Salvation has always come through faith in Christ. There aren’t some souls in heaven who are there through believing in Christ, and others who are there through some other way.

It could be misleading to say ‘implicit faith’ in Christ was able to save people before the incarnation and passion of our Lord, but that it can no longer do so – it sounds as if God had for some reason become less generous as a result of the atonement. It is rather that implicit faith is no longer able to exist.

‘Implicit’ is stronger than ‘potential’. Something is said to be implicit when it is actually there, but in a hidden way. So those who believed in ‘the Redeemer that God will send us’ were believing in Christ, because He was contained in a hidden way in that definition. But unless they had had not only faith but also a gift of prophecy, their minds didn’t grasp the sacred Humanity of Christ in a way that would allow them to distinguish it, using empirical criteria, from other instances of human nature. That is, they could grasp it as ‘the human nature that will belong to the Redeemer’, but not ‘the human nature that will come into being at a certain time and place, or from a certain mother, or through which such and such visible deeds will be wrought.’

We who live now, if we were to believe in ‘the Redeemer whom God will send us’ would not be believing in Christ, since He is not contained in even a hidden way in that definition. If we believe in ‘the Redeemer whom God has sent’, it is not possible that we should not have in mind some empirical criteria that distinguish the human nature of the Redeemer in whom we believe from other instances of human nature. If we cannot individuate a person him in our minds, we cannot be said to be thinking about him rather than about someone else.

The things that individuate him could be very slight. For example, if a missionary comes to a new tribe and says, ‘I bring you news of a Saviour’, meaning Jesus, and works a miracle, then if someone then believes in ‘the God of this missionary’, I don’t see why that should not count as explicit faith in Christ, even though he doesn’t yet know His Name, or when or where He was born, of what stock. The key thing is that the one who believes has in his mind a thought by which the sacred Humanity of Christ is individuated from all others by some empirical fact; and this is what we call explicit faith.

In other words, things are not symmetrical before and after the incarnation. To claim to believe in someone who has come implies a way to individuate that humanity in an empirical way. And a failure to individuate the right humanity would not be faith in the Redeemer.

If someone says, ‘I am ready to believe in the Redeemer if it turns out that God has sent one’, he does not have implicit faith in Christ. He does not have faith at all, though if he is sincere he has a desire for faith.

I think the reason some people get confused here is that they know that there can be such a thing as an implicit desire for baptism – so why not an implicit faith? The answer is that an implicit thing is implicit in something else of the same nature. So the implicit desire for baptism is implicit in an explicit desire to God’s will in all necessary things. What would the implicit faith in Christ be implicit in? There would have to be some act of faith which contained it, and there is none.

It is not that God is less generous after the Incarnation than before it, but that to grasp something (in this case the sacred Humanity of Christ), we must grasp it as it really is. Before it exists, this can only be to grasp it as it is in the mind and purpose of God. Once it exists, this must be to grasp it in its own being: because that is how it now  is.