The following is taken from A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism authored by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (chapter 12, pages 222-48). It is offered here to stretch your understanding of the relationship that faith holds to works. I do not expect the reader to fully agree with everything presented here--especially so if you come from a Reformed, Roman Catholic, or Greek Orthodox tradition. Nevertheless, should you come across something you disagree with, continue to read as the whole chapter is worth your consideration.
The Function of Faith
The subject of faith is introduced by this title to suggest two important things about it. Faith is a living, dynamic exercise. It serves an ongoing function in the Christian life. But, equally important, it serves. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
At this point Wesley was very clear, using very forceful rhetoric at times. In a sermon, "The Law Established Through Faith," he has some things to say of considerable interest to our study.
Faith itself, even Christian faith, the faith of God's elect, the faith of the operation of God, is still only the handmaid of love. Love is the end of all the commandments of God. Love is the end, the sole end, of every dispensation of God, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of things (Works, V, 462).
Let those who magnify faith beyond all proportion so as to swallow up all things else, and who so totally misapprehend the nature of it as to imagine it stands in place of love, consider further that as love will exist after faith (referring to 1 Cor. 13), so it did exist long before it (ibid., 462-63).
The point Wesley was making as he discussed law and faith puts his whole theology into focus.
Faith, then, was originally designed of God to reestablish the law of love. It is the grand means of restoring that holy love where in man was originally created. It follows that although faith is of no value in itselfyet as it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law unspeakable blessings to man, and of unspeakable value before God (ibid.., p. 464).
At no point is Wesley's contribution to theology more obvious and specific than here. He stood squarely in the Reformation tradition in his declaration of salvation by faith alone as an antidote to the Roman Catholic emphasis on works. But he was equally emphatic about a vital correction to Reformation theology which he felt was biblical, that love was the antidote to faith as an end in itself without works. This is Wesley's significant footnote to the history of Christian doctrine.
If we are alert to nuances of thought, it becomes obvious that Wesley's "footnote" to the Reformation emphasis on "faith alone" he has introduced a new dimension to faith, a new quality that is as far-reaching as the "faith versus works" emphasis of Luther and Calvin. Faith as an end and faith as a means are two vastly different concepts which not only reflect back on the meaning of faith in each case but say very different things about salvation of which each speaks. In Reformation thought, saving faith-having been supernaturally given-encourages the Christian to trust the One who saves him, and in this confidence love is fostered, and developed. Love is a by-product of faith. In Wesley, faith is itself an element of love in that in life situations love and faith cannot be separated. Faith leads to love, which is the goal and essence of salvation.
Not only is the meaning of faith changed by its relation to love, as Wesley conceived it, but a transformation of the meaning of love is also involved. Care in understanding this, as we are attempting to show in this book, will nullify the suspicion that Wesley is borrowing the Catholic doctrine of love uncritically, although his understanding of love is closer to it than to the Reformation position.
Now, in devoting a chapter to faith, an inner ambiguity begins to show. Faith is so enormously vital to all biblical truth that it cannot be escaped, yet at the same time it is so overshadowed by its consequences that one cannot abstract it sharply enough to subject it to isolated scrutiny. Faith is not a thing which stands alone in human experience. It hides behind, or inside of, spiritual values. The searchlight of analysis sees merely a value, not the faith. Faith wears the clothing of the value it is important to. We are told that the most ultimate units of energy identifiable by the tools of nuclear science are unavailable to human sensitivity. To bring them into the dimension of sense experience is to destroy them. These "foundation stones" of reality are discovered by what they do-and they do plenty. This is a dynamic with real meaning.
Faith is much like this. One need only to ask what one does to exercise faith to discover the problem. How does one believe? What is the procedure? In every case believing seems to become something else. The test of believing is not believing but involvement in a framework of opennesses to a new set of insights and a new direction of interests and values. One cannot subject the insights and values and interests to a fine enough scrutiny to locate whatever faith is. Even believing intellectual propositions or scientific theories partakes of the same curious phenomenon. Believing (and loving) has no independent psychological identity but structures other human activities.
Biblical faith is so entangled with love and obedience (to name two of the vast family of relatives) that is does not exist without them. Wesley well understood this: "There is one thing more that many be separately considered, though it cannot actually be separate from the preceding [love], which is implied, in the being altogether a Christian; and that is the ground of all, even faith" (Works, V, 22). Here Wesley points to the essential relationship of love to faith but also understands that, with this knowledge of that relationship, a discussion of faith is important. But it is interesting to note in attempting to determine Wesley's view of faith that it is impossible for him to cleanly separate it from love and holiness. Here is an example from one of his "conversations":
In asserting salvation by faith, we mean this: (1) That pardon (salvation begun) is received by faith producing works. (2) That holiness (salvation continued) is faith working by love. (3) That heaven (salvation finished) is the reward of this faith.
If you who assert salvation by works, or by faith and works, mean the same thing (understanding by faith, the revelation of Christ in us-by salvation, pardon, holiness, glory), we will not strive with you at all (Works, VIII, 290).
In another "conversation" the question is asked, "Is faith the condition, or the instrument of salvation?" Wesley answers: "it is both the condition and the instrument of it. When we begin to believe, then sanctification begins. As faith increases, holiness increases, till we are created anew" (ibid., p. 279) [Eric note: Brought to maturity in that inward conviction perfectly matches both thought and deed.]
In like manner he speaks in another place: "What law do we establish by faith? Not ritual law: Not the ceremonial law of Moses. In nowise; but the great, unchangeable law of love, the holy love of God and of our neighbor" (ibid., p.60).
If our observations thus far have been correct, we can feel increasing assurance that love is the dynamic of Wesleyanism. Love is the focal point of all its theology and its link with life. Love cannot exist apart from moral being and it is, then, the key to ethical holiness. Some problems are solved, perhaps, by this approach; others are raised. But the question of immediate moment has to do with faith as it lies in the context of love and holiness. Three strands of our study throw some light on a deeper investigation.
