Blog 95: 3.2.28 - 3.2.31

3.2.28 - 3.2.31

As Calvin continues to discuss the nature of faith, he makes the point that the assurance of faith is not connected to any promises of worldly prosperity of comfort but rather to the expectation of the life to come.   In this world, we are pilgrims and sojourners, resident aliens, who find no real rest here but rather who look for the life to come.  Calvin, of course, was himself an exile, a Frenchman living in Geneva, and so he was unusually well positioned to understand such things at the level of personal experience, and this is undoubtedly why he had such an affinity with many of the psalms, with their cries of lament and sense of geographical dislocation.

The foundation of this lies in the fact that assurance is built not upon outward circumstances but upon the promise of God.  Only God's word is stable and constant in a fallen world of change and suffering.  Now, as Calvin acknowledges, God's word contains more than just his promises; but the promises are the most basic and important aspect of that word.  Here, Calvin references some Catholic opponents who make the whole truth of God in general the object of faith.  Such `barking of dogs' (those were the days, when theologians called it as they saw it!) misses the mark.  Sure, Calvin says, the whole of God's truth is to be believed, but faith is only firm once it grasps the freely given promise in Christ; and it only reconciles to God when it unites to Christ.

This leads to Calvin's final point in this section: faith grasps the word.  It has content; it is not some vague sentimental feeling; nor does it have as its object some human aspiration as to who or what God should be.  Errors can be mixed with faith - as the examples of Sarah, Rebecca, and Isaac indicate, but true faith, maintained by the Spirit, will ultimately have the upper hand.  Nevertheless, the existence of such erroneous admixture serves as a warning to keep believers ever vigilant and in conscious dependence on the word.

Calvin's words here are a salutary warning to the kinds of mindless notions of faith that not only pervade our society, where the term seems to mean little more than a nebulous confidence that everything will turn out all right in the end, but also the church, where it has become, along with other notions such as calling and guidance, detached from the word of God and now drifts along in a river of sentiment, whether of the psychobabble or Pollyanna variety.   Life is messy; only faith anchored in the word can do justice to its complexity while yet not being undermined or swept away.