by Thomas Watson
‘The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’
The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us.
Christ is the glory, and faith in Christ the comfort, of the gospel.
What are the kinds of faith?
Fourfold: (1.) An historical or dogmatic faith, which is believing the truths revealed in
the Word, because of divine authority.
(2.) There is a temporary faith, which lasts for a time, and then vanishes. ‘Yet has he no
root in himself, but dureth for a while.’ Matt 13:31. A temporary faith is like Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night and withered. Chap 4:40.
(3.) A miraculous faith, which was granted to the apostles, to work miracles for the
confirmation of the gospel. This Judas had; he cast out devils, yet was cast out to the devil.
(4.) A true justifying faith, which is called ‘A faith of the operation of God,’ and is a
jewel hung only upon the elect. Col 2:22.
What is justifying faith?
I shall show, (1.) What it is not. It is not a bare acknowledgment that Christ is a Saviour.
There must be an acknowledgment, but that is not sufficient to justify. The devils acknowledged Christ’s Godhead. ‘Jesus the Son of God.’ Matt 8:89. There may be an assent to divine truth, and yet no work of grace on the heart. Many assent in their judgements, that sin is an evil thing, but they go on in sin, whose corruptions are stronger than their convictions; and that Christ is excellent; they cheapen the pearl, but do not buy.
(2.) What justifying faith is. True justifying faith consists in three things:
(1:) Self-renunciation. Faith is going out of one’s self, being taken off from our own
merits, and seeing we have no righteousness of our own. ‘Not having mine own righteousness.’Phil 3:3. Self-righteousness is a broken reed, which the soul dares not lean on. Repentance and faith are both humbling graces; by repentance a man abhors himself; by faith he goes out of himself. As Israel in their wilderness march, behind them saw Pharaoh and his chariots pursuing, before them the Red Sea ready to devour; so the sinner behind sees God’s justice pursuing him for sin, before, hell ready to devour him; and in this forlorn condition, he sees nothing in himself to help, but he must perish unless he can find help in another.
(2:) Reliance. The soul casts itself upon Jesus Christ; faith rests on Christ’s person. Faith
believes the promise; but that which faith rests upon in the promise is the person of Christ: therefore the spouse is said to ‘lean upon her Beloved.’ Cant 8:8. Faith is described to be ‘believing on the name of the Son of God,’ I John 3:33, viz., on his person. The promise is but the cabinet, Christ is the jewel in it which faith embraces; the promise is but the dish, Christ is the food in it which faith feeds on. Faith rests on Christ’s person, ‘as he was crucified.’
It glories in the cross of Christ. Gal 6:14. To consider Christ crowned with all manner of
excellencies, stirs up admiration and wonder; but Christ looked upon as bleeding and dying, is the proper object of our faith; it is called therefore ‘faith in his blood.’ Rom 3:35.
(3:) Appropriation, or applying Christ to ourselves. A medicine, though it be ever so
sovereign, if not applied, will do no good; though the plaster be made of Christ’s own blood, it will not heal, unless applied by faith; the blood of God, without faith in God, will not save.
This applying of Christ is called receiving him. John 1:12. The hand receiving gold, enriches; so the hand of faith, receiving Christ’s golden merits with salvation, enriches us.
How is faith wrought?
By the blessed Spirit; who is called the ‘Spirit of grace,’ because he is the spring of all
grace. Zech 12:20. Faith is the chief work which the Spirit of God works in a man’s heart.
In making the world God did but speak a word, but in working faith he puts forth his arm. Luke 1:11. The Spirit’s working faith is called, ‘The exceeding greatness of God’s power.’ Eph 1:19. What a power was put forth in raising Christ from the grave when such a tombstone lay upon him as ‘the sins of all the world,! yet he was raised up by the Spirit. The same power is put forth by the Spirit of God in working faith. The Spirit irradiates the mind, and subdues the will. The will is like a garrison, which holds out against God: the Spirit with sweet violence conquers, or rather changes it; making the sinner willing to have Christ upon any terms; to be ruled by him as well as saved by him.
Wherein lies the preciousness of faith?
