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Saving faith, however, is also hearty confidence. The Catechism teaches us that true faith is not only a certain knowledge, “but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also remission of sin, everlasting righteousness mid salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.” After the emphasis we placed upon the knowledge of faith as a spiritual apprehension of the God of our salvation In Christ, and of all the spiritual blessings in Him, It would seem that there is but little room left for this confidence as a distinct element of true, saving faith. And, indeed, the two elements of faith, knowledge and confidence, although they may be distinguished from each other, can never be separated as if they were two distinct spiritual dispositions, and two separate acts of the saved seed. They are two aspects of one and the same spiritual power, but faith is one, and the activity of saving faith is one. The reason for this is that the human soul, as the seat of life, is one, and the human personality is indivisible. 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 volition, these two do not exist, nor ever act, apart from each other. There is never a mere or pure thought, a separate functioning of the intellect: all man’s thinking is volitional and emotional thinking. Nor could there possibly be a pure act of volition, apart from the intellect: all man’s willing is rational, intellectual willing. Man is one, and as one being, he lives a physical and psychical, an intellectual and volitional life. And all his actions involve all his powers and faculties, cooperating and interacting most intimately.

This may explain the reason why, when we speak of the elements of true faith, we can never speak of the one without, in part, also entering into a discussion of the other. Faith is one. It is a spiritual habitus, disposition, function power and act of the entire soul of man, of his whole personality. Hence, there is never “pure” knowledge of faith without confidence; nor is there ever mere confidence without true knowledge. Knowledge without confidence 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 to speak of confidence at the same time. Nevertheless, the two may be distinguished. The knowledge of faith is strictly a spiritual disposition and act of the intellect, confidence belongs to the domain of the will. Knowledge presents to the believing soul the object of confidence, the God of our salvation in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures; confidence clings to that Object, and 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.

It is not true, as the answer of the Catechism would seem to suggest, that only the confidence of faith is wrought in our hearts by the Holy Ghost and through the gospel: this holds for the knowledge of faith as well. One dare not say that only the confidence of faith is personal, so that through its activity I come for the first time into a personal possession of the blessings of salvation: even by the knowledge of true faith I apprehend the God of my salvation in Christ as my God. The knowledge of faith as well as its confidence is assurance that my sins are forgiven me. But confidence is an act of friendship whereby I draw unto Him without fear, make known to Him the secrets of my heart, flee to Him for refuge in all my miseries, cast myself upon Him laying hold upon His promises, assured of His good will toward me, and of His power to save me to the uttermost. The knowledge of God’s favorable attitude to me personally is the indispensable ground of confidence. I must be assured of someone’s good will in regard to me before I can have confidence in him. A simple but good illustration of confidence is the squirrel that approaches me to be fed out of my hand in my backyard. At first it dared not come near me. As I would hold out my hand and show it the nut I intended to let it feast on, it would sit up straight, and in various ways reveal its eagerness for the delicious morsel I offered it, but it would remain at a safe distance. It was not assured of my good will. It feared that the delicacy in my hand might be a trap. I had to devise means to assure it of my real and honest intention to feed it, by throwing out bits of nut-meat, first at a safe distance, gradually a little closer in, till finally I had gained its full confidence, and it would approach me without fear to take the nut out of my hand.

Thus it is with the confidence of faith. The sinner is afraid of God. He looks upon God as his enemy.

And he has abundance of reasons to be filled with terror at the thought of God. 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 he pines and dies. And his own conscience, i.e. the handwriting of God in his own moral consciousness, witnesses against him, and accuses him before the Judge of heaven and earth. God intends to kill him! 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, he is afraid of God, dreadfully afraid! He tries to hide himself, to cover his own nakedness before the face of God. He would flee far away from Him. But God assures that sinner of His eternal good will toward him. He reveals Himself to that sinner in the face of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. In the cross and resurrection of the 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 good will and covenant friendship and love to the elect sinner. And He speaks of His boundless grace and mighty power unto salvation in the gospel. But this is not sufficient. A “general offer” 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 good will. And this “assured confidence” God works through the Holy Ghost by the gospel in the sinner’s heart. It is the confidence of faith, and by it the sinner wholly casts himself upon the eternal mercies of the living God in Christ, expecting from Him every good thing.

