Blog 92: 3.2.11 - 3.2.15

In these paragraphs, Calvin continues to address the many complexities that surround the relationship between true faith and its counterfeits.  Both pastoral experience and accounts given in scripture lead Calvin to believe that there is such a thing as false faith, and that this can, at least for a time, give every appearance of genuine faith, both to the
watching world and to the individual who possesses it.
Even the reprobate, he acknowledges in 3.2.11, can have a semblance of true faith, but, for all of its specious authenticity, it never rises to the level of the cry of `Abba, Father!' which Paul cites in Rom. 8 and Gal. 4 as the hallmark of the truly adopted children of God.  Sure, the reprobate can understand something of divine benevolence, but this always terminates for them on transient, temporary things. They have no real understanding of the fact that God is good, whatever outward circumstances might seem to indicate. Such faith is scarcely the faith of Job, who knew that God was good, and remained good, despite his incredible suffering.
In this context, Calvin indicates his sensitivity to the different ways in which the term `faith' is used in scripture: sometimes it refers to the body of sound doctrine, sometimes to trust, sometimes to the power to perform miracles.  Saving faith, though, includes a knowledge of the love of God in Christ.  This is apprehensive knowledge: the human mind is finite and cannot ever fully comprehend God; but it can grasp that which God has chosen to reveal of himself; and this in itself is grounds for certainty.  God has spoken to us in ways we can understand, given himself to us in the finite flesh of Christ and the finite words of human speech; while these revelations do not exhaust God in himself, they are yet true, reliable, and foundations for certainty.
The contemporary significance of these chapters is obvious.  In the Western world, the idea that God could be angry with us is now implausible, and in this context assurance is little more than a sentimental belief in our own inherent goodness - exactly the kind of faith held by the reprobates.  And the notion that God is good while there is so much suffering in the world is also hard to swallow; yet this simply demonstrates how easily we prioritise the phenomena of a fallen world over God's revelation.   And the notion is now commonplace that because we can never have exhaustive knowledge, and all our knowledge takes place in a context, we can never have certain knowledge at all.  Yet this simply fails to understand the nature of God's revelation of himself, and can ultimately not account for the certainty of faith that drips from every page of Paul's letters.