ARTICLE 26 - On Duty Faith by J.H. Gosden
"We deny duty-faith and duty-repentance - these terms signifying that it is every man's duty spiritually and savingly to repent and believe. We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God."
Whatever our worthy predecessors intended by the terms of this Article, they certainly did not mean to minimize the sin of unbelief. The purpose was to rebut the flesh-pleasing error taught by the Arminian that man in his natural state (that is, dead in trespasses and sins) is possessed of some latent power to exercise savingly the spiritual acts of faith and repentance. Our belief is that fallen man has neither power, nor will, nor inclination to anything spiritual. Scripture abundantly teaches this (I Cor. 2:14 Rom. 8: 7,8; Matt. 15: 19; John 1:11-13; 3:3-7). But this notwithstanding, we believe that all men are under obligation to believe and obey God. Though the Adam Fall utterly depraved and alienated human nature from God and goodness, rendering him as entirely incapable as unwilling to submit to God's law, yet the divine Lawgiver has not lost His power to command and to judge. Man's inability does not exonerate him. While some entertain a wholesome fear of the very term duty in relation to God, through its frequent misapplication, both Solomon and his divine Antitype speak of man's duty. On the completion of his extensive survey, the wisest man came to the conclusion that to fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man (Eccl.12:13). And the all-wise God-Man said, "When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10).
To the unregenerate the thought of duty Godward either does not arise or is soon dismissed with some formal religious service. What to innocent humanity must have been delightful is to sinful man irksome. Before regeneration he is capable neither of acceptable obedience nor worship. At the same time, unbelief is a chief sin, the root of all other sins (John 16:9; Rom. 1. 19, 28). But what is every man duty-bound to believe? Surely not that each individual is himself interested in the redemption work of Christ, Man is not called upon to believe a lie. No, but as God has revealed Himself in His Word and works, man is inexcusable in his unbelief. Here caution is needed. Men require to be thoroughly warned of their lost state under the law, convinced of their inability to meets its demands and told of their accountability to God and of his revealed wrath against all unrighteousness of men. Thus warned of "wrath to come" repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ may be properly preached (Acts 20:21). As the convincing power of the Holy Spirit attends the ministry, the elect are sought out and brought in guilty before God. To them Christ will be attractive as held forth in the gospel. It is the sick soul who wants the Physician, and it is the minister's duty and privilege to minister the consolations of the gospel to such.
Faith being the peculiar gift of God's grace, and repentance a spiritual grant of heaven (Eph. 2:8 Acts 11:18; 5:31), neither can originate in the will or power of the creature or be the act of the unregenerate. Even when duly convicted, a sinner proves that to exercise repentance and faith is more than he is able for [capable of], apart from the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit. "Duty-faith" and "duty-repentance" are little use to one who feels himself lost and helpless. To demand it from such is to strike the dying dead. But it is as life from the dead when he is enabled by the blessed Spirit so to believe in Christ as to find power and courage to confess sin (unbelief is well as all other sins) to God, and to plead for pardon and mercy for His sake. Then, when witness is borne in upon the confessing sinner's heart of his grace-given interest in the redeeming blood of Christ, and the love of God is shed abroad in his heart with sweet dissolving efficacy producing deep contrition, it is the believer's delightful privilege (call it duty who will) to believe and to repent with an evangelical repentance unto salvation not to be repented of (2 Cor. 7:10). Accompanying this faith and repentance is deep reverence and unbounded happiness and sweet liberty. True worship, embracing adoration, admiration, trust, thanksgiving, praise, submission and absolute surrender, flows front the liberated spirit of the pardoned child; while the gracious fruits of humility and love and beauty to the garments of salvation which clothe the soul (Psa. 149:4, Isa. 61:10). This is the purpose of the gospel ministry, as said Christ to the Apostle Paul: ". . . to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (Acts 26:18). Paul "warned every man, and taught every man" of the Colossian church in order to their being presented perfect in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:28). He did not unconditionally exhort every individual to believe in Christ, but showed those to whom He was sent "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance 11 (Acts 26:18-21).
Indiscriminately to call upon all in a mixed congregation to do their duty, i.e. savingly and spiritually to believe in Christ, is to imply either that each individual person in the assembly is regenerate and convinced of sin, or that there is in those who are dead power to act Godward. This appears contrary to the leading of the Holy Spirit who instructs gospel ministers both what to preach and where. Even the apostles were forbidden to preach the Word in certain places for certain periods. Presumably most Godsent ministers know in some measure the influence which emanates from the Holy Spirit through the presence of some in their congregation whom He inhabits, or whom [He] will bless and instruct through the ministry-, and the totally different influence sometimes felt when some particular opposition to the truth is being entertained by some hearers. Mysteriously, but no less truly, the Holy Ghost controls the ministry of His Word according to the purpose of electing love and the condition of those present. In former and better days this was more clearly manifest than now.