The Catechism expresses the matter very correctly and beautifully, therefore, when it teaches us that this confidence of faith implies the assurance “that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.” Indeed, the sinner must know that his sins are blotted out, removed for ever, forgiven him freely, and that he is clothed with an everlasting ‘righteousness, if he is to approach God with boldness and confidence. It is God’s righteousness and his own sin that fill him with terror and that are an impassable barrier between God and himself. If he may be assured that there is forgiveness with God, that God justifies the ungodly, that the Judge of heaven and «earth loves him as a redeemed and justified sinner, then, and then only, can he have boldness to enter into the sanctuary. The confidence of faith is assured of this. It is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of this world, and while the sinner is still in the flesh and lies in the midst of death, the believing sinner has this peace and flees to the God of his salvation for refuge. While all his experience in this world bears the testimony to him that he is a damnable sinner, by the strong confidence of faith he clings to the God of his salvation, assured that he is righteous. In the midst of death he lays hold upon life in Christ, and with fear of hell all about him he clings to the mighty God of his salvation, and looks forward to eternal salvation in heavenly glory. God is able to save. It is God’s eternal purpose to save. And God knows how to save. Upon that God of perfect salvation the confidence of faith relies for time and eternity!


The question is often asked, in what sense, from what viewpoint the Christian defines true faith in its twenty first answer. Is our instructor speaking of the power of faith or of its activity? Does he have in mind the being or the well-being of saving faith? Yet, it appears rather plain that the Heidelberger, at least in answer twenty one, is not thinking of this distinction, and is simply speaking of the activity of a conscious faith. This should be evident from the fact that it ascribes the work of faith to the Holy Ghost through the gospel. And it is not the power or habitus, but the activity of saving faith that is wrought in our hearts by the gospel. If the Catechism may at all be said to speak of faith as a power, it must be found in the twentieth answer where it speaks of those “who are engrafted into him by a true faith.” But in the answer to question twenty one it has in mind the activity of a conscious faith.

However, the distinction may be made between the gift or power of faith as such and its activity. Nor is the distinction merely one of scholastic interest. On the contrary, it has its practical importance and value. The conscious activity of saving faith is not always equally strong and clear; in fact, it is not always present in the life of the believer in this world. It may seem lost sometimes. And in the case of very small infants, who can have no contact with the gospel as yet, this activity of saving faith is not consciously present at all. But the gift and power of faith is always the same and can never be lost. It is present when, in the humdrum of our daily life, we are not conscious of spiritual things whatever, and seem to be wholly occupied with the things that are seen; or when, tempted by the allurements of the world and the evil inclinations of our own flesh, our soul appears to lose its hold upon Christ, and we are enveloped in spiritual darkness. And it is certainly present in those elect infants whom God regenerates from their mother’s womb, and who know nothing of Christ and the Gospel, but who are saved by faith nevertheless. These too are engrafted into Christ by a true faith. The distinction between the power and the activity of saving faith, therefore, is rooted in experience, and is of practical importance for our life as believers in the world.

Faith is, first of all, a gift, a power, a spiritual habitus, a new disposition or aptitude to apprehend and appropriate Christ and all His benefits, the things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I Cor. 2:9. It is not another natural faculty of the soul, in addition to those of intellect and will. It is rather a new disposition of the entire soul, a spiritual aptitude which makes the whole soul of man, with mind and will and all the inclinations of the heart, peculiarly fit to apprehend spiritual things. It is the fitness to believe in distinction from the act of believing itself. Analogies of this distinction may be found in natural life. When a child is born it has all the faculties and powers and gifts it will ever have, even though they do not as yet actively function. The infant in the cradle has the faculty to think, to will, to perceive, to ruder stand the world about him, to walk and to act in general, even though at that time it does not actually think and will, perceive and understand, speak and walk. If later in life the child develops into a great mathematician or skillful musician, this mathematical bent of mind or artistic tendency was not added to the child’s talents after it was born, but they were all given with birth. The same may be said of saving faith. As a spiritual aptitude, it is given with our spiritual birth, i.e. in regeneration, while it develops into the conscious activity of belie r g only through contact with the gospel applied to the work by the Spirit of Christ.

