Calvin treats the subject of faith elaborately in his Institutes, Book III, chapter 2. Also according to him faith is both knowledge and confidence, and both are of a special, a higher kind than the knowledge and assurance of faith in general. 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 needs 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.” (1). And again: “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.” (2). It appears that, according to Calvin’s view, the confidence of faith is the result of this special and higher knowledge that consists in certainty rather than in comprehension. For he writes: “This is the principal hinge on which faith turns, not that we consider the promises of God’s mercy to be entirely apart from ourselves, and not at all within us, but rather that, by embracing them from within, we make them our own. And out of this is born at last that confidence which elsewhere he calls peace (Rom. 5:1), unless one would rather derive peace from thence.” (3). And again he writes: “Let this be the sum of the matter. When even the smallest drop of faith is instilled into our minds, we begin at once to contemplate the face of God as peaceable, serene and kind toward us, and that, indeed, far off and remote from us, but nevertheless by so certain an intuition that we know that we are not at all mistaken,” According to Calvin, then, the knowledge of saving faith is not a general certainty of the truth of the Word of God, while the real and chief element of faith is the hearty confidence that my sins are forgiven, but it is quite a special kind of knowledge, far beyond the capacity of the human intellect, whereby the believer contemplates the face of God as being kind and merciful toward him. And, according to the reformer, it is even the chief element of faith, at least in this sense that it is first, and that confidence is based on it, and follows from it. This scriptural knowledge of faith clings to the Word of God as contained in the Scriptures, particularly, so Calvin teaches us, to the promises of God. And since these promises of God are all concentrated in Christ, since Christ is the realization of all the promises of God, the knowledge of faith looks to Him, and the confidence of faith relies on Him as the revelation of the God of our salvation. And not only the confidence, but also the knowledge of faith is a special gift of the Holy Spirit, enlightening our minds so as to be able to apprehend the spiritual things of the Word of God. It is true, so he writes in paragraph 33 of chapter 2, book III of the Institutes, that the mere and external demonstration of the Word ought to be abundantly sufficient to work faith in us, if it were not that our natural blindness and stubborn perversity makes this impossible. For the inclination of our mind to vanity is such that it will never adhere to the truth of God, it is so dull that it is always blind to His light. And from this it follows that without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Word avails nothing. (Sine Spiritus sancti illuminatione, verbo nihil agitur). Whence it is evident that faith is far superior to the mere human intellect. Nor will it be sufficient that the mind is enlightened by the Spirit of God, by His power the heart must also be strengthened and sustained. And he concludes that in both aspects faith is special gift of God: as a purification of the mind to taste the truth of God, and as the strengthening of his spirit in that truth. (Ergo singulare Dei donum utroque modo est fides, et quod mens hominis ad degustandem Dei veritatem purgatur, et quod animus in ea stabilitur).
A good deal was written on the important subject of saving faith, its nature, object, and activity by A. Comrie (A. B. C. des Geloofs, Eigenschappen des Zaligmakenden Geloofs, Verklaring van den Heidelbergschen Cathechismus), to whom also Dr. Kuyper refers in his work “The Work Of The Holy Spirit.” We cannot refrain from offering our readers part of a quotation from Comrie occurring in the last named work of Kuyper on the subject of faith:
“We will shortly enumerate the objects of this knowledge of faith.
“First, this knowledge is a divine light of the Holy Ghost, through the Word, by which I become acquainted, to some extent, with the contents of the
Gospel of salvation, which hitherto was to me a sealed book; which, although I understood it after the letter and its connections, I could not apply to myself, to direct and support my soul in the great distress, conflict, and anguish which the knowledge of God and of myself had brought upon me. But it now became plain and knowable to me. Now I learn by the in- shining of the Holy Spirit the contents of the Gospel, so that I can deal and commune with it. And so I suck from these breasts of consolation the pure, rational, and unadulterated milk of the everlasting Word of God. . . . And in this way, by means of the heavenly light, which pours in upon the inwrought faith, the soul obtains knowledge of the secret of the Lord in Christ, who is revealed to her. . . .
