Saving Faith

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. ~ Numbers 14:11, Numbers 20:12

And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: ~ Isaiah 7:9, Psalm 106:24

They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea. Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation: So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. ~ Psalm 106:21-22, Psalm 78:22, Romans 10:17, John 5:39

By Faith. Sermons on Hebrews 11, by Thomas Manton.

Sermon XXVIII

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
~ Hebrews 11:6

Let us now inquire what this faith is. There are three acts of it: knowledge, assent, and affiance. The two former do respect the word, and the last respects Christ offered in the word. The former acts respect id quod verum est, that which is true; the last, id quod bonum est, that which is good. All are necessary; there is a receiving of the word, and a receiving of Christ in the word. Sometimes we read of receiving of the word: Acts 2:41, ‘They received the word gladly;’ that notes only knowledge and assent. But at other times we read of receiving of Christ: John 1:12, ‘To as many as received him,’ the act of faith is directed to Christ’s person.

1. There must be knowledge, for this is a necessary part of faith: we must see the stay and prop before we rest on it; there is an impression of truth upon the understanding. See the expression of the prophet, Isa. 53:11, ‘By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.’ The first and radical act of faith is there put for the essence of it; now without this we can neither please God nor be satisfied in ourselves. We cannot please God: Prov. 19:2, ‘Also that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good:’ or, as in the original—’The heart without knowledge can never be good.’ All that we do in an ignorant state is but superstitious formality, not an act of religion. Look, as the fruit that hath but little of the sun is never concocted, and comes not to full maturity and ripeness; so those acts that are done in a state of ignorance are outward formalities that God will not accept. Nor can we be satisfied in ourselves. How shall we be able to plead with Satan, and answer the doubts of our own consciences, unless we have a distinct knowledge of the mysteries of salvation, and of the contrivance of the gospel? He that is impleaded in a court, and doth not know the law, how shall he be able to stand in his own defence? So how shall we be able to answer Satan and our own fears without knowledge? Look, as we fear usually in the dark, so ignorant souls are always full of doubts and surmises; and it is a long time ere the Lord comes and settles the conscience.

Now every kind of knowledge will not serve the turn. There is a form of knowledge as well as a form of godliness: Rom. 2:20, ‘Which hast the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law.’ The apostle means a naked model of truth, to be able to teach others: but they want a new light put into their hearts by the Spirit of God. It must not only be a formal apprehension, but a serious and considerate knowledge. For faith is a spiritual prudence; it is opposed to folly as well as to ignorance: Luke 24:25, ‘O ye fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’—ἀνόητοι, ye mindless men. When men never mind, they do not consider the use and fruit of knowledge; when they do not draw out the principle of knowledge for their private advantage, they are fools. Everything in faith draws to practice; it is not a speculative knowledge, but a knowledge with consideration, a wise light: Eph. 1:17, he calls it ‘A spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.’ It differs from a traditional and disciplinary knowledge, a literal instruction which we convey from one to another. By this men may be made knowing, but they are not prudent for the advantage of the spiritual life.

2. Next to knowledge there must be assent. Believing is somewhat more than knowledge; we may know more than we do believe, and therefore there must be an assent to the truth of the word: 1 Thes. 1:5, ‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.’ There is some assurance that doth not concern the state of a believer but the word of God, receiving it above the cavils and contradiction of the privy atheism that is in our own mind. Now, concerning this assent, I shall speak to two things: it must be to the whole word of God and with the whole heart.

