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April 25, 2019

On Common Faith and Saving Faith (William Perkins)


How do you start reading the Bible?

[Editorial Note: Throughout the month of April, we’ll replace our normal Key Connections with one Key Connection from the Puritan era. Today, we have an excerpt from William Perkin’s Exposition of the Symbole or Creed of the Apostles (Works 1.123-127). This is an edited and condensed excerpt, and you can find the original here.] 

Faith… is a gift of God, whereby we give assent or credence to God’s word. For there is necessarily a relation between faith and God’s word. The common property of faith is noted by the author of Hebrews when he says:  

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)   

For all this may be understood, not only of justifying faith, but also of temporary faith, and the faith of miracles. [For], faith is of two sorts: Common faith [and] the faith of the elect–as Paul said, he is an apostle according “to the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1).

Three Kinds of Common Faith 

The common faith is that which both the elect and reprobate have, and it is three-fold:  

Historical Faith  

Which is, when a man believes the outward letter and history of the word. [Historical faith] has two parts, knowledge of God’s word, and assent unto (or agreement with) the same knowledge.  

[This kind of faith] is to be found in the Devil and his [demons], so Saint James says, “the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). Some will say, what a faith have they? Such as thereby they understand both the Law and the Gospel. Besides, they give assent to it to be true.  

But when the devils [displayed] historical faith, were they illuminated by the light of the spirit? No. But when the gospel was preached, they did acknowledge it, and believed it to be true. And that by virtue of the relics of God’s image, which remained in them since their fall.  

Therefore, this their faith does not arise from any special illumination by his spirit, but they attain to it even by the very light of nature, which was left in them from the beginning.  

Temporary Faith  

The second kind of [common] faith is temporary faith, so called because it lasts but for a time and season, and commonly not to the end of a man’s life. This kind of faith is noted [to us] in the parable of the seed, that fell in the thorny ground.

This faith has at least one degree more than historical faith. [Historical faith knows and assents to God’s Word, but temporary faith also professes it, but goes no further.] The [other] kind of temporary faith has in it five degrees.  

  1. A man knows the word.
  2. He assents to it.  
  3. He professes it. 
  4. He rejoices in it.  
  5. He brings forth some kind of fruit.  

But (some will say) how can this be a temporary faith, seeing that it has such fruits?

Such a kind of faith is temporary because it is grounded on temporary causes: A desire to get knowledge of some strange points of religion… [or] a desire of praise among men.

Faith of Miracles 

The third kind of [common] faith is the faith of miracles. When a man, grounding himself on some special promise or revelation from God, does believe that some strange and extraordinary thing, which he has desired or foretold, shall come to pass by the work of God.  

Yet we must know that this faith of miracles may be in hypocrites… and at the last judgment it shall be found to have been in the wicked and reprobate. [These] shall say to Christ: “Lord, in thy name we have prophesied, and cast out demons, and done many great miracles” (Matthew 7:22).

True Faith

And thus much for the three sorts of common faith. Now we come to true faith, which is called the faith of the elect. It is thus defined:  

Faith is the supernatural gift of God in the mind apprehending the saving promise with all the promises that depend on it.  

First, I say it is a gift of God (Philippians 1:29)… I add that this is a gift supernatural, not only because it is above that corrupt nature in which we are born, but also because it is above that pure nature in which our first parents were created.  

For in their [Adam and Eve’s] state of innocence, they [lacked] this faith, neither had they then any need of faith in the Son of God as he is Messiah. But this faith is a new grace of God added to regernation after the fall, and first prescribed and taught in the covenant of grace.  

Saving Faith 

The form of faith is to apprehend the promise (Galatians 3:14)… [and] the apprehension of faith is not performed by any affection of the will, but by a certain and particular persuasion. [A persuasion] whereby a man is resolved that the promise of salvation belongs unto him.  

This persuasion is wrought in the mind by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 2:12). And by this, the promise which is general, is applied particularly to one subject.  

By this one action, saving faith differs from all other kinds of faith. From historical, for it lacks all apprehension… from temporary faith, which though it make a man to profess the gospel…yet it does not thoroughly apply Christ with his benefits.  

To believe is one thing, and to believe in this or that is another thing: and it contains in it three points or actions of a believer:  

  1. To know a thing 
  2. To acknowledge the same  
  3. To put trust and confidence in it. 

And, the principal and main object [which you must believe for] this [saving] faith is the saving promise:  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16

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Davis Wetherell

Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.
Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.