Chapter 16.

{136} THE thought came across Reding whether perhaps, after all, what is called Evangelical Religion was not the true Christianity: its professors, he knew, were active and influential, and in past times had been much persecuted. Freeborn had surprised and offended him at Bateman's breakfast-party before the Vacation; yet Freeborn had a serious manner about him, and perhaps he had misunderstood him. The thought, however, passed away as suddenly as it came, and perhaps would not have occurred to him again, when an accident gave him some data for determining the question.

One afternoon he was lounging in the Parks, gazing with surprise on one of those extraordinary lights for which the neighbourhood of Oxford is at that season celebrated, and which, as the sun went down, was colouring Marston, Elsfield, and their half-denuded groves with a pale gold-and-brown hue, when he found himself overtaken and addressed by the said Freeborn in propri‚ person‚. Freeborn liked a tÍte-ŗ-tÍte talk much better than a dispute in a party; he felt himself at more advantage in long leisurely speeches, and he was soon put out of breath when he had to bolt-out or {137} edge-in his words amid the ever-varying voices of a breakfast table. He thought the present might be a good opportunity of doing good to a poor youth who did not know chalk from cheese, and who, by his means, might be, as he would word it, "savingly converted". So they got into conversation, talked of Willis's step, which Freeborn called awful; and, before Charles knew where he was, he found himself asking Freeborn what he meant by "faith".

"Faith," said Freeborn, "is a Divine gift, and is the instrument of our justification in God's sight. We are all by nature displeasing to Him, till He justifies us freely for Christ's sake. Faith is like a hand, appropriating personally the merits of Christ, who is our justification. Now what can we want more, or have more, than those merits? Faith, then, is everything, and does everything for us. You see, then, how important it is to have a right view about justification by faith only. If we are sound on this capital point, everything else may take its chance; we shall at once see the folly of contending about ceremonies, about forms of Church-government, about, I will even say, sacraments or creeds. External things will, in that case, either be neglected, or will find a subordinate place."

Reding observed that of course Freeborn did not mean to say that good works were not necessary for obtaining God's favour; "but if they were, how was justification by faith only?"

Freeborn smiled, and said that he hoped Reding would have clearer views in a little time. It was a very simple matter. Faith not only justified, it {138} regenerated also. It was the root of sanctification, as well as of Divine acceptance. The same act which was the means of bringing us into God's favour secured our being meet for it. Thus good works were secured, because faith would not be true faith unless it were such as to be certain of bringing forth good works in due time.

Reding thought this view simple and clear, though it unpleasantly reminded him of Dr. Brownside. Freeborn added that it was a doctrine suited to the poor, that it put all the gospel into a nutshell, that it dispensed with criticism, primitive ages, teachers—in short, with authority in whatever form. It swept theology clean away. There was no need to mention this last consequence to Charles; but he passed it by wishing to try the system on its own merits.

"You speak of true faith," he said, "as producing good works: you say that no faith justifies but true faith, and true faith produces good works. In other words, I suppose faith, which is certain to be fruitful, or fruitful faith, justifies. This is very like saying that faith and works are the joint means of justification."

"Oh, no, no," cried Freeborn, "that is deplorable doctrine: it is quite opposed to the gospel, it is anti-Christian. We are justified by faith only, apart from good works."

"I am in an Article lecture just now," said Charles, "and Upton told us that we must make a distinction of this kind; for instance, the Duke of Wellington is Chancellor of the University, but, though he is as much Chancellor as Duke, still he sits in the House of Lords {139} as Duke, not as Chancellor. Thus, although faith is as truly fruitful as it is faith, yet it does not justify as being fruitful, but as being faith. Is this what you mean?"

"Not at all," said Freeborn; "that was Melancthon's doctrine; he explained away a cardinal truth into a mere matter of words; he made faith a mere symbol, but this is a departure from the pure gospel: faith is the instrument not a symbol of justification. It is, in truth, a mere apprehension, and nothing else: the seizing and clinging which a beggar might venture on when a king passed by. Faith is as poor as Job in the ashes: it is like Job stripped of all pride and pomp and good works: it is covered with filthy rags: it is without anything good: it is, I repeat, a mere apprehension. Now you see what I mean."

