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Peter Martyr Vermigli on Faith as Assured Assent

June 4, 2008

Vermigli’s Common Places were originally compiled from all his writings and organised to form a body of divinity. From this work, I have gleaned a few interesting remarks on the nature of the faith. The intent here is that these few comments encourage us to dig more deeply into the primary sources of the early Reformers.

Vermigli:

1) But we must now declare, what is the chief thing, whereunto our faith is directed; which (to speak briefly) is the promise of God, whereunto by believing we assent. And this promise is chiefly that, wherein he promises, that he will through Christ be favourable and merciful unto us. And although the Holy Scriptures are read and offered unto us very many promises of God, yet this one is the chief, for whose sake the rest are performed unto us; unto which also all other promises are to be referred. This promise (as we have before said) is that, wherein God promises, that he will be merciful unto us for Christ his sake. And although there be very many things, which we ought to believe; as are threatenings, histories, exhortations, praises of God, and such other like: yet ought all these tings be referred to the persuading of this promise only. Peter Martyr, “Of Faith,” in The Common Places, trans., and compiled by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 3, p., 58.

2) There are moreover in the church some proschairoi, that is, which believe but for a time, and in the time of temptation step back, as did Judas; and they which in time of persecutions deny Christ: wherefore for these also we have great cause to be afraid. As touching those which sincerely believe in Christ, although they have a confidence of their salvation, and are assured thereof; yet as long as we live here, there be many falls even ready at hand with us, and those great: as it is manifest by that which peter and David did. Wherefore they have whereof to be afraid, although they be not afraid, that they shall eternally be damned; but assuredly hope, that either they shall be defended by God, or that if they do fall, they shall be restored again. As we also do trust of them which be excommunicated; for they are not cast out of the church, to the intent that they should perish; but that their spirit might at length be saved. And therefore the elect also, and they which sincerely believe, ought continually to be afraid of falling; though it be but for a time. And of this restitution of them that have fallen, is also mention made in Jeremiah, in the third chapter, “Thou hast played the harlot with thy lovers; howbeit return again.” All these things declare unto us, that this exhortation of Paul unto fear, is not unprofitable; seeing we ought so many ways be careful both for ourselves, and also for other. Further Chrysostom adds hereunto; that the abuse of the grace of God, which reigns among us, ought to be unto us a great fear and horror, so often as we consider it.

Whereunto belongs that, which is written both unto the Romans, and unto the Corinthians; to wit, that “The godly stand by faith.” Neither is that hereunto repugnant, which is written in the self same chapter of the epistle to the Corinthians, that “They stood in the Gospel;” because faith is referred unto the Gospel, as unto his own object: yea rather it springs hereof after a sort, as we have heard before. Neither is there any speech made in this place of men particularly, but of the whole congregation and body of the believers; and therefore he admonishes up upon just cause, that “We should not be high minded, but should fear.” For even as the church of the Jews is now extinguished, and Africa likewise, and Greece, and Asia have lost many churches which seem to stand: wherefore, let them not advance themselves. But none of the number of the faithful ought to be in doubt about his own salvation; for the nature of faith is to make men assured of the promises of God. Howbeit, this must be understood, that it is not possible to shake off all care, so long as we live in this life: for we be continually tossed between two cogitations; one as touching the goodness, faith and constancy of God; the other as touching our corruption, infirmity, and proneness to evil. Peter Martyr, “Of Faith and Fear,” in The Common Places, trans., and compiled by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 3, p., 64.

3) But now let us propound three things to be required; the first, whether true faith may be severed from charity, as our adversaries persuade themselves that it may; another is, whether charity be formed of faith, according as the Schoolmen teach; lastly, let us see wherein charity is more excellent than faith, and likewise how faith does excel charity. Concerning the first, it shall be convenient before all things, that we by some certain definition set forth the nature of faith: for then we may easily discern how much it is joined with charity. Let us rip up the matter thoroughly; & First let us make a difference between supposing and believing. When any man does give his assent unto one side of a controversy, he is said to suppose or have opinion: which thing is not without suspicion, and a doubtful mind; least peradventure the matter should be otherwise. But we are not said to believe, unless we do already give a firm and assured assent unto the one side, so that we suspect nothing at all of the truth of the other side. Wherefore to believe, according as serves our purpose, is by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to give a firm assent to the word of God, and that by the authority of God himself. We say, that the inspiration of God is required because human reasons in those things do fail, and “The natural man perceives not those things which be of God;” for he things them to be but foolishness, and he cannot give credit unto them.

And that a firm assent is required in a true faith, Augustine, declares, in his 109 treatise upon John; when he says, We must believe immovably, firmly, steadfastly, and courageously, least a man wander about his own affairs, and abandon Christ. And we must give our assent unto the word of God, which is of two sorts: written, and not written. For those things, which God spoke unto the prophets, the prophets believed: & yet were not those things written by others before them. Abraham believed that he should be blessed, so as all nations should obtain blessing in his seed: also he believed God was to be obeyed, when his son was demanded for sacrifice; and yet had he not read any thing written thereof. Wherefore that which we have spoken of faith, makes nothing against them which say, that faith is an assent given to the Gospel of Christ; or else offered unto us by him, for the remission of sins. For so much as these be the most high and principal things in the word of God, unto which, the law, the prophets, the threatenings, promises, and histories, how many soever be found in the Holy Scriptures, be directed. Wherefore I agree with them, and what they embraced in the Gospel: but as touching remission of sins through Christ, I also do affirm to be contained in the word of God. Peter Martyr, “Of Faith and Charity,” in The Common Places, trans., and compiled by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 3, p., 69-70.

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