Defining Faith – Rutherford Style

How should we define faith?  Samuel Rutherford, via Guy Richard, is very helpful indeed.  Richard’s summary of  Rutherford is as follows:

Faith necessarily and in the first instance involves the intellect. Certain facts must be known and believed to be true.
But saving faith is more than that, because ‘it is not enough to salvation [simply] to believe that God is true in his Word’.  Saving faith also contains the voluntaristic element of trust or fiducia.  And, in continuity with Calvin, specifically, and Reformation and post-Reformation thinking generally – including such men as Musculus, Ursinus, Ames, Leigh, Ussher, and Macovius – Rutherford placed fiducia at the very center of his definition of faith:
‘True Faith in the Scriptures is not merely a firm assent [assensus] to the way of God, which is prescribed by Christ; this is the Historical and dogmatic faith of the Papists; but more than an assent [assensus] of the mind, true faith is determined by the heart’s trusting [fiduciam] in God through the Mediator, and by a fiducial [fiducialis] leaning upon him.
Richard, Supremacy of God, 187-8

Rutherford’s polemic here is directed against Arminian, as well as Roman, theology (those who know the modern American debate over the definition of faith should understand the irony in this!).  Richard’s goes on to explain:

By denying that fiducia is of the essence of saving faith, the Arminians are, as Rutherford sees it, placing their emphasis on the rational rather than on the experiential … As a result, the Christian life becomes primarily a rational pursuit rather than an intimate relationship … involving every faculty within the individual … they reduce the object of faith merely to factual information that must be personally understood, believed and trusted in. Such a view according to Rutherford, is wholly ‘misleading’ and ‘futile’,
‘[b]ecause the object of Faith, in this way of thinking, is not Christ … But the History of the Gospel, by which I firmly believe that I avoid hell and obtain eternal life only through Christ and his reasoning [rationem], as prescribed in the Gospel … [and because] to believe in Christ in this way is merely to believe in Christ recounting [narranti] that people obtain eternal life by repentance and faith: But this is an Historical faith, which is in the Demons and many of the reprobate.’
Ibid, 190-1

What is the implication of this definition of faith, involving as it does more than simple intellectual apprehension?  Well it should mean that preaching seeks to do much more than simply impart knowledge:

Rutherford, therefore, believes that every minister should preach in such a way as to appeal to and excite all the faculties of the soul, but especially the affections. A sermon that concentrates only on the presentation of information to the mind fails to excite the affections and, thus, leaves its hearers no better off in their pursuit of sanctification. Truth must be crafted and presented in such a way so as to encourage love in the affections for Christ.
Ibid, 203

Amen to that Mr Rutherford!


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