- I. The New Testament Conception.
- The Background (§ 1).
- The Teaching of Jesus (§ 2).
- Paul (§ 3).
II. The Doctrine in Theology.
- Before the Reformation (§ 1).
- The Reformation and Modern Theology (§ 2).
- Faith in Systematic Theology (§ 3).
I. The New Testament Conception:
I. The Background.
Like every New Testament conception, the idea of faith goes to the Old Testament for the key to its meaning. It was born when the political fortunes of Israel entered on their decline. The division of the kingdom and the increasing helplessness of a small state lying across the highway between Mesopotamia and Egypt conditioned its growth and character. It dealt with the future of the nation (Isa. vii. 9, viii. 17, xxvi. 1 sqq., xxviii. 16). As secular conditions grew less favorable, the mind of the representative Israelite, the prophet, stayed itself more and more on the living God, the base and spring of the nation's existence. Thus the idea of faith is inseparable from the development of prophetic monotheism. It is bound up with the unity and holiness of God and with the divine dominance over nature and history.
Faith is man's part in the self-revelation of God, the method of which is vitally connected with its matter. God reveals himself through the experience and history of the chosen nation, and faith is man's assent to God's self-revelation in and through the nation's experience. By means of faith, the divine control over nature and history in the interest of a distant but authoritative moral end is vitally apprehended so as to constitute the very pith and marrow of man's moral nature. It is an act of trust, a bias and bent of the working will in man's breast, a mood in which he waits steadfastly and joyously for God's assertion of his right of way in history (Isa. xxxviii. 16; Hab. iii. 17-19).
In prophetism a supreme conception is only half blocked out. The essential quality of faith is disclosed, but its scope and method are not clearly apprehended. Judaism did much to supplement the work of later prophetism (Jeremiah and Ezekiel). The subjective side of life was developed. The nation ceased to be the exclusive unit of thought and emotion, and the individual came, in some degree, to his rights. In apocalyptics (the Book of Daniel, etc.) the divine control of history is wrought up into a splendid imaginative presentation that has vast power of appeal to the common consciousness. All this helped to enrich the conception of faith. But with the gain came a heavy loss. The apocalyptist weakened the connection between the moral ideal and the forces of history, so that the moral end becomes more or less detached from the moral process.
2. The Teaching of Jesus.
It was the Savior who restored the sound connection between prophecy and history. The staple of his thought was the messianic idea, the national hope of Israel. But by fulfilling the ideal of the suffering servant of the Lord he transcended Judaism. Of the two methods which his age proposed to him, the violence of the zealot and the dualistic pessimism of the apocalyptist (IV Esdras), he chose neither. He realized the kingdom of God in character, the character of man built upon the character, that is to say, the fatherhood of God. The kingdom of God is in the heart and under the eye of those who have eyes to see (Luke xvii. 21). The law of its realization is the law of service (Mark x. 45). The thought of force is expelled from the idea of God and the conception of man (Matt. xxvi. 52). The Savior carried the messianic idea out of politics (Matt. xxii. 21), but without weakening the hold of the moralizing will in God and man upon history. Saving faith, with Jesus as with the prophets, means an entire confidence in the divine control of nature and history. But by laying the foundations of eschatology in character, the Savior fulfilled the logic of prophetism and achieved spiritual and moral universalism without the loss of social vigor and organizing power (Sermon on the Mount; John xiii.-xvii.).
The work of Christ was summed up in the founding of a church or community devoted to his person and committed to his views and claims. This community was a new type. Its dominant mental quality was the open vision of the kingdom of God manifesting itself in ecstatic forms (the glossolalia, and I Cor. ii. 9 sqq.; see ECSTASY), not capable of translation into terms of the common good (I Cor. xiv. 20-25). But its fundamental quality was constructive prophecy (I Cor. xiv. 12), the ethical interpretation of contemporary society and history ("signs of the times") in their bearing on the well-being and destiny of the Christian communities. The creed of these communities was the belief in the triumph of the crucified Savior (Acts ii.-vii.), expressing itself in the impassioned conviction of his resurrection and second coming. This faith was the cleansing element in life (Acts xv. 9), freeing the heart of the believer from fears regarding the inability or unwillingness of God to keep the promises made to the fathers (Acts iii. 20), and inspiring a joyous confidence in the end of the Christian's personal and social existence, which gave to the imitation of Jesus a saving and redemptive aspect (St. Stephen's dying prayer). This community is a messianic community. Dedication to the eternal, the common good, is the essence of its life (hapanta koina, Acts ii. 44, iv. 32). The entire community is pledged to belief in the reality and imminence of God's sway (parousia). And faith in its essence is this practical Old Testament conviction, made radiant and all-controlling by the life of Christ. It is this stage of the New Testament development of faith that is represented by the Epistle of James and the First Epistle of Peter.