(1.) In its being the chief gospel-grace, the head of the graces. As gold among the metals,
so is faith among the graces. Clement of Alexandria calls the other graces the daughters of faith. In heaven, love will be the chief grace; but, while we are here, love must give place to faith. Love takes possession of glory, but faith gives a title to it. Love is the crowning grace in heaven, but faith is the conquering grace upon earth. ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’ I John 5:5.
(2.) In its having influence upon all the graces, and setting them to work: not a grace
stirs till faith set it to work. As the clothier sets the poor to work, sets their wheel going; so faith sets hope to work. The heir must believe his title to an estate in reversion before he can hope for it; faith believes its title to glory, and then hope waits for it. If faith did not feed the lamp of hope with oil, it would soon die. Faith sets love to work. ‘Faith which worketh by love.’ Gal 5:5. Believing the mercy and merit of Christ causes a flame of love to ascend.
Faith sets patience to work. ‘Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit
the promises.’ Heb 6:12. Faith believes the glorious rewards given to suffering. This makes the soul patient in suffering. Thus faith is the master-wheel, it sets all the other graces running.
(3.) In its being the grace which God honours to justify and save. Thus indeed it is
‘precious faith,’ as the apostle calls it. 2 Pet 1:1: The other graces help to sanctify, but it is
faith that justifies. ‘Being justified by faith.’ Rom V 1: Repentance or love do not justify, but faith does.
How does faith justify?
(1.) Faith does not justify as it is a work, which would make a Christ of our faith; but
faith justifies, as it lays hold of the object, viz. Christ’s merits. If a man had a precious stone in a ring that could heal, we should say the ring heals; but properly it is not the ring, but the precious stone in the ring that heals. Thus faith saves and justifies, but it is not any inherent virtue in faith, but as it lays hold on Christ it justifies.
(2.) Faith does not justify as it exercises grace. It cannot be denied, that faith invigorates
all the graces, puts strength and liveliness into them, but it does not justify under this notion.
Faith works by love, but it does not justify as it works by love, but as it applies Christ’s
Why should faith save and justify more than any other grace?
(1.) Because of God’s purpose. He has appointed this grace to be justifying; and he does
it, because faith is a grace that takes a man off himself, and gives all the honour to Christ
and free grace. ‘Strong in faith, giving glory to God.’ Rom 4:40. Therefore God has put this
honour on faith, to make it saving and justifying. The king’s stamp makes the coin pass for current; if he would put his stamp upon leather, as well as silver, it would make it current: so God having put his sanction, the stamp of his authority and institution upon faith, makes it to be justifying and saving.
(2.) Because faith makes us one with Christ. Eph 3:17. It is the espousing, incorporating
grace, it gives us coalition and union with Christ’s person. Other graces make us like Christ, faith makes us members of Christ.
Use one: Of exhortation. Let us above all things labour for faith. Fides est sanctissimum
humani pectoris bonum. ‘Above all, taking the shield of faith.’ Eph 6:16. Faith will be of
more use to us than any grace; as an eye, though dim, was of more use to an Israelite than all the other members of his body, a strong arm, or a nimble foot. It was his eye looking on the brazen serpent that cured him. It is not knowledge, though angelic, not repentance, though we could shed rivers of tears, could justify us; only faith, whereby we look on Christ.
‘Without faith it is impossible to please God.’ Heb 11:1. If we do not please him by believing, he will not please us in saving. Faith is the condition of the covenant of grace; without faith, without covenant; and without covenant, without hope. Eph 2:12.
Use two: Of trial. Let us try whether we have faith. There is something that looks like
faith, and is not, as a Bristol-stone looks like a diamond. Some plants have the same leaf
with others, but the herbalist can distinguish them by the root and taste. Some faith may
look like true faith, but it may be distinguished by the fruits. Let us be serious in the trial of our faith. Much depends upon our faith; for if our faith be not good, nothing good comes from us, even our duties and graces are adulterated.
How then shall we know a true faith?
By the noble effects. (1.) Faith is a Christ-prizing grace, it puts a high valuation upon
Christ. ‘To you that believe he is precious.’ I Pet 2:2. Paul best knew Christ. ‘Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?’ I Cor 9:9: He saw Christ with his bodily eyes in a vision, when he was caught up into the third heaven; and with the eye of his faith in the Holy Supper; therefore he best knew Christ. And see how he styles all things in comparison of him. ‘I count all things but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Phil 3:3. Do we set a high estimate upon Christ? Could we be willing to part with the wedge of gold for the pearl of price? Gregory Nazianzen blessed God he had anything to lose for Christ’s sake.
