What is Faith?
by Gilbert Beebe
Webster defines the word as signifying “Belief; assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting on his authority and veracity, without other evidence.” And what he denominates Evangelical faith, justifying and saving faith, he says is the “assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation, on the authority of God’s testimony, accompanied with a cordial assent of the will, or approbation of the heart.” And this definition is established by the colleges and universities of our country generally, and indorsed by all Arminians and legalists everywhere. But the definition of the term as used in the Scriptures, as defined by the inspired apostles, differs very widely from the popularly received definitions of men. The apostle John speaks of it as a child from heaven, born of God, and inspired with heavenly life, and triumphing over the world. “For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world: even our faith.” That faith which is the creature of the carnal mind of man, the mere assent of the judgment of our fleshly mind, although cordially received and confidently relied upon, is but, at best, a creature of our own, born of the flesh, and can no more overcome the world, than can the flesh itself; because no stream can rise above its fountain. Differing then, in parentage and birth as widely as the distance between earth and heaven, these two kinds of faith have no vital relationship with each other. The faith produced by the convictions of our natural judgment, however cordially assented to or indorsed by the will of man, is nevertheless a child of earth, which, could it overcome the world, would overcome itself, as it is an element of the world. But that faith which is of God, and in God, is the faith of the Son of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ is himself the author and the finisher of it. This is the faith of God’s elect. By it, all the saints are distinguished from the world, as none can possess it unless they be born of God, and as without it no man can please God. We do not understand that the birth of faith is distinct from the birth of the saints; but an element of the new, heavenly and spiritual birth, which is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; that birth which is of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever; and, therefore, unlike the flesh, which is grass, and the goodliness thereof, which is the flower of grass, for they must wither and fall away; but the word of the Lord, the source, fountain and origin of true faith, liveth and abideth forever. This true and living faith is, then, an element of the heaven-born child of God, and only by it can we overcome the world, the flesh and the devil; only by it can we approach the throne of grace, draw nigh unto God, or cry Abba, Father. For he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and the belief in God’s being and perfections is the act of vital faith.
This heaven-begotten and heaven-born faith, is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. It is more than a shadow, for a shadow is not the substance of anything, though shadows do prove the existence of substances which cast them, and to some extent may portray the outline or shape of the substance of which they are the shadows, yet they have no substance in themselves. Thus in the ceremonial law, the meats, drinks, sabbath days and new moons were the shadow of good things to come; but the body, or substance, is Christ. And as the faith of the gospel is the faith of Jesus Christ, and as the righteousness which alone can justify us before God is by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved us and given himself for us, so it must be a substance, in distinction from all shadows, passions or exercises of the natural mind, or energies of unrenewed men. The christian’s faith and hope are inseparably associated, and must operate together in the spiritual exercises of the saints while in their pilgrimage state. Faith is not the substance of hope, but it is the substance of the things hoped for, by the christian. The things hoped for by the new man are spiritual, heavenly and eternal, for it enters within the veil, and is fixed on things which are not seen by the natural perceptions of men. Nothing short of the faith of the Son of God can make real, or give substance to, the things thus hoped for. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but he hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; and all the revelations of the Spirit to us are made to our faith. Hypocrites may hope, but their hope shall perish; for it is ideal, having no substance. But the hope of the christian is a reality, and faith points to Christ as the Hope of Israel, and the Savior thereof, and gives reality to the things hoped for; and until hope shall yield to fruition, it is the substance of the things hoped for, as well as the evidence of things not seen; of eternal things, which are imperceptible to the eye or intelligence of unregenerated men. “While,” says Paul, “we look not on the things which are seen; but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” We could not hope, in a gospel sense, for spiritual and eternal things which are not seen, if faith did not present them; hence faith is the substance on which hope is sustained, and just in proportion to the development of faith in us, will be the steadfastness of our hope, so far as christian experience is concerned. When our faith is not in manifest exercise in our hearts, our hope flags, and we approach the borders of despair, and in great anxiety cry out, My hope is perished from the Lord! But the renewed manifestation of our faith, obtaining a victory over the world, says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” The faith that is born of God will lay hold of and indorse no other doctrine than that of God our Savior; it will point out no other path for the saints to walk in but that which Christ has marked out by his precepts and examples, and it will admit as genuine, no other experience than that which is led by the Spirit of God. And while all other kinds of faith may be attainable by the powers of the flesh, and when attained, can join affinity with other kinds of the faith, that of which we speak can only come from God, and never can be known or felt by any while in an unquickened state, and when implanted in the heart, will not amalgamate with the faith of men nor of devils.
Another peculiarity of this faith is that it will endure trials of the greatest severity, and God has ordained that it shall be tried. All the sore afflictions, tribulations, persecutions and temptations to which the saints of God are subject, are designed for the trial of their faith, and when it shall be sufficiently tried, they who possess it shall come forth as gold, purified and refined. The power of faith shall be known by all the saints, in its victories over the world, the flesh and the devil. It shall triumph over death, and vanquish the gloom and terror of the grave. As in times past it has quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness made strong, caused the saints to wax valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens, women receiving their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might receive a better resurrection, others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings; yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonments, they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. And what shall we more say? for time would fail to tell of Gideon, of Barak, and of Sampson, and of Jepthae, of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. This invincible, almighty faith by which all these victories were gained is directly ascribed, in this very connection, to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the author and the finisher of it. Into the unity of this faith all the saints of God thus far developed have come; and into it all the redeemed of the Lord shall ultimately be brought; for, There is one faith, even as there is one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all, one body, one Spirit and one hope of our calling.
Having briefly treated on the nature, the origin, the peculiarities, the power and vitality of this faith, and labored to discriminate between it and all other kinds of faith, we will close by inquiring whether we, dear brethren, are in possession of it, and by pointing out some of the reliable evidences of its existence in our hearts.
The apostle has said, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.” How important is this investigation; in nothing can we be more deeply interested. Without this faith, we may please men, we may gain the applause of the world, we may gratify the lusts of our carnal nature; but without it we cannot please God. In its absence we cannot know God nor approach him. Only by it can we rest upon the provisions and gracious promises of the gospel, find access to the throne of grace, understand the truth, endure the trials of the way, quench the fiery darts of Satan, overcome the world, have communion with God, fellowship with his saints, or finally pass the chilling terrors of death and the grave without fear or dread. What are the evidences of its existence in our hearts? Of the many which God has graciously given, we can at this time only mention a few:
First. The faith of the Son of God in our hearts is always associated with hope and charity. Now abideth faith, hope and charity these three. If, then, we have the faith, just as its power is manifested in us, to the same extent will our hope be established in God, and our charity, or love, flow to God and to all who bear his image. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts will centre in God as its author and source, in his people, his truth, his government, his laws, his ordinances, and all the privileges of his church.
Second. Having this faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, or, in other words, are reconciled to God, rejoice that he is God, that he has all power in heaven and in earth; that he reigns supreme over all beings, all worlds, and all events, that he has numbered the hairs of our head, and will not suffer one of them to fall unbidden of him to the ground.
Third. If we have this faith, we shall learn by experience that we cannot control it, exercise or enlarge it; but on the contrary, it will assuredly control, exercise and govern us.
Fourth. Having this faith, we shall assuredly also have doubts, fears, trials, temptations and great conflicts with the world, the flesh and Satan, for our faith must be tried, that its power may be understood and appreciated.
Fifth. If our faith be of the operation of God, it will give us such views of the perfections, power and majesty of God, that we shall abhor ourselves, in dust and ashes, while we admire, gaze and wonder at the amazing power and grace displayed in our salvation.
Sixth. This faith will lead us to trust alone in God for our eternal salvation, and for the salvation of all his redeemed family, while it will effectually destroy in us all confidence in the flesh. The more we know of God, by faith, the greater will be our confidence to resign our present interest and our eternal destiny to his hands, and beg that we may not be left to be filled like Ephraim, with our own ways.
In proportion as we feel the reigning power of this faith in our hearts, we shall be ready, willing and anxious to honor, praise, revere, obey and glorify God. It will lead us to love the assembling of the saints, to frequent the house of prayer, to pray for the prosperity of Zion, and to follow after those things which make for peace, and things whereby one may edify another. And under its power each of its recipients will be led to esteem others better than himself. And although we may feel poor, and weak, and altogether unworthy of a place or name among the children of God, we shall feel an irresistible drawing of heart and soul to be in their company and fellowship.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y., June 15, 1860.