1. The two-foci concept of moral
saves it from a mere humanistic "self-realization" (Pelagianism)
on the one hand, yet preserves true moral integrity in man on
2. The concept of the whole-man psychology in which all aspects of personality are seen to work as a unit-faith and will, heart and mind, love and obedience-preserves the integrity of personality without losing the idea of dependence on God's grace.
3. The concept of faith as a changed direction of confidence and affection, rather than a new power, preserves the theology of grace without loss of true human initiative and responsibility.
When these matters are held together and faith is seen as an element in it, faith is properly understood. The problems, as we shall see, arise as faith is abstracted from its proper context.
There are a number of elements inherent in the interrelation between God and man which are distinguished and arranged, in systematic theology, according to some principle such as logic or chronology or psychology. Some of these elements are: conviction, grace, faith, regeneration, repentance, obedience, sanctification, forgiveness, cleansing, love, justification, adaption, and others. Usually each treatment is determined by the underlying philosophy of the theologian. In fact, the distinctive character of a theological position can be quite accurately determined by noting the sequence in which these elements are placed and the relation each is said to sustain to the others. For instance, Reformation theology would usually place regeneration temporally prior to repentance, and Wesleyanism would reverse that order. The resultant theology in each case is quite different. Systematic theology is well aware of this fact but must defend its own position on other than biblical grounds.
If one approaches Scripture inductively, as we are attempting to do, it is not so clear that a chronological order can be detected. Rather there seems to be a "complex" of interrelated elements partaking so much of each other that it is difficult to isolate any one for examination apart from the others. However, the demands of rational thinking require an analysis of these elements.
The Priority of Faith
The prevailing logic in this study is controlled by the basic conviction which structures Wesleyan theology (though it is not always consistent with it) that truth is fundamentally moral and that redemption proceeds along the line of moral integrity. The particular relevance of this conviction to this chapter is that when the whole man acts in respect of God's will (as the concept of "moral" indicates) every aspect of relatedness moves together. Hence, where obedience is, for instance, faith and love also operate. The task is to find, not the first order in chronological order, but the element most fundamental to the whole complex of truth. Faith seems to be the element upon which rest all other aspects of redemptive truth. In it lies a concept that puts the whole into proper perspective.
Faith and Man
In choosing the concept of faith as the common denominator in all other aspects of salvation, we are deliberately limiting this whole study to a consideration of the human side of redemption. Actually faith has no meaning apart from grace and love. Wesleyanism is a theology of grace, as is Calvinism, but it conceives of grace in a more personal way and in full keeping with moral responsibility. The opening paragraph of John Wesley's sermon "Salvation by Faith" states his view of grace:
All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favor; his free, undeserved favor; favor altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand. "All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.
If then sinful men find favor with God, it is "grace upon grace" Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation (Works, V, 7).
It is precisely faith as the condition of salvation in which we are interested. No word or idea in the New Testament carries so much significance to salvation as do faith and its cognates. No word better ties into the whole concept of moral as it is beginning to develop in this study. No word is more important to the whole of redemption than this one. Few theological words have been more abused and misunderstood.
Faith's Relation to
One is immediately confronted, in reading the New Testament particularly, with the fact that faith is a most vital aspect of human life in its relation to God. It seems to be an essential element in personality. It is a rational link between the tangible and intangible, between the divine and the human, between the objective and subjective aspects of atonement as well as between all events and meaning, fact and interpretation, in all of rational life. [Eric note: Presuming knowledge is based upon trust and not doubt.]
A good synonym would be "appropriation." On one side of faith lies the objective atonement. Into that "mystic" realm where God has done so much for us we cannot penetrate with our finite intelligence. The full truth [as God knows it] of what God has done must always escape our rational grasp. We have pictures and analogies which help to relate it to our world of understanding: the lawcourt, the Temple sacrifice, war techniques, vine and branches, family relationships, and many more-none of them the whole truth, all of them together helping us to know that God loves us and desires our redemption. All this is grace.
On the other side of faith lies a great world of sin and defeat and despair and fear and death. In this world live people whose capacity for good and evil is their unique raison d' etre. The capacity for nobility it itself the sharpest judgment for what men have become. Great evil in men is called sin because of that same capacity could have been used for great good. Men are moral and this is their condemnation: They "loved darkness rather than light."
God's grace is on one side, "moral" man (in the sense already designated) on the other. Salvation is offered to sinners who are morally responsible. To keep the integrity of both of these truths is at the heart of the gospel message and it is imbedded in the words "by faith."
The Church early saw the dangers in a failure to keep these two truths intact. God's forgiveness they saw could be too lightly regarded, and so the problem of how to handle sins committed after baptism had to be met. The question arose, "How many times could one sin and be forgiven?" How far does forgiveness reach-to past sins only? or to all sins reaching into the future? If God's forgiveness could be implored for sins after baptism, how would it be known that repentance had been sincere enough? In other words, the danger of a moral insensitivity creeping into the heart of those who could too easily presume on God's mercy was recognized. Whatever one may think of the whole penitential system, certainly the insight of our Church Fathers into the human peril immanent in the divine judicial acquittal unguarded from unprincipled human responsibility is to be sincerely respected. Easy, cheap, shoddy ideas of God's mercy were deeply deplored. But gradually there arose a well-organized and detailed system of penance that missed the proper moral point of the Early Church and stressed too much the ability and obligation of the penitent to demonstrate his sincerity and finally earn merit-to pay an appropriate equivalent for sins. The commercialized aspect of this we believe is a distortion of the true intent of the original purpose of the Catholic church. The idea of faith was lost as it merged into works. The fine balance between God's initiative and human response was lost in favor of an overemphasis on human merit. The quality of moral life-the personal aspects-degenerated into quantity values, the non-personal.