(2.) Faith is a refining grace. ‘Mystery of faith in a pure conscience.’ I Tim 3:3. Faith is
in the soul as fire among metals; it refines and purifies. Morality may wash the outside, faith washes the inside. ‘Having purified their hearts by faith.’ Acts 15:5. Faith makes the heart a sacristy or holy of holiest. Faith is a virgin-grace: though it does not take away the life of sin, yet it takes away the love of sin. Examine if your hearts be an unclean fountain, sending out the mud and dirt of pride and envy. If there be legions of lusts in thy soul, there is no faith. Faith is a heavenly plant, which will not grow in an impure soil.
(3.) Faith is an obediential grace. ‘The obedience of faith.’ Rom 16:66. Faith melts our
will into God’s. It runs at God’s call. If God commands duty (though cross to flesh and
blood) faith obeys. ‘By faith Abraham obeyed.’ Heb 11:1. Faith is not an idle grace; as it has an eye to see Christ, so it has a hand to work for him. It not only believes God’s promise, but obeys his command. It is not having knowledge that will evidence you to be believers; the devil has knowledge, but wants obedience, and that makes him a devil. The true obedience of faith is a cheerful obedience. God’s commands do not seem grievous. Have you obedience, and obey cheerfully? Do you look upon God’s command as your burden, or privilege; as an iron fetter about your leg, or as a gold chain about your neck.
(4.) Faith is an assimilating grace. It changes the soul into the image of the object; it
makes it like Christ. Never did any look upon Christ with a believing eye, but he was made like Christ. A deformed person may look on a beautiful object, and not be made beautiful; but faith looking on Christ transforms a man, and turns him into his similitude. Looking on a bleeding Christ causes a soft bleeding heart; looking on a holy Christ causes sanctity of heart; looking on a humble Christ makes the soul humble. As the chameleon is changed into the colour of that which it looks upon, so faith, looking on Christ, changes the Christian into the similitude of Christ.
(5.) True faith grows. All living things grow. ‘From faith to faith.’ Rom 1:17.
How may we judge of the growth of faith?
Growth of faith is judged by strength. We can do that now, which we could not do before.
When one is man-grown, he can do that which he could not do when he was a child; he can carry a heavier burden; so thou canst bear crosses with more patience.
Growth of faith is seen by doing duties in a more spiritual manner, with more fervency;
we put coals to the incense, from a principle of love to God. When an apple has done
growing in bigness, it grows in sweetness; so thou performest duties in love and art sweeter, and come off with a better relish.
But I fear I have no faith.
We must distinguish between weakness of faith and no faith. A weak faith is true. The
bruised reed is but weak, yet it is such as Christ will not break. Though thy faith be weak,
be not discouraged.
(1.) A weak faith may receive a strong Christ. A weak hand can tie the knot in marriage
as well as a strong one; and a weak eye might have seen the brazen serpent. The woman in the gospel did but touch Christ’s garment, and received virtue from him. It was the touch of faith.
(2.) The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise says not whosoever
has a giant-faith, that can remove mountains, that can stop the mouths of lions, shall be
saved; but whosoever believes, be his faith ever so small. Though Christ sometimes chides a weak faith, yet that it may not be discouraged, he makes it a promise. Beati qui esuriunt. Matt 5:5.
(3.) A weak faith may be fruitful. Weakest things multiply most; the vine is a weak plant,
but it is fruitful. Weak Christians may have strong affections. How strong is the first love,
which is after the first planting of faith!
(4.) Weak faith may be growing. Seeds spring up by degrees; first the blade, then the
ear, then the full corn in the ear. Therefore, be not discouraged. God who would have us
receive them that are weak in faith, will not himself refuse them. Rom 14:4: A weak believer is a member of Christ; and though Christ will cut off rotten members from his body, he will not cut off weak members.
(About the author: Thomas Watson was an English non-conformist, Puritan minister (1620-1686). Well known for his word ‘Body of Divinity’ which was highly recommended by men such as C.H Spurgeon. For more information about Watson visit:https://banneroftruth.org/uk/about/banner-authors/thomas-watson/ )