What Is Implicit Faith?

Implicit Faith

William Perkins
The Reformed Catholic

A Declaration showing how near we may come to the present Church of Rome in sundry points of religion, and wherein we must forever depart from them.

Of Implicit, or Infolded Faith

Our Consent.

We hold that there is a kind of implicit or unexpressed faith; yea that the faith of every man in some part of his life, as in the time of his first conversion, and in the time of some grievous temptation or distress, is implicit or infolded. The Samaritans are said to believe (John 4.14), because they took Christ for the Messiah, and thereupon were content to learn and obey the glad tidings of salvation. And in the same place (v. 53), the ruler with his family is said to believe, who did no more but generally acknowledge that Christ was the Messiah, and yielded himself to believe and obey his holy doctrine; being moved thereunto by a miracle wrought upon his young son. And Rahab (Heb. 11.13) is said to believe, yea she is commended for faith even at the time when she received the spies. Now in the word of God we cannot find that she had any more but a confused, general, or infolded faith, whereby she believed that the God of the Hebrews was the true God and his word was to be obeyed. And this faith (as it seems) was wrought by her by the report and relation of the miracles done in the land of Egypt: whereby she was moved to join herself unto the people of God and to believe as they did. By these examples then it is manifest that in the very servants of God, there is and may be for a time an implicit faith.

For the better understanding of this point, it is to be considered that faith may be infolded two ways: first in respect of knowledge of things to be believed: secondly, in respect of the apprehension of the object of faith, namely Christ and his benefits. 

Implicit Faith: In Respect of Knowledge.

Now faith is infolded in respect of knowledge, when as sundry things that are necessary to salvation are not as yet distinctly known. Though Christ commended the faith of his disciples, for such a faith, against which the gates of hell should not prevail; yet was it unexpressed or wrapped up in regard of sundry points of religion: for first of all, Peter that made confession of Christ in the name of the rest, was at that time ignorant of the particular means whereby his redemption should be wrought. For after this, he went about to dissuade his master from the suffering of death at Jerusalem, whereupon Christ sharply rebuked him, saying, “Come behind me Satan, thou art an offence unto me” (Mat. 16.23). Again, they were all ignorant of Christ’s resurrection, till certain women who first saw him after he was risen again, had told them: and they by experience in the person of Christ had learned the truth. Thirdly, they were ignorant of the ascension: for they dreamed of an earthly kingdom, at the very time when he was about to ascend: saying, “Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1.6). And after Christ’s ascension, Peter knew nothing of the breaking down of the partition wall between the Jews and Gentiles, till God had better schooled him in a vision (Acts 10.14). 

And no doubt, we have ordinary examples of this Implicit faith in sundry persons among us. For some there be, which are dull and hard both for understanding and memory, and thereupon make no such proceedings in knowledge as many others do: and yet for good affection and conscience in their doings, so far as they know, they come not short of any; having withal a continual care to increase in knowledge, and to walk in obedience according to that which they know. And such persons though they be ignorant in many things, yet they have a measure of true faith—and that which is wanting in knowledge is supplied in affection: and in some respects they are to be preferred before many that have the glib tongue, and the brain swimming with knowledge. To this purpose Melancthon said well, “We must acknowledge the great mercy of God, who puts a difference between sins of ignorance, and such as are done wittingly; and forgives manifold ignorances to them, that know but the foundation and be teachable; as may be seen by the Apostles, in whom there was much want of understanding before the resurrection of Christ. But, as hath been said, he requires that we be teachable, and he will not have us to be hardened in our sluggishness and dullness. As it is said in Psalm 1, ‘he meditateth in his law day and night.’

Implicit Faith: In Respect of Apprehension.

The second kind of implicit faith is in regard of Apprehension; when as a man can not say distinctly and certainly, “I believe the pardon of my sins,” but “I do unfeignedly desire to believe the pardon of them all: and I desire to repent.” This case befalls many of God’s children, when they are touched in conscience for their sins. But where men are displeased with themselves for their offences, and do withal constantly from the heart desire to believe, and to be reconciled to God; there is faith and many other graces of God infolded: as in the little and tender bud, is infolded the leaf, the blossom, and the fruit. For though a desire to repent and to believe, be not faith and repentance in nature, yet in God’s acceptation it is, God accepting the will for the deed. (Isa. 42.3). Christ will not quench the smoking flax, which as yet by reason of weakness gives neither light nor heat. Christ saith, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be satisfied” (Mat. 5.6), where by persons hungering and thirsting are meant all such, as feel with grief their own want of righteousness, and withal desire to be justified and sanctified (Rom. 8.26). God hears and regards the very groans and sighs of his servants: yea, though they be unspeakable by reason they are oftentimes little, weak, and confused; yet God hath respect unto them, because they are the work of his own Spirit. Thus when we see that in a touched heart desiring to believe, there is an infolded faith. 

