January 5, 2007

Spurgeon on the Act of Faith

“Although faith is the act of man, yet it is the work of God. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;” but that heart must, first of all, have been renewed by divine grace before it ever can be capable of the act of saving faith. Faith, we say, is man’s act, for we are commanded to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we shall be saved. At the same time, faith is God’s gift, and wherever we find it, we may know that it did not come there from the force of nature, but from a work of divine grace.”


Martin T said...

You know Tony, I often wonder about the common reformed phrase about faith being a gift of God. I agree with Spurgeon that faith is something that man must exercise but I'm half inclined to think that it is God's grace that causes a spiritual re-birth that is the gift. This gift then enables man to exercise faith. In other words faith itself is not the gift. Rather the gift is whatever mysterious things it is that God does that efficaciously and infallibly leads to a man exercising faith.

What do ya think?


YnottonY said...

Hi Martin,

I don't have a problem with saying faith is the gift of God. However, like you, I suspect that the language is misunderstood by some who are prone to think of it in terms of a commercial transaction. They may be inclined to think that faith is a purchased commodity of sorts. Also, it may be thought that since faith is a gift, it is not something we do. It's as if faith is some abstract commodity that's put into the passive hearts of the elect, or some new faculty. If the idea of faith as a gift entails that, then I would reject it.

I don't think that the language has to carry that idea. It seems that you're just concerned to rightly conceive of what's going on in contrast to what some "Calvinists" think. Faith is the gift of God in the sense that it ultimately stems from the initial quickening work of the Spirit whereby he renews our affections so that Christ is precious to our understanding, with the result that we humbly embrace him. Everything we have in the Christian life is ultimately the gift of God. Consider this verse that Augustine was fond of quoting:

NKJ 1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

These are rhetorical questions. We don't have anything of ourselves and we have nothing to boast about because it's God who makes us to differ on purely gracious principles. If we are excercising our wills faithfully, it's because we graciously receive that power. It is granted to us by God, as Philippians says:

NKJ Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Even our suffering for the sake of Christ is the gift or grant of God, according to this verse. John Quick even reports that Amyraut and his friends thought that justifying faith was given [and is therefore a gift, I would argue] to the elect:

"and of the Lord Jesus Christ, in suffering the pains of death, that the efficacy thereof should particularly belong unto all the elect, and to them only, to give them justifying faith, and by it to bring them infallibly unto salvation, and thus effectually to redeem all those and none other, who were from all eternity from among all people, nations, tongues, chosen unto salvation."

There is no need to cite the Synod of Dort. It's VERY explicit about the fact that faith is the gift of God. If you eventually read John Davenant's Dissertation on the Death of Christ, I think he's explicit about that as well. I am willing to bet that Calvin explicitly said so as well, but I can't recall a place where he says so at the moment.

Anyway, I just think it's the case that faith as a gift needs to be rightly explained and understood. It seems that your way of putting it, Martin, you're concerned to underline the fact that faith is our act. We own it. It's something we do. Faith is the gift of God in the sense that it ultimately stems from his enabling power. I would not dichotomize my explanation as you did by saying, "faith itself is not the gift. Rather the gift is whatever mysterious things it is that God does that efficaciously and infallibly leads to a man exercising faith." I think a better way to put it is to say, "faith is a gift in the sense that we are only able to excercise authentic trust in God as a result of his mysterious, efficacious and mysterious inward call by the Spirit." I think the gift idea is meant to underline the graciousness of what's done. He is free and gracious to us. What we have is not earned by merits of our own, therefore we have nothing for which to boast, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 4:7.

I quoted Spurgeon on this because I think he captures the biblical idea. He is careful to underline the fact that faith is our act, but only as a result of the Spirit's quickening power. It's not as if the Spirit adds some new "faithing" faculty to us either. The Spirit grants us the moral ability to use our God given faculties rightly with the result that the power of sin is overcome and Christ is embraced in truth.