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Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Essays on The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character (1829) by Gardiner Spring, D.D.

ESSAY X.

FAITH IN CHRIST

There are errors on the subject of faith in Christ, which it is nowhere more important to observe and avoid, that when we consider it as a test of Christian character.  There are those who affirm, that the faith of the Gospel is nothing more than a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied by love to them, or a dependence on Christ for salvation.  It is not necessary to animadvert upon this description of faith, for every man who reads the bible must perceive, that faith in Christ is there described as a holy act.  But if it is nothing more than the assent of the understanding to the doctrines of the Gospel, then is it possessed by some of the vilest men on the earth, as well as by the fallen spirits in hell  (James 2:19).

There are also, those who teach, that the faith of the Gospel consists in a strong persuasion of our personal piety.  If a man believes that he is one of God’s elect people; that Christ loved him from eternity; that he died for him in particular; and that he is a regenerated, pardoned sinner; this persuasion is by many supposed to constitute him a believer in the scriptural acceptation of the term.  Hence the stronger a man’s persuasion of his own interest in Christ, and the blessings of his salvation, the stronger his faith! And hence the sentiment has obtained that unbelief consists in not believing, or doubting that we are Christians; and all those fears which disturb the peace of good men, and all those apprehensions lest they should be deceived in their hopes, and fail of everlasting life, are stigmatised as unbelief.  Now, that these cannot be either the faith or unbelief of the Gospel is abundantly evident from a number of considerations, on which we cannot enlarge, and will merely suggest.  Nothing can be the object of saving faith, except what is revealed in the scriptures.  Now it is nowhere revealed in the scriptures, that any one of us in particular, is pardoned and justified and individually interested in Christ’s redemption; and if any one imagines that this revelation has been made to him in particular, he deceives himself and the truth is not in him.  Besides, the scriptures always represent faith as terminating on something without us; namely, on Christ and the truths concerning him; but if it consist in a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation, it must terminate principally on something within us, namely, the work of grace in our hearts; and how inferior is such an object of faith to the all-sufficiency and glory of the great Redeemer?

It is not easy to give a definition of faith, that comprehends all its properties.  In its most general character, it is reliance upon the testimony of God’s word. It is receiving the truth in the love of it. The apostle Paul uses the phrase, received not the love of the truth as synonymous with the phrase, believed not the truth. Faith, however, when viewed as an evangelical grace, possesses altogether a peculiar character.  It is not simply reliance upon the divine testimony, but particularly upon the truth of God revealed in the scriptures concerning Jesus Christ. So the scriptures themselves represent it.  “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have life in his name.” (John 20:31)  “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

I cannot better describe this grace, than by adverting to the state of mind, which precedes and exercises it.  When, by the operations of the Holy Spirit, a man is made sensible that he has sinned against the Holy God, he deeply feels that he is fallen, guilty, condemned and undone.  He sees that he lies at the mere mercy of that God whom he has offended, who is under no obligation to pity him, and may most righteously destroy him for ever.  Under the righteous sentence of a holy law, he does not see how God can be just, and yet extend pardoning mercy to a wretch like him, until he becomes acquainted with that soul-reviving truth, that “he so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  In this wonderful expedient, he discovers a remedy which vindicates the authority of the divine law in the dispensations of pardoning mercy, and relieves his soul from the oppressive apprehension that there is no forgiveness with God.  Through this Redeemer, he ascertains that he is invited and commanded to return to God, with the hope and assurance of mercy; and is confirmed in the belief that “whosoever cometh to Jesus Christ, he will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).  And he is emboldened to go.  The good deeds, the religious performances, which once used to encourage him, afford him no encouragement now: but renouncing them all, he returns to God with an implicit, active, and exclusive reliance on Jesus Christ and his redemption, as God’s appointed way of saving sinners.  He approves of this method of salvation; he delights in it; he chooses it as his only refuge.  He no longer rejects the mystery of the cross, or stumbles at the corner-stone which is laid in Zion, but glories in the cross of Christ, and is happy to adventure his all for immortality on this sure foundation: and thus does he “receive, and rest on Christ alone for salvation as he is offered in the Gospel.”  And this is faith in Christ.

