What is Saving Faith – Quotes

Some quotes from Gordon Clark’s “What is Saving Faith?”

*quotes are not continuous even though they may appear to be because of the formatting, sorry

Forward by John W. Robbins:

Perhaps the world is not responding to the churches’ message because the message is garbled. Neither the churches not the world knows exactly what to do to have eternal life.

The head/heart dichotomy is a figment of modern secular psychology, not a doctrine of divine revelation. St. Sigmund, not St. John controls the pulpit in nearly all churches.

As for having a “personal relationship” with Christ, if the phrase means something more than assenting to (believing) true propositions about Jesus, what is that something more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect.

To understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone, one must understand the doctrine of faith, as well as the doctrine of justification. Err on either doctrine, and one errs on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Many people, including many teachers in conservative churches and schools, are offended by the simplicity of the Gospel, and add to the statements of Scripture.

Belief is not enough, they say. In order to be saved, one must do more than believe; one must commit, surrender, trust, encounter, relate, or emote.

Faith is assent to a proposition, and saving faith is assent to propositions found in the Bible… Truth is propositional, and one is saved and sanctified only through believing true statements. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God.


The motivation for this study of the nature of faith is the edification of Christians: “Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Saving faith is a species of faith in general. Faith is not limited to Christian faith. Jewish faith, Islamic faith, and even secular faiths are faith.

Chapter 3

On page 426 and following, Price notes that in religious circles belief in is of more importance than belief that. The latter is a more secular concept; and the devout insist that there is a great difference between them. Philosophers, on the other hand, usually think not, and attempt to reduce in to that. However, as Price ntoes, even secularists use belief-in. A blind man believes-in his dog. Englishmen used to believe-in the British Empire. Some parents believe-in a liberal arts education for their children. Women’s lib believes-in killing babies. Can these beliefs-in be reduced to beliefs-that? For example, belief in the Loch Ness monster simply means someone believes that there is such a creature. The Tories of the nineteenth century did not believe in Gladstone; that is, they did not believe that he was a good prime minister.

Chapter 4

Somewhere in a discussion on faith, the Romish view of “implicit” faith should be considered. When an Italian or Irish peasant asserts that he believes whatever the Church teaches, though, of course, this knowledge of what the Church teaches embraces no more than one percent of the Tridentine confession, he is said to have implicit faith. Even an educated Catholic, a professor of philosophy in a secular university, did not know the essential element that makes baptism valid. But all such people profess belief in whatever the Church teaches. Protestantism has always rejected this proposition as absurd.

It should be clear that no one can believe what he does not know or understand. Suppose a person who knows no French is told, “Dans ce roman c’est M. DuPres qui est le meurtrier”: Can he believe it? If he could, it would greatly ease the work of foreign missionaries: They could preach to the Chinese or Bantus in English without having to spend years learning the native language. But in reality no one can believe what he does not understand, even if it is expressed in his own mother tongue.

When one author constantly criticizes other authors (as Clark is doing in the book thus far), the reader may be repelled by the negativism. Let it be repeated that contrasting views bring both sides into sharper focus. And not only so, the writer criticized may set forth some very acceptable material.

Chapter 5

James 2:20 is a puzzling passage. He speaks there of a dead faith and describes it as a faith unproductive of good works. Precisely what a man of dead faith believes is not too clear. One thing, however, is clear: The word faith here cannot mean “personal trust” in the sense that some popular preachers impose on it in distinction to belief. “Dead trust” would be an unintelligible phrase. Clearly James means a belief of some sort; and the only belief James mentions is the belief in monotheism. Islam therefore would be a dead faith.

Chapter 7

Faith “is not only assensus axiomati, an assent to a Gospel-maxim or proposition; you are not justified by that, but by being one with Christ. It was the mistake of the former age to make the promise rather than the person of Christ, to be the formal object of faith…” (Manton) The mention of the person of Christ is pious language. Similar expressions are common today. One slogan is, “No creed but Christ.” Another expression, with variations from person to person, is, Faith is not belief in a proposition, but trust in a person.

Thou this may sound very pious, it is nonetheless destructive of Christianity. Back in the twenties, before the Methodist Church became totally apostate, a liberal in their General Conference opposed theological precision by some phrase centering on Christ, such as, Christ is all we need. A certain pastor, a remnant of the evangelical wing of the church, had the courage to take the floor and ask the pointed question, “Which Christ?”

Belief is the act of assenting to something understood.