"I can't believe I understand you," said Charles: "you say that to have faith is to seize Christ's merits; and that we have them, if we will but seize them. But surely not every one who seizes them gains them; because dissolute men, who never have a dream of thorough repentance or real hatred of sin, would gladly seize and appropriate them, if they might do so. They would like to get to heaven for nothing. Faith, then, must be some particular kind of apprehension; what kind?—good works cannot be mistaken, but an 'apprehension' may. What, then, is a true apprehension? what is faith?"

"What need, my dear friend," answered Freeborn, "of knowing metaphysically what true faith is, if we have it and enjoy it? I do not know what bread is, but I eat it; do I wait till a chemist analyses it? No; {140} I eat it, and I feel the good effects afterwards. And so let us be content to know, not what faith is, but what it does, and enjoy our blessedness in possessing it."

"I really don't want to introduce metaphysics," said Charles, "but I will adopt your own image. Suppose I suspected the bread before me to have arsenic in it, or merely to be unwholesome, would it be wonderful if I tried to ascertain how the fact stood?"

"Did you do so this morning at breakfast?" asked Freeborn.

"I did not suspect my bread," answered Charles.

"Then why suspect faith?" asked Freeborn.

"Because it is, so to say, a new substance"—Freeborn sighed—"because I am not used to it, nay, because I suspect it. I must say suspect it; because, though I don't know much about the matter, I know perfectly well, from what has taken place in my father's parish, what excesses this doctrine may lead to, unless it is guarded. You say that it is a doctrine for the poor; now they are very likely to mistake one thing for another; so indeed is every one. If, then, we are told, that we have but to apprehend Christ's merits, and need not trouble ourselves about any thing else; that justification has taken place, and works will follow; that all is done, and that salvation is complete, while we do but continue to have faith; I think we ought to be pretty sure that we have faith, real faith, a real apprehension, before we shut up our books and make holiday."

Freeborn was secretly annoyed that he had got into an argument, or pained, as he would express it, at the {141} pride of Charles's natural man, or the blindness of his carnal reason; but there was no help for it, he must give him an answer.

"There are, I know, many kinds of faith," he said; "and of course you must be on your guard against mistaking false faith for true faith. Many persons, as you most truly say, make this mistake; and most important is it—all important I should say—to go right. First, it is evident that it is not mere belief in facts, in the being of a God, or in the historical event that Christ has come and gone. Nor is it the submission of the reason to mysteries; nor, again, is it that sort of trust which is required for exercising the gift of miracles. Nor is it knowledge and acceptance of the contents of the Bible. I say, it is not knowledge, it is not assent of the intellect, it is not historical faith, it is not dead faith: true justifying faith is none of these—it is seated in the heart and affections." He paused, then added: "Now, I suppose, for practical purposes, I have described pretty well what justifying faith is."

Charles hesitated: "By describing what it is not you mean," said he; "justifying faith, then, is, I suppose, living faith."

"Not so fast," answered Freeborn.

"Why," said Charles, "if it's not dead faith, it's living faith."

"It's neither dead faith nor living," said Freeborn, "but faith, simple faith, which justifies. Luther was displeased with Melancthon for saying that living and operative faith justified. I have studied the question very carefully."{142}

"Then do you tell me," said Charles, "what faith is, since I do not explain it correctly. For instance, if you said (what you don't say), that faith was submission of the reason to mysteries, or acceptance of Scripture as an historical document, I should know perfectly well what you meant; that is information: but when you say, that faith which justifies is an apprehension of Christ, that it is not living faith, or fruitful faith, or operative, but a something which in fact and actually is distinct from these, I confess I feel perplexed."

Freeborn wished to be out of the argument. "Oh," he said, "if you really once experienced the power of faith—how it changes the heart, enlightens the eyes, gives a new spiritual taste, a new sense to the soul; if you once knew what it was to be blind, and then to see, you would not ask for definitions. Strangers need verbal descriptions, the heirs of the kingdom enjoy. Oh, if you could but be persuaded to put off high imaginations, to strip yourself of your proud self, and to experience in yourself the wonderful change, you would live in praise and thanksgiving, instead of argument and criticism."