This heavenly grace, is one of the fruits of the spirit, and evidences of regeneration. “He that believeth shall be saved” (John 3:36).  “No man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3).  Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God” (1 John 5:1).  Do you possess this heaven-inspired grace? What do you know of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of sinners?  What glory have you ever discovered in that great moral wonder, “God manifest in the flesh,” as the Prophet, the Priest, the King in Sion?  Have you from the heart, received the record, that God has given of his Son?  Have you discovered any thing in Christ, that qualifies him to be your Saviour, and that can encourage guilty, miserable men to trust in his grace?  Is he precious to you, as to those who believe? Is it your happiness to commit your cause to better hands than your own; to relinquish all your self-righteous confidences, and cast yourself into the arms of Jesus?  What things were gain to you, do you count loss for Christ? Is every thing you are, and have done, and can perform, in your own view, nothing, that you may win Christ, and be found in him, not having your own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith?  (Phil 3:8-9).  In a word, with a just view of the character, and a supreme attachment to the person of Christ, can you yield yourself into his hands as a full and complete Saviour? Can you look to him to be sanctified by his Spirit; to be governed by his laws; to be protected by his power; to be saved by his death; to be disposed of at his pleasure, and to be the means of promoting his glory?  If you can, all is well!  In the comprehensive promise of that covenant to which faith makes you a party, lie concealed the life and immortality of the Gospel.  Life and death, earth and heaven, things present and things to come, joys high, immeasurable, immortal—what shall I say?—All are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

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Lest any suspect the previous post of teaching salvation by church membership, (and it clearly is not) here’s a warning against presumption and trust in anything other than Christ:

HT:  Puritan Fellowship

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Chapter 7:  Why Baptist and Not Campbellite

THE word Campbellite is not intended to be used in this article in any offensive sense, but to designate the followers of Alexander Campbell, sometimes called Christians, or Disciples, or Reformers, or by various other names.  The name Campbellite, however, is the only name by which they are universally recognized, and the only one without ambiguity.

The question might be answered in one word by saying, I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because a follower of John the Baptist, or rather of John the Baptist’s Master, and not of Alexander Campbell.  Or theologically I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because I am a Paulinist, and not a Socinian.  The Paulinist believes that at birth man is depraved, unable to save himself and condemned; that all sinned by having part in the sin of Adam; that Adam’s sin and our depravity and our own sins are all imputed to us; that we are saved by Christ’s work, through faith in him.  The Socinian says that man is innocent and able to obey God; that all sinned simply by following Adam’s example; that only a person’s own sins are imputed to him; and that we are saved by following Christ’s example.

In other words the religion of the Baptist is an inward, spiritual religion, that of the Campbellite an external, formal, mechanical religion.  Between them there is the difference of the poles.  People sometimes say that Baptists and Campbellites are so near together that they ought to unite.  As a matter of fact, there are no two denominations on the face of the globe farther apart.  There is absolutely only one point of agreement between them, and that is the form of baptism, the outward observance of the ordinance.  They differ in every other respect.

1. I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because the Campbellite says that sin is on the outside, in the word, the act.  The Baptist says it is on the inside, in the heart.  The Campbellite says that sin consists only of personal sins, while the Baptist says it consists (1) Of the guilt of Adam’s sin imputed to us because he was the representative head of the race, and when he sinned all sinned.  (2) Of depraved dispositions of the soul, resulting from this sin of Adam which has descended to us by inheritance.  (3) Of personal sins resulting from this depravity.  The Scriptures describe a man not only as a sinner but sinful, not only committing personal sins, but his whole nature corrupt, “shapen in iniquity,” “conceived in sin,” “with no good thing dwelling in him,” “carnally minded,” instead of “spiritually minded,” “at enmity with God,” “not subject to the law of God,” “neither indeed can be” subject to it in his present state, “by nature a child of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and in sins.”

2. The Campbellite says that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Word and does not operate apart from the Word.  The Baptist says that the Holy Spirit is a living, breathing personality, not a thing, that the Word is only the sword of the Spirit, the instrument with which He operates, but that the Spirit is separate from and back of the Word, as the soldier is separate from and back of the sword.

