The Holy Spirit and Faith
C’s fullest definition of faith:
“A firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us,
the foregoing may appear abstract, faith (which is the “putting on” of
Christ or the bond that unites us with Christ) bespeaks utmost personal
“We ought not to separate Christ from ourselves or ourselves from him.
Rather we ought to
is never a human achievement, but it is always a human event, a human
affirmation, a human act. Faith is a
gift (from God) that must always be humanly exercised.
As the bond by which we are bound to Christ faith is that
“fellowship” to which we must hold
fast bravely with both hands.
Book III is the
climax (in my opinion) of the Institutes;
books I and II are for the sake of book III, “The Way in which We Receive the
Grace of Christ: What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow.”
place of faith in C’s theology cannot be overemphasised: apart from our
“putting on” Christ in faith we don’t “benefit” from him.
All he has done for us is “in
vain” unless it is also done in us
The discussion of
justification (always related to faith in the Reformers) lands us in some of the
most impassioned writing of the Reformation.
(Justification and the eucharist were the occasion of greater controversy
than anything else. Concerning
sanctification, for instance, there was little controversy.) Unlike us modern
degenerates who see theology as little more than pointless head-games, the 16th
century recognised Truth to be at
issue, and with Truth (i.e., reality
as opposed to error, delusion or falsehood), truths
is the relation between Truth and truths?
Mercy is that aspect of the Word which quickens
faith. In fact, so thoroughly does
mercy determine the Word that Calvin doesn’t hesitate to say that the Word is
mercy. (We seek God after we know ourselves to be the beneficiary of God’s mercy
While God addresses many words to us, the
Word (of mercy) gathers them up and melds them into that which subserves the
one, determinative word of mercy; i.e., everything that God says and visits upon
us is ultimately an expression of his mercy – even as penultimately it may be
anything else at all: rebuke, warning, anger, denunciation, testing,
encouragement, gentleness, severity, etc. See
Comm. Psalms 40:10; 25:10; 86:5;
(v) Faith, while not reducible to understanding doctrinal assertions (notitia, if found alone, is what C calls “empty notions flitting in the brain”) is none the less knowledge. Faith is a singular kind of knowing, not an alternative to knowing or a vagueness that falls short of knowing.
Faith entails assurance.
“Where there is no assurance of faith there is no faith.”
Comm. Rom. 8:16 “As
assurance of this nature is a thing that is above the capacity of the human
mind, it is the part of the Holy Spirit to confirm within what God promises in
his Word.” Comm. 2 Cor. 1:22
Faith is always to be distinguished from
"implicit faith" and "unformed faith."
"Implicit faith" is lending assent to what the church (of
Unformed faith, says Calvin, is no faith at all. Roman Catholic thought maintained that faith is formed by love. If faith is formed by love then faith requires supplementation (and our supplementation at that!) in order to be faith. Faith that requires supplementation is not faith. Calvin prefers to say that faith is active in love. Yet Calvin is aware of how little love is frequently found active in faith. Vide his Comm. John 13:17: "Since…there are many who are cold and slow in the duties of love…it shows us how far we still are from the light of faith."
(viii) Calvin's notion of faith does not support the Weber/Tawney thesis at all. Faith is aware that "God will never fail", even as "faith does not certainly promise itself either length of years or honour or riches in this life, since the Lord willed that none of these things be appointed for us." 3.2.28