Wesley was well aware of this truth and said in his sermon "Justification by Faith":
Never was the maintaining of this doctrine more seasonable than it is today. It is endless to attack, one by one, all the errors of that Church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all [errors] fall at once where this is established. It was this doctrine, which our Church justly calls the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion (Works, V, 15).
Faith's Relation to
The term "by faith" took on an extreme either/or antithesis to "works" in the Reformation period. In absolute contrast to the abuse of the Catholic system of human merit stood the Reformation doctrine of sola fides, "by faith alone," and no human effort could be granted as of having value in any sense. So great was the contrast between faith and works that all moral relevancy-all subjective desire, all human striving-was interpreted as itself sin. This characterizes some evangelical theology today.
Of course this reflected a definition of faith which emphasized the object aspect of atonement but failed to do justice to the moral experience of men. It stressed only the forensic meaning of righteousness and justification and neglected the spiritual aspect. Unrighteousness as imputed guilt, irrevocably and eternally by God's decree, tended to make justification abstract and lacking in human relevancy and life. In this view Christ's death on the Cross becomes somewhat incidental to divine decree, that death is "commercialized" to an exact value to cover so much sin-no more or less. It is difficult to conceive of a less personal and relevant way to think of salvation.
Faith then would be, and is often so conceived, as intellectual assent or the acceptance of an idea which, apart from all subjective consideration, permanently places the believer in a position of absolute safety from the wrath of God and judgment. Not only logically, but actually, this position forces one into the risk of antinomianism.
So long as faith is defined as an intellectual affirmation only which bridges the gap between grace and individual salvation, and works are thought to consist of all human activity even including "faithfulness," the problem of antinomianism must exist and persist. Certainly an "imputed" saving faith arising entirely apart from human participation misses completely the concept of moral integrity.
In a preliminary way it may be said at this point that the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that there is a "price" to be paid for Christian integrity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave contemporary expression to this contrasting cheap grace with costly grace. It is shallow thinking to categorize that which the price involves as the same thing as the "works" which Paul so strongly denounced as the way to salvation. To make "works" cover all moral responsibility is to go far beyond biblical teaching. The ritual acts by which self-righteousness seeks favor with God are very different from the self-giving which is the dynamic of Christian integrity. In fact, such self-giving is one of the best definitions of faith that can be formulated. It is precisely the end of self-sufficiency that gives meaning to saving faith. Where moral beings are implicated in this kind of faith, "the cross" or self-giving is absolutely imperative.
A real saint, says Oswald Chambers, is never consciously a saint. A saint is conscious only of an increasing and profound dependence upon God. And this dependence includes obedience or it is not dependence. Any theology which encourages a satisfaction and comfort in anything less than this moment-by moment dependence on God for "standing," for "state," for cleansing and power, apart from moral participation in God's will, is not biblical theology.
It is worth a moment's time to record some contemporary insights regarding this important point. Floyd Filson, in One Lord, One Faith, says:
Accurate interpretation of the New Testament has been hindered by a tendency to let forgiveness stop at negative results. The guilt of sin is cares for. But this does not leave man where the Gospel seeks to bring him. Repentance and forgiveness involves the turning of the sinner from his evil ways, with sorrow and a deep desire to be forgiven, restored to fellowship with God and renewed in right purposes. A forgiveness that does not give a strong sense of moral obligationlacks reality (Floyd Filson, One Lord, One Faith, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943, p. 198).
James Stewart gives a powerful exposition of the involvement of life in faith in a chapter entitled "Mysticism and Morality" in A Man in Christ. From this chapter come the following words:
To know oneself forgiven, and forgiven at so great a cost, is always a moral dynamic of the first order [importance]. It is a main spring of the dedicated life. It creates character. It makes the forgiven sinner Christ's man, body and soul, forever.
For to be united to Christ means to be identified with Christ's attitude to sin. It means seeing sin with Jesus' eyes, and opposing it with something of the same passion with which Jesus at Calvary opposed it. It means an assent of the whole man to the divine judgment proclaimed upon sin at the cross. It means, as Paul put it tersely, death. In face of all this, to find antinomianism in Paul is simply to caricature his Gospel (James Stewart, A Man in Christ, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1954, p. 196).
The emphasis John Wesley and John Fletcher gave to theology cannot be fully understood apart from their controversy with the contemporary antinomianism which prevailed. It was not to Calvinism as such Wesley was opposed (as his relationship with Whitefield amply testifies) but with those aspects of it which were derived from its mere logic; namely a limited atonement, unconditional election, and the disregard for law which seemed to arise from a confidence in unconditional eternal security.
Wesley was concerned with the problem of how to maintain the balance between grace and the moral nature of men. He saw that not only justification but sanctification as well was "by faith." This added the moral dimension to justification which Reformation theology had generally failed to maintain. "By faith" also saved theology from playing into the hands of the Pelagians, who would see no need for grace at all. Wesley rang that bell "loud and clear."
But "sanctification by faith"
raises different kinds of problems than those raised by Luther's
emphasis on justification by faith, and it is these problems which
we want to examine in this chapter. The more formal concept of
faith in Luther became dynamic when united with sanctification.
This, in turn, for Wesley, reacted back on the meaning of faith
itself. "When we say 'Believe and you shall be saved,' we
do not mean 'Believe and thou shalt step from sin into heaven,
without any holiness coming in between.'"
"We acknowledge no faith but that which worketh by love. Faith becomes the means of which love is at the end (Works, V, 462). "Being a Christian means having a faith active in love" (ibid., p. 467). Wesley's works are so full of this teaching that it is futile to try to list all the passages.
