I read some great stuff on what saving faith is and isn’t the other day, by William Guthrie. As well as writing the brilliant The Christian’s Great Interest (Banner of Truth, 1969), Guthrie was also an Ayrshireman like myself, ministering in the 17th century in Fenwick some 15 miles north of where I was brought up.
Guthrie says that,
…justifying faith is not to believe that I am elected. or to believe that God loveth me, or that Christ died for me, or the like … I say, true justifying faith not any of the aforesaid things; neither is it simply the believing of any sentence written, or that can be thought upon … None of these, nor the believing of any such truth evinces justifying faith or that believing on the Son of God spoken of in Scripture; for then it were simply an act of the understanding; but true justifying faith, which we now seek after, as a good mark of an interest in Christ, is chiefly and principally and act or work of the heart and will
This may seem quite shocking, especially since, as I have sometimes heard, Christians will often encourage a prospective new Christian to believe that ‘Christ died for you’. True: this is essential. But Guthrie goes beyond this kind of statement recognising that knowing these things and believing them to be true is merely an intellectual state. Faith, however, goes deeper, affecting the motives and principles of life.
Guthrie goes on to illustrate this with the following statements and Bible references,
The Scripture hath clearly resolved justifying faith into a receiving of Christ … The receiving of Christ is explained [in John 1:12] to be the believing on His name. It is also called a staying on the Lord (Is 26:3); a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on him. It is a believing on Christ … When God maketh men believe savingly, He is said to draw them unto Christ; and when the Lord inviteth them to believe, he calleth them to come to Him. (John 6:37,44)
(pp. 62,63, emphasis Guthrie’s)
‘Receiving’, ‘staying on’, ‘trusting’, ‘leaning on’, ‘believing on’, and ‘coming’ are all participles of response which cannot be done without a change of heart and will. Justifying, saving faith can never be a matter of mere understanding.
Now, in this section of his writing Guthrie is seeking to show that because it is not a matter of the intellect, but a matter of the heart and will, saving faith is therefore not as difficult to discern as some would make out. He goes on:
Now, I say this acting of the heart on Christ Jesus is not so difficult a thing as is conceived. Shall that be judged a mysterious difficult thing which doth consist much in desire? If men have but an appetite, they have it; for they are ‘blessed that hunger after righteousness’ (Matt 5:6).
This is the clincher. Asking someone how he knows he has saving faith is not a matter of listing doctrines. It is the same kind of question as asking how he knows he is hungry. Silly question – he has an appetite. He can feel it as a desire for food. In the same way, a person with saving faith has an appetite for his Saviour, Jesus Christ. He has a desire for him. We see this exemplified in Paul,
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Phil. 3:8b,9, ESV)
This is what saving faith does. It wants Christ. Let’s settle for nothing less.