It was the work of Paul to go to the root of the great conception first shaped by the Hebrew prophets. He did this, not by outgrowing the primitive Christian eschatology (for Christianity is fundamentally eschatologic), but by applying the work and mind of Christ to the ultimate problem, the problem of character as personality. His conversion flushed his emotions with the feeling of the divine creativeness (I Cor. xv. 8; Eph. iii. 8). His work as missionary to the Gentiles deepened this experience. It was given to him to build congregations of Christians from the ground (I Cor. i. 26 sqq.; Rom. iv. 17-18). The creative character of God manifested in Christ became the starting-point of his thinking.
When the Judaizing Christians denied his standing as an apostle and sought to stamp his work with their own views, he was driven to a fundamental analysis of the prophetic term faith, and to turn its creative and critical force against the Pharisaic conception of religious merit (erga nomou). How is true character or personality (dikaiosun) possible? Of course the Pauline conception of righteousness differs from the conception entertained by the Hebrew prophets; four centuries of Judaism have intervened; the subjective mood is far stronger; the individual is the center of gravity. Yet the apostle continued to think along prophetic lines. He differed broadly from the monastical individual of a later age. While the salvation of the individual is his conscious aim, he thinks about the individual's blessings in terms of the common good (I Cor. ii. 9-10, xiii.). The point in question is God's ability and willingness to keep his promise of a heavenly commonwealth (Rom. iii. 4; II Cor. i. 20). To be saved by Christ is to have been brought into quickening relation with the supreme hope (Rom. viii. 24). The two great ethical terms righteousness and right, which with the separation of Church from State become more or less separated and specialized, must be brought together in thought if we are to interpret aright the words of Rom. i. 16-17.
Paul's monotheism is best contrasted with Aristotle's. To use more or less inaccurate terms, Paul's conception is an "ethical monotheism," while Aristotle's is metaphysical. That is to say, Aristotle's final statement is in terms of pure reason, while Paul's is in terms of common and social wellbeing. It is in the unity between Jew and Gentile that for him the mystery of things centers (mystrion, Rom. xi. 25 sqq.; Eph. ii. 11-iii. 19). The religious and social unity of the Mediterranean world was his supreme object. As with Isaiah, so, on a different level, with Paul, the creative and vitalizing unity of God invading history through Christ is the all-controlling thought. God can efficiently manifest himself only in terms of human unity (Rom. iii. 27 sqq.; I Cor. i.-iv.; Phil. i. 27-ii. 11). A saving faith is, necessarily, a creatively social faith (the two editions of the trilogy: I Thess. i. 3, and I Cor. xiii. 13). Faith in Christ pledges the redeemed man to the realization of the kingdom of God (Gal. v. 6).
In the Epistle to the Hebrews the Hellenistic or metaphysical element enters, coming from Alexandrine Judaism and its reflective view of revelation. But the Hellenic element is controlled and directed by the prophetic element. Faith is defined (xi. 1) as that state of the heart and that bias of will in men which gives substance to things hoped for and secures a solid conviction regarding the reality of things unseen. Here as elsewhere, faith is inseparable from the kingdom of God. The things hoped for are the messianic blessings promised by God through the prophets. Faith in Christ gives them a body, imparts to the conscience moral certitude touching the end and issues of history. Owing to the blending of the philosophical and prophetic elements in this definition the Church catholic adopted it as its working conception.
The different shades of meaning in New Testament writers serve to bring out more clearly the decisive agreement. Faith is the saving assent of the heart to Christ's proclamation of the supreme moral order described as the kingdom of God. The creedal conception of faith grows out of this conception, under the historical conditions of a later period in the Church. But, owing to those conditions, the creedal conception is not wholly true to the New Testament emphasis on the kingdom of God. Faith, in the New Testament sense, is man's perception of the spiritual and moral order of experience and life offered to man by God in Christ. But it is more than a perception. It is the supreme form of will-power in man. By faith he perceives, and in faith he wills and, under God, ordains the moral equality and the moral end of human history. Through the believer's self-surrender to the divine plan for the nation and the race, God gives him a righteousness that has vitalizing and unifying power among the complications of life, and at the same time, gives to society the promise of justice and right. Without this organizing power, faith shrivels to the individual's confidence in his personal salvation.
HENRY S. NASH.
II. The Doctrine in Theology:
I. Before the Reformation.
Faith, in the language of religion, is that personal attitude by which divine revelation is subjectively appropriated. With Paul it was the all-sufficient ground of righteousness and justification (Rom. iv. 22 sqq.)--a view which was soon obscured in the Christian Church. With the Apostolic Fathers the connection of faith with the attitude of love was more a postulate than an inherent necessity (I Clement x. 7, xii. 1; Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. VIII. ix. 1). Moralistic and intellectualistic thoughts of foreign origin penetrated Christianity and as early as Clement of Alexandria faith was supplanted by love as condition of salvation and by gnosis as the knowledge of revelation, and became nothing more than a rudimentary step in the development of the Christian. For Augustine, too, faith means only the "beginning of religion." To believe means cum assensione cogitare (De prædestinatione sanctorum, v.) and assent is obedience to the law of a formal authority which primarily is Scripture, but then also the Church. Faith is decisive for the reception of salvation only in so far as it is active through love. The consummating effect of grace is therefore the inspiration of love (inspiratio dilectionis). Similar thoughts were advanced by Anselm of Canterbury, and Peter Lombard first coined the expressions fides informis (=mere faith) and fides formata (=faith connected with love). Thomas Aquinas defines faith on the basis of Augustine's formula (cum assensione cogitare) as an act of the intellect which is impelled to assent by the will. Although in the last instance related to the first cause or deity, faith has reference principally to the Church; it is a faith of authority.
2. The Reformation and Modern Theology.
The Reformation gave back to faith its immediate relation to the revelation of salvation and understood it again in the Pauline sense as the personal apprehension of divine grace in Christ. Luther describes faith as a living trust of the heart. The assensus, according to him, is an assenting impulse of the will which originates in the impression of the truth of the divine word upon the conscience and heart. God's revelation, which awakens faith, sets all spiritual powers of man into motion, and the assent to his Word and knowledge of his grace are born only with the trust in salvation. Love can not be separated from faith. Melanchthon taught the same views, but in the later form of his Loci distinguished between notitia, assensus, fiducia, and prepared the way for the mechanical view of the later orthodox school which regarded notitia and assensus as preliminary steps of fiducia. Johann Gerhard advanced this view. According to it, a rational knowledge of divine revelation is necessary before we can inwardly assent to it. David Hollaz drew the consistent conclusion that such an abstract conviction of the truth of Scripture can be only a faith of authority.
In modern theology Schleiermacher's conception of religion as an original inner experience, distinguished from knowledge and action, has exercised a decisive influence upon the treatment of the conception of faith, by the establishment of a psychological scheme; but owing to his insufficient appreciation of historical revelation, his doctrine of faith bears the traits of a general religion rather than of the Christian faith of salvation. R. Rothe prepared the way for a more definite grasp of Christian faith by emphasizing more strongly the historical and yet at the same time supranatural element of revelation. A. Ritschl defined faith as trust (fiducia) in the revelation of God in Christ and demanded rightly that the faith of providence should be understood as the realization of the Christian faith of atonement; but his connection of justification with the existence of the community of believers led him to the conclusion that the reception of the forgiveness of sins forms rather the presupposition than the content of individual faith. In general it may be said that there exists in modern Protestant theology an agreement on the following points: (1) Faith does not originate from logical processes, but from an immediate inner experience. (2) It is not a human achievement and not the acknowledgment of a human authority, but an effect of God through his revelation. (3) The assensus in the sense of conviction of faith and knowledge of faith can not be separated from fiducia. (4) Trust in salvation presupposes an awakened knowledge of sin and the desire for salvation. (5) The new moral life of the Christian has as its basis the forgiveness of sins, which has been received in faith.