Faith and the Moral
Christian righteousness is "by faith." The pseudo-righteousness to which this is the alternative is self-righteousness or salvation by works. To this basic affirmation evangelical Christians adhere and in it lies the basis for theological unity. But in respect of it there exist also differences of opinion that keep Reformation groups clearly distinguished theologically from those who follow "holiness doctrine." It is at this point, namely, the meaning of faith, that holiness theology begins to take its form.
New Testament teaching about holiness presupposes a vital relationship between faith and works. This does not mean that it teaches that any man can in any way merit salvation by what he does or thinks. It does hold that faith is an act which engages the whole of man, not simply his intellectual faculty alone or his emotions or will, but all the personality interacting as a unit. A passive idea of personality is rejected in favor of a dynamic one; that is, men are essentially men only as they are moral creatures. Hence faith, or lack of it, is a moral fact. The antithesis to saving faith is not no faith, or passivity, but active rejection.
The Biblical emphasis on faith adds to the forensic meaning of justification an ethical dimension also. Such does not imply that we have it in our power by good works to reform and make ourselves righteous. Nor does it put righteousness in good works. Unrighteousness is more than imputed guilt. It is a person rejecting God. How he comes to this rejection is not here a question. That he does reject is both a biblical declaration and a fact of human experience. Righteousness or justification is most certainly the removal of guilt and is hence juridical, but it also has a subjective aspect, which is the concern of this chapter.
At this point it is well to be reminded that, if moral means any serious thing, we may expect to find that God's dealings with men will strengthen rather than weaken the concept of moral integrity. This fact will, in turn, have a bearing on justification and faith and the security of the believer. To account a man righteous who is a sinner and living in sin would be to deny everything that cost Christ so much. God does not change His definition of sin to make it go away. He does not make a moral universe and reveal to man the Spirit of Truth and then wink at man's sin and call it holiness.
Wesley could not have expressed a more thoroughgoing Reformation conviction about justification. His entire sermon on "Justification by Faith" (Works, Vol. V), should be carefully read. In it he spells out clearly the distinction between justification, the objective aspect of conversion, and the subjective, or sanctification. But he cuts an even finer edge to avoid the false concepts of Reformation teaching.
What is it to be justified?It is not the being made actually just and righteous. This is sanctificationthe immediate fruit of justification. The one implies what God does for us through his Son; the other, what he works in us by his Spirit.
Least of all does justification imply, that God is deceived in those whom he justifies; that he thinks them to be what, in fact, they are not; that he accounts them to be otherwise than they are. It does by no means imply, that God judges concerning us contrary to the real nature of things; that he esteems us better than we really are, or believes us righteous when we are unrighteous. Neither can it ever consist with his unerring wisdom, to think that I am innocentbecause another is so. He can no more, in this manner confound me with Christ, than with David or Abraham.
The plain scriptural notion of justification is pardon, the forgiveness of sins (Works, V, 56-57).
When the Wesleyan is consistent with his basic premise, he must hold to the unitary view of personality. He must not be tempted to settle for another kind of dualism by separating between his objective and subjective relationships. It is putting dishonesty in God to say that a man is objectively righteous and subjectively unrighteous even by virtue of Christ's atonement. The atonement, or Christ's obedience, does not change the quality of sin in any moral being so that actual sin in a sinner and in a believer are somehow different. If integrity means anything in the world of moral beings, including God, the Source of all Truth, something of that basic integrity must be a part of Christian experience.
It is to prevent the extreme to which human logic will go that the deceptively simple phrase do often appears, that is, "by faith." It stands as a ubiquitous guard against too easy answers. It is a guard against any idea that man can achieve righteousness by his own unaided efforts. But it is also, by implication, a reminder that the whole man is involved in his faith.
What is Faith?
We are saved "by faith," but what does it mean to believe? And what is it that is believed? Is saving faith different in kind from the other experiences of faith which every person exercises? Is it faith itself that saves? Is faith a gift or is it a faculty over which a moral person has responsible control? These and other factors in the problem lie before us.
We have related faith to appropriation. At least it may be said that faith is the link between God's grace and man's need, and in the experience of appropriation from the first faint awakening of the person toward God to the end of rational life, that link is respected.
Now faith is a distinctly human response; that is, it is something that men do. It is significant that righteousness (or justification) is "by faith." This means that God's approval of us awaits in some way our appropriation of His approval. Apparently the objective (to us) act of God in Christ by which reconciliation was made remains tentative and potential until faith actualizes it in experience.
Whether saving faith is different in kind or source ("the gift of God") than other expressions of believing is not at this point the question. The fact remains that, so far as men are concerned, salvation is not by divine decree nor even unconditionally by the work of Christ (though its possibility is only through Christ) so that whomever He died for would be inevitably saved (unconditional atonement). It is "by faith." This puts it in history where men live.
This effectively makes man a party to the transaction between himself and God. It is a "circulation from I to Thou, a sort of mutual 'flow' between God and man" (Claude Trasmontant, a Study of Hebrew Thought, New York: Desclee Company, 1960, p. 125).
Salvation, therefore, cannot be wholly objective, unrelated to human character or personal response. This means that in exercising faith for salvation something begins to happen to character. Salvation is not merited by any human excellence, but it is impossible to be its recipient apart from a consideration of moral integrity. "By faith" is the beginning of God centeredness in contrast to self-certeredness. It is a moral commitment and has moral implications in life. One cannot believe in God in the intellectual area of personality without all parts of his being coming to a focus in the experience. "By faith" is the shift from one basic presupposition to another-from self as God, to God as total Lord. Life and thinking proceed out of the new presuppositions and are given character by it. In other words, "by faith" is dynamic, not formal and static. And it is of necessity traumatic, because it shifts the entire weight of life from self to God. It is radical (from the roots) revolution.
