EXPLANATION OF OUR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
Q. What is Faith?Return to Table of Contents
A. Faith, taken in the general sense of the word, is our belief of any truth founded on the testimony of others. To understand this, we must observe, that there are different ways by which we can come to the knowledge of any truth. For some things can be known only experience, that is, by the testimony of our two principal senses of touching and seeing; and this is generally the first source of our knowledge, and a very extensive one; by this we know the existence of all things about us, with all their sensible qualities and properties, and the like.
Other things there are which can only be known by reasons: that is, when, from known principles, we argue and draw conclusions which lead us to the knowledge of numberless truths, which the senses alone could never have acquired. Lastly, there are other things which can never be known, either by reason or experience, but only by hearing the testimony of those that know them; and the belief we have of such things is called Faith. By this means alone we can acquire the knowledge of all past matters of cat, and of things that happened at a distance from us, and of all such things as do not fall under the examination of our senses, and are above comprehension of human reason.
Q. How many kinds of faith are there?Return to Table of Contents
A. Two kinds; human faith and divine faith. Human faith is when we believe any thing we learn from the testimony of man; and divine faith is when we believe any thing on the testimony of God.
Q. Is faith a certain means of acquiring knowledge?
A. The certainty of what we learn from the testimony of others depends upon the authority of those who give the testimony, that is, upon their knowledge and veracity. Two things are necessary to make us certain of what we hear from another; that he be not mistaken himself in what he relates, and that he speaks exactly according to the knowledge he has of the matter. Where we are persuaded of thes two things, we can have no reasonable doubt of the truth of what we hear; but, if either of these be wanting, we can have no certain faith in such testimony.
Now, though in the ordinary course of life, the testimony of other men is a very general and extensive source of knowledge, and in many cases must be entirely depended upon; yet, as all men are liable to be mistaken themselves, or to deceive us; therefore human faith, properly speaking, cannot be said to carry an absolute certainty along with it. But with divine faith the case is otherwise; for, as it is simply impossible that God should be deceived himself, an no less impossible that he should mean to deceive his creatures; therefore, every thing we know from the testimony of God, we know with the most absolute certainty of its being true.
Q. What description do the scriptures give of divine faith?Return to Table of Contents
A. St. Paul says, that "faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen," Heb. xi. 1. He calls it, "the substance of things to be hoped for," because the happiness we hope for in the next life is above all human comprehension; so that neither experience nor reason can give us any idea of it; but this divine faith, founded on the infallible testimony of God himself, gives us such a feeling conviction and persuasion of the greatness of it that it renders it in a manner present with us, as St. Chrysostom observes, so as to support and encourage us under all our afflictions, as if we already possessed it. He calls it also "the evidence of things not seen;" because though it be possible for us to see with our eyes, or comprehend by our reason the great truths of eternity, which Jesus Christ has revealed to us, yet his divine revelation gives us a more convincing evidence of their truth than if we saw them with our very eyes themselves. And it is in preferring his divine word and authority in revealing them, to any thing our sense or reason can oppose to the contrary, that the merit of our faith precisely consists; because by this we do the greatest homage to the infinite wisdom and veracity of God, while we humble the proud idol of our own judgment to his holy word, "and captivate our understandings in obedience to him;" hence Jesus Christ says to St. Thomas, "because thou hast seen me, Thomas, then hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and have believed," John xx. 29.
Q. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. It is the firm belief of all those heavenly truths which he has revealed to man, concerning God and eternity, and the salvation of our souls.
Q. Could not man have acquired the knowledge of these heavenly truths by, his own strength?
A. No! It was impossible for man, by his own abilities, ever to have attained the knowledge of them; as we have seen above. These truths are above nature, they belong to another world, and many of them depend solely upon the will and good pleasure of God, and therefore, could never have been known to man, unless God had revealed them to him. Hence the holy scripture says, "hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon earth, and with labour do we find the things that are before us; but the things that are in heaven who shall search?" Wisdom ix. 16. And Christ himself, who assures us that life eternal consists in "knowing the only living and true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent," John xvii. 3., declares also, that "no many knoweth who the son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the son will reveal him," Luke x. 22. So that Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, made man, is the heavenly teacher, by whom the knowledge of the Father, and of all truths of salvation, is communicated to us.
Q. Can we depend upon the truth of what he teaches?
A. Most undoubtedly; for as he is God, a being of infinite wisdom, who essentially knows all things possible to be known, it is manifestly impossible he should ever be deceived himself, or be in the smallest mistake in any thing he says; and as he is a God of infinite truth, nay, truth itself, and, at the same time, infinite holy, incapable of the smallest imperfection, it is no less impossible for him ever to deceive his creatures, by telling them any falsehood; so that whatever he says must be absolutely and infallibly true.
Q. Are we then obliged to believe whatever he teaches?
A. Most certainly; for, as every thing taught or revealed by him is absolutely true, whenever we know any thing to be his doctrine, we must either believe it to be a real truth; or, by refusing to believe it, suppose him guilty of telling a lie, which would be a manifest impiety, and the highest injury done to his infinite wisdom and veracity. - Hence the scripture says, "he that believeth not, maketh God a liar, because he believeth not the testimony which God hath given of his Son," 1 John v. 10. Now, how can we expect any part with Christ, if we make God a liar?