[1.] It must be to the whole word; it must be a receiving of the word indefinitely, all that God hath revealed. God prescribeth the conditions which he requireth, and offereth promises; we must consent to the whole. In the word of God there are doctrines, promises, threatenings, precepts—all these must be entertained by faith before we come to the act of affiance. The doctrines of faith concerning God and Christ, the union of the two natures, the mystery of redemption, we must receive them as ‘faithful sayings,’ 1 Tim. 1:15. Usually there is some privy atheism: we look upon the gospel as a golden dream, and a well-devised fable. Saith Luther, ‘Carnal men hear these things as if the mystery of the gospel were but like a dream or shower of rubies fallen out of the clouds;’ therefore there must be a chief care to settle the heart in the belief of these things as faithful and true sayings. Christians would not find the work of their particular faith so irksome if they had but ‘the assurance of understanding,’ Col. 2:2; if their hearts were rooted in the truths of the gospel. Then there are threatenings of the word, to show how abominable the creature is to God in a natural condition, and to what punishments we are subject and liable. Now these must be applied with reverence and fear, that we may be roused out of our carnal estate, and chased like the hart to the refreshing streams of grace. There must be a firm belief of all the threatenings and curses of God. Then the promises of the word, these are principally calculated for faith, and these must be applied to the soul: John 3:33, ‘He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.’ We must come and set to our seal, and say, Lord, thou wilt never fail thy creatures, if they should venture their souls upon the warrant of such as these are. Then there is believing of the commands, not only that they come from the Lord, that they are laws established and enacted by the supreme ruler of heaven and earth; but we must believe they are just, good, holy and true. So David, Ps. 119:66, ‘Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I have believed thy commandments.’ When we believe the commandments are of divine original, and that they are holy, and good, and fit to be obeyed, this is that which the apostle calls a ‘consenting to the law, that it is good,’ Rom. 7:16. Such an assent must there be to the whole word.

[2.] It must be with the whole heart. For this the intellectual assent is not enough, unless it be accompanied with some motion of the heart; there is somewhat besides understanding, not only knowledge and acknowledgment, but there must be consent of the will. We must not only reflect upon the things that are propounded as true, but as good and worthy of all acceptation: Acts 8:37, ‘If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest be baptized.’ We must assent to the threatenings of the word with trembling and reverence, to the promises of the word with delight and esteem: Acts 2:41, ‘They received the word gladly,’ to the commandments of the word with some anxious care of strictness and obedience, to the doctrines of the word with consideration.

3. There is affiance, which is an act which doth immediately respect the person of Jesus Christ. For we are not saved by giving credence to any axiom or maxim of religion, but by casting the soul upon Christ. Faith is thus described by resting upon God, 2 Chron. 14:11; by staying upon God, Isa. 26:3; by trusting in Christ, Mat. 12:21, Ps. 2:12. There must be some carrying out of the soul to the person of Christ himself. The devils may have knowledge—’I know thee who thou art, the holy one of God,’ Luke 4:34. And the devil may have some assent too; there are no atheists in hell. Nay, they assent with some kind of affection—’They believe and tremble,’ James. 2:19. Therefore there must be an act of faith that carrieth out the soul to Christ himself. Believing in Christ noteth a recumbency—’Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ Acts 16:31; it is Paul’s counsel to the gaoler. It is an allusion to a man that is ready to fall, that stays himself by some prop and support; so it is staying our souls upon Christ when we are ready to sink under the burden of divine displeasure, or are overwhelmed with terrors of conscience. Now let us a little consider this act in its progress and growth.

[1.] This act of affiance must arise from a brokenness of spirit. The soul must be broken and dejected with a sense of God’s wrath, or else it can never come and lean upon Christ. It is the work of God to comfort those that are cast down. There is no dependence upon God for comfort till we are cast down and dejected with the sense of his wrath. This casting our souls upon Christ doth suppose a being possessed with the fear of death; then we take hold of the horns of the altar with Adonijah. Till there be a due sense and conviction of conscience, it is not faith, but carnal security. It is a great mistake to think God requires faith immediately of any. He requires faith of none immediately but those that are broken and contrite, that are dejected with a sense of their own wretched condition out of Christ. Therefore when Christ invites persons to grace, still he directs his speech to them that are thirsty, hungry, weary, because they are in the next capacity of believing: Mat. 11:28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ Those are invited to Christ that groan under the heavy load upon their consciences: Isa. 55:1, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters,’ &c. Christ speaks to those that are dejected with the sense of their natural condition. It is in vain to boast of peace of conscience when we were never troubled. Believing is a swimming to the rock. Now he that stands upon the firm land cannot swim; that is not a work for him, but for those that are in the midst of the waves, ready to perish in the tempestuous waters. Men of an untroubled and unmoved conscience, their next duty is not to believe in Christ; but those that are ready to despair, they are called to swim to the rock, and run to Christ, the rock of ages, that they may not be swallowed up of divine displeasure.

