Page images

The remarks of Dr. Chalmers on the effects of the mediation of Christ are of great value. That work meets the demands of “our moral nature."1“ It is the only scheme which brings the offers of mercy to the sinner into practical adjustment with what the sinner himself feels imperatively due to the holiness and the justice of God.”2 “ We have often felt, when thinking of the doctrine of the atonement, how much the orthodoxy of Scripture is at one with the orthodoxy of that sound ethical system which is espoused by the best and the greatest of our philosophers." In view of the truth that One has borne our sins, we can see the justice of God in pardoning us; the redemptive work has made it consistent for Him to confer happiness upon the unworthy. In Christ we are reconciled to ourselves as truly as to God. In advancing these opinions, Dr. Chalmers speaks of the righteousness of Christ as “imputed to us.” But he says that such is only a “judicial or forensic” use of language. It denotes that change in a man's relation to the law and lawgiver, by which he is now reckoned with, and treated as a just person.” The term justification “ describes not the man's moral rightness, but his legal right."4. It is, therefore, in the treatment made possible to the sinner by the atonement, that we find the meaning of those terms which impute our guilt to Christ, and His righteousness to us. By the remark that Christ has both “ suffered and served in our stead,” we are to understand that the believer is dealt with as if he had himself obeyed the whole law. Dr. Chalmers reiterates his belief in the “immutability of divine justice." But he does not attempt to follow the vicarious work of Christ beyond its immediate and practical relations. He seems to be addressing himself directly to some heavy-laden penitent, when he says that the Redeemer “ took upon Him, not merely the punishment that we should have borne, but the performances that we should have rendered.” 5 Were this the language of a scholastic divine, a question might be raised as to the justice of demanding of Christ a twofold

3 Ibid.

1 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. p. 68. 4 Ibid. p. 69.

2 Ibid.
5 Ibid. p. 81.

satisfaction of the law. If He as our substitute has performed all that we should have done, whence the propriety of subjecting Him to punishment? While His obedience literally takes the place of ours, it must of itself cover the entire ground of our responsibility, thus leaving no room for penal infliction on our account. Hence every one of the redeemed could claim eternal blessedness, by the highest conceivable right ; and we might reject the doctrine of the atoning death of the Saviour, as a needless sacrifice. Thus the theory of the strict imputation of the righteousness of Christ to His followers hides the glory of His cross. These remarks of Dr. Chalmers were not made, as some might think, in the spirit of Atinomianism, but in an attempt to set forth vividly the wondrous provisions of the Gospel. He was too intent on this purpose, to pause to notice the distinction between general justice and distributive justice. He had no thought of advancing a theory which ends, logically, either in the dogma of a limited atonement, or in the falsehood of universal salvation.

XIV. Saving Faith. Dr. Chalmers taught that saving faith is never exercised by the unregenerate. “ Men do not believe naturally." : He alludes to the theory, held by some, that faith "originated the process” of the new birth. 6 Hence the erroneous dogma that faith comes before regeneration itself; nay, is the cause of it ; whereas, instead of its cause, itself is but a constituent part of it.” 4. In this remark he regards regeneration, in its broadest sense, as including a voluntary act on

1 Dr. Chalmers has elsewhere said that “ virtue [righteousness) is the ultimate and highest good of existence.” Certainly, then, the righteousness of Christ, which is of infinite value, ought not to be represented as the means to an end ; much less should this be done, where the end proposed is the happiness of sinful creatures. Suffering may be endured for the guilty, but holiness cannot be thus degraded ; it is itself higher and nobler than any other object.

2 For thc eloquent remarks of Dr. Chalmers on the fitness of the doctrine of the atonement for popular impression, the reader is referred to pp. 87-90 in the second volume of the “ Institutes." 3 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. p. 122.

4 Ibid.


the part of the subject of it. Elsewhere, however, he views the process as restricted to a sphere lying back of all proper volition. Regeneration, in this latter sense, he refers wholly to the agency of God. It is an erroneous theory, “ that if the intellectual in man were so renovated as to fulfil its part aright, the emotional would not be wanting to its part.” “ All which is good and new in the result of this process cometh from above." 2 So far as there is any change in the natural sensibilities, it is wholly the work of God. This is true no less of the emotional than of the intellectual nature. The Spirit not only makes the perception clearer, but the heart more tender. God may use instruments, yet the work is referable to himself ultimately. Only such as are thus renewed, exercise faith in Christ. “The fact of dependence," however, should not be separated from that of “duty." 3 “ There is a useless and inoperative Calvinism, which has its evils," no less than Pelagianism and Arminianism." 4 Regeneration does not supersede intelligence.” 5

The newborn soul exercises "faith upon conviction, and on right grounds of conviction.” 6 “ The views of the understanding have the same mastery over the determinations of the will in the new creature, which they have in the old." 7 In accordance with these views, Dr. Chalmers represents faith as a rational act. It is the belief, of the renewed man, in that which appears to him to be worthy of belief. The process of regeneration does not justify the sinner, unless it involve within itself this element of intelligent faith.S

