(Any similarities between my title and C.S. Lewis’ “The Pilgrim’s Regress” is fortuitous).
The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation. Assensus is belief. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent. “I believe it, that settles it.” Of course, when you say such a thing, your mental assent is more of a mental descent. To understand why it is a mental descent, you need to ascend to the the third level of faith: fiducia.
Fiducia is full trust and commitment, it’s the heart knowledge of Jesus’ prayer to His Father. It is Fiducia that ultimately counts (See Two conversions: the mind (NOTITIA) and the heart (FIDUCIA) of faith in Blaise Pascal).
Notitia without Fiducia is transparent and empty. Scripture and theology are gripping for both believer and unbeliever. There is no way, therefore, to tell if somebody who loves talking theology are Bible really believes in Christ. If you say you hate Christ, that you hate the Bible, you definitely do hate Christ and the Bible. If, though, you say you love Christ and the Bible, you might in reality hate what you say you love, Of course, if you know a person well, it is easier to tell whether a person who loves talking Bible really loves and believes in its central figure. Here is an excerpt from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. “Faith” and Talkative” are journeying together:
FAITH. Come on, then, and let us go together, and let us spend our time in discoursing of things that are profitable.
TALK(ATIVE). To talk of things that are good, to me is very acceptable, with you or with any other; and I am glad that I have met with those that incline to so good a work; for, to speak the truth, there are but few that care thus to spend their time, (as they are in their travels), but choose much rather to be speaking of things to no profit; and this hath been a trouble for me.
FAITH. That is indeed a thing to be lamented; for what things so worthy of the use of the tongue and mouth of men on earth as are the things of the God of heaven?
TALK. I like you wonderful well, for your sayings are full of conviction; and I will add, what thing is so pleasant, and what so profitable, as to talk of the things of God? What things so pleasant (that is, if a man hath any delight in things that are wonderful)? For instance, if a man doth delight to talk of the history or the mystery of things; or if a man doth love to talk of miracles, wonders, or signs, where shall he find things recorded so delightful, and so sweetly penned, as in the Holy Scripture?
FAITH. That is true; but to be profited by such things in our talk should be that which we design.
TALK. That is it that I said; for to talk of such things is most profitable; for by so doing, a man may get knowledge of many things; as of the vanity of earthly things, and the benefit of things above. Thus, in general, but more particularly by this, a man may learn the necessity of the new birth, the insufficiency of our works, the need of Christ’s righteousness, &c. Besides, by this a man may learn, by talk, what it is to repent, to believe, to pray, to suffer, or the like; by this also a man may learn what are the great promises and consolations of the gospel, to his own comfort. Further, by this a man may learn to refute false opinions, to vindicate the truth, and also to instruct the ignorant.
FAITH. All this is true, and glad am I to hear these things from you.
TALK. Alas! the want of this is the cause why so few understand the need of faith, and the necessity of a work of grace in their soul, in order to eternal life; but ignorantly live in the works of the law, by which a man can by no means obtain the kingdom of heaven.
FAITH. But, by your leave, heavenly knowledge of these is the gift of God; no man attaineth to them by human industry, or only by the talk of them.
TALK. All this I know very well; for a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from Heaven; all is of grace, not of works. I could give you a hundred scriptures for the confirmation of this.
FAITH. Well, then, said Faithful, what is that one thing that we shall at this time found our discourse upon?
TALK. What you will. I will talk of things heavenly, or things earthly; things moral, or things evangelical; things sacred, or things profane; things past, or things to come; things foreign, or things at home; things more essential, or things circumstantial; provided that all be done to our profit.
FAITH. Now did Faithful begin to wonder; and stepping to Christian [CHR.], (for he walked all this while by himself), he said to him, (but softly), What a brave companion have we got! Surely this man will make a very excellent pilgrim.
CHR. At this Christian modestly smiled, and said, This man, with whom you are so taken, will beguile, with that tongue of his, twenty of them that know him not.
FAITH. Do you know him, then?
CHR. Know him! Yes, better than he knows himself.
FAITH. Pray, what is he?
CHR. His name is Talkative; he dwelleth in our town. I wonder that you should be a stranger to him, only I consider that our town is large.
FAITH. Whose son is he? And whereabout does he dwell?
CHR. He is the son of one Say-well; he dwelt in Prating Row; and is known of all that are acquainted with him, by the name of Talkative in Prating Row; and notwithstanding his fine tongue, he is but a sorry fellow.
FAITH. Well, he seems to be a very pretty man.
CHR. That is, to them who have not thorough acquaintance with him; for he is best abroad; near home, he is ugly enough. Your saying that he is a pretty man, brings to my mind what I have observed in the work of the painter, whose pictures show best at a distance, but, very near, more unpleasing.
FAITH. But I am ready to think you do but jest, because you smiled.
CHR. God forbid that I should jest (although I smiled) in this matter, or that I should accuse any falsely! I will give you a further discovery of him. This man is for any company, and for any talk; as he talketh now with you, so will he talk when he is on the ale-bench; and the more drink he hath in his crown, the more of these things he hath in his mouth; religion hath no place in his heart, or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue, and his religion is, to make a noise therewith.
FAITH. Say you so! then am I in this man greatly deceived.
CHR. Deceived! you may be sure of it; remember the proverb, “They say and do not.” [Matt. 23:3] But the kingdom of God is not in word, but in Power. [1 Cor 4:20] He talketh of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new birth; but he knows but only to talk of them. I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad; and I know what I say of him is the truth. His house is as empty of religion as the white of an egg is of savour. There is there neither prayer nor sign of repentance for sin; yea, the brute in his kind serves God far better than he. He is the very stain, reproach, and shame of religion, to all that know him; it can hardly have a good word in all that end of the town where he dwells, through him. [Rom. 2:24,25] Thus say the common people that know him, A saint abroad, and a devil at home. His poor family finds it so; he is such a churl, such a railer at and so unreasonable with his servants, that they neither know how to do for or speak to him. Men that have any dealings with him say it is better to deal with a Turk than with him; for fairer dealing they shall have at their hands. This Talkative (if it be possible) will go beyond them, defraud, beguile, and overreach them. Besides, he brings up his sons to follow his steps; and if he findeth in any of them a foolish timorousness, (for so he calls the first appearance of a tender conscience,) he calls them fools and blockheads, and by no means will employ them in much, or speak to their commendations before others. For my part, I am of opinion, that he has, by his wicked life, caused many to stumble and fall; and will be, if God prevent not, the ruin of many more.