[2.] This act is put forth with much difficulty and struggling. It is a hard matter to bring Christ and the soul together. There is a great deal of struggle ere we can cast our souls upon Christ. We must reason with our own fears, plead and dispute with ourselves and with God, and cry long and loud many times at the throne of grace. As when the prodigal began to be in want, then he deliberates with himself—In my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare. The case of a soul in coming to Christ is much like the case of Peter in coming to Christ upon the waves: Mat. 14:28–30, Peter, when he saw Christ, he acknowledged him for his lord and saviour ‘Peter said unto him, Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked upon the water to go to Jesus; but when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.’ Peter left his ship, and resolved to venture on Christ’s call; but he found difficulty. So it is in our coming to Christ, when by an undoubted assent to the truth of the word we are convinced in conscience that Christ is the alone saviour, that he is a rock for shelter in the midst of waves; by the impulses of grace the soul begins to make out to Christ. Christ saith, Come, come, and the soul is even overwhelmed with the tempests of wrath and waves of divine displeasure; therefore we had need encourage our hearts in God, and cry, Lord, arise and save us. After we have left the ship of our carnal confidence, after the soul is in its progress to Christ, there is a great deal of difficulty to bring God and the soul together. God doth not meet every soul as the father of the prodigal, half, way; but there is a long suspension of comfort that may cast us upon difficulties, that we may struggle with our own unbelieving thoughts.

[3.] Though there be no certainty, yet there is an obstinate purpose to follow after Christ. It is true, the aim and end of all faith is to draw the soul to certainty and particular application, to assurance of pardon, that we may say, My God and My rock. But though the soul meets with many difficulties, yet there is an obstinate purpose; the soul will not let go his hold on Christ. When we can plead with our own objections and fears, and say, Lord I will not give over; and with Jacob, ‘I will not let thee go till thou bless me,’ Gen. 32:26, and with Job, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,’ Job 13:15. Whatever displeasure the Lord seems to manifest against them, yet they will follow on in a way of trust: Phil. 3:12, ‘I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus,’ &c. Christ hath touched my heart, and I cannot be quiet till I have got him. This is a right disposition of heart. When Christ hath apprehended us, the soul follows on with an obstinate resolution, until it can apprehend Christ and take hold of the skirt of his garment.

Use 1. To put us upon the trial, Have we true faith? there is no acceptance with God without it. The great object of trial and search is faith: 2 Cor. 13:5, ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith,’ or in a believing state. Conviction mainly respects faith: John 16:9, ‘He shall convince the world of sin, because they believe not in me,’ without it, we are liable to the power and curse of the law against sinners. Faith makes the difference among men before God: Gal. 5:6, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.’ When God proceedeth to judgment against sinners, he doth not ask, Is he baptized? is he civil? but doth he believe? there is the most important question in Christianity.

Now there are different degrees of faith: Matt 17:20, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed;’ Mark 8:26, ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ All the trees of God’s garden are not of the same growth and stature, there are cedars and shrubs. The least degree of faith is faith, as a drop of dew is water as well as a flood; and the lowest measure and grain of saving faith is grace; the motion of a child newly formed in the belly is an act of life, as well as the walking of a man. Some, like John Baptist, can only ‘spring in the womb;’ they have a seed of grace, though they be not grown up into a tree. In Christ’s family there are ‘little children,’ as well as ‘fathers,’ 1 John 2:12–14. Christ himself was once a little stone, though he grew a great mountain, that filled the whole earth. All plants in Christ’s garden are growing when they are young and weak. We must not despise the day of small things; we must look indeed chiefly after truth, not growth. It is well if we endure the touchstone, though not the balance: 2 Tim. 1:5, ‘When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee;’ the question will be resolved into that at last. There is a counterfeit faith that is not profitable. Simon Magus believed, Acts 8:13; and many believed in Christ’s name, to whom he would not commit himself, John 2:23, 24. When the devil destroyed men, he doth not forbid them to believe; he changeth himself into an angel of light. Presumption is rather of means than of end; most deceive themselves with a false faith. There is nothing but the devil can counterfeit it—Felix trembled, Esau wept, Ahab humbled himself, Simon Magus believed, Judas repented, Pharaoh prayed, Saul confessed, Balaam desired, the Pharisee reformed—we had need to look to ourselves. But how shall we state the marks by which men may come to the knowledge of their state? especially, how shall we discern what is true faith? In the first times of the gospel the difficulty lay without; the gospel was a novel doctrine, opposed by worldly powers; bleak winds that blow in our backs blew in their faces. The gospel, as a novel doctrine, was represented with prejudices, opposed with scorn and extremity of violence; there was more in assent than now in affiance. Now the gospel by long prescription and the veneration of ages hath gotten a just title to our belief; there is nothing in a literal and uneffectual assent. Every man pretendeth to esteem Christ, and acknowledge Christ for saviour of the world; how shall we disprove them? The scriptures are rather a treasury of doctrines than a register of experiences. But yet we are not wholly left in the dark; by the light of the Spirit the doctrines of the word may be suited to all cases. The scripture is not such a dark rule but that it will discover the thoughts of the heart; and what is this faith unfeigned, the minimum quod sic, the least degree of faith, without which we are not accepted?

