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Appropriating faith correctly understood in connection with other modifications of faith. Historical faith. Illustrations of a faith in the Savior, which is purely historical. Of that faith, which may be called a general religious faith. A faith of this kind, and which goes no further, practically useless. Of appropriating faith. Its nature and necessity.

THERE is a form or modification of faith, which may properly be termed appropriating faith. In giving an account of the principles and doctrines of faith, we could not well omit saying something of this form of its action.

2.—We would remark, in the first place, that the phrase, appropriating faith, does not indicate a faith, which is different in its kind or nature from any other faith. Faith, in its nature, is always the same. It indicates a form or modification of faith, however, which should not be confounded with other forms. Appropriating faith is a faith, which considers the object of faith, the thing believed in, whatever it may be,
in its relation to ourselves. But in order more fully to understand this statement, perhaps we should say here, that there are three distinct modifications of faith, which may properly be noticed, in connection with each other, viz.: historical faith, a general religious faith, and that more specific or appropriating faith, which we have at present under consideration.

3.—Historical faith, as that phrase is usually employed by theologians, is faith in the facts, persons, and events, which are mentioned in the Bible, considered merely as matters or subjects of history. The Bible has a historical, as well as a religious value. No reason can be given, so far as we can perceive, why the Bible, in its purely historical parts, should not be placed upon the same footing with the other historical narrations of antiquity. Statements, for instance, which are made in the Bible, and which are as well authenticated as other historical statements, furnish us with an account of Jesus Christ, gravely and specifically, much as is done in other historical narrations. And the person, who has faith in the historical narrations of profane antiquity, who believes in the existence of such men as Hannibal and the Scipios and in other historical personages, cannot well doubt, certainly not with any obvious consistency, the truth and facts of the evangelical statements.

4.—An historical faith in the Savior, in accordance with the view just given, is a faith or belief, that such a man as Jesus Christ, possessing many of the virtuous traits, which his biographers have ascribed to him, appeared in Palestine at the commencement of the Christian era. It is the same species of faith, with which we believe in the existence of the Tituses, Vespasians, and other distinguished historical personages of the same period. This sort of faith, however, which has reference merely to the fact of his existence and to his general character, does not necessarily involve the existence of religion, or even of good morals. A man may be vicious in his character, or without being an immoral man, he may entirely reject Christ in his more important religious aspects and relations, and at the same time believe in him historically. And this was the case, as is well known, with Voltaire, with Diderot, and other distinguished opponents of the Christian system, who readily yielded their assent to the historical matter of fact, that Jesus Christ lived at a certain period of the world, that he was a wise and virtuous man, and that he was put to death by the Jews under the procurate of Pontius Pilate. But a faith, which stops at the historical facts, without recognizing the moral and religious relations and issues involved in them, (and this is always the case with the mere historical faith,) is obviously of no religious value.

5.—There is also a general religious faith. “A person may not only believe,” repeating here the brief exposition of this subject which we have found it necessary to give in another Work, [
Principles of the Interior Life, Part. I. ch. 5. 2d Ed.] “with those, who possess an historical faith, that there was such a man as Jesus Christ; but may also believe, that he died for the salvation of men in general. This form of faith, it is true, is important; but it does not and cannot secure all those objects which are ascribed to faith in the Bible. I suppose it may be said with truth, that the devils believe and know, not only that there was such a being as Jesus Christ, but that he died upon the cross for sinners. It obviously does not commend itself to human reason, and still less to the Word of God, to say that a man has saving faith, who merely believes in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, so far as the world receives him in that capacity; but without receiving and believing in him as a Savior in his own case.

A faith of this kind, and which goes no further than this, is practically DEAD. And perhaps it may be said here, that the great sin of the people of our own age is, not that they have merely an
historical faith and stop in that, as in some former corrupt periods; but that they too often rest satisfied with a general and abstract faith, which is theoretically applicable to the world at large, without bringing it home to themselves. They believe in the general truth, without making a specific and personal application; and thus serve Satan as effectually, as far as they are personally concerned, as if they had only an historical faith.

6.—A third form or modification of the great principle of faith, is what may be called APPROPRIATING FAITH. The necessity of this form of faith is evident from even a slight consideration of the subject. The usual understanding is, with the exception of those who hold strictly to a limited atonement, that our Savior has provided a common salvation, adequate to the wants of all; but available only in the case of those who exercise faith. How far this salvation will practically extend; how many individuals will avail themselves of it; why some are taken and others are left, we cannot tell; nor is it very obvious, that it is important for us to know. But certain it is, that no one will accept of the provision which is made, without faith. But what sort of faith? The answer is, It is that which can speak in the first person; that which has an appropriating power; that which can say I have sinned; I have need of this salvation; I take it home to myself. It is not enough for me to say, I believe that Christ died for others; I must also believe that he died for me individually, and accept of him as my Savior. It is not meant by this, that previous to the exercise of appropriating faith, and independently of such exercise, we have a special or particular interest in Christ, separate from and above that of others; and that appropriating faith consists in believing in this special or particular interest. An appropriating faith of this kind, and operating in this manner, might be very dangerous. It is merely meant, that out of the common interest, which is broad as the human race, we may, by means of faith, take individually that which the gospel permits us to receive and regard as our own; and that we can avail ourselves of this common interest, so as to make it personally our own, in no other way.

God deals with us, (certainly for the most part,) as
individuals, and not in masses. When he requires men to repent of sin, to exercise gratitude, to love, and the like, the requisition is obviously made upon them as individuals, as separate from and as independent of others. It is not possible to conceive of any other way, in which obedience to the requisition can be rendered. Nor is it conceivable that the remedial effect of the atonement should be realized in any other way than this. How is it possible, if I, in my own person, have suffered the wound of sin, that a remedy, which is general and does not admit of any specific and personal appropriation, should answer my purpose? Furthermore, in dying for all, in other words, in furnishing a common salvation, available to all on their acceptance of the same, Christ necessarily died for me as an individual, since the common mass or race of men is made up of individuals, and since I am one of that common mass or race. And indeed we can have no idea of a community or mass of men, except as a congregation or collection of separate persons. In dying for the whole on certain conditions, he necessarily, therefore, on the same conditions, died for the individuals composing that whole.

It would seem to follow, then, from what has been said, that the faith, which we especially need, is a personal or appropriating faith; a faith which will disintegrate us from the mass, and will enable us to take Christ home in all his offices to our own business and our own bosoms. We must be enabled to say, if we would realize the astonishing cleansing and healing efficacy there is in the gospel, of God that he is MY God, of the Savior that he is MY Savior. We must be enabled to lay hold of the blessed promises, and exclaim, these are the gift of MY Father, these are the purchase of MY Savior, these are meant for me.

It was thus, that patriarchs, prophets, and apostles believed. This was the faith of those consecrated ones, of whom the world was not worthy, recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Hear the language of the Psalmist as an illustration of what is to be found frequently in the Scriptures. How precise, how personal, how remote from unmeaning generalities. “I will love thee, O Lord, MY strength. The Lord is MY rock, and MY fortress, and MY deliverer; MY God, MY strength, in whom I will trust; MY buckler and the horn of MY salvation, and MY high tower.” And it is worthy of notice, that the first word of the Lord’s prayer has this appropriating character: “OUR Father, who art in heaven.”