Question 21. What Is True Faith?
There are four kinds of faith enumerated in the Holy Scriptures, viz: historical, temporary, the faith of working miracles, and justifying or saving faith. The difference which exists between the different kinds of faith here specified, will appear by giving a proper definition of each.
Historical faith is to know and believe that every word of God is true which is divinely delivered and revealed, whether by the voice, or by oracles, or by visions, or by any other method of revelation by which the divine will is made known unto us, upon the authority and declaration of God Himself. It is called historical because it is merely a knowledge of those things which God is said to have done, or now does, or will hereafter do. The Scriptures speak of this faith in these places: “If I have all faith so that I could remove mountains,” which may also be understood of all the different kinds of faith, except justifying. “The devils believe and tremble.” “Simon also believed,” viz: that the doctrine of Peter was true, yet he had no justifying faith.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. James 2:19
13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Acts 8:13
Temporary faith is an assent to the doctrines of the church, accompanied with profession and joy, but not with a true and abiding joy, such as arises from some other cause, whatever it may be, so that it endures only for a time, and in seasons of affliction dies away. Or, it is to assent to the doctrine delivered by the prophets and apostles, to profess it, to glory in it, and to rejoice for a time in the knowledge of it; but not on account of an application of the promise to itself, or on account of a sense of the grace of God in the heart, but for other causes.
This definition is drawn from what Christ says in the explanation of the parable of the sower; “He that received the seed into the stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and anon with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while, for when tribulation or persecution arise because of the word, by and by he is offended.” (Matthew 13:20,21) The causes of this joy are in a manner infinite, and different in different individuals; yet they are all temporary, and when they fade, the faith that is built upon them vanishes away.
Hypocrites rejoice in hearing the gospel, either because it is new to them, or because it seems to calm their minds, while it delivers them from the burdens which men, by their traditions, have imposed upon them . . . or, because they seek, under its profession, a cloak for their sins, and hope to reap rewards and advantages, both public and private, such as riches, honor, glory . . . which shows itself when they are called to bear the cross; for then, because they have no root in themselves, they fall away. But hypocrites do not rejoice as true believers, from a sense of the grace of God, and from an application to themselves of the benefits offered in the divine word, which may be regarded as the cause of true and substantial joy in the faithful.
This temporary faith differs from historical only in the joy which accompanies it. Historical faith includes nothing more than mere knowledge; while this has joy connected with this knowledge; for these time-serving men “receive the word with joy.” The devils believe, historically, and tremble, but they do not rejoice in the knowledge which they have; but rather wish it were extinguished; yes, they do not even profess themselves to be followers of this doctrine, although they know it to be true; but hate and oppose it most bitterly.
In men, however, historical faith is sometimes joined with profession, and sometimes not; for men often, whatever may be the causes, profess that truth and religion which they hate. Many also who know the doctrine to be true, still oppose it. These sin against the Holy Ghost.