I might answer generally, that the least degree of true faith beginneth in contrition, and endeth in a care of obedience. But because there may be in the wicked some occasional doubtings, such as arise by starts out of the trouble of an evil conscience and some smooth moralities, that may look like gospel reformation, we must go more particularly to work. I do again return the question, What is the lowest degree of true saving faith?’ By way of answer—

1. I shall show that the question is necessary to be determined, partly for the comfort of troubled consciences. God’s children are many times persuaded they have not faith, when indeed they have. It would be a great settlement if we could clear up the work of Christ: Mat. 17:20, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,’ &c. Though you have mountains of guilt, it is a great peevishness not to acknowledge the crumbs; we think we are dogs, but we have crumbs. To deny that you are Christ’s is not self-denial, but grace-denial, to belie God’s bounty: Cant. 1:5, ‘I am black, but comely;’ and ver. 2, ‘I sleep, but my heart waketh;’ Mark 9:24, ‘Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.’ And it is a ground of unthankfulness: Zech. 4:10, ‘Who hath despised the day of small things?’ God will be acknowledged in the low beginnings of grace. Partly as it is a ground of hope: Phil. 1:6, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that he, which hath begun a good work in you, will also perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;’ it is the bud of glory, a seed of everlasting life. The Spirit never forsaketh us, something is to be done till the day of judgment; the soul is exactly purified at death, and the body will be raised at the great day. It is an advantage to be able to urge deliverance from the lion and bear; the great Philistine shall also be overcome, only we must not rest in those beginnings. Initial grace is but counterfeit, unless it receive growth and access; things that are nipped in the bud show that the plant is not right.

2. It is possible to find out the least and lowest degree of faith. Scriptures show that there is a beginning, upon which we may conclude an interest in Christ: Heb. 3:14, ‘For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως, the beginning of our confidence, stedfast unto the end,’ if we retain the first principles and encouragements to believe; if we can hold it out, we are safe. There are some grains and initials of faith; and the scripture discovereth what they are, for it layeth down the essentials of faith, we are not left in the dark.

Having premised these things, let me come now to show what it is, because faith is a capacious word, and involveth the whole progress of the soul to Christ. It is hard to state this matter in one word, unless it were as ambiguous as the question itself; therefore I shall take liberty to dilate and enlarge myself, by showing you what is most necessary, and what are the lowest and most infant workings of faith.

[1.] There must be out of a deep conviction a removing of our own righteousness. Affiance beginneth in self-diffidence. Faith implieth that we are touched in conscience, and that the heart is elevated above self, utterly abhorring our own merits: Ps. 147:3, ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. Faith is a seed of heaven, not found in unploughed or fallow ground—a sound conviction of self-nothingness, especially if joined with addresses to grace, is a good evidence of it. The soul looketh upon all that it hath or can do, like a ship without a bottom, to be a hindrance, not a gain; and unless Christ help they are utterly and eternally lost: Phil. 3:7–9; ‘What things were gain to me, those I counted lost for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God through faith.’ The soul in this condition is between life and death; it is a twilight in the soul, neither perfect day nor perfect night, like a child in the place of breaking forth of children; if we be not still-born we are in a fair way of faith; if we run to mercy, there is hope. ‘The publican, that smote his hand upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner, went down to his house justified rather than the other,’ Luke 18:13, 14. The parable is spoken against those that trusted in themselves, that they were righteous. Discovering of an ill condition may be sometimes in the wicked, but the soul is not purged from carnal confidence and set to work upon the mere warrant of God’s grace.

