As we have said before, there are no conditions whatsoever unto salvation. Salvation is absolutely free and sovereign. And even the gift of faith Christ merited for us by His perfect obedience. Nor may we conceive of faith as if it were a meritorious work on the part of man, whereby he assents to God’s righteousness and humbles himself in true repentance, in order that in that way he may make himself worthy of the grace of God. For faith is characterized by being itself entirely without merit. Nor is fait6 to be presented as a spiritual power whereby our will is liberated to do good works, whereby we are enabled to merit our salvation. It is certainly true that faith without works is dead, and that by faith we are also enabled to bear fruit unto God. But this does not alter the fact that we are not saved out of works, not even out of the works of faith, but that faith itself is a power unto salvation. All these presentations must be rejected on the ground of Holy Scripture, which teaches us that the real work of God is that we believe in Jesus Christ, Whom God hath sent. To the unbelieving Jews that had been witnesses of the feeding of the five thousand on the preceding day Jesus said: “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” And in answer to this the unbelieving Jews said to Him: “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” And it is in answer to this that Jesus answered and said unto them: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” And therefore, instead of these theories, you must maintain that faith is God’s own work, the work of His free grace within us, the spiritual means of God, the spiritual property, whereby God engrafts us into Christ through the Holy Spirit, and whereby He causes all the blessings of salvation to flow out of Christ to usward. It is therefore the bond to Christ, whereby our soul cleaves unto Him, lives out of Him, receives and appropriates all His benefits.
It stands to reason that as this spiritual property of faith controls the entire soul of man, and that too, from the heart, it controls also our intellect and will. And for that reason faith itself is both a spiritual knowledge and a spiritual confidence. We speak of spiritual knowledge, in distinction from the knowledge that consists in the mere acceptance of the truth of Scripture. This is emphasized by all Reformed theologians. Dr. A. Kuyper Sr. writes: “This certain, secure knowledge does not consist in a further development of a knowledge which in part we already possess, nor in an unfolding of a knowledge that was hid within us. One does not make any headway in this knowledge, though he would finish the courses in all the schools. Even if one would do nothing else all his life long than read the Bible, and compare Scripture with Scripture, he would not even advance one step toward the knowledge that is here meant. No, here a new knowledge is meant, which you did not possess as a sinner, and of which you received the power in regeneration. Another kindof knowledge this is, comparable to the original knowledge which Adam received in paradise, which is given us of God in Christ, our wisdom. He that receives this knowledge knows differently, seesdifferently, touches differently. That which before he could not discern he now perceives, and it becomes life to him. Enlightened eyes of the understanding the apostle therefore calls this knowledge; and they are eyes too, that gaze with such uncommon accuracy, that they afford immediate and complete certainty and assurance concerning those things that are perceived by them: so clearly, so lucidly, so sharply, this knowledge defines the things before your consciousness. The natural man does not see anything of this, but the spiritual man that has the gift of faith discerns all things. On the other hand, if one is not born again, he cannot even see the kingdom of God. Without the implanting of this saving faith, one may, therefore, indeed, commit the Bible to memory, and accept its contents historically, but this does not help him. He may also work himself into it by the spur of the emotions, and for a time rejoice in it, but neither this historical nor this temporary faith has anything in common with the faith whereby we are engrafted into Jesus. Even miraculous faith has nothing in common with saving faith, for although you had a faith to remove mountains (and that is miraculous faith), and love was not infused into your heart, you still would be nothing. Disputations, therefore, do not help. We must havetestimony, the Word must be administered, because usually it pleases God to use the Word as a means for implanting of faith; but even though you talk day and night to someone, as long as his soul cannot see through the eye of faith, you cannot show him the glories of God.” E Voto, I, 129, 130.
Ursinus, in his explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism, emphasizes, to say the least, the element of confidence. The knowledge of saving faith, according to him, is the same as any other knowledge or as the knowledge of all other kinds of faith. Writes he: “This justifying or saving faith differs from the other kinds of faith in this, that it is a firm confidence, whereby we appropriate to ourselves the merits of Christ, i.e., are firmly convinced that the righteousness of Christ is given and imputed also to us. Now, confidence is an inclination of the heart and of the will; this inclination has regard to some good, rejoices in it and relies on it; also in our language it denotes a complete reliance on something. The Greek word for faith is derived from a root which implies the idea of confidence. In this sense even profane authors, like Phocylides and Demosthenes, already used the word.” I, 147. The knowledge of faith, therefore, is the same as the knowledge of temporary faith and miraculous faith, etc. With this exclusive emphasis on the confidence of faith we cannot agree.