In his Earnest Appeal, Wesley presents the heart of his understanding of Christian faith. He says he sought for years for what he finally found by faith. But what is faith? It is Wesley's purpose to shed light on this matter. He wished others to "profit by our loss, that they may go straightway to the religion of love, even by faith." But faith is dynamic. He adds: "Faith is the eye of the new born soul. It is the ear of the soul. It is the palate (if I may be allowed the expression) of the soul. It is the feeling of the soul (feels the love of God)" (Works, VIII, 4).
Grace Actualized by
Faith is dynamic. Jesus often required faith of the sick for their own healing; for instance, "Thy faith hath made thee whole." Justification is by faith, and the just shall live by faith, not by the works of the law. The heart is purified by faith, not by cultic circumcision (Acts 15:9). Sanctification is by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18). Propitiation is by faith in Christ's blood (Rom 3:25). Our access into "this grace" in which we stand is by faith (Rom. 5:2). By faith we stand (2 Cor. 1:24). We walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). We receive the promise of the Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:14). We are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). Christ dwells in the heart by faith (Eph. 3:17). Faith shields us from the fiery darts of the enemy (Eph. 6:16). These are a few benefits of grace actualized by faith. It is exegetically impossible to interpret these and other passages eschatologically only, which would define faith in terms of hope and defer the benefits to another life. Faith and hope are related but never confused in Scripture. Faith is not a merely intellectual affirmation. It is a moral commitment with moral consequences. It is a this-life concern.
This then is the salvation which is through faith, even in this present world: A salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word, justification; which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart (Works, V, 11-12).
The Faith-Works Syndrome
Works and faith represent two ways-and opposite ways understood in Christian history-to achieve a legitimate (and necessary) acceptability by God (which is what justification or righteousness really is). If we keep in mind the central import back of all the various figures of speech in Scripture having to do with redemption, we can say that the intended goal is fellowship with God, the end of alienation, in which is realized, step by step in life, the cleansing by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:17).
"Works" is one way to attempt to achieve this proper relationship with God. Faith is another way. The question arises as to whether either one, alone, is adequate, providing the two can be separated in fact. That is, is one without the other actually what it purports to be? Is it possible to exercise faith apart from the total involvement of the person and all he is and does?
Faith or Works?
The philosophy back of "works" salvation is built upon the presupposition that the estrangement between God and man is forensic and not moral. It cannot see that sin is a degeneration of moral integrity which destroys the possibility of spiritual affinity. Love for God as a personal relationship has been short-circuited in favor of a dependance on law and the impersonal and the superficial and casuistic approval of law to the conscience. It may be said that morality has become an end in itself-a god-rather than a means to an end, namely, of being right with God. This is a subtle difference but a very real one. In no case does Paul-or Jesus-intimate that moral law is wrong or that it can be dispensed with-ever. It is the form, structure, pattern of knowledge and truth (Rom. 2:20). It is never suggested that obedience to it is to be neglected or superseded. What is taught is that the keeping of law, alone, cannot achieve righteousness-or the personal approval of God and cleansing fellowship with Him.
In a word, the philosophy of works proceeds on the assumption that legal impeccability can substitute for person moral relationship. It is thoroughly objective. It discounts subjective, spiritual consideration and lives on a plane below personal. It raises the nonpersonal to the status of duty. Law becomes "Lord." It is easy to "manage" law by human interpretation and hence human standards of approval. The ancient Jews did that; so do we. The Lord of the law, who alone can and must interpret the law in inner experience, is by our impertinence imprisoned in His law and hence reduced to servanthood. "Works" as deplored by Paul in Romans have made a god of law, and have made God the servant of law-often our law-or our interpretation of God's law.
Our religion does not lie in doing what God has not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath forbidden. It does not lie in the form of our apparel, in the posture of our body, of the covering our heads; nor yet in abstaining in marriage, or from meats and drinks, which are good if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, neither will any man, who knows whereof he affirms, fix the mark of a Methodist here,-in any actions or customs purely indifferent, undetermined by the word of God.
Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, "Yes, he is; for he thinks 'we are saved by faith alone:'" I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it? Is this placing a part of religion for the whole? "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law." We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God. No, not in all of them together; wherein we know by experience a man may labor many years, and at the end have no religion at all, no more than he had in the beginning. Much less in any one of these; or, it may be, in a scrap of one of them: Like her who fancies herself a virtuous woman, only because she is not a prostitute; or him who dreams he is an honest man, merely because he does not rob or steal. May the Lord God of my fathers preserve me from such poor, starved religion as this! Were this the mark of a Methodist, I would sooner choose to become a sincere Jew, Turk, or Pagan (Works, VIII, 341).
Faith, on the other hand, refers to an attitude toward God which the philosophy of works has neglected or rejected. It seeks the same approval of God, the same fellowship with Him; but it operates on the personal, not an impersonal, level. Faith is personal through and through. The philosophy of faith represents an entirely different approach to truth than that of works. It sees the lawgiver back of the law. Or if there be no objective law, it sees the Person and respects the integrity of that Person in terms of response to Him. Faith, interpreted as only a metal acceptance of some proposition or idea, falls far short of the biblical teaching regarding it.
Abraham, the "father of the faithful," had no proposition to accept. He had no revealed law to keep. He trusted God and the trust not only issued in but was expressed by obedience. Faith and obedience were to him inseparable. Faith which terminates in concepts and not in action is not the kind of faith Abraham had, which has become a pattern of righteousness for both Jew and Gentile for the Christian age. Abraham's example does not dismiss the intellectual in favor of action but adds the element of moral to the intellectual to make it truly rational.