Now, it is about this habitus or spiritual aptitude of faith that we must make a few remarks. First of all, it may be said of this power or disposition of faith, as well as of active and conscious faith, that it is both knowledge and confidence. Only, as a power it is the capability to know, and capability to confide in the God of our salvation in Christ. Without this spiritual aptitude it is impossible for a man to believe in Christ. If a child is born blind he cannot be taught to see; if he is born dumb, he will never speak; if he is born deaf, the activity of hearing will never develop. The same is true spiritually. By nature the sinner is born blind and deaf and dumb with regard to spiritual things. As such no one can possibly teach him to see and hear and confess the God of his salvation in Christ. Even though you would instruct him in the knowledge of Christ from infancy, and preach the gospel to him all his life, there would never be any other response than that of contempt and rejection. For “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14. But when the power of faith is implanted in the heart, the sinner thereby receives the necessary aptitude to discern spiritual things: it is a power of spiritual knowledge and confidence.

Secondly, we may observe that this aptitude of saving faith may be and is implanted in the heart by the Holy Spirit regardless of age. It is wrought in the heart immediately by the Spirit of Christ, without the preaching of the gospel. Hence, the power of faith may be in the heart of the smallest infant as well as in the adult. And what is more, we may, no doubt, assume that in the sphere of the historical realization of God’s covenant God usually gives this power of faith to the elect of the covenant in their infancy. For, not only does He continue His eternal covenant in the line of the generation of believers, but it is also His will that one generation of His people shall instruct the next in the things of the kingdom of heaven, and declare unto them the marvelous works of God. He places His people in the very sphere of the Church, where the Spirit of Christ operates, and the gospel is preached, from their infancy, in order that from earliest childhood they may become acquainted with the Word of God concerning their salvation. But why should the all wise God place His elect within the sphere of His covenant and of the preaching of the Word, as deaf and blind and dumb? He certainly would never do anything so incongruous. Although, then, we cannot establish a general rule in this matter, it is safe to say that usually God bestows the gift of the power of faith on His elect covenant children in their infancy. And it is in this confidence that the Church instructs the covenant seed, and preaches the gospel of Christ unto them as early as possible, that they may gradually become active believers, and appropriate Christ and all His benefits consciously.

Thirdly, we wish to remark that the activity of saving faith, as well as its habitus or power, is the fruit of the work of the Holy Ghost. It is true that the power of faith becomes active belief only through the gospel. Without that gospel, faith has no Christ to apprehend or cling to, and can, for that reason, never become active belief. But we must not make the mistake of presenting the matter of saving faith as if its habitus or power were implanted, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, while its activity is caused by the gospel without the operation of the Holy Spirit. This is not true. Both, the power and the activity of faith, are wrought through the Spirit of Christ only. It is the Spirit that applies the preaching of the gospel to the heart of the sinner in whom the aptitude of faith was wrought, and it is, therefore, the Spirit of the Lord that calls and awakens the power of faith into the conscious activity of belief.

Finally, it may be said that this spiritual power or aptitude of faith can never be lost. As we have remarked above, the activity of saving faith may be very weak at times, may seem to have died out and disappeared, so that we seem to have no hold on Christ and the precious promises of Christ, and the soul is enveloped in darkness. But the power of faith can never be lost. Once a believer is always a believer. But that this is true is not due to any inherent virtue in the aptitude of faith, but only to the abiding indwelling and continued operation of the Holy Spirit in the innermost recesses of our hearts. Without that Spirit, dwelling within us, saving faith could not exist and maintain itself even for a moment. But the Spirit never leaves us. The bond with Christ is never broken, because it is constantly preserved by His Spirit. And so, the ultimate ground of the statement that the power of faith is never lost, is the fact that faith is most absolutely a gift of God, which He bestows on the elect only. And “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Rom. 11:29. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord!