Chapter 14 of the Confession deals with the subject of saving faith. It has three paragraphs that I have given the headings (1) the source of saving faith, (2) the object of saving faith, and (3) the distinctiveness of saving faith. I will give an exposition of each paragraph. Then two applications will be given as this subject relates to the local church and its life.
Paragraph 1: The Source of Saving Faith
The Primary Source: The Spirit of God
The Confession identifies God in the person and work of the Holy Spirit as the source or primary cause of saving faith. He produces it in the hearts of the elect. In other words, those who exercise saving faith do it ultimately because God the Holy Spirit has produced it in their hearts.
The testimony of Paul confirms this truth in Ephesians 2:8. He writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is possible that “this” refers to (1) “by grace you have been saved through faith,” (2) “grace,” or (3) “faith.” Folks like John Calvin take the first option, and if we take it that way, the principle of faith being a gift of God remains. The second option of “grace” would be somewhat redundant. Of course, grace is a gift from God. The third option of “faith” is plausible because it is the closest word to “this.” Thus, the two best options (1 or 3) teach us that faith is a gift from God.1
Paul also demonstrates his belief that faith is a gift from God in scriptural prayers:
1. He prays that faith, among other things, be with the brothers from the Father and Jesus (Eph 6:23)
2. He continually thanks God for the love and faith of the Christians in Colossae (Col 1:3-8)
3. He gives thanks for the work of faith and labour of love among the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thes 1:2-3).
It would be odd for Paul to petition or thank God for things that God doesn’t have a part in producing.
Furthermore, John, in his Gospel, provides us with some insight on this matter. He states that those who believe in Jesus’ name “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Jesus explains this birth as coming from the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-15). Faith is a gift of God produced by the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Instrumental Cause: The Word of God
After stating the Holy Spirit is the source of saving faith, the Confession says that such faith “is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word.” As the primary cause, God works through the secondary and instrumental cause of the Word, wielded by His servants, to produce faith in His elect. The Confession says “ordinarily” because God is free to use other means but most often uses the ministry of the Word. The Word of God includes the Holy Scriptures, doctrines drawn from them, and their verbal proclamation.2
It is the preaching of the Word, especially the gospel, that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). Paul later says that everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13). He then proceeds to ask a series of questions: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching” (Rom 10:14)? His answer comes in verse 17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Scriptures and the Law and Gospel contained within them can make one wise unto salvation through faith in Christ (2 Tim 3:15). Indeed, the believer has been “brought forth by the Word of truth” (James 1:18). Moreover, saving faith is “increased and strengthened” by the “ministry of the Word, along with the baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and other means of God” (Lk 17:5; 1 Pet 2:2; Acts 20:32).
God, the Holy Spirit, is the source of saving faith in the elect. He ordinarily works instrumentally through the Word of God proclaimed by His servants.
Paragraph 2: The Object of Saving Faith
The general object of saving faith is whatever the Scriptures say. By such faith, Christians submit to their authority (Acts 24:14), apprehend their supreme excellency (Psalm 19:7-10; 119:72) in testifying “to the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power and fullness of Holy Spirit in His workings and operations” (Timothy 1:12), and by the power Holy Spirit “cast his soul” upon the truths therein. The Christian also acts differently in accord with the nature of every passage: obeying God’s commands (John 15:14), heeding God’s threats (Isaiah 66:2), and embracing God’s promises (Hebrews 11:13).
The primary object of saving faith is Jesus Christ. Saving faith is personal knowledge of (Heb 11:1-3; Gal 2:20; James 2:19), trust in (Rom 4:16; 5:1; 10:10), and rest on Christ—His person and work—for the remission of sins, imputed righteousness, and eternal life (Acts 10:42, 43; Rom 3:24-25).3 Saving faith includes the renouncing of oneself as the source of personal salvation (Phil 3:9), casting oneself on Christ’s person (Song of Sol 8:5; Jn 3:23) and work (Gal 6:14; 3:25), and applying or receiving of Christ to oneself (Jn 1:12).4 As the Confession says, the Christian places faith in Christ “alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (Jn 1:12; Acts 16:31; Gal 2:20; Acts 15:11).
Paragraph 3: The Distinctiveness of Saving Faith
The Confession distinguishes saving faith from temporary faith. Temporary faith is the assent to the truth of what God has revealed with profession and joy, yet the profession, joy and the faith itself only last for a time (Matt 13:20-21).5 Unlike the temporary faith, the Confession says saving faith “though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory (Eph 6:16; 1 Jn 5:4, 5), growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ (Heb 6:11, 12; Col 2:2), who is both the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).”
Saving Faith and the Local Church
Considering what the Confession says about saving faith, I leave you with two applications for the local church.
First, churches must give themselves to the ordinary means of grace. Those means consist of the ministry of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. The Word is the primary means God has promised to use to produce faith in the elect. In addition to the Word, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are used by the Holy Spirit to strengthen faith among the elect. Thus, Churches do not need to give themselves to the newest marketing fads. They need to preach the Word and hear it preached. Only those who profess faith should partake of the ordinances, and they will benefit only those who possess true faith. Let us trust Him and utilise the means He has promised to bless.
Second, churches must strive to be made up of those with saving faith. This theme is expounded in chapter 26 of the Confession. A person must make a credible profession before one is baptised and joins a local church. Since a church cannot see the heart of such professing believers, they must examine their fruit. Suppose a person initially seems genuine but in time renounces the faith in word or through habitual public sin. In that case, the local church should bring them under discipline and, if necessary, excommunicate them. Churches should examine those applying for baptism and membership. Let us examine those applying for baptism or church membership. Let us discipline wayward members whose fruit contradicts their profession.
To sum it all up, saving faith is caused and strengthened by God the Holy Spirit through the means of God’s Word proclaimed by His servants. It is further strengthened by other means of God’s appointment. By this faith, the Christian believes the Holy Scriptures and the truths found within them, especially those truths related to Christ’s person and work. This faith will persevere to the end. May God by His Spirit and Word grant His church such saving faith in His Son for His glory.
Saturday 24th July 2021
1 Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, ed. Gerald Bray, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 126-129.
2 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 441.
3 Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2014), Q. 21.
4 Thomas Watson, The Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, Comprising His Celebrated Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treatises (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 144-145.
5 Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 109.