On the other hand, Calvin emphasizes equally the knowledge and the confidence of faith. Writes he: “Knowledge, as we call faith, we do not understand in the sense of comprehension, such as we have of those things that fall within the scope of human sensation. For this knowledge is even so far superior, that the mind of man must exceed and surpass itself, in order to attain to it. And even when he has attained to it, he does not understand that which he discerns; but while he has a persuasion of what he does not grasp, he apprehends more by the very certainty of this persuasion than he would by perceiving something human by its own capacity.” Institutes, Book III, Chapter II, 14. And in the same volume of his InstitutesCalvin writes: “This also the words of Paul indicate: whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: for we walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:6, 7) whereby he shows that those things which we understand by faith, are, nevertheless, remote from us, and hid from our view. Whence we conclude that the knowledge of faith consists in certainty rather than in apprehension.”
With these sentiments all Reformed theologians agree. Knowledge is a very essential part of saving faith. And it is a very special kind of knowledge, whereby man discerns and appropriates spiritual things. It is true that it is a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, according to the Catechism. Without the Word of God we know nothing of the things of the Spirit. The knowledge of saving faith is not a certain inner light, that can do without and despises the letter of the Word. It is in the Holy Scriptures that Christ is mirrored. And faith is a certain knowledge. It holds for truth and it assents to all that is revealed in the Scriptures. But this does not mean that the knowledge of faith is mere intellectual certainty and assent to the truth. Saving faith is not the same as historical faith plus a hearty confidence. The knowledge of faith is more than this intellectual apprehension and assurance of the truth. It is principally different. It is not at all like the knowledge which the natural man may have of the truth of the Word of God. For the natural man does not discern and receive the things of the Spirit. The knowledge of saving faith, therefore, is a spiritual knowledge. It is experiential. It is not mere theoretical knowledge about God in Christ; but it is the knowledge of Him. By faith we know Him. There is a wide difference between knowing all about a thing or person and knowing that very thing, or that very person. In the former instance my knowledge is purely theoretical, and my relation to the thing or person known is external and superficial. I place myself above the object of my knowledge; I investigate it; I feel rather superior to it, criticize it, analyze it minutely, and describe it. But in the latter case my knowledge is experiential. It is a knowledge of love and fellowship. And my relation to its object is profoundly spiritual. A dietitian may be able to analyze thoroughly every item on a menu, and inform you exactly as to the number and kind of vitamins each offered dish contains. But if he has cancer of the stomach, he cannot taste the food and enjoy it; neither is he able to digest it, and derive the necessary strength from it. On the other hand, the man with a hungry stomach may sit at the table with him, know absolutely nothing about vitamins; but he will order his meal, relish it, and appropriate it to himself in such a way that he is refreshed and strengthened. Thus a man may be a keen theologian, so that he can ably and thoroughly discuss all kinds of theological subjects. He may be thoroughly versed in Christology, and deliver learned discourses on the incarnation of the Son of God, on the Person and natures of Christ, on the atonement and the resurrection and His exaltation at the right hand of God. But if he, is a mere natural man, he is like that scholarly dietitian with his stomach full of cancer. He knows all about Christ with his natural mind and with a natural knowledge; but he does not know Him, neither can he appropriate Him. In reality, he does not even see Christ, nor does he hear His voice. For Christ is spiritually discerned. He does not feel need of Him: for though he has a head full of theories about sin, he does not know his sin and does not come to true sorrow over sin and repentance. And though he knows all about the atonement, he does not flee to it. And though he probably delivered a lecture on the Bread of Life, he does not hunger after it, cannot eat it and digest it. He has knowledge, but it is not the knowledge of faith. On the other hand, a person may be far inferior to this able theologian as far as intellectual knowledge and intellectual capacity are concerned; and his knowledge of the gospel may be very simple. But if he has the knowledge of saving faith, he will be like the hungry man that relishes, his food and is able to digest it. He will know himself in all his misery and emptiness as a damnable and guilty sinner, void of light and wisdom and righteousness, full of darkness, foolishness, and iniquity. And not only will he know himself as a sinner, but he will come to repentance. He will deplore his condition before God. And he will know Christ as the Bread of Life. He will know Him as the fullness of his own emptiness, as the righteousness in his guilt, as the holiness in his corruption, as his light in darkness, as his life in the midst of death. And he will hunger and thirst in this knowledge of faith for the Bread and Water of life. He will take it, eat it, relish it, and appropriate it, and make it part and parcel of himself. And thus he will live! The knowledge of saving faith is the kind of knowledge of which Jesus speaks, in John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Such, then, is the spiritual knowledge of faith:
The second element of saving faith is a true, spiritual, confidence. This true confidence of faith cannot be had unless we also have the true, spiritual knowledge of faith, as we have described above. The confidence of faith may be distinguished, but may never be separated from the true knowledge of faith. For as we have said before, true saving faith is a spiritual property. It is not rooted in the intellect or in the will, or even in both. But it is rooted in the heart of man, that is, of the believer. Knowledge and confidence, therefore, are aspects of saving faith. They are two aspects of the same spiritual power. One may distinguish various so-called faculties in the human soul; but these may never be presented as if they were separate powers or functions. Man is an intellectual, volitional being. He has a mind and a will. And from interaction of these two arise the emotions. But although we may distinguish in the soul of man the faculty of the intellect and the faculty of the will, these two do not exist or ever act separately or apart from each other. There is never a mere or pure thought, or a separate functioning of the intellect. All man’s thinking is volitional and emotional thinking. Nor could there possibly be a pure act of the will, a pure act of volition apart from the intellect. All man’s willing is rational, intellectual willing. For man is one. And as one being, he lives a physical and psychical, an intellectual and volitional life. All man’s actions involve all his powers and faculties, cooperating and interacting most intimately. And thus faith is not two—knowledge and confidence—but one spiritual property. There is never a mere confidence, without true knowledge. Confidence without knowledge would be blind, would have no object in which to trust, and would therefore be impossible. And so, when one defines the true spiritual knowledge of saving faith, he cannot avoid speaking of confidence at the same time.