Chapter 8

Justifying faith is a species of faith, and if one does not know what faith in general is, one cannot know what the faith is that justifies.

Apparently, then, there are two kinds of assent. All faith is assent; but justifying faith is a different variety of assent. What this difference specifically is, Owen does not say. He indeed says the difference does not lie in the object of the faith, the proposition believed, but in the nature, or psychological characteristics of this particular type of assent. We would like to know what this different psychology is.

It is to be feared that some notion of “species of belief” has been confused with “species of believing.”

He objects to identifying the object of faith with Christ’s promise of forgiveness. Instead he maintains that Christ himself is the object of justifying faith. Although this sounds very pious, Owen and others might not have said this, if instead of the term faith they had used the Scriptural word believe. When we believe a man, we believe what he says. Not does it help Owen’s view to insist on the Scriptural phrase, believe in Christ, as something essentially different from believing Christ. As we said before, believing-in a man may indicate a willingness to believe what he will say in the future as well as what he has said in the past.

Chapter 9

Some authors and many preachers contrast trust in a person with belief in a proposition. They often disparage “intellectual belief.” They must then disparage all belief, since there is no other kind.

Unfortunately, the confusion as to kinds of faith soon reappears (re: Hodge). Of course, Jewish faith is not Islamic faith, nor is either of these Christian faith. One might also list political faith and a faith in AT&T stock. But this is not a difference in the definition of faith: It is a difference in the object or propositions believed. They are still assents. Many theologians fall into this confusion.

Chapter 15

Some people find a great difference between believing a person and believing in him. There is no doubt a difference, but it is quite different from the difference these people think they have in mind. Attentive readers who read their publications will conclude that they very likely have nothing in mind, for they regularly avoid stating what the difference is. Let us use a human example, for if we begin by talking about believing in God, our sense of piety may deceive us. Any ordinary instance will do. I meet a stranger on the plane and we begin to talk. His conversation indicates that he is a chemical engineer. Somewhere along the line he remarks that a certain chemical process does so and so. I believe him; I accept his statement as true. But I do not for that reason believe in him. He may be a scoundrel. Occasionally engineers are. On the way home I sit next to a very good friend of longstanding. He is a lawyer. He tells me about some legal matter. But now I not only believe this one statement: I believe in him because I believe that anything he will tell me in the future, especially if it concerns law, will be true. I believe he always tells the truth and always will. Of course, since he is a sinner, he may make a mistake. But when we believe in God, we believe that he will never make a mistake. To believe in is simply a reference to the future beyond the present single statement.

To believe in is equivalent to believe that. To believe in Christ Jesus simply means to believe that Jesus died and rose again. In John especially to believe in and to believe that are constantly used interchangeably.

Berkhof cited some references to support his contention. But Romans 3:22 does not support him. It merely mentions, in four words, “faith in Jesus Christ.” The immediately following words are “to all who believe.” What they believe is more explicitly stated in 3:25, which Berkhof also lists. The phrase is “through faith in his blood.” Clearly this is not baldly literal. Blood is a symbol for the atonement. It cannot even be restricted to Christ’s death, for the Pharisees themselves believed that Christ died. What the Pharisees did not believe was the significance of Christ’s death, namely, that he paid the penalty of our sin. Verses 25 and 26 are the best summary of in the New Testament of the core of the Gospel: the doctrine of justification by faith; and this doctrine – a set of propositions – is the object of belief.

Chapter 16

“As a psychological phenomenon, faith in the religious sense does not differ from faith in general… Christian faith in the most comprehensive sense is man’s persuasion of the truth of Scripture on the basis of the authority of God.” (Berkhof)

2 thoughts on “What is Saving Faith – Quotes

  1. Pingback: One of the Best Puritan Preachers of Our Day « Contrast

  2. markmcculley

    p 192, Bonhoffer—Letters and Papers, “It is always concerned with the whole man, even where, as in the Sermon on the Mount, the Decalogue is pressed home to refer to ‘inward disposition.’ That a good ‘disposition’ can take the place of the total goodness is quite unbiblical. The discovery of the so-called inner life dates from the Renaissance, probably from Petrarch. The ‘heart’ in the biblical sense is not the inner life, but the whole man in relation to God. But as a man lives just as much from ‘outwards’ to ‘inwards’ as from ‘inwards’ to ‘outwards,’ the view that his essential nature can be understood only from his intimate spiritual background is wholly erroneous. –


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