[The follow letter appears in Stopford A. Brooke's Life and Letters (1865). George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University, has scanned it from the text of the 1902 edition (see bibliography) and formatted it in HTML.]
MY DEAR ___,
Your mamma showed me your questions to her, and I offered to answer them as well as I can, though it would be easier to do so devive voix than on paper. That respecting the personality of the devil I have already answered in a letter to your sister, though I am not sure that it was sufficiently detailed to be quite satisfactory or intelligible. Remember, however, that the main thing is to believe in God, which is the chief article of all the creeds. Our salvation does not depend upon our having right notions about the devil, but right feelings about God. And if you hate evil, you are on God's side, whether there be a personal evil principle or not. I myself relieve there is, but not so unquestioningly as to be able to say, I think it a matter of clear revelation. The Bible does reveal God, and except with a belief in God there will and can be no goodness. But I can conceive intense hatred of wrong with great uncertainty whether there be a devil or not. Indeed many persons who believe in a devil are worse instead of better for their belief, since they throw the responsibility of their acts off themselves on him. Do not torment yourself with such questions. The simpler ones are the deepest.
Next, as to St. James's assertion that 'faith without works profiteth nothing ;' which appears to contradict St. Paul's, who says that 'a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.'
Suppose I say, 'A tree cannot be struck without thunder,' that is true, for there is never destructive lightning without thunder. But, again, if I say, 'The tree was struck by lightning without thunder,' that is true too, if I mean that the lightning alone struck it without the thunder striking it. You read the two assertions together, and they seem contradictory. So, in the same way, St. Paul says, 'Faith justifies without works' — that is, faith only is that which justifies us, not works. But St. James says, 'Not a faith which is without works.' There will be works with faith, as there is thunder With lightning; but just as it is not the thunder but the lightning, the lightning without the thunder, that strikes the tree, so it is not the works which justify. Put it in one sentence — Faith alone justifies: but not the Faith which is alone. Lightning alone strikes, but not the lightning which is alone without thunder; for that is only summer lightning, and harmless. You will see that there is an ambiguity in the words 'without and alone,' arid the two apostles use them in different senses, just as I have used them in the above simile about the lightning.
All this will be more plain if you consider what faith is. It is that strong buoyant confidence in God and in His love which gives energy and spirit to do right without doubt or despondency. Where God sees that, He sees the spring and fountain out of which all good springs: He sees, in short, the very life of Christ begun, and He reckons that to be righteousness; just as a small perennial fountain in Gloucestershire is the Thames, though it is not as yet scarcely large enough to float a schoolboy's boat; and just as you call a small seedling not bigger than a little almond peeping above the ground, an oak: for the word ' justify' means not to be made righteous, but to reckon or account righteous.
Now observe, just as you count the seven springs to be the Thames without a flood of waters, and without the navy that rides on the Thames, and just as you call the sapling an oak, without the acorns, so God reckons the trust in Him as righteousness, because it is the fountain and the root of righteousness, being, indeed, the life divine in the soul. He reckons if as such (that is, He justifies the soul that has it) without works — that is, before works are done, and not because of the works. But then that faith will not be [No. 115. 1851 p. 233]
- "All were his brothers in arms" — Frederick W. Robertson's Position in Victorian Protestantism
- Frederick W. Robertson on Moral Culture, Repression, and Tractarianism
- The evidence of goodness and wisdom in the external world is very questionable": Frederick W. Robertson on Finding God amid the Cruelties of Nature
Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Fred[erick]. W. Robertson, M. A., Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. People's Edition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1902.
Last modified 7 December 2007