However, knowledge and confidence, though they can never be separated, may be distinguished. The knowledge of faith is strictly a spiritual disposition and act of the mind, or, if you please, of the intellect. Confidence belongs to the domain, rather, of the will. Knowledge presents to the believing soul the object of confidence: the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord, as He is revealed in Holy Scripture. Confidence clings to that Christ and to the God of our salvation. By the act of confidence the soul surrenders itself to and wholly relies on Christ revealed. Confidence is the immediate result of the true knowledge of saving faith. This confidence is really an act of friendship, whereby one draws near unto Him without fear and whereby he makes known unto Him the secrets of the heart, flees to Him for refuge and in all his sins and miseries casts himself upon Him, laying hold upon His promises, assured of His goodwill toward him and of His power to save him to the uttermost. The indispensable ground of confidence is the knowledge that God loves the sinner. It is the knowledge of His favorable attitude to the sinner, and that too, very personally. Of and in himself the sinner is afraid of God. He looks upon God as His enemy, as a God of wrath. Everything warns him that he should beware of the living God. For “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.” And in that consuming wrath man pines and dies. And his own conscience, that is, the handwriting of God in his own moral consciousness, witnesses against him and accuses him before the Judge of heaven and earth. He therefore fears God in the sense that he is afraid of Him. He knows that God intends to kill him. In fact, he knows that already he lies in the midst of death. God will forever consume him in His fierce anger. Such is the testimony that reaches the sinner from every side, from without and from within. And therefore, as we said, the sinner is afraid of God, and, if possible, he would flee far away from Him. But by the confidence of faith the sinner is assured of God’s eternal goodwill and love towards him. God reveals Himself to the sinner in the face of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. In the cross and resurrection of Christ and in His exaltation at the right hand of God He reveals His exceeding great power to save to the uttermost and His eternal goodwill. He reveals to him His covenant friendship and love. And he becomes assured of his election. God speaks to him of His boundless grace and mighty power unto salvation. He does so in the gospel. However, it is not sufficient to know that God is gracious to sinners. A general offer of salvation is of no avail to fill the sinner with confidence in that God of Whom he is dreadfully afraid. It is not sufficient for him to know that God loves sinners. He must know that not only to others, but also to him personally God is gracious and filled with eternal goodwill towards him. And this assured confidence God works through the Holy Ghost by the gospel in the heart of the sinner. It is the confidence of faith. And by it the sinner wholly casts himself upon the eternal mercy of the living God as He has revealed Himself in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This faith in its operation is at the same time in its operation the conversion of man in the spiritual sense of the word. We can also put it this way: conversion is the immediate fruit of faith. For conversion, considered as the change of the mind, and therefore also as the change of the will, follows necessarily and spontaneously upon faith. Or rather, it is the immediate fruit of faith. By the power of faith both mind and will are changed from sin unto righteousness and turned in the direction of the living God in Christ Jesus our Lord. By this change of mind and will through faith the mind observes and judges in a radically different way than before, even about the guilt of sin: and thus man comes to condemn himself before God in true repentance. By faith he desires deliverance from din. By faith the desires of the will turn into a different direction, in the direction of God in Christ. And thus man comes to hunger and thirst after true righteousness. The old man is mortified, and the new man is quickened. And thus by faith the conversion of man is accomplished in principle—a conversion which, of course, continues throughout his whole life.