We are charged by some with preaching only to the elect, instead of "evangelizing" the world. We have no zeal to boast, but can appeal to the great Searcher of hearts that we are painfully anxious for the success of the gospel the weight of immortal soul's is heavy. But we are equally anxious not to deceive into a false notion of faith (as we much fear is frequently the case) those who have never been convinced of sin. We venture to say that those who think themselves quite capable of exercising faith at will because it is their duty to believe, and are satisfied with their faith, have probably never yet learned the power of God in which Paul desired the faith of the Corinthians should stand (I Cor. 2:5), nor yet discovered the true Object of faith a revealed, not a "letter" Christ.
One good man said:
"O could I but believe,
Then all would easy be:
I would but cannot, Lord, relieve,
My help must come from Thee."
Paul attributed to the Holy Ghost the power through which hope, joy, peace and faith should abound in the Roman saints (Rom. 15, 13). lie also prayed that God would fulfill in the Thessalonians "the work of faith with power." All which implies what every child of God proves in experience - that faith is the gift of God's grace, Christ is its Author, and for every subsequent prevailing act of faith the believer is dependent upon the reviving power of the Spirit of Christ who said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Definitely Paul teaches believing to be the result of the exertion in the soul of that very same power exerted in raising Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20). So that to reach that saving faith is a mere duty, for which a sinner is quite capable, is solemnly wide of the truth. Truly the just shall live by his faith - not on it, but by it, as it is drawn out into exercise upon its blessed Object, its Author and End, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Besides, it appears very far removed from the compassion (which it affects) to command unconvinced people to believe. The creation of believers is not a work for mere man, though "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The mercy of God, which is His compassion, is shown in giving faith. "He bath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all" (Rom. 10:32). And it is most solemnly written: "He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth" (9. 18). "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18), and "put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (15:9). "Not of ourselves" but "the gift of God" is the saving faith of God's elect, and of a totally different nature from the faith into which impenitent unregenerate sinners may be persuaded. The latter does not purify the heart, nor work by love, nor separate from the world and sin. "It is dead, being alone" (James 2. 17). The professing world is filled with these nominal believers. But in giving living faith to some, the Lord makes effectual the preaching of the gospel, as in the case of Peter: "God at first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14), If Adam's guilt is transmitted to the human race, and all are born in sin and are dead to God by nature (Eph. 2:1) is it not a grievous error to suggest that by a general exhortation men can be awakened from that sleep of death, and of themselves savingly repent and believe the gospel? As good Berridge says:
"None can raise to life the dead
But He who raised Himself indeed,
And for dead sinners died."
While we definitely believe that it is the duty of man to believe all God has declared, and that unbelief is guilt, we consider it seriously erroneous to call upon all persons indiscriminately to perform such spiritual acts as repentance and faith as if they possessed in themselves an inherent power of spiritual life. In the fervency of a minister's appeal, much depends on the spirit and the emphasis; but all vitality depends on the Holy Ghost. Vital power does accompany the preaching of the gospel, both in conviction and killing, in making alive and delivering, and it is an unspeakable honour to be the instrument of conveying the gospel ministerially to poor lost sinners. But as we have so frequently pointed out, there is a vast difference between preaching the gospel in a mixed congregation, and offering Christ and salvation indiscriminately to all. Some who came to John's baptism were met with a solemn rebuff: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matt. 3:7,8). Owen most truly says "Faith without repentance issues in presumption; repentance [that is, conviction] without faith issues in despair.
Isaiah asks: "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" plainly implying that faith results from divine revelation. It was something more than response to mere human exhortation to believe that enabled Peter to declare his faith in such emphatic terms: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," The Saviour Himself declared whence that faith came: - Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17).
We conclude with the simple statement that whereas we believe it to be every man's duty to credit God's Word both as to the law's demands and the record God has given of His Son, yet to address assemblies in such a way as to suggest that every person is capable of exercising saving faith and producing evangelical repentance is but to mock men. But solemnly to tell sinners that they have broken the holy law of God which therefore condemns them, and that "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" but that of the Lord Jesus Christ who is exalted a Prince and Saviour for to give repentance and forgiveness of sins; to testify that Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth in Him, that in Him there is full pardon and plenteous redemption, and that God honourably justifies the ungodly who believe in Christ; to declare that however deeply convinced of sin, Christ is able to save to the uttermost all who come by Him to God, and that He will in no wise cast out any who come; to proclaim to all who deeply feel their ignorance that there is an infallible Teacher,the Holy Spirit, whom Christ hath promised shall be give to, who asks Him, of the, Father (Luke 11:13), to guide them into all truth (John 16:13)- this we believe is to preach according to the tenor of the Word of God.
But though faith, "cometh by hearing", it does not necessarily come to all who hear. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). Application is the sovereign prerogative of the Holy Ghost. The great apostle, perceiving that in preaching Christ he was the savour of life unto life to those who were saved and the savour of death unto death to those who were lost, exclaimed, "Who is sufficient for these things?" How much more reason have we to confess our insufficiency! Our mercy will be ever to prove with Paul that "our sufficiency is of God." This will not impair the earnestness of our appeals to the unconverted, but it will temper our addresses with a sobriety becoming the solemnity of the eternal issues involved.