Charles was touched by his warmth; "But," he said, "we ought to act by reason; and I don't see that I have more, or so much, reason to listen to you, as to listen to the Roman Catholic, who tells me I cannot possibly have that certainty of faith before believing, which on believing will be divinely given me".

"Surely," said Freeborn, with a grave face, "you would not compare the spiritual Christian, such as Luther, holding his cardinal doctrine about justification, {143} to any such formal, legal, superstitious devotee as Popery can make, with its carnal rites and quack remedies, which never really cleanse the soul or reconcile it to God?"

"I don't like you to talk so," said Reding; "I know very little about the real nature of Popery, but when I was a boy I was once, by chance, in a Roman Catholic chapel; and I really never saw such devotion in my life—the people all on their knees, and most earnestly attentive to what was going on. I did not understand what that was; but I am sure, had you been there, you never would have called their religion, be it right or wrong, an outward form or carnal ordinance."

Freeborn said it deeply pained him to hear such sentiments, and to find that Charles was so tainted with the errors of the day, and he began, not with much tact, to talk of the Papal Antichrist, and would have got off to prophecy, had Charles said a word to afford fuel for discussion. As he kept silence, Freeborn's zeal burnt out, and there was a break in the conversation.

After a time, Reding ventured to begin again.

"If I understand you," he said, "faith carries its own evidence with it. Just as I eat my bread at breakfast without hesitation about its wholesomeness, so, when I have really faith, I know it beyond mistake, and need not look out for tests of it."

"Precisely so," said Freeborn; "you begin to see what I mean; you grow. The soul is enlightened to see that it has real faith."

"But how," asked Charles, "are we to rescue those {144} from their dangerous mistake who think they have faith, while they have not? Is there no way in which they can find out that they are under a delusion?"

"It is not wonderful," said Freeborn, "though there be no way. There are many self-deceivers in the world. Some men are self-righteous, trust in their works, and think they are safe when they are in a state of perdition; no formal rules can be given by which their reason might for certain detect their mistake. And so of false faith."

"Well, it does seem to me wonderful," said Charles, "that there is no natural and obvious warning provided against this delusion; wonderful that false faith should be so exactly like true faith that there is nothing to determine their differences from each other. Effects imply causes; if one apprehension of Christ leads to good works, and another does not, there must be something in the one which is not in the other. What is a false apprehension of Christ wanting in which a true apprehension has? The word apprehension is so vague; it conveys no definite idea to me, yet justification depends on it. Is a false apprehension, for instance, wanting in repentance and amendment?"

"No, no," said Freeborn; "true faith is complete without conversion; conversion follows; but faith is the root."

"Is it the love of God which distinguishes true faith from false?"

"Love?" answered Freeborn; "you should read what Luther says in his celebrated comment on the Galatians. He calls such a doctrine 'pestilens figmentum,' {145} 'diaboli portentum'; and cries out against the Papists, 'Fereant sophistś cum su‚ maledict‚ gloss‚!'"

"Then it differs from false faith in nothing."

"Not so," said Freeborn; "it differs from it in its fruits: 'By their fruits ye shall know them'."

"This is coming round to the same point again," said Charles; "fruits come after; but a man, it seems, is to take comfort in his justification before fruits come, before he knows that his faith will produce them."

"Good works are the necessary fruits of faith," said Freeborn; "so says the Article."

Charles made no answer, but said to himself, "My good friend here certainly has not the clearest of heads"; then aloud, "Well, I despair of getting at the bottom of the subject".

"Of course," answered Freeborn, with an air of superiority, though in a mild tone, "it is a very simple principle, 'Fides justificat ante et sine charitate'; but it requires a Divine light to embrace it."

They walked awhile in silence; then, as the day was now closing in, they turned homewards, and parted company when they came to the Clarendon.

Chapter 1-17

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