Results tagged “saving faith” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 15.1, 2

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i. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

ii. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.

Repentance that leads to life

The previous chapter in the Confession stressed the importance of faith in Christ for all of life and for the life that is to come. But when the Scriptures speak of life, they also speak of the repentance that leads to life, or 'repentance unto life' (Acts 11:18).

Repentance is a gospel grace or an evangelical grace because it is needed for salvation. Repentance is also a gospel grace because it teaches us to reflect on Jesus Christ. That seems to be the point the authors of the Confession may be making when they point readers to an ancient prophecy. Every Christian knows that true repentance involves a serious consideration of his own sin. But the prophet Zechariah explained that when the Holy Spirit would be poured out in a special measure, God's people would especially consider the cost of their sin as it was accounted on the cross of the Saviour. We mourn what sin required of the Son of God - indeed, Zechariah says, we 'mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son' (Zech. 12:10). As we look on Christ, the one who was pierced for our transgressions, we begin to see the full measure of our sin. 

Preaching repentance

Repentance is important for our salvation, and this fact 'is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as' the need for 'faith in Christ'. We see the importance of preaching repentance in the Bible. At the beginning of his ministry John the Baptist preached that the time had come for sinners to 'repent and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). At the end of his earthly ministry, our Lord himself sounded a similar note. He told his disciples that not only 'the forgiveness of sins' but also 'repentance' would 'be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem' (Luke 24:47). The Apostle Paul, too, testified 'both to the Jews and also to the Greeks' that they had need for 'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 20:21).

Turning from sin and turning to God

So repentance considers our sin; and it considers the cost of our sin to the Saviour. We could add to this that repentance and faith need to walk together. But we can also say more. As paragraph two reminds us, people being led to repentance should really see and sense the danger of their sin. The Lord God himself urges his people to see their peril through the prophet Ezekiel. 'Repent!' he says, 'Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die' (Ezek. 18:30-31)? 

Here is a call that Christians wish every sinner would hear and heed. But we should not only see the danger, but also the filthiness and repulsiveness of our sins. That too was preached by Ezekiel. He spoke of remembering 'evil ways and wicked deeds'; he went on to say that there is place for us to 'loathe' ourselves for our 'sins and detestable practices' (Ezek. 36:31). These are strong words, but sin is a strong poison. Indeed, Isaiah compares the disposal of our cherished idols with the disposal of a menstrual cloth (Isa. 30:22). We must never forget that sin is a dirty affair because it is absolutely 'contrary to the holy nature' of God.
      
Sin is also a personal affair, for sin is set against God himself, the one to whom we ought to have been faithful. Is that not why King David was so stricken with grief when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet? 'Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight', he cried to the Lord. It was to God that he spoke when he confessed that his Maker was 'proved right' when he spoke, and 'justified' when he judged (Psa. 51:4; c.f., Jer. 31:18-19). All sin is to be judged, for it breaks the 'righteous law of God'. It is because we consider God's precepts to be right, that we come to 'hate every wrong path' (Psa. 119:128).
      
Sinners can sink to great depths of sorrow over sin, but not all remorse is real repentance. There must be what Paul calls a 'godly sorrow' that produces a God-ward change (2 Cor. 7:11). True repentance not only comes to hate sin, but also to see the Saviour. This is really very important for us to understand. As we consider what God thinks of sin, we must also consider his mercy to sinners. After all, he is the one who spoke through the prophet Joel, urging his people to 'Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity' (Joel 2:12-13). We can treasure the powerful understatement of Amos, who told his hearer to repent, for 'perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy' (Amos 5:15). And as we consider God's mercy, we need to so grieve for and hate our sins, as to turn from them all unto God.
      
Is this not the most basic need that each one of us has? We were made to be with God, to fellowship with him. We want to be in a situation where we are no longer 'put to shame' when we consider our Creator's commands. We want to consider our ways, and turn our steps to walk according to God's statutes. Indeed, we want simply to follow God's righteous laws (Psa. 119:6, 59, 106). That is our purpose, our endeavour; to be upright in God's sight (Luke 1:6), and to turn to the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, in all the ways of His commandments (2 Kings 23:25).
      
Let us pray that this would be the main purpose of our repentance. Let us not only cease our foolish wanderings, but by God's grace follow in the footsteps of our Saviour, until one day we find him in his glory, and sin will be no more.

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn is the associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. He is the editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1653.

Chapter 14.3

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iii. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and in 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.
 
What does faith look like in the Christian life? What is its character? Section three tells us that saving faith "is different in degrees, weak or strong." We can see these contrasts both between Christians, and in any individual Christian. Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were both courageous in faith during the English Reformation, yet at the point of martyrdom, at the stake to be burned, Ridley was struggling, weak in faith, very much in need of the  encouragement of Latimer, his brother in Christ: "Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out." The apostle Peter was so weak in faith as to flat out deny Christ to the servant girl; weeks later, by grace, he was strong in faith, fearlessly "street preaching" in the public square in Jerusalem, in the heart of the city that had crucified Jesus.

Our confession pastorally summarizes Scripture's teaching about the life of faith. Faith can range from weak to strong in individual Christians. It may, in many different ways, be attacked and weakened. It is weakened if we are negligent in the means of grace; it is weakened when we fall into sin; it is weakened by temptations; it may be weakened by God's "withdrawing the light of His countenance." Our confession carefully presents the biblically revealed realities of the life of faith: struggles in faith may often be realities, but are not necessarily the case for every believer.

What is always the case, however, is that saving faith "gets the victory." Why is this always the true for each believer? Because Christ is the captain of our salvation. (Heb. 2:10) It is the Triune God who is at work in us "to will and to do his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) Saving faith is a gracious gift of God, worked by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, uniting us to Christ our Savior. "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." (Phil. 1:6) Not only does saving faith always get the victory in the end, but our confession notes that in many cases faith "grows up... to the attainment of full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith." Ursinus states:
The man who truly believes... believes that every thing which the Scriptures contain is true and from God. He... believes and embraces these things...  applies particularly, to himself, the promise of grace, or the free remission of sins, righteousness and eternal life, by and for the sake of Christ... having this confidence, he trusts and rejoices in the present grace of God, and from this he thus concludes in reference to future good: since God now loves me, and grants unto me such great blessings, he will also preserve me unto eternal life; because he is unchangeable, and his gifts are without repentance. Joy arises in the heart, in view of such benefits, which joy is accompanied with a peace of conscience that passes all understanding.(1)
By God's grace, growth in faith brings with it the blessing of this confident trust and sweet assurance. (2 Thess. 1:3-10)

NOTES:

1. Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Philipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1985), 111.

Chapter 14.2

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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 passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatening, 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.
 
What does faith do? Or to put it another way, what does the Christian do by faith? By faith, the Christian believes and acts.

Our confession is that "by faith a Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word." This believing is because of the "authority of God himself speaking therein." God's Word is the Word of divine authority--and the grace of faith both realizes this and believes all that God reveals by his Word.

However, saving faith does not stop at believing. It also acts in response to whatever is revealed in the Word. The Confession notes that genuine faith responds differently in response to, or according to, what each passage of God's Word contains. Where God gives commands, faith yields obedience. Where God's Word threatens, faith trembles. Where God's Word holds out promises for our present life, faith receives them. Where God's Word gives promises for the life to come, faith embraces them.

Robert Shaw states that where "the general object of divine faith is the whole Word of God... the special and personal object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ"--the Word made flesh.(1) This is what our confession turns to in the last part of this section. 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." Shaw states: "saving faith is a believing on the person of Christ, or an appropriating [taking hold of] Christ himself, with all the benefits and blessings included in him." (2)

Saving faith is more than intellectual assent to truth; "the gospel is not a mere statement of historical facts, or of abstract doctrines respecting the Savior." (3) As such, saving faith accepts, receives and "rests on" Christ as he freely offers himself to us in the gospel.  Saving faith receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation because he alone can save and he is fully sufficient, freely delighting to save. He is fully sufficient for your justification. He is fully sufficient to deliver you from the pollution and power of sin, fully sufficient for your sanctification, fully sufficient for your eternal life. By establishing the covenant of grace, he has secured these blessings; by declaration of the covenant of grace, he welcomes everyone to come and take hold of these rich promises. Saving faith believes him and acts on his Word. "Because of the steadfast love of the Lord, we are not cut off; his mercies do not fail; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I hope in him!'" (Lamentations 3:22-24)

NOTES:
1. Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2008), 202.

2. Shaw, 203.

3. Shaw, 203.

Chapter 14.1

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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.

God's grace is profound, beautiful, and marvelously given. In chapter fourteen, the Confession turns to summarize the reality of what saving faith is (14.1), what saving faith does (14.2), and what saving faith looks like in the Christian life (14.3). Our confession opens by declaring to us that faith is a gift of grace: our faith has been obtained "by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ."(1) Thomas Boston describes our receiving the grace of faith this way: "We are born spiritually blind, and cannot be restored without a miracle of grace... There is, in the unrenewed will, an utter inability for what is truly good and acceptable in God's sight." (2) Even elect souls attempt to resist "when the Spirit of the Lord is at work, to bring them from the power of Satan unto God." (3) The reality that man is "unable to recover himself" testifies that saving faith is the direct fruit of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. "Saving faith is the faith of God's elect; the special gift of God to them." (4)

Saving faith, this special gift of God's grace, worked by the Spirit of Christ in the hearts of the elect, enables us to believe the gospel to the saving of our souls. Saving faith is the instrument for our justification by God. It is an integral aspect of union with Christ--a union initiated and sustained by the Spirit's work on Christ's behalf. Boston states that by his Spirit Christ "apprehends, takes, and keeps hold of us" and the subsequent faith on the believer's part is that by which "the believer apprehends, takes, and keeps hold of Christ." (5) Saving faith is active: it "actually believes and receives Christ, putting forth the hand of the soul to embrace him," or as James Fisher put it, "it is the hand that receives Christ and his righteousness as the all of our salvation." (6) 

What means does God, by His Spirit, use to give this gracious gift of faith? Scripture teaches us that it is normally worked through the ministry of the Word--especially through preaching, as we see testified in Acts 8:34-38, 20:32 and Romans 10:14-17. By the public ministry of the Word, preached and read, along with the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer our faith "is increased and strengthened." Do you desire a stronger faith and  closer communion with God? Public worship is vital, as is private devotion. Delight in hearing preaching, reading the Word, receiving the sacraments, and prayer--the "means of grace" given by God for your good. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing!" (Eph. 1:3)

Dr. William VanDoodewaard is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and serves as Associate Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

NOTES:
1. 2 Peter 1:1, ESV.

2. Thomas Boston, The Fourfold State of Man (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 44, 56.

3. Boston, 60.

4. Boston, 130-131.

5. Boston, "Of the Application of Redemption" in The Complete Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston, ed. Samuel M'Millan (London: William Tegg and Co., 1853), 546-547.

6. James Fisher, Ralph Erskine and Ebenezer Erskine, The Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism Explained (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 2:148.