Jottings on faith

Posted in Faith

I think the nearest the Bible come to defining faith is at Hebrews 11:1: ‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (ESV). I could learn more about how the author of the letter to Hebrews saw faith by reflecting on the examples which follow.

Joseph Addison said that ‘faith is kept alive in us, and gathers strength, from practice more than speculation’.

J R Lovell believed that ‘the only faith which wears well and holds its colour in all weathers is that which  is woven of conviction and set with the sharp mordant of experience’.

My image in this post is of John Dryden, who wrote that ‘Reason saw not till Faith sprung the Light. Here is a longer extract from this poem:

Thus man by his own strength to heaven would soar,

And would not be obliged to God for more.

Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled,


To think thy wit these God-like notions bred!

These truths are not the product of thy mind,

But dropp’d from heaven, and of a nobler kind.

Reveal’d religion first inform’d thy sight,

And reason saw not, till faith sprung the light.

William Temple, in his Basic Convictions wrote that ‘Religious faith does not consist in supposing there is a God; it consists in personal trust in God rising to personal fellowship with God.’

Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ said that ‘It is faith that is expected of you and honest living, not profound understanding and deep knowledge of the mysteries of God.’

William Wordsworth described ‘One in whom persuasion and belief / Had ripened into faith, and faith become / A passionate intuition. (The Excursion)

George Appleton, in his Journey for a Soul, wrote that ‘Faith is not knowledge or certainty. It is often contrasted with reason, but the true contrast is with the evidence  of the senses. Faith is a kind of spiritual sight, an inseeing into realities. It always wants to get beyond the superficial surface of things, into the spiritual behind the material. It wants to go beyond the outside symptoms into the causes of them. It consists in following knowledge and reason as far as they will take us, and then going beyond, in the same direction. There is a risk about faith, which can only be tested by taking the leap when the sure path comes to an end.’


I am cautious about this and want to reflect further.

W R Inge, in his Personal Religion and the Life of Devotion noted that ‘Faith is an act of self-consecration, in which the will, the intellect and the affections all have their place. It is the resolve to live as if certain things were true, in the confident assurance that they are true, and that we shall one day find out for ourselves that they are true. The process of verification begins as soon as we have honestly set out to climb. We ourselves change, and the world changes to our sight. The landscape opens out more and more as we get further up the hill.’

Rufus Jones Spiritual Reformers of the C16 and C17: ‘Once … there shone (into the world) a personal life which brought another kind of world than this world of … utilitarian aims full into light. There broke through here in the face of Jesus Christ a revelation of purpose in the universe so far beyond the vague trend of purpose dimly felt in slowly evolving life that it is possible to catch an illuminating vision of what the goal of the long drama may be – the unveiling of the sons of God.

Here the discovery can be made that the deepest reality towards which reason points, and which the mystical experience feels, is no vague Something beyond, but a living, loving Some One, dealing with us as Person with person.

In Him there comes to focus in a life that we can love and appreciate a personal character which impresses us as being absolutely good , and as being in its inexhaustible depth of love and grace worthy to be taken as the revelation of the true nature of the God whom all human hearts long for. And finally  through this personal revelation of God in Christ there has come to us a clear insight that pain and suffering and tragedy can be taken up into a self-chosen life and absorbed without spoiling its immense joy, and that precisely through suffering love, joyously accepted, a Person in expressing in the world the heart of God may become the moral and spiritual Saviour of others …

Nowhere else in the universe – above us or within us – has the moral significance of life come so full into sight, or the reality of actual divine fellowship, whether in our aspirations or in our failures, been raised to such a pitch of practical certainty as in the personal life and death and resurrection and steady historical triumph of Jesus Christ …

He shows the moral supremacy, even in this imperfect empirical world, of the perfectly good will

He impresses those who see him – see him, I mean, with eyes that can penetrate through the temporal through to the eternal and find his real nature – as being the supreme personal unveiling of God … strong enough in his infinite grace and diving self-giving to convince us of the eternal cooperation of God with our struggling humanity, and to settle our faith in the essential Saviourhood of God.

He who sees that in Christ has found a real way to God and discovered a genuine way of salvation.

It is the way of faith, but faith in no airy and unsubstantial road, no capricious leap.

There is no kind of aimful living conceivable that does not involve faith in something trans-subjective – faith in something not given in present empirical experience.

Even in our most elementary life-adjustments there is something operative in us which far underlies our conscious perceiving and the logic of our conclusions.

We are moved, not alone by what we clearly picture and coldly analyse, but by deep-lying instincts which defy analysis, by background and foreground fringes of consciousness, by immanent and penetrative intelligence which cannot be brought into definite focus, by that vast reservoirs of accumulated wisdom through which we feel the way to go, though we can pictorially envisage no ‘spotted trees’ that mark the trail.

This religious and saving faith by which the soul discovers God and makes the supreme life-adjustment to him is profoundly moral and, in the best sense of the word, rational [RS: love God with heart soul and mind].

It does not begin with an assumption, blind or otherwise, as to Christ’s metaphysical nature

It does not depend upon the adoption of systematically formulated doctrines

It becomes operative through the discovery of a personal life, historically lived – and continued through the centuries as a transforming Spirit – rich enough in its experience to exhibit the infinite significance of life:

Inwardly deep enough in its spiritual resources to reveal that character of God

Strong enough in sympathy, in tenderness, in patience, and in self-giving love to beget forever trust and confidence and love on the part of all who thus find him.

The God whom we learn to know in Christ – the God historically revealed – is no vague first cause, no abstract reality, no all-negating Absolute.

He is concrete Person, whose traits of character are intensely moral and spiritual.

His will is no fateful swing of mechanical law; it is morally good will which works patiently and forever toward a harmonised world, a kingdom of God.

The central trait of his character is love.

He does not become Father.

He is not reconciled to us by persuasive offerings and sacrifices.

He is inherently and by essential disposition Father and the God of all Grace.

He is not remote and absentee – making a world ‘in the beginning,’ and leaving it to run by law, or only occasionally interrupting its normal processes – he is immanent Spirit, working always – the God of beauty and organising purpose.

He is Life and Light and Truth, an Immanuel God who can and does show himself in a personal incarnation and so exhibits the course and goal of the race.’

I shall put more jottings on line about faith in the future.