Faith and Works
Biblical faith as a way to righteousness is classically illustrated by reference to Abraham. Hence a brief study of what constituted righteousness and faith in relation to him is in order. In Romans 2-4, the absolute contrast is drawn between ritual righteousness, which was wholly external and moralistic, and the spiritual nature of righteousness, which was of the spirit-or inner man-primarily. One was a dependence on an obedience to the letter of the law, with no regard for spiritual qualities; the other was a proper heart attitude toward God even in the absence of written law. One localized the possibility of acceptability by God to a chosen people on cultic grounds. The other opened that possibility to universal experience. The advantage of being a Jew was offset by the responsibility it entailed in knowledge and opportunity. The disadvantage of being a Gentile was offset by the basic law of righteousness, which, back of it all, was true for the Jew as well as the Gentile. By law, or without it, righteousness is possible only by faith in God. And Abraham, before there was a Jew or law, in believing God was considered righteous in God's sight. This effectively raises all people everywhere to the same standard of responsibility and the same possibility of redemption. This is the message of Paul's letter to the Romans (11:32).
It is a mistake to consider this section in Romans (2:5) primarily a philosophy of sin. It is, centrally, a presentation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus which is available to every man by faith. The fact that all have sinned is simply to show that atonement has been made for all sin by Christ and that the universal condition of receiving the benefits of grace is faith in God, not works. None are saved by works. All may be saved by faith.
Now it is also a mistake to identify all human effort and cooperation with "works" on the basis of this passage and contrast it to faith. The disparagement of works in this section is not a rejection of human activity and response as such, but a polemic against dependence on them without faith and all that faith means. It is not true biblical fact to define faith, in contrast to works, as cessation of activity, or passive "acceptance." This is a false comparison. The writer of Hebrews, with another purpose in mind for speaking of this same faith, gives us what Paul had no occasion to say in Romans, "By faith Abraham, when he was calledobeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8). Obedience defined his faith. James "confuses" the matter, too, until we look more deeply into the intention back of each of these writers. Listen to James: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seeth thou how faith wrought his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" (2:21-22).
Wesley speaks to this point with his usual discrimination, and his answer is worth consideration.
Q. 14. St. Paul says, Abraham was not justified by works; St. James, he was justified by works. Do they not contradict each other?
A. No: (1) Because they do not speak of the same justification. St. Paul speaks of that justification which was when Abraham was seventy-five years old, about twenty years before Isaac was born; St. James, of that justification which was when he offered up Isaac on the Altar.
(2) Because they do not speak of the same works; St. Paul speaking of works that proceed faith; St. James, of works that spring from it (Works, VIII, 277).
It is equally untenable to isolate faith so decisively from its component parts that it becomes an end in itself. So great a reliance can be put on faith that it will seem to be faith in faith-our faith-upon which justification rests. If, then, there are discrepancies in our Christian lives we may conclude, "I do not have faith enough," or, "My faith is too weak to obtain salvation." Justification is not faith in faith, but faith in God-a vast difference. Faith is a quality, not an amount of something. It is all too easy to drift into "works," inadvertently, even when discussing faith.
Love, the Dynamic of
Wesley is careful to put faith in its proper relationship to the whole complex of the Christian dynamic and prevents distorting faith into an object of worship.
We preach faith in Christ as not to supercede, but produce holiness. In order to do this, we continually declarethat faith itself, even Christian faith, the faith of God's elect, the faith of the operation of God, still is only the handmaid of love. As glorious and honorable as it is, it is not the end of the commandment. God hath given this honor to love alone.
Faithis the grand means of restoring that holy love wherein man was originally created. It follows, that although faith is of no value in itself, (as is neither any other means whatsoever), yet as it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law of love in our heartsit is on that account an unspeakable blessing to man, and of unspeakable value to God (Works, V, 462-64).
The dynamic of faith is, to Wesley, its task in establishing the law of love in our hearts and lives without which Christian faith is "as sounding brass" (1 Cor. 13:1). As we walk by faith "we go swiftly on the way to holiness." And in its influence we cannot avoid growing in our love for God; "neither can we avoid loving our neighbor."
Interestingly enough, no New Testament passage gives the slightest hint that we are to "accept" Christ or "what He has done for us." We are exhorted to believe in Him with all that means. Rather than a merely passive attitude, there is required an active participation in the reconciliation procedure, which is a two-way street. The tremendous exhortation of Rom. 12:1 is to the effect that we present ourselves "holy and acceptable" to God. In 14:18 it is said that he who in specified ways serveth Christ is acceptable to God. Peter says our task as lively stones in a spiritual house, or (to change the figure with Peter) as a holy priesthood, is to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Pet. 2:5). The writer to the Hebrews exhorts (12:28), "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably."
In none of the several places is a sinner ever asked to accept Christ in a merely intellectual way (2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 1:6; Phil. 4:18). It would be quite inaccurate to equate "accept" with "believing." By doing so, such problems are raised as: What does it mean to accept Christ? Is it to simply believe in the historical Christ and that He died for men? How can our acceptance of Him be a determinative factor in salvation? Is this not works? If our acceptance is of the verdict, "Acquitted," and the consequent man of faith is on the "heavenward side of the day of judgment," and "it is as though he had already entered heaven," and "when God looks down from above and sees the Lamb of God over me I am then righteous in His sight," why are the most morally demanding exhortations in the New Testament addressed to believers? Is not "acceptance theology" dangerously near perfectionism? At least without careful guards around the idea it could-and sometimes does-become so.
Parenthetically, it must be granted that there is a framework of thought in which "man's acceptance" is a proper word. It is that the extent of the atonement reaches every man. Forgiveness can only be offered by God, not demanded by man. Otherwise, it would put the responsibility for man's salvation squarely upon himself-not by earning it by what he does, but by exercising his moral responsibility in yielding his proud heart to God.
