Archibald Alexander on Faith and Love

“But another reason why so many divine acts are attributed to faith is, because other exercises are included in the description of faith, which though they always accompany it, ought not to be confounded with it. It was, two hundred years ago, a question much agitated among the divines of Holland, whether love entered into the essence of faith. And in our own country, faith and love have not been kept distinct. A very prevalent system of theology makes the essence of faith to be love. Much evil arises from confounding what are so clearly distinguished in the Word of God. If faith and love were identical, how could it be said that “faith works by love”? (Gal 5:6) The apostle Paul speaks of faith, hope, and love, as so distinct, that, although they are all necessary, they may be compared as to excellency—”The greatest of these is charity”. (1 Cor 13:13) The celebrated Witsius, in his Economy of the Covenants, in describing faith, among the various acts which he attributes to this divine principle, reckons “love of the truth”, (2 Thess 2:10) and “hungering and thirsting after Christ”. (Matt 5:6) Now, it is an abuse of language to say that faith loves or desires; faith works by love, and excites hungering and thirsting desires after Christ.”

“But, it may be asked, if these graces are inseparably connected, why be so solicitous to distinguish them? First, because in so doing we follow the sacred writers; secondly, because it has a bad effect to use a Scriptural word to express what it was never designed to express; and, thirdly, because of the special office of faith in a sinner’s justification; in which neither love nor any other grace has any part, although they are the effects of faith. When love is confounded with a justifying faith, it is very easy to slide into the opinion that as love is the substance of evangelical obedience, when we are said to be justified by faith, the meaning is, that we are justified by our own obedience. And accordingly, in a certain system of divinity valued by many, the matter is thus stated: faith is considered a comprehensive term for all evangelical obedience. The next step is—and it has already been taken by some—that our obedience is meritorious, and when its defects are purged by atoning blood it is sufficient to procure for us a title to eternal life. Thus have some, boasting of the name of Protestants, worked around, until they have fallen upon one of the most offensive tenets of Popery. But it would be difficult to bring a true penitent to entertain the opinion that his own works were meritorious, or could in the least recommend him to God. The whole of God’s dealings with the souls of His own people effectually dispel from their minds every feeling of this kind. The very idea of claiming merit is most abhorrent to their feelings.”

“But while it is of importance to distinguish faith from every other grace, yet it is necessary to insist on the fact that that faith which does not produce love and other holy affections is not a genuine faith. In the apostles’ days a set of libertines arose who boasted of their faith—but they performed no good works to evince the truth of their faith. Against such the apostle James writes, and proves that such a faith was no better than that of devils, and would justify no man; that the faith of Abraham and other believers, which did justify, was not a dead faith—but living; not a barren faith—but productive of good works, and proved itself to be genuine by the acts of duty which it induced the believer to perform.”

(Thoughts on Religious Experience, 74-75)

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