3. The Campbellite says that regeneration is simply a reformation of the outward life, expressed especially in the act of baptism.  Mr. Campbell himself said that “regeneration is equivalent to immersion.”  The Baptist says that regeneration is a change in the dispositions of the soul wrought by the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith.  If the person’s heart is depraved, as the Baptist believes, and as the Scriptures describe it in the passages quoted above, then reforming that man is like cutting down the shoots of a tree.  Others will immediately grow out again.  Or to use a Scripture illustration, homely but expressive, it is like washing the sow.  As soon as she comes to another mud hole, she will rush into it and be as muddy as ever.  What is needed is to cut up the roots, and not simply to cut down the shoots, of the tree; to change the nature of the sow so that she will not love to go into the mud holes.  In short, it is regeneration, not reformation the person needs; revolution not evolution.  Evolution means only carrying him farther in the direction in which he is going.  Revolution means turning him back and starting him over again.

4. The Campbellite believes that repentance is a mere change of mind, an outward reformation.  The Baptist believes that repentance is the result of a godly sorrow which leads to a change of mind and involves a change of care, of purpose, and so eventuates in a change of life.

5. The Campbellite says that faith is simply a “condition of the mind founded on evidence,” that it is a mere historical belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  The Baptist says that faith means:  I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; I believe that he came into the world to save sinners; I believe that he is able and willing and ready to save sinners.  It means all that, but it means one step more than that.  It means, Lord, I am a sinner and I take thee for my Savior.  A personal trust in Christ as a personal Savior – that is its essential meaning.

6. The Campbellite reverses the order in which these two come.  He puts faith before repentance.  And with his views of faith as an intellectual assent, and of repentance as a mere outward reformation, this is natural.  But to the Baptist, to whom repentance and faith strike far deeper, to whom they are inward and spiritual, not outward and mechanical, to whom they are intense exercises of the soul, not mere acts-to the Baptist it is an utter absurdity and an absolute impossibility that faith should come before repentance.  I am talking, of course, about saving faith and saving repentance; repentance and faith in the plan of salvation.  Without repentance, until the person has experienced a sorrow for his sins which has led to a change of mind, he will not want a Savior, he will feel no need of him.  No one will send for a physician until he is sick, and realizes his sickness.  But a stronger reason than this why repentance precedes faith is found in the fact that whenever in the New Testament the two are mentioned together the order is invariably repentance first, and faith second.  This surely was no accident.

7. The Campbellite does not believe in an “experience of grace” in the heart.  He makes fun of such a thing.  It might seem unkind to suggest that the reason he does not believe in it is because he has never had such an experience himself.  But as a matter of fact, he does not profess ever to have had it.  It is not in his system of theology, and not in accordance with that system.  He is simply consistent with his belief that religion is an outward, mechanical thing-a matter of deeds, and not a matter of the heart.

But when a Baptist hears any one say that there is no such thing as an experience of grace, he always feels like replying as the old negro did to his master who said that there is no such thing as religion.  The negro answered, “Master, don’t say there ain’t no such thing as religion; say, not as you knows on.”

The Baptist knows there is such a thing as an experience of grace.  He has felt it.  To him it is real, deeply, intensely real.  He can tell you the day his soul was born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit through repentance for his sins and faith in the Savior, more certainly that he can tell you the day of his natural birth.  It is an event to him even more distinct, as well as more important, than the birth of his body.  He remembers the very time and place when it occurred.  He remembers how, when under conviction by the Holy Spirit, he cried out in the agony of his soul, as he felt himself sinking in the waves of sin, “Lord, save, I perish;” and how the Savior reached forth his hand and helped him up.  He remembers how, when the Master came on board his little boat, the waves of sorrow in his tempest tossed soul subsided into a beautiful quiet, and there was a great calm.

He will never forget the ecstacy of that moment, the thrill of joy which ran through him, and set all the bells within his soul ringing in harmony with the bells of heaven.  You need not talk to him about there being no such thing as an experience of grace.  He has had one-if he is a Baptist at all-and he knows there is.  He has had it.  He has it now.

8. The Campbellite baptizes in the same way the Baptist does-by immersion.  But the resemblance stops with the outward form.  The design of the ordinance is utterly different with the two peoples.  The Campbellite says that baptism is for (in order to) the remission of past sins.  He makes baptism a part of the plan of salvation, without which there is no salvation.  The Baptist says that baptism is simply a picture, an object lesson expressing outwardly the inward experience of grace which had taken place in the heart.  As the person is buried in the water and then is raised up again, this act, the Baptist believes, symbolizes the death and the resurrection of Jesus and also his own death to sin and his resurrection to a new life, the life of faith.  In other words, baptism simply typifies in outward act the repentance for sin and the faith in Christ which the soul had experienced in being saved.  In language more eloquent than human tongue could frame it tells these facts to the world.  To make it a part of the plan of salvation is to rob it of all its significance and beauty, and to make it only a cold mechanical form.

