The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of Saving Faith
SECTION I: The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.
1. Titus 1:1; Heb. 10:39
2. I Cor. 12:3; John 3:5; 6:44-45, 65; Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; II Peter 1:1; see I Peter 1:2
3. Matt. 28:19-20; Rom. 10:14, 17; I Cor. 1:21
4. I Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32; Rom. 1:16-17; Matt. 28:19; see Acts 2:38; I Cor. 10:16; 11:23-29; Luke 17:5; Phil. 4:6-7
Faith, in the most general sense of the word, is the assent of the mind to the truth of that of which we have not an immediate cognition; knowledge is the perception of the truth of that of which we have an immediate cognition. Yet faith demands and rests upon evidence just as absolutely as does knowledge. It does not differ from reason as rational differs from irrational, nor from knowledge as the conviction of that which is proved differs from the presumption of that which is unproved. Faith, like knowledge itself, demands evidence, and differs in accordance with the evidence in different cases from the barest probability up to the most assured certainty. We have direct knowledge that the book we have in our hands fills a certain portion of space; we have faith that space still stretches illimitable beyond the most distant telescopic star. The one is knowledge and the other faith, but the faith is just as certain as the knowledge. We know the existence and attributes of the city in which we dwell; we believe the existence and attributes of ancient Athens or modern Yeddo from the testimony of men. We know the properties of human nature; we believe the properties of the several persons of the Trinity on the testimony of God. In each case the faith is just as rational and as certain as the knowledge. Faith in many thousands of its forms is spontaneously exercised by all men. The commonest processes of thought and of human action, individual or associated, would be impossible without it. When grounded on legitimate evidence, it leads to absolute assurance. It has its root in the reason, to which it always, when legitimate, conforms. But it reaches beyond reason, and elevates the mind to the contemplation of the highest and-most ennobling truths.
Religious faith, in the most general sense of that word, is the assent of the mind to the general truths of religion, such as the being and attributes of God, and the religious obligations of men, such as is common to all religions, true or false. This religious faith has its ground in our common religious nature, while on the other hand that SAVING FAITH which is the subject of this chapter of the Confession is that spiritual discernment of the excellence and beauty of divine truth, and that cordial embrace and acceptance of it, which are wrought in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
Of this saving faith it is alarmed in this section: --
1. That it is wrought in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
2. That it is ordinarily wrought by the means of the Word of God, or through the instrumentality of divine truth.
3. That it is strengthened by the use of the sacraments and prayer.
1. That faith is the work of the Holy Ghost has been proved already under the head of Effectual Calling. In addition it may be argued -- (1.) Saving faith must be a moral act, and must have its ground in the spiritual congeniality of the believer with the truth. Unbelief is always denounced as a sin, and not as the consequence of intellectual weakness. The Scriptures unconditionally demand instant faith alike of the ignorant and of the intelligent. (2.) By nature, men are spiritually blind, in-- capable of discerning spiritual things. 1 Cor. ii. 14; 2 Cor. iv. 4. That form of spiritual apprehension which is an essential element in saving faith must be wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit. (3.) Men believe because they are taught of God (John vi. 44, 45), as they are enlightened to discern the things of the Spirit. Acts xiii. 48; 2 Cor. iv. 6; Eph. i. 17, 18. Faith is the gift of God. Eph. ii. 8.
2. That faith is ordinarily wrought by the Spirit through the ministry of the Word is plain -- (1.) From the direct assertion of Scripture: "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? ..... So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Rom. x. 12 -- 17. (2.) The preaching of the gospel is the ordinary way in which its truth is most effectually brought to bear upon the hearts and consciences of men. Faith is the act of the regenerated soul, and, as we have seen (ch. x., sections 1, 2 and 4), the Spirit uses the revealed truth of God as his instrument in regeneration and sanctification, and sane adult men never come to the experience of the benefits of Christ's salvation who are destitute of some knowledge of his person and world.
3. We have seen above, under chapter xiii., that sanctification is a progressive work of the Holy Spirit, and that the inward means whereby it is advanced is faith, and the outward means are the truth, prayer, the sacraments, and the gracious discipline of divine providence. Whatever tends to promote sanctification must promote the strength of faith, which is its main root. Therefore, faith must be nourished by the truth, prayer, the sacraments, and every means of grace.
SECTION II: By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
5. II Peter 1:20-21; John 4:42; I Thess. 2:13; I John 5:9-10; Acts 24:14
6. Psa. 119:10-11, 48, 97-98, 167-168; John 14:15
7. Ezra 9:4; Isa. 66:2; Heb. 4:1
8. Heb. 11:13; I Tim. 4:8
9. John 1:12; Acts 15:11, 16:31; Gal. 2:20; II Tim. 1:9-10
This section teaches:--
1. That saving faith rests upon the truth of the testimony of God speaking in his Word.
2. That it respects as its object all the contents of God's Word, without exception.
3. That the complex state of mind to which the epithet "faith" is applied in Scripture varies with the nature of the particular passage of God's Word which is its object.
4. That the specific act of saving faith which unites us to Christ, and is the sole condition or instrument of justification, involves two essential elements: (1.) Assent to what the Scriptures reveal to us concerning the person, offices, and work of Christ; and (2.) Trust or implicit reliance upon Christ, and upon Christ alone, for all that is involved in a complete salvation.
