere assent, in sustained by abundant proofs.

1. In the first place, it is proved from the nature of the object 92of saving faith. That object is not merely the general truth of Scripture, not the fact that the Gospel reveals God’s plan of saving sinners; but it is Christ himself; his person and work, and the offer of salvation to us personally and individually. From the nature of the case we cannot, as just remarked, believe in Christ on the inward testimony of the Spirit which reveals his glory and his love, without the feelings of reverence, love, and trust mingling with the act and constituting its character. Nor is it possible that a soul oppressed with a sense of sin should receive the promise of deliverance from its guilt and power, without any feeling of gratitude and confidence. The act of faith in such a promise is in its nature an act of appropriation and confidence.

2. We accordingly find that in many cases in the Bible the word trust is used instead of faith. The same act or state of mind which in one place is expressed by the one word, is in others expressed by the other. The same promises are made to trust as are made to faith. The same effects are attributed to the one, that are attributed to the other.

3. The use of other words and forms of expression as explanatory of the act of faith, and substituted for that word, shows that it includes trust as an essential element of its nature. We are commanded to look to Christ, as the dying Israelites looked up to the brazen serpent. This looking involved trusting; and looking is declared to be believing. Sinners are exhorted to flee to Christ as a refuge. The man-slayer fled to the city of refuge because he relied upon it as a place of safety. We are said to receive Christ, to rest upon Him, to lay hold of Him. All these, and other modes of expression which teach us what we are to do when we are commanded to believe, show that trust is an essential element in the act of saving faith.

4. The command to believe is expressed by the word pisteu,w not only when followed by the accusative, but also when followed by the dative and by the prepositions ἐπί, εἰς, ἐν. But the literal meaning of πιστεύειν εἰς, or ἐπί, or ἐν, is not simply to believe, but to believe upon, to confide in, to trust. Faith in a promise made to ourselves, from the nature of the case, is an act of confidence in him who makes the promise.

5. Unbelief is, therefore, expressed by doubt, fear, distrust and despair.

6 The believer knows from his own experience that when he believes he receives and rests on Jesus Christ for salvation, as He is freely offered to us in the Gospel.


The controversy between Romanists and Protestants on this subject turns on the view taken of the plan of salvation. If, as Protestants hold, every man in order to be saved, must receive the record which God has given of his Son; must believe that He is God manifest in the flesh, the propitiation for our sins, the prophet, priest, and king of his people, then it must be admitted that faith involves trust in Christ as to us the source of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. But if, as Romanists teach, the benefits of redemption are conveyed only through the sacraments, effective ex opere operato, then faith is the opposite of infidelity in its popular sense. If a man is not a believer, he is an infidel, i.e., a rejecter of Christianity. The object of faith is divine revelation as contained in the Bible. It is a simple assent to the fact that the Scriptures are from God, and that the Church is a divinely constituted and supernaturally endowed institute for the salvation of men. Believing this, the sinner comes to the Church and receives through her ministrations, in his measure, all the benefits of redemption. According to this system the nature and office of faith are entirely different from what they are according to the Protestant theory of the Gospel.

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