[2.] An esteem of Christ. In faith there is not only a conviction of the understanding, but some motion of the will; all motions of the will are founded in esteem. This is a low fruit of faith: 1 Peter 2:7, ‘To them that believe he is precious.’ To an hungry conscience Christ is more precious than all the world besides; he seeth the truth and preciousness of the rich offers of grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, the sweetest happiest tidings that ever sounded in his ears, and entertaineth it with the best and dearest welcomes of his heart, it is better than life. This is the same with ‘tasting the good word of God,’ Heb. 6:5, only it is more constant. Carnal men may have a vanishing and fleeting glance, but these are serious and spiritual motions and affections of the heart towards Christ. Wicked men soon lose their relish and taste, like those that cheapen things, and taste them, but do not like the price. This maketh us part with all: Mat. 13:44, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like to a treasure hid in a field, the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.’ This esteem begetteth self-denial; estate, credit, friends, all shall go, so I may enjoy Christ. Wicked men have some relish; they prize Christ in pangs of conscience. All apostasy cometh from a low estimation of Christ after a taste; it is the highest profaneness: Heb. 12:16, ‘Profane Esau, for one morsel of meat, sold his birthright.’ Well then, is Christ precious? Dost thou embrace the reconciliation that he hath purchased with all thy heart?

There is but one objection against this act and disposition of faith; this prizing of Christ seemeth but a natural act. Esteem is pure when it is drawn forth upon religious reasons; these acts are not gracious, because the ground is carnal—viz., offers of nature after ease. How will you do to comfort a troubled conscience that maketh this reply? It is but a natural motion after ease; we look on Christ for comfort?

(1) Answer, (1.) By setting before him the indulgence of God. We may make use of God’s motives; he suffereth us to begin in the flesh, that we may end in the spirit: Mat. 11:28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ There is faith when we trust Christ upon his own word. If a prince should offer a general pardon to rebels, with a promise that he would restore their blood, and now they lay down their arms and submit to mercy, it is counted an act of obedience. If Christ maketh proclamation, Come, and I will ease you, do you think it is a wrong faith to take him at his word, and to love him for his condescension?

(2.) To press him to perfect these acts. It is good to be doing rather than censuring. Idle complaints do but vex the soul. Those rebels that submit to a prince because of his pardon may afterwards enter into an entire friendship. Christ is lovely in himself; by acquaintance our affections grow more pure. We first esteem him out of hope, and then out of gratitude. Love to his person is the fruit of experience. In a treaty of marriage, the first proposals are estate and conveniences of life; conjugal affection groweth by society and commerce. It is a good advantage to love Christ upon any terms.

(3.) By discovering the mistake. There is some spirituality of esteem when we can prize a pardon and acceptance with God. Bastard motives are fame, and ease, and worldly honour, and the sunshine of worldly countenance. Besides, this esteem of Christ ariseth from a spiritual reason, because we are unsatisfied in our own righteousness: Phil. 3:7, 8, ‘What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.’ Because we have a low esteem of ourselves, therefore we have a high esteem of Christ. Now it is an effect of grace to prize Christ for his righteousness, which is the esteem that groweth out of sound conviction.

Another act which ariseth out of this is a resolution to cast ourselves upon Christ; then faith is budded and formed. Rolling upon Christ is the formal, vital act of faith; and a sound purpose of acknowledging him for a saviour is the lowest degree of that act. And therefore if, out of a sight of thy own lost condition and an esteem of Christ, thou resolvest to cast thyself upon him, thou dost truly believe. Partly because in this resolution there is a compliance with the decrees of heaven, of setting up Christ as the alone saviour of the world; this decree is ratified in the court of conscience. There is another decree passed and ratified with the consent of my will, that Christ shall be my saviour: Ps. 73:28, ‘It is good for me to draw nigh to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.’ There is recumbency or sincere adherence, which is the formal nature of faith, expressed by a believing on him. This resolution is always accompanied with a great confidence of the ableness of Christ to do us good: Mat. 9:21, ‘If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.’

Paul after experience had no more: 2 Tim. 1:12, ‘I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’ Partly because such an act findeth a sweeter welcome than it can expect. David received comfort upon it: Ps. 32:5, ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ ‘I will arise and go to my father,’ saith the prodigal, in Luke 15:18; ‘but when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him,’ ver. 20. Therefore, when a poor soul casts himself upon Christ with a purpose never to forsake him through God’s grace, I do not doubt to pronounce him a believer, though there be much doubts and uncertainty about the success of such addresses. As a man falling into a river, espieth a bough of a tree, and catcheth at it with all his might, as soon as he hath fast hold of it, he is safe, though troubles and fears do not presently vanish out of his mind; so the soul, espying Christ as the only means to save him, and reaching out the hand to him, is safe, though it be not presently quieted and pacified.

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