Q. Does he require of all men to believe in him, as a condition of salvation?
A. Yes, he does; as he is the only Savior of mankind, who by shedding his precious blood redeems all men from their sins, and from the slavery of Satan, so all who want to partake of his salvation must acknowledge him as their Redeemer, and believe in him; nay, this belief, or faith in him, is the very first step towards our salvation, the foundation and ground-work of all the duties we own him.
Q. How so?
A. Because it is self-evident, that we can neither love him, nor hope in him, nor honor him, nor obey him, except we first believe in him, and receive in faith what he teaches. Yet, he has expressly declared, that unless we love him and obey him, there is no salvation for us; and St. Peter assures us, that "there is no other name given to men, under heaven, by which we can be saved, but by the name of Jesus only," Acts iv. 12.
Q. In what way were those saved who lived in the world before the time of Christ?
A. From the beginning, there never was any other name given to men by which they could be saved, but the name of Jesus only; so that all that ever were saved from the beginning, were saved only be believing in Jesus Christ the Redeemer, who was then to come, and obeying the law which God then gave them; as now we can be saved only by believing in the same Redeemer who is already come, and obeying the law of his gospel.
Q. Is it enough to believe in the person of Jesus Christ "that he is the Son of God made man," in order to be saved?
A. We must not only believe in his person, but we must also believe all that he has revealed, his whole doctrine; for, how can we believe that Jesus Christ is God, if we refuse to believe any one thing that he says, and by that means suppose him either ignorant or a liar?
THE FAITH OF PETER.
Q. But is it enough to have the faith of Peter: now his faith was, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God," for which Christ pronounced him blessed, and yet this was only faith in his person?
A. The faith of Peter is certainly sufficient; and at that time, Peter only made profession of his faith in the person of Christ, because that was the only point proposed by our Savior, when he said, "Who say ye that I am?" and it is the chief article of our faith in Christ, upon which all the rest depend. But the faith of Peter was by no means confined to this only ; for, afterwards, when some of the disciples left him, because they would not believe the sublime doctrine he was teaching them concerning the blessed Eucharist, and Christ asked his Apostles, "Will you also leave me?" Peter immediately answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go thou hast the words of eternal life," John vi. verse 68; which shows how firmly he believed his words also, even in things he did not understand, as well as the divinity of his person.
Q. Is the necessity of faith or belief of Jesus Christ and his doctrine declared in the scripture?
A. As the virtue of faith in Jesus Christ and his doctrine is the foundation of all other Christian virtues, and of all Christian duties, Almighty God has been pleased that it should be laid down in the holy scripture in the clearest and plainest terms.
Thus, with regard to his person, "This is his command, that we believe in the name of his Son jesus Christ," 1 John iii. 23. "He that believeth not is already condemned, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God," John iii. 18. "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God remaineth in him," John iii. 26. "Many seducers are gone out into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh: this is a seducer and an antichrist," 2 John 8. "He that believeth not, makes god a liar, because he believeth not the testimony which God has given of his Son," 1 John v. 10.
With regard to his word or his doctrine, when the gave his apostles commission to go and teach all nations those things which he had commanded them, he immediately adds, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not, shall be damned," Matt. ult Mark ult. And on another occasion he says to them, "Whosoever shall not hear you or receive your words, when you depart out of that city, shake off the dust from your feet; verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city," Matth. x. "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words," says Christ, "in this sinful and adulterous generation, him also the Son of Man shall be ashamed of when he shall come in the glory of his Father, with his holy angels," Mark. viii. 38. Luke ix. 26. "He that revolteth and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God," 2 John 9. - "Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power," 2 The. i. In all which plain testimonies, we see, that the receiving his words, the embracing his doctrine, and the obeying his gospel, are laid down as necessary conditions of salvation, without which "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord," will undoubtedly be our portion for ever.
Lastly, With regard to faith in general, both of his person and doctrine, and to the great crime and punishment of unbelievers, the scriptures speak thus: "Without faith it is impossible to please God," Heb. xi. 6; "as for unbelievers, and murders, and fornicators, and adulterers, their portion shall be in a lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death," Rev. xxi. 8. Hence the holy apostle St. Jude says, in the beginning of his Epistle, "It is necessary to write, to beseech you to content earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints;" and then goes no, in the rest of his short epistle, to expose, in the strongest colors, the wickedness and punishment of those who corrupt this true faith by false doctrine; and St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, pronounces a curse, and repeats it a second time, upon any one who shall dare to change the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or in any one article teach another gospel than what he had already taught them, Gal. i.
Q. As true faith in jesus Christ, or the belief of all those divine truths which he has revealed, is so strictly required by Almighty God from all as a condition of salvation; how can we possibly know what those truths are which he has revealed, and which we are obliged to believe?
A. This can only be known by means of that rule which Jesus Christ established for that purpose.
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