1. Saving faith rests upon the truth of the testimony of God speaking in his Word. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration, are in the strictest and most direct sense God's Word to us. They are absolutely divine, both as to their infallible truth and supreme authority. Christ when on earth rested his claims to recognition as Messiah upon the testimony borne to him by the Father. John v. 31 -- 37. "He that hath received the testimony [of Christ] hath set to his seal that God is true." John iii. 33. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son." 1 John v. 10. " This is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son." I John v. 9. The gospel which Paul preached to the Corinthians he calls "the testimony of God." 1 Cor. ii. 1. God corroborated the truths of the apostles' preaching, "bearing them witness both with signs and wonders," etc. Heb. ii. 4, The Holy Ghost bears direct witness to the soul of the believer. Rom. viii. 16; Heb. x. 15.
2. Saving faith receives as true all the contents of God's Word, without exception. After we have settled the preliminary questions as to what book belong to the inspired canon of Scripture, and as to what is the original text of those books, then the whole must be received as equally the Word of God, and must in all its parts be accepted with equal faith. The same illumination of the understanding and renewal of the affections which lays the foundation for the soul's acting faith in any one portion of God's testimony, lays the same foundation for its acting faith in every other portion. The whole Word of God, therefore, as far as known to be individual, to the exclusion of all traditions, doctrines of men, or pretended private revelation, is the object of saving faith.
3. The complex state of mind to which the epithet "faith" is applied in Scripture varies with the nature of every particular passage of God's Word which is its object. The common quality which is the reason of the application of the same term to all these various states of mind, is cordial, realizing assent to the truth presented. But the state of mind which fully realizes the, truth of a threatening must, in some respects, be different from that which realizes the truth of a promise. The realization of the truth of God's glory as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ cannot be an experience in all respects the same with the believing recognition of a duty or of the truth of a fact of history.
It was debated largely between the Romanists and the Reformers whether saving faith included trust or not. The true answer is, that trust is an integral and inseparable element of every act of saving faith in which trust is appropriate to the nature of the object believed. It is plain that many of the propositions of Scripture are not the proper objects of trust. In all such cases faith includes recognition, assent, acquiescence, submission, as the case may be. But in all cases in which the nature of the truth believed renders the exercise of trust legitimate, and especially in that specific act of saving faith called justifying faith, which unites to Christ and is the root and organ of the whole spiritual life, trust is certainly an element of the very essence of that state of mind called in Scripture faith. This will be proved under the next head.
4. That specific act of saving faith which unites to Christ, and is the sole condition and instrument of justification, involves two essential elements: --
(1.) Assent to whatever the Scriptures reveal to us as to the person, offices, and work of Christ. (a.) The Scriptures expressly say that we are justified by that faith of which Christ is the object. Rom. iii. 22, 25; Gal. ii. 16; Phil. iii. 9. (b.) Rejection of Christ in Scripture is declared to be the ground of reprobation. John iii. 18, 19; viii. 24. Assent includes an intellectual recognition and a cordial embrace of the object at the same time. It is an act of the whole man -- intellect, affection, and will -- embracing the truth. This especial act of faith in Christ, which secures salvation, is constantly paraphrased by such phrases as "coming to Christ," John vi. 35; "looking to him," Isa. xlv. 22; "receiving him," John i. 12; "fleeing to him for refuge," Heb. vi. 18; -- all of which manifestly involve an active assent to and cordial embrace, as well as an intellectual recognition of the truth.
(2.) The second element included in that act of faith that saves the soul is trust, or implicit reliance upon Christ, and upon Christ alone, for all that is involved in a complete salvation. (a.) The single condition of salvation demanded in the Scriptures is that we should " believe in " or " on " Christ Jesus. And salvation is promised absolutely and certainly if this command is obeyed. John vii. 38; Acts x. 43; xvi. 31; Gal. ii. 16. To believe in or on a person, implies trust as well as credence. (b.) We are constantly said to be saved "by faith in" or "on Christ." Acts xxvi. 18; Gal; iii. 26; 2 Tim. iii. 15. " Faith is the substance of things hoped for." Heb. xi. 1. Trust rests upon the foundation upon which expectation is based. Hope reaches forward to the object upon which desire and expectation meet. Hope, therefore, rests upon trust, and trust gives birth to hope, and faith must include trust in order to give reality or substance to the things hoped for. (c.) The same is proved by what are said to be the effects or fruits of faith. By faith the Christian is said to be " persuaded of the promises; " "to obtain them; " " to embrace them;" " to subdue kingdoms;" " to work righteousness;" "to stop the mouths of lions." Heb. xi. All this plainly presupposes that faith is not a bare intellectual conviction of the truth of truths revealed in the Scriptures, but that it includes a hearty embrace of and a confident reliance upon Christ, his meritorious work and his gracious promises.
SECTION III: This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.
10. Heb. 5:13-14; Rom. 4:19-20; 14:1-2; Matt. 6:30; 8:10
11. Luke 22:31-32; Eph. 6:16; I John 5:4-5
12. Heb. 6:11-12; 10:22; Col. 2:2
13. Heb. 12:2
In this section it is affirmed: --
1. That this faith, although always as to essence the same, is often different in degrees in different persons, and in the same person at different times.
2. That it is exposed to many enemies, and may be often and in many ways assailed and weakened, but that, through divine grace, it always in the end gains the victory.
3. That in many it grows up to the measure of a full assurance through Christ.
As all the points made in this section are taken up again and discussed at length in chapter xviii., on " Assurance of Grace and Salvation," we will defer what we have to say upon the subject until we come to that place.