Witsius On Aspects Of True Faith

A True faith in God through Jesus Christ is the principal act of that spiritual life, which is begun in the elect by regeneration, as well as the fountain head, from whence, all those living works which follow after regeneration, proceed: the nature of this faith we are now about to explain. It is not any one single habit or act of the soul, nor ought it to be restrained to one faculty thereof only; but it is something made up of various acts, which, though not in a confused manner, may interfere one with the other, and in a kind of delightful fellowship and union, promote and help each other, and this constantly. It imports a change of the whole man, is the spring of the whole spiritual life; and lastly, it denotes a holy diligence and energy of the whole soul towards God in Christ, so that its full compass can scarcely be comprehended in a distinct manner under any one single idea.

Let not any one wonder, that we include so many things under the name of one Christian virtue; for as a person speaking of life, designs to express by that word, something, that diffusing itself throughout the whole soul, and all its faculties, is communicated also to the body, and extends itself to all the actions of a living person; so, when we speak of faith, which is the fruitful fountain of the whole, spiritual life, we would have that understood to be signified, which pervades all the faculties, and is exactly calculated to unite them with Christ, and thus enliven, sanctify and make them blessed.

We must observe by the way, that amongst those acts which we are about to describe, there is one in particular, in which we think the formal reason and essence of faith, so far as it unites us with Christ and justifies us, consists. And this is to be carefully observed in the business of justification, lest any one should look upon those acts of charity which in different ways are connected with the practice of faith, as the causes of justification.

…First, That which faith comprehends, or at least supposes, is a knowledge of the things which are to be believed. This, in contradiction to the absurdity of the Papists, is very plain, I from the scriptures; which so speak of faith, as manifestly to give us to understand, that knowledge is included in the very idea, as well as the practice of faith, Isa. 53:11. John 17:3. compared with Hab. 2:4. John 6:69. 2 Tim. 1:3. II. From the very nature of faith, which, as it speaks of an assent given to a truth revealed by God, and that without any doubting, necessarily presupposes the knowledge of these two things, 1. That God has revealed something. 2. What that something is, which faith assents to as divinely revealed. For to say that a person assents to any truth, which he is ignorant of, and concerning which, he knows not whether there be any testimony extant which is worthy of credit, is absurd.

…To this knowledge must be joined an assent, which is the second act of faith, by which a person receives and acknowledges as truths, the things he knows, receiving the testimony of God, and thus setting to his seal that God is true, John 3:33. This assent is most especially founded upon the infallible veracity of God, who beareth testimony of himself and of his Son, 1 John 5:9, 10. on which testimony revealed in the scriptures, and shedding forth all around the rays of its divinity, the faithful soul relies with no less safety, than if it had actually been present and an immediate party in those things that are revealed. For when the soul enlightened by the Spirit of God, perceives those divine truths, and seeth in them a certain divine excellency, and a most wife and indissoluble connection of the whole, it cannot but assent to a truth which forces itself upon it with so many arguments, and as securely admits, what it thus knows, for certainty, as if it had seen it with its own eyes, or handled it with its hands, or had been taken up into the third heaven, and heard it immediately from God. Let the lust of the flesh murmur, or let vain sophists argue what they may, though perhaps the soul may not be able to answer or solve all objections, it still persists in the acknowledgment of this truth, which it sees too clearly, and has heard too certainly, as it were, from the mouth of God, ever to suffer itself to be drawn away from it by any sophistry. I have not, saith the believing soul, followed cunningly devised fables in believing the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but, in the spirit, have I beheld his Majesty, and heard, as it were, his voice from heaven, 2 Pet. 1:16, 18. So that faith is accompanied with what is called substance and evidence, Heb. 11:1. full persuasion or plerophory, Rom. 4:21. Of the signification of which words, it may not be unuseful to consider a little.

… It is true that love, strictly speaking, is distinguished from faith; but nevertheless the acts of each are so interwoven with one another, that we can never explain nor exercise faith without some acts of love interfering. This is an observation of some of the greatest divines before me, each of which cites that saying of St. Austin—What is it to believe in God? by believing to love.

… What follows this hunger and thirst, is the receiving the Lord Christ for justification, for sanctification, and thus for complete salvation: and this is the fifth, and indeed the formal and chief act of faith, which is thus—the heavenly Father freely offers the Son, Christ the Lord freely offers Himself, with all his benefits, and fulness of salvation which resides in Him, to the sick and weary soul, saying, Is. 65:1. Behold me! behold me! and the soul now conscious of its own misery, considering the fulness of the salvation that is in Christ, with joy and hope, and eagerly desiring communion with Him, cannot help apprehending and receiving so great a good offered to it; and thus by accepting it, makes it its own: by this act Christ is made the peculiar property of the believing soul; so that whatever is Christ’s, and offered together with Christ, the believer claims to himself: and first, of all the righteousness of Christ, which is the foundation of salvation, and thus by apprehending Christ, is united to Him. The believer being thus united to Christ, is deemed and looked upon to have done and suffered, whatever things Christ, so far as He was a surety did and suffered in his stead. Thus it is easily to be understood in what manner we are justified by faith in Christ.

Herman Witsius | A Treatise on Christian Faith, trans. Martin Madan (London, 1761), (pages 1, 2, 3, 7, 15, 18).


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