AFTER considering the office of Faith, it fitly follows to inquire what it is, both in itself, and as existing in the regenerate. This I propose now to do, and in doing it shall have the guidance of a text, which approaches as nearly as any statement in Scripture to a formal definition:—"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Our Church has nowhere defined faith. The Articles are entirely silent; and though the Homilies contain many popular descriptions, they present, as is natural, nothing consistent and accurate.
Religious faith is "the substance," or the realizing of what as yet is not here, but only "hoped for;" it is the making present what is future. Again: it is "the evidence" of what is not seen, that is, the ground or medium of proof, on or through which the unseen is accepted as really existing. In the way of nature, we ascertain the things around and before us, by sight; and things which are to be, by reason; but faith is our informant about things present which we do not see, and things future which we cannot forecast. And as sight contemplates form and colour, and reason the processes of argument, so faith rests on the divine word as the token and criterion of truth. And as the mind trusts to sense and reason, by a natural instinct, which it freely uses prior to experience, so in a parallel way, a moral instinct, independent of experience, is its impelling and assuring principle in assenting to revelation as divine. By faith then is meant the mind's perception or apprehension of heavenly things, arising from an instinctive trust in the divinity or truth of the external word, informing it concerning them. Whether it acts upon that knowledge so obtained, depends upon something beyond with which we are not now concerned,—its particular moral state in a given case.
In other words, faith, as such, is not a practical principle or peculiar to religious men. Thus, in matters of this world, men believe, but are not influenced, unless they feel the matter to be important. On the other hand, if they are interested in it, they believe what they otherwise would not believe. So far, then, from faith directly causing action, action in a particular case may depend on circumstances on which faith also depends. Accordingly, there is nothing in the text to confine its definition to religious faith, except the indirect expression "hoped for;" which no one would say was strictly part of the definition. None, doubtless, but religious men can hope for what God's word announces; but leaving out this incidental word, the text might even be taken to describe the faith of evil spirits, which St. James both recognises as faith, and discriminates from religious faith. Religious men believe and "hope;" "the devils believe and tremble." They believe in a judgment to come, for on one occasion they exclaimed against being "tormented before their time;" and on what, but on God's infallible word announcing it? Thus dread and despair are inseparable attendants upon the devils' faith; hope and trust upon religions faith; but both are in their nature one and the same faith, as being simply the acceptance of God's word about the future and unseen. Religious faith is nothing else but the faith of the religious, and despairing faith is the faith of the despairing. Dead faith is the faith of the dead; lively faith is the faith of the living. Justifying faith, strictly speaking, is not trust, or adherence, or devotedness, though in familiar language it allowably be so called, but faith,—the faith of trusting, adhering, devoted minds.
Faith, then, is not a virtue or grace in its abstract nature; else evil spirits could not possess it. It is so only under circumstances or in the particular case; Abraham's faith involved self-denial, the Blessed Virgin's faith implied love and hope. Faith is but an instrument, acceptable when its possessor is acceptable. And in this respect it differs from most other virtues, that it is not an excellence, except it be grafted into a heart that has grace. The devils cannot have love, humility, meekness, purity, or compassion,—they have faith. When, however, it is so grafted, then it makes progress, and the last becomes the first. "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." And then it becomes the instrument of securing that favour which more properly attaches to the soul exercising it; as the eye is said to see, whereas it is the organ of the mind.