And this is the faith which many of the true servants of God have: and our salvation stands not so much in our apprehending of Christ, as in Christ’s comprehending of us: and therefore Paul saith, “he followeth,” namely after perfection, “if that he might comprehend that, for whose sake he is comprehended of Christ” (Phil. 3.12). Now if any shall say, that without a lively faith in Christ none can be saved; I answer that God accepts the desire to believe for lively faith, in the time of temptation, and in the time of our first conversion, as I have said. Put case, a man that never yet repented, falls into some grievous sickness, and then begins to be touched in conscience for his sins, and to be truly humbled: hereupon he is exhorted to believe his own reconciliation with God in Christ, and the pardon of his own sins. And as he is exhorted, so he endeavoureth according to the measure of grace received, to believe; yet after much striving he cannot resolve himself, that he doth distinctly and certainly believe the pardon of his own sins: onely this he can say, that he doth heartily desire to believe: this he wisheth above all things in the world: and he esteems all things as dung for Christ: and thus he dies. I demand now, what shall we say of him? surely, we may say nothing, but that he died the child of God, and is undoubtedly saved. For howsoever it were an happy thing if men could come to that fullness of faith which was in Abraham, and many servants of God: yet certain it is, that God in sundry cases accepts of this desire to believe, for true faith indeed. And look as it is in nature, so is it in grace: in nature some die when they are children, some in old age, and some in full strength, and yet all die men: so again, some die babes in Christ, some of more perfect faith: and yet the weakest having the seeds of grace, is the child of God: and faith in his infancy is faith. Al this while, it must be remembered I say not, there is a true faith without all apprehension, but without a Distinct apprehension for some space of time: for this very desire by faith to apprehend Christ and his merits, is a kind of apprehension. And thus we see the kinds of implicit or infolded faith.

This doctrine is to be learned for two causes: first of all it serves to rectify the consciences of weak ones, that they be not deceived touching their estate. For if we think that no faith can save, but a full persuasion, such as the faith of Abraham was, many truly bearing the name of Christ must be put out of the role of the children of God. We are therefore to know that there is a growth in grace, as in nature: and there be differences and degrees of true faith, and the least of them all is this infolded faith. This in effect is the doctrine of master Calvin: that, when we begin by faith to know somewhat, and have a desire to learn more, this may be termed an unexpressed faith. Secondly this point of doctrine serves to rectify and in part to expound sundry catechisms, in that they seem to propound faith unto men at so high a reach, as few can attain unto it: defining it to be a certain and full persuasion of God’s love and favour in Christ: whereas, though every faith be for his nature a certain persuasion yet only the strong faith is the full persuasion. Therefore faith is not only in general terms to be defined, but also the degrees and measures thereof are to be expounded, that weak ones to their comfort may be truly informed of their estate. And though we teach there is a kind of implicit faith, which is the beginning of true and lively faith: yet none must hereupon take an occasion to content themselves therewith, but labour to increase and go on from faith to faith: and so indeed will everyone do that hath any beginnings of true faith, be they never so little. And he which thinks he hath a desire to believe, and contents himself therewith: hath indeed no true desire to believe.

The Difference Between Rome and the True Religion.

The pillars of the Romish Church lays down this ground: that faith in his own nature, is not a knowledge of things to be believed: but a reverent assent unto them whether they be known or unknown. Hereupon they build: that if a man know some necessary points of religion, as the doctrine of the godhead, of the trinity, of Christ’s incarnation, and of our redemption, etc. it is needless to know the rest by a particular or distinct knowledge, and it sufficeth to give his consent to the church, and to believe as the pastors believe.

Behold a ruinous building upon a rotten foundation! For faith contains a knowledge of things to be believed, and knowledge is of the nature of faith: and nothing is believed that is not known. Isa. 53.11. “The knowledge of my righteous servant, shall justify many,” and John 17.2. “This is eternal life, to know the eternal God, and whom thou hast sent Jesus Christ.” In these places, by knowledge is meant faith grounded upon knowledge, whereby we know and are assured that Christ and his benefits belong unto us.

Secondly this kind of assent is the mother of ignorance. For when men shall be taught, that for sundry points of religion they may believe as the Church believes that the study of the Scriptures is not to be required of them: yea that to their good they may be barred the reading of them, so be it they know some principal things contained in the articles of faith, that common believers are not bound expressly to believe all the articles of the Apostles Creed: that it sufficeth them to believe the articles by an implicit faith: by believing as the Church believeth, few or none will have care to profit in knowledge. And yet God’s commandment is that we should grow in knowledge and that his word should dwell plenteously in us (Col. 3.16).

Again, the Papists say that the devotion of the ignorant is often service better accepted than that which is done upon knowledge. “Such,” say they “as pray in Latin, pray with as great consolation of spirit, with as little tediousness, with as great devotion and affection, and oftentimes more than the other, and always more then any schismatic or heretic in his own language.” To conclude, they teach that some articles of faith are believed generally of the whole Church only by a simple or implicit faith, which afterward by the authority of a General Council are propounded to be believed of the Church by express faith. Roffensis against Luther gives an example of this, when he confesseth that Purgatory was little known at the first, but was made known partly by Scripture and partly by revelation in process of time. This implicit faith touching articles of religion we reject; holding that all things concerning faith and manners necessary to salvation, are plainly expressed in Scripture, and accordingly to be believed.

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