3. Faith in Systematic Theology.
The conception of faith is usually treated in systematic theology both in a general way as the principle of Christian knowledge, and more specifically, in the doctrine of salvation, as the medium of the appropriation of salvation.
In the former case it refers to revelation in general and is treated in its relation to knowledge; in the latter case it refers to the salutary gift of the forgiveness of sins and is treated in its relation to repentance and works. Since Christian revelation culminates in redemption, only the faith of salvation is the truly Christian faith of revelation. In redemption God reveals himself as holy love which saves the sinner; the faith of the Christian bears therefore the character of a grateful trust in God who effects his salvation in Christ. This trust has its basis and support in the revelation of salvation which is appropriated by the believer. Faith may therefore be traced back to two primary elements, to an activity of God, in which he realizes his holy love through redemption, and to an experience of man in which he recognizes and seizes the revelation of salvation as his own possession. Because trust of salvation is based upon historical revelation, it includes a certain representation of God and his activity which develops into knowledge of faith; but because this revelation can be understood only by him who seizes it in trust, knowledge of faith can not exist without experience of faith. Objections might be raised against the statement that faith rests upon an inner experience because in this way its objective basis in God's revelation might be obscured; but the origin of faith must be traced back to the effect of God and not to man's own decision. The fundamental act of God which awakens Christian faith is to be found in the sending forth of Christ and in his work of redemption. The deciding motive of faith is Christ as he is represented in the testimony of his first disciples. Although faith is a spontaneous and original experience which can not be derived from anything else, a definite psychic disposition may be spoken of without which faith of salvation does not originate; namely, knowledge of sin and its misery. Christ as the redeemer can be seized with real trust only by him who desires to become free from sin. Therefore it is pertinent that the reformatory doctrine of salvation places repentance before faith. Nevertheless, the repentance which prepares the way for faith is neither a perfect knowledge of sin nor a complete deliverance from it. It is only a longing for justification. It is therefore true that repentance, without which faith of salvation does not come into existence, becomes an accomplished fact only with that faith. The division of the uniform function of faith into the three acts of notitia, assensus, and fiducia is misleading, if it is to be understood as rational explanation of the origin of faith. Notitia and assensus have to do with religious faith only if they are included in fiducia. It is self-evident, of course, that trust of salvation can not originate without hearing of the message of salvation, but the assensus as a certain conviction of the power of redemption of Christ and of the reality of a transcendent God can take place only in and with fiducia. All certainty and knowledge of God and divine things has its origin in fiducia. To this certainty which faith gives, belongs before everything that trusting certainty of one's personal salvation which the Reformation opposed to the uncertainty of salvation as taught by the medieval Church and the Council of Trent. It is upheld by the testimony of the Spirit; i.e., by the inwardly experienced union with Christ and God. But in this communion with God there is at the same time the source of a new moral activity. There is no appropriation of the divine grace of salvation which does not include the appropriation of the holy will of God; but even as the principle of Christian morality, faith does not lose its receptive character. The will to do good does not originate from a power which faith possesses in itself, but from the power which it continually receives from its union with Christ. On the same basis there arises for the Christian finally the knowledge of faith which is distinguished from other knowledge in so far as it presupposes the individually conditioned experience of salvation and in so far as it is the perception of existing reality in the light of the transcendent knowledge of God, a perception sub specie æternitatis. As knowledge of faith has been acquired at the highest summit attainable to man, it must necessarily decide before everything his view of the world, although it is true that its connection with the knowledge of the world presents special difficulties on account of its different origin and point of view; nevertheless, it is the indispensable task of Christian theology to find the right method for a harmony.