April 15, 2013
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.
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.