Faith cannot be defined, except nominally. The term expresses “ a simple idea.” Many theologians teach that saving faith is belief“ joined with something else - perhaps with love."9 But “we incline to faith in its simplicity.” 10 “Faith is belief, and nothing more." Saving faith does not involve the idea of obedience. It is an act of the “ understanding."12 It is by a somewhat unusual process of reasoning, that Dr. Chalmers shows how such faith secures the sal

1 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. p. 114.
4 Ibid. p. 121. 6 Ibid. p. 123.
8 Ibid. p. 123. 9 Ibid. p. 124.
VOL. XIII. No. 51.

2 Ibid. p. 113.
6 Ibid.
10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

3 Ibid. p. 120. 7 Ibid. p. 124. 1o Ibid. p. 143.


vation of the guilty. He supposes several distinct acts of faith, in order to the possession of a saving faith. There is a belief in the atonement of the Gospel, and also in the obli. gations which it imposes. Saving faith is “not confined to the one object of Christ having died a sacrifice." It looks “ freely and abroad over all the statements of Scripture." 2 Nor is his belief in all the objective truths of Christianity enough to justify the sinner. He must also “ look subjectively." 3 After one act of faith in the atonement, and another in the precepts of the Gospel, he needs to have faith " in the consciousness that he is resolved, on the strength of divine grace, to be all which the Bible requires of him." 4 6 One may

believe in an offer of salvation made to all who will; yet, if conscious to himself that he will not and has not consented, he has no ground for believing in the very different proposition that he has any part in this salvation.” 5 Thus saving faith is made out to be much more than simply faith in Christ; while it is, at the same time, represented as belonging wholly to the “understanding.” The first act has reference to a Redeemer; the second, to all Christian duties; and the third, to the consciousness of a personal appropriation, not only of the promises, but also of the precepts of the Gospel. This consciousness cannot exist, however, without obedience. Thus is saving faith shown to be wholly an intellectual belief. Salvation is conditioned upon an exercise of the understanding," and "nothing more;” but this act of the intellect is, in the last instance, founded on personal obedience. It certainly seems more natural that a man should be accepted for what he has done, than for his belief that he has done it; for his worthiness, rather than for his consciousness of being worthy.

Such, according to Dr. Chalmers, is the nature of saving faith. But in representing it as the condition of salvation, he is careful to explain his meaning. It is not the only, nor the all-important condition of an acceptance with God. Though a sine qua non on our part, it is by no means meri

1 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. p. 164. 4 Ibid. p. 185.

2 Ibid.
5 Ibid. p. 142.

3 Ibid. p. 142. 6 Ibid. p. 186.


torious. If faith saves us, in the sense that it renders us deserving, the Gospel does not differ essentially from the law. “ There is only a change in the condition,--the performance of the commandment to believe, instead of the performance of the commandment to obey."1 " The obedience of works was the condition of everlasting life, under the old dispensation; and the matter still seems to reston as legal, as mercantile an imagi. nation as before, if under the new dispensation the condition of everlasting life be the obedience of faith.”2 The Gospel teaches that our right” to eternal life “has been won by another.”' 3 So far as an is concerned, heaven is “not a purchase,” but “ a gift.” 4 “ The believer, in looking to the ground of his meritorious [the meritorious ground of his ?) acceptance, looks not to his belief, but to that which is the object of his belief; not to any right or righteousness which faith hath wrought in himself, but to the righteousness which Christ hath wrought for him.”5 “When faith is said to enrich a man, it is just as the recipient hand of the mendicant appropriates the supply that is rendered to him by the bounty of an almoner." 6 Dr. Chalmers saw, that the doctrine of justification by faith alone might seem to possess “an immoral tendency.”? He is careful to remove all ground for such a suspicion. Should a man be rejoicing in his fancied exemption from the punishment of sin, while living in the practice and under the power of it; and such a man be appealed to as an evidence against the doctrine of justification by faith; I would reply by questioning the reality of his faith.” “ The same Bible which tells us of justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ, tells us also of the indispensable need, ere heaven can be ours, of a personal righteousness of

How can faith draw any vitiating influence to the

[ocr errors]

our own.

1 Insts. Theol. Vol. II.


189. 2 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. pp. 189, 190. It will be perceived that in this remark Dr. Chalmers represents faith as a voluntary act of obedience. He thus appears to controvert the position, that saving faith is intellectual belief, “and nothing more.” It is belief in compliance with a command to believe, and hence dependent on the will as truly as on the “understanding." 3 Insts. Theol. Vol. II. p. 190.

4 Ibid.

6 Ibid. p. 191. 6 Ibid. p. 191.

7 Ibid. p. 210. Ibid. p. 205.

« PreviousContinue »