- 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 Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer, and other Means appointed of God, It is increased, and strengthened. (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32)
The Confession opens up with this phrase: the grace of faith. Without God giving us the grace to exercise faith, we would be unable and unwilling to believe in Christ, given our averseness to spiritual good (9:3). By this grace the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls. The grace of faith is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word. As we know from chapter 10, Of Effectual Calling, it is the work of the Spirit that inwardly regenerates the elect; however, the Spirit makes use of the ministry of the word to effectively outwardly call the elect to repent and believe. Scripture tells us: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 ESV). Note the word “ordinarily.” It seems to point us back to that one small exception stated in chapter 10, paragraph 3, regarding the salvation of elect infants who die in infancy and other elect persons incapable of receiving the outward ministry of the Word. Thus, for those, the Spirit regenerates through Christ by the Spirit without the ministry of the word. The ability to believe comes with the work of the Spirit in effectual calling—that particular special grace from God (10:2).
The last clause ended with the Spirit’s use of the means of the Word. Keeping that in mind, the Confession goes on to state: by which also, and by the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer, and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened. “By which also, and by” refer back to the ministry of the Word, and brings it forward along with other means listed which increase and strengthen faith. Thus, we have a list of several means of grace which the Spirit uses to increase and strengthen our faith: 1) the ministry of the Word; 2) the administration of baptism; 3) the Lord’s Supper; 4) prayer; 5) other means appointed by God. The faith that is increased and strengthened is the same faith which enabled us to believe. There is not one kind of faith that is saving, and another kind of faith that is sanctifying. It is one and the same faith. Of the listed means used to grow our faith, each is addressed in the Confession by either its own dedicated chapter, or in various paragraphs: the ministry of the Word regarding effectual calling is in chapters 10, 20:2, and 26:5, and of growing and strengthening our faith in chapters 12:1, 3; 14:1,2; 16:1; 21:2; 22:5-7; 23:2,3; 25:4; 26:5,7; 26:10,11. The administration of baptism is addressed in chapters 22:5; 28:1, and the entirety of chapter 29. The administration of the Lord’s Supper is found in chapters 22:5; 28:1, and the entirety of chapter 30. The means of prayer is located in chapters 22:3-4, 6; 24:3 and 26:9-10. The other means God has appointed for strengthening our faith may be such things that fall under providence, such as those things he brings into our life whether by trial or by other graces. The list is not exhaustive, but it specifically mentions the ordinances of the New Covenant, and prayer and the Word. These are probably the most prominent means spoken of in Scripture which increase and strengthen faith.
It is interesting to note the words: increased and strengthened. The faith given to the elect is indeed saving faith, but it is not equally strong among each of God’s elect. But whatever strength we find our faith at, it can always increase and grow stronger by those means of grace God as provided for his people. The following passages provide incentive for us to pray for our faith to increase. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’” (Luke 17:5 ESV). “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 ESV).
- By this Faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself; and also apprehendeth an excellency therein, above all other Writings; and all things in the world: as it bears forth the Glory of God in his Attributes, the excellency of Christ in his Nature and Offices; and the Power and Fullness of the Holy Spirit in his Workings, and Operations; and so is enabled to