The Baptist draws the line of salvation at faith and not at baptism.  He says that when the person has repented of his sins and believes on Christ as his personal Savior, he is saved from all sins, and all the powers of earth and all the devils in hell can not prevent his being saved.  To make baptism a part of the plan of salvation is to make salvation partly spiritual and partly material, partly inward and partly outward, partly dependent upon God, partly upon yourself, and largely upon a third person.  Thank God, salvation is a matter to be settled simply between the soul and its Savior, without the intervention of any third party or the manipulation of priestly hands.

9. Nor does it help matters any to say, as some Campbellites say, that salvation is a matter of obedience to God’s commands, and obedience is essential to salvation.  If we must obey in any respect in order to be saved, we must obey in every respect.  If a person starts out on that line, of saving himself by his own obedience, he can not stop at one point.  He must go the whole way.  “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” “He that keepeth the whole law and yet offendeth in one point is guilty of the whole.”  It was exactly because we did not and could not obey, because we were sinners, guilty and helpless, that it became necessary for Christ to come and die for us.  If we must obey now there was no use for his coming.  To say that he came to make it possible for us to obey is sheer nonsense.  It is not our obedience but Christ’s that saves.  Listen:  “For as by the disobedience of one (Adam) many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one”-of one, of one, of ONE, and that one Christ Jesus-“shall many be made righteous.”  We obey not in order to be saved but because we are saved.  Our obedience is not that of the slave, but of the child. It springs not from fear but from love and gratitude.  This is what the Baptist believes.

10. It is only another phase of the same idea as the preceding to say, as the Campbellite does, that salvation is a matter of works.  They quote over and over again the saying of James, “Faith without works is dead,” and they proceed immediately to apply it to one work, baptism, forgetting that the word is in the plural not the singular, and means all kinds of works.

There is the same idea in this verse as in the expression of our Savior, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  The fruits don’t make the tree.  They show the tree.  The works don’t make the Christian.  They show the Christian.  Faith is the root and works the fruit.  But the life is in the root.  The fruit is only the outcome, the expression, the flowering out of that life.

Faith is the cause and works the effect; faith the antecedent and works the consequent; faith the engine and works the train of cars.  This is the Baptist position.  Between that and the Campbellite position there is an infinity of distance.

11. With the views indicated above it is perfectly natural that the Campbellite should believe in falling from grace.  It is thoroughly in accord with his whole system of doctrines.  If sin is only an outward act; if the Holy Spirit does not operate on the heart; if regeneration is simply the conformity to a ceremony; if repentance is only a reformation; if faith is merely a “condition of the mind founded on evidence;” if there is no such thing as an experience of grace in the heart; if salvation is only the observance of a ceremony, or a question of obedience to the law, or of works; if it is all a matter of externalities; in a word, if it depends entirely upon the person whether he shall get salvation or not, then it will depend on him whether he shall lose it.  But if sin is in the heart; if the Holy Spirit operates upon the heart by His convicting and converting power; if regeneration is a change in the dispositions of the soul wrought by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ; if repentance is the result of a godly sorrow for sin; if faith is a personal trust in a personal Savior; if the line of salvation is drawn at faith; if baptism is only the outward figurative expression of the inward experience of grace; if obedience is the result of, and not the cause of salvation; if works are the fruit of faith -in short, if a person’s salvation is not a matter of acts but goes deep down into his soul and involves a change so complete as to be called a new birth, the birth of the soul, then he can not lose it. What is born can not be unborn.  If salvation depends not upon the person himself but on God, then God will see that he does not lose it.

It depends on who saves.  If the person saves himself he can lose his salvation.  If God saves him, God will keep him.  Baptists believe with Peter that “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last day.”

12. The church polity of the Campbellite is a presbyterial form of government; that of the Baptist congregational.  One is a government by ruling elders, the other by the congregation. One is an oligarchy, the other a democracy.

From the above statement of the differences between Baptists and Campbellites, which I have tried to make as fair and comprehensive as possible within the limited space allotted me, it will be seen how wide the differences are, and how utterly irreconcilable.  Talk about Baptists and Campbellites uniting!  You may as well talk about the union of oil and water, or of the east with the west, or of the north pole with the south pole.

And this is the reason why I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite.

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