The moral structure of faith is indicated by two key words, obedience and love. It is obvious that obedience alone is not itself a semantic or moral synonym for the faith which is requisite to justification. Obedience must have the ingredient of faith in it to appropriate righteousness. Conversely, faith must include obedience to make it saving faith. James vivid and dramatic teaching that "faith without works is dead" is not antithetical to Paul's theology. To the Roman church Paul writes (6:16) that righteousness lies in the path of obedience, and he thanks God (6:17) that they had "obeyed from the heart." "Obedience of faith" is twice mentioned in the same letter, once of Paul himself (1:5) and once of the gospel message (16:26). Paul's deepest concern for the Corinthians was that every thought should be brought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). The writer to the Hebrews virtually identifies faith and obedience in 5:8-9; "Though he were a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." To substitute "they who believe on him" would not be out of keeping with the whole of New Testament teaching, but it is highly significant that obedience should be the chosen word in this passage.
That faith is morally oriented and not some magical, morally disjunctive method of assuring ourselves of salvation is further indicated by another consideration relative to human attitudes. We mean by "magic" any confidence in the power of word, thought, or act to effect supra-historical results, or any attempt to achieve effects without an adequate cause. When one says that "the future can hold no possible condemnation" for the man who has "received the work of Christ upon the cross and has exercised saving faith because for him the future judgment has already taken place," he is interpreting faith as magic, in that moral men are thought to bypass moral responsibility.
Magic is always amoral and a-causal, whether it is religious or otherwise. Some critics of evangelicalism have called supernaturalism belief in magic. This charge cannot stand up under scholarly investigation, but a supernaturalism that supposes it can bypass the moral dimension of human experience is belief in magic. The Bible stands squarely opposed to just such perversions of truth. Its supernaturalism is preserved from the amorality of speculation precisely by the incarnation of Christ and the involvement of human experience in truth. Faith as taught in the Scripture is not credulity but is intellectually and morally relevant. Supernaturalism is not super-history but God's grace met by human faith.
The Heart and Faith
The moral structure of faith is also indicated by its relation to the heart and to love. The heart is a common symbol for the moral center of the personality. The heart is never in the Bible distinguished from the seat of thinking by an emphasis on mere feeling. It is the "inner man" where moral considerations are tested and where the "atmosphere" of the whole person is determined. It is the seat of moral judgment and the arbiter of action. God makes all moral appeals to the heart. Jesus said it was out of the heart that evil proceeded and it was the heart which was ro love God wholly. Paul speaks of the heart as being darkened and foolish and lustful and hard and impenitent (Romans 1-2), and the heart into which the Holy Spirit sheds love (Romans 5). To him it is the heart that obeys (Rom. 6:16) and the heart that believes (Rom. 10:9) unto righteousness. That Christ may dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians, by faith, was Paul's prayer (Eph. 3:17), and this is related to a rooting and grounding "in love." To the Galatians, Paul said it was not the external things, whether circumcision or no circumcision, but faith working by love (Gal. 5:6) that availed with God. Faith is put in the context of love in 1 Corinthians 13, not contrariwise. Love is the only permanent "virtue."
On of the most remarkable and significant teachings about the Christian life is that it is not faith that satisfies the law, but it is love that is the fulfillment of the whole law. This does not mean, obviously, that one could love without faith but that faith comes into its moral significance in love. It is remarkable the number of times these two words are conjoined. Paul had heard with delight about the Ephesians' faith in Christ and love of the saints (Eph. 1:15), and his parting blessing is, "Peaceand love with faith, from God" (Eph. 6:23). The Thessalonians were to put on "the breastplate of faith and love" (1 Thes. 5:8). To Timothy, Paul wrote that the grace of Christ had been abundant to him in faith and love (1 Tim. 1:14), and that Timothy was to pursue "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim. 6:11). Philemon was highly commended for his love and faith toward Christ and all the saints (Phil. 1:5).
If faith is a moral act and its maintenance a moral concern, the righteousness which it brings is related most directly to the moral life. It is commonly said that righteousness, or justification, is a purely legal and eschatological matter. That is, (1) atonement is objective only and not in any sense connected with human renovation or actual sin or human will or actions. This viewpoint is expressed by Donald Barnhouse in Eternity (January, 1958): "God cannot improve human nature. God will not improve the old sinful nature of man. God has never been interested in moral reform" (p. 26). And (2) the future judgement, for the one who "accepts Christ," is past, so that nothing can be charged against him no matter what he does, and that in the next life full redemption will be experienced. To put it in a modern metaphor, a believe enters a sort of premature heaven where temptation's force by a reevaluation of sin. As another has said, "It is as thought we had already entered heaven." This is the kind of perfectionism against which Wesley stood.
The nature of justification. It sometimes means our acquittal at the last day (Matt. 12:37). But this is altogether out of the present question; that justification whereof our articles and Homilies speak, meaning present forgiveness, pardon of sins, and consequently, acceptance with God; who therein "declares this righteousness" (or mercy, by or) "for the remission of the sins that are past;" saying, "I will be merciful to thy unrighteousness, and thine iniquities I will remember no more" (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 8:12).
I believe the condition of this faith (Rom. 4:5, &c.:); I mean, not only, that without faith we cannot be justified; but also, that as soon as any one has true faith, in that moment he is justified.
Good works follow this faith, but cannot go before it (Luke 6:43): Much less can sanctification, which implies a continued course of good works, springing from holiness of heart. But it is allowed that entire sanctification goes before our justification at the last day (Heb. 12:14) (Works, VIII, 46-47).
