I am in this Lecture to consider the system of doctrine arising out of the belief that Faith, not Baptism, is the instrument of justification. What I think of that system may be gathered from what I say as I proceed. I have tried to delineate it fairly; at the same time I am sensible that I shall seem not to have pursued the subject to its limits. Yet I think I have reached the limits of the meaning of those who have brought it into discussion; and if I am obscure, it is because I have to use their language.
Its advocates then suppose that Faith is the one principle which God's grace makes use of for restoring us to His favour and image. Born in sin, and the heir of misery, the soul needs an utter change of what it is by nature, both within and without, both in itself and in God's sight. The change in God's sight is called justification, the inward change is regeneration; and faith is the one appointed means of both at once. It is awakened in us by the secret influences of the Holy Spirit, generally co-operating with some external means, as the written word; and, as embracing the news of salvation through Christ, it thereby also appropriates salvation, becoming at the same time the element and guarantee of subsequent renewal. As leading the soul to rest on Christ as its own Saviour, and as the propitiation of its own sins in particular, it imparts peace to the conscience, and the comfortable hope of heaven; and, as being living, spiritual, and inseparable from gratitude towards Christ, it abounds in fruit, that is in good works of every kind.
Such is the first general sketch which may be given of this doctrine, according to which justification means a change in God's dealings with us and faith means trust. Our Article too so understands the word justification; so we need not stop to consider it here. Let us rather confine ourselves to the examination of what is meant by faith or trust, to which such great effects are ascribed.
It is commonly found the most ready answer to this inquiry to enlarge upon what it is not. Accordingly, it is not unusual to explain that faith is not mere belief in the being of a God, nor in the historical fact that Christ has come on earth, suffered and ascended. Nor is it the submission of the reason to mysteries, nor the sort of trust which is required for exercising the gift of miracles. Nor, again, is it the knowledge and acceptance of the sacred truths of the New Testament, even the Atonement, however accurate that knowledge, however implicit that acceptance. It is neither the faith of Judas who healed diseases, nor of Simon Magus who submitted to baptism, nor of Demas who might be orthodox in his creed, nor of devils who "believe and tremble." All such kinds of faith are put aside as fictitious, as not deserving the name, and as having no connection whatever, except in the accident of an homonymous term, with that faith which justifies.
Such justifying faith or trust is supposed to be, considered negatively: when a more direct account of it is demanded, answer is made as follows;—that it is a spiritual principle, altogether different from anything we have by nature, endued with a divine life and efficacy, and producing a radical change in the soul: or more precisely, that it is a trust in Christ's merits and in them alone for salvation. It is regarded as that very feeling exercised towards our Almighty Benefactor, which we are on the contrary warned against, when directed towards anything earthly, as riches, or an arm of flesh. It is the feeling under which we flee in any great temporal danger to some place or means of refuge; the feeling under which the servant in the parable asked forgiveness of his debt, with a simple admission that it lay solely and entirely with his lord to grant it. It consists then in a firm reliance on Christ's mercifulness towards even the worst of sinners who come to Him,—an experimental conviction that the soul needs a Saviour, and a full assurance that He can and will be such to it,—a thankful acceptance of His perfect work,—an exaltation and preference of Him above all things,—a surrender of the whole man to Him,—a submission to His will,—a perception and approval of spiritual things,—a feeling of the desirableness of God's service,—a hatred of sin,—a confession of utter unworthiness,—a self-abhorrence of what is past,—and a resolution, in dependence on God's grace, to do better in future. Some such description is often given of it; or, in a word, it is spoken of as being, or implying all at once, love, gratitude, devotion, belief, holiness, repentance, hope, dutifulness, and all other graces.