“Second, this knowledge is a divine light of the Holy Spirit in, from, and through the Gospel, by which I know Christ, who is its Alpha and Omega, as the glorious, precious, excellent, and soul-rejoicing pearl and treasure hid in this field. Although I knew all things, and I did not know Jesus by the light of the Spirit, my soul would be a shop full of miseries; a sepulchre appearing beautiful without, but within full of dead men’s bones. And this knowledge of Christ, imparted to the soul by the inshining of divine light, through the Gospel, can never from itself give any light to the soul as long as it is not accompanied by the immediate inworking and illumination of the Holy Spirit. For it is not the letter which is effectually working in the soul, but the direct working of the Holy Spirit by means of the letter.
And now you may ask, In what respect must I know Jesus? We will confine ourselves to the following matters: This knowledge of faith, the object of which is Christ in the Gospel, is a knowledge by which I know, through the divine light of the Holy Spirit, my absolute need of Christ. I see that I owe ten thousand talents, and that I have not a farthing to pay; and that I must have a surety to pay my debts. I see that I am a lost sinner, who am in need of a Savior. I see that (I am dead and impotent in myself and that I need Him who is able to quicken me and to save me. I see that before God I cannot stand, and that I need Him as a go-between. I see that I go astray and that He must seek after me. Oh! the more this necessity of Christ presses me, from this true knowledge of faith, the more earnest, intense, heart melting, and persevering the outgoings of my soul are from the inwrought faith, and attended with greater conflict. . . .
“Third, it is through this knowledge that I, by the light of the Spirit, know Jesus in the Gospel, as adapted in every respect to my need. It is the very conviction of the fitness of a thing which persuades the affections to choose that thing above every other; which makes one resolute and persevering in spite of every obstacle, never abandon the determination to secure to himself the thing or person chosen for this fitness to his need. . . .But when the divine light of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel illuminates my soul, and (I receive this knowledge of faith from Jesus, oh! then I see in Him such fitness as a surety, a Mediator, a Prophet, Priest, and King that my soul is touched in such a measure that I judge it impossible to live another happy hour, except this Jesus becomes my Jesus. My affections are inclined, taken up, directed, and settled upon this object, and my resolution is so great, so determined, so immovable, that if it required the loss of life and property, of father and mother, sister, brother, wife and child, right eye or right hand, yea, though I were condemned to die at the stake, I would lightly esteem all this, and would suffer it with joy, to have this wonderfully fit Savior to be my Savior and my Jesus. . . .
“Fourth, this knowledge of faith is a divine light of the Holy Spirit whereby I know Christ in the Gospel in all His sufficient fullness. By this I see not only that He is well disposed to poor sinners such a myself—for a man might be favorably disposed toward another to assist him in his misery, but he might lack the power and the means to do so, and the best that he could do is to pity the wretch and say, T pity your misery, but I cannot help you’—but this divine light teaches me that Christ can save to the uttermost; that though my sins are as scarlet and crimson, heavier than the mountains, greater in number than the hairs of my head and the sands of the seashore, there is such abundance of satisfaction and merits in the satisfaction, by virtue of His Person, that though I had the sins of the human race, they would be, compared to the satisfaction of Christ, which has by virtue of His Person an infinite value, as a drop to a bucket, and as a small dust in the balance. And this convinces my soul that my sin, instead of being an obstacle, much rather adds to the glory of the redemption, that sovereign grace was pleased to make me an everlasting monument of infinite compassion. Formerly, I always confessed my sin reluctantly; it was wrung from my lips against my will only because I was driven to it by my anguish, for I always thought, the more I confess my sin, the farther I will be from salvation and the nearer my approach to eternal condemnation; and, fool that I was, I disguised my guilt. But since I know that Jesus is so all-sufficient, now I cry out, and much more with my heart than with my lips, Though I were a blasphemer and a persecutor and all that is wicked, this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners, of which I am chief.’ And if need be, I am ready to sign this with my blood, to the glory of sovereign grace. ln this way every believer, if he stands in this attitude, will feel inclined to testify with me.
“Fifth, it is this knowledge by which I know in the light of the Holy Spirit shining into my soul through the Gospel Jesus Christ, as the most willing and most ready Savior, who not only has the power to save and to reconcile my soul to God, but who is exceedingly willing to save me ‘My God, what is it that has brought about such a change in my soul? I am dumb and ashamed, Lord Jesus, to stand before Thee, by reason of the wrong 1 have done Thee, and of the hard thoughts which I entertained concerning Thee, O precious Jesus! I thought that Thou wast unwilling and I willing; I thought that the fault lay with Thee and not with me; I thought that I was a willing sinner and that Thou hadst to be entreated with much crying and praying and tears to make of Thee, unwilling Jesus, a willing Christ; and I could not believe the fault lay with me. . . .
“The believing knowledge of the willingness of Jesus, in the light of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, makes me see my former unwillingness. But as soon as this light arises in my soul the will is immediately bent over and submissive. They who say that Jesus is willing, but that I remain unwilling, speak from mere theory; but they lack the knowledge of faith, and have not discovered this truth. For as the shadow follows the body, and the effect the cause, so is the believing knowledge of the willingness of Christ toward me immediately followed by my willingness toward Him, with perfect abandonment of myself to Him. ‘Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power’ (Psalm 110:3).
“Lastly, by this knowledge through the promise of the Gospel, and by the light of the Holy Spirit, I learn to know the Person of the Mediator in His personal glory, being so near to Him that I can deal with Him. I say, ‘in the promise of the Gospel,’ to show the difference between a vision of ecstasy like that of Stephen and the conceited knowledge of which heretics speak outside of and against the Word. The Word is the only mirror in which Christ can be seen and known by saving faith. And herein I see Him in His personal glory with the eye of faith, so near as I have ever seen any object with the bodily eye. For this inwrought faith and the light of the Holy Spirit shining thereon brings the Person Himself in substantial form to the soul, so that he falls in love with Him, and so enchanted with Him that he exclaims: ‘My Beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. For His love is stronger than death; jealousy is more cruel than the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, flames of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench that love; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned’ (Cant. III, 10; VIII, 6, 7). (A. Kuyper, The Work Of The Holy Spirit, 422-427).
I made the above quotations, which could easily be multiplied, to show that, according to Calvin and Reformed theologians, knowledge is a very essential part of saving faith, and that it is a very special kind of knowledge, by which a man discerns and appropriates spiritual things. To be sure, it is a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word. Without the Word of God we know nothing of the things of the Spirit, faith, 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 the Christ is mirrored. And faith is certain knowledge. It holds for truth and it assents to all that is revealed in the Scriptures. It is not necessary, therefore, to discover three elements in saving faith, and to speak of assent as the third element. For this assent is, in part at least, implied in the certainty of the knowledge of saving faith; while, in as far as assent means personal application of and reliance on the truth of the Word, it is included in the confidence of faith.
But this does not mean that the knowledge of faith is mere intellectual certainty and assent to the truth. Saving faith is not historical faith plus a hearty confidence. The knowledge of faith is more than this intellectual apprehension and assurance of the truth. It is different. It is not at all like the knowledge a 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 is spiritual. It is experiential. It is not a theoretical knowledge about God in Christ, but it is knowledge of Him. There is a wide difference between knowing all about a thing or person, and knowing that thing or 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, investigate it, 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 profound and spiritual. A dietician may be able to analyze thoroughly every item on a menu, and inform you exactly as to the number and kinds of vitamin 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 the hungry stomach may sit at the table with him, know absolutely nothing about vitamin, but he will order his meal, relish his food, 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 dogmatical subjects; he may be thoroughly versed in Christology, and deliver learned discourses on the incarnation, the person and the natures of Christ, 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 dietician with his stomach full of cancer. He knows all about Christ with his natural mind, yet 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 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 and cannot eat 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 in intellectual capacity, and his knowledge of the Gospel may be very simple, if he has the knowledge of saving faith, he will be like the hungry man that relishes and digests his food. 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 he will deplore all this before God. He will know Christ as the Bread of life, as the fullness of his own void, as the righteousness in his guilt, the holiness in his corruption, the light in his darkness, the life in his death. And he will hunger and thirst in this knowledge of faith for the Bread and Water of life, take it, eat it, relish it, appropriate it, make it part and parcel of himself, and 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.”