The moral relevance is indicated in several ways, none more interesting than the biblical grammar and verb forms. The need for maintaining faith is indicated by the overwhelming preference for the present indicative or participle in referring to believing. This would indicate the dynamic character of faith in contrast to any static view. A few examples of this will suffice. John's Gospel is notable for its teaching about believing on Jesus. John 12 says that the power to become children of God is given to those who continue to believe. The third chapter has several such passages (for example, verses 15 and 36), with the familiar sixteenth verse a striking example. Whosoever continues to believe in himnot, "shall have eternal life," but (subjunctive), may have it. That is, eternal life is not dependant upon the continuance of faith. The Greek makes this dramatically clear what the English fails to quite fully express.
This contingency of effect to the continuing qualification of believing is expressed in a number of passages (e.g., John 6:35, 40; 20:31). In acts we are told that those believing persons of the circumcised were amazed that the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius (Acts 10:45); and Paul in preaching at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:39) states clearly that those who are believing are justified. Paul says, in Rom. 1:16, that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to those believing (see also Rom. 3:20-26), and this same tense is used in Rom. 4:5 and 24. The tenth chapter is a commentary on the faith/works tension, making clear that it is a continually believing heart that is considered righteous. In this chapter no obedience is recognized as valid that does not have in it the "heart that believes" (continuing to do so).
Faith and the Walk
All new Testament teaching strengthens one's understanding of the necessity for a "walk" of faith and discourages any reliance on an amoral, intellectualized definition of faith. Whatever is involved in faith, it certainly makes a difference in life. It is this difference in which holiness theology is interested.
The contingency of faith determines the continuance of the Christian walk. This is clearly taught in the New Testament. John's "if" (John 15:6) cannot be lightly regarded. If a man does not abide in Christ, he is cut off from the Vine. No interpretation of Paul's "if" in Romans 8 and eleven which assumes it to be simply a rhetorical hypothesis quite does justice to the moral earnestness of these passages. "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit[keep mortifying] the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8). "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee goodness, if thou continue in his goodness" (Rom. 11:21-22). Again, "Youhath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith (Col. 1:21-23).
No biblical passage when taken in context gives the slightest ground for assuming that by a single act of faith (which has not gone deeper than an intellectual assent) eternal salvation is assured. Believing must be both a moral act and continuing moral commitment. That is, faith is a way of life, not merely an affirmation. It is hard to see how Barnhouse can say, "God's promises to a believer are unconditional" (Eternity, Jan., 1958). Obedience does not simply follow justification as a test of one's state of grace; it is itself an element in the faith by which justification is realized and the Christian life begun.
If then you say, "We ascribe to God alone the whole glory of our salvation;" I answer, So do we too. If you add, "Nay but we affirm, that god alone does the whole work, without man's working at all," in one sense, we allow this also. We allow, it is the work of God alone to justify, to sanctify, and to glorify; which three comprehend the whole of salvation. Yet we cannot allow, that man can only resist, and not in any wise "work together with god" or that god is so the whole worker of our salvation, as to exclude man's working at all. This I dare not say; for I cannot prove it by Scripture; nay, it is flatly contrary thereto for the Scripture is express, that (having received power from God) we are to "work out our own salvation" and that (after the work of God is begun in our souls) we are "workers together with Him" (Works, X, 230-31).
Faith is not the cessation of all effort or the relaxing of all moral tensions, or the loss of ant personal integrity. Faith is a reversal of all dependencies from other than God to God himself. It involves obedience, not primarily to law, but to god, whose Spirit interprets law spiritually to the inner heart. "By faith" is a new direction of all of life's activities and love. It initiates the lifelong, yea, eternity-long serving of God. Faith is not a surrender of moral responsibility but the beginning of real moral maturation. It is not necessarily a change in activity, but it is a change in moral atmosphere of the person-a change of the object of affection. It means that instead of living for the approval of others, or the self, or pride of personal integrity measured by the letter of the law, we now look beyond these things-to God, who has been made Lord of the whole life. There is a growing sensitivity to His approval or disapproval. We "take orders from God," without taking advantage of apparent freedom from external restraint.
Taking orders from God does not liberate us from social obligation and biblical teaching and common human responsibilities. It does not permit us to disentangle ourselves from the interlocking human relationships that constitute normal and proper humanhood. It does, in fact, put us at the crossroads of life. We cannot fly in the face of convention and push away the hands that cling to us for strength and help. "Taking orders from god" in the life of faith means that all our thoughts, words, and actions stand under the constant judgment of God as to the motivation, intention, and moral quality of our obedience. Paul described this life of faith in a clear and forceful way (1 Cor. 4:1-5) when he said it is required of a steward that he be found faithful. The faithfulness was not a judgment which another could make, either favorably or otherwise. It was not even enough for the personal conscience to approve. The final word must be spoken by the Lord.
"By faith" is the moral link between the provision of Calvary and sinful men. It makes the juridical term "justification" a true ground of the redeeming life. It prevents moral complacency by defending moral relevancy. It undercuts all possibility of spiritual pride or the possibility of religious aristocracy. It prohibits isolation from the world and forces full participation in it. It robs of any comfort from verbal symbols, or intellectualism, and compels a continuing, faithful, patient, prayerful, sensitive, growing awareness of God's Spirit and His directive for daily life. Some kind of idolatry is the only alternative to the lordship of Christ, and idolatry is the essence of sin. Justification is a falsehood if it is imputed to an idolatrous man. No idolatrous person can say, "I accept Christ as my Saviour and Lord." The saving Christ is not a proposition to be accepted but a Person to be loved and obeyed.
Faith is not the boundary around the Christ which sets him apart and defines him. It is the open-ended "growing edge" which keeps him from mere definition and makes him a flowing-out life, a dynamo of love.
Faith, then, is the continuing atmosphere in which all the benefits of grace and steps of salvation are made possible. We could say that a believer has everything provisionally, but nothing is actually his until by faith [it is appropriated]. And this appropriation is morally structured. It is of the essence of obedience and love. Faith gears into moral experience and "love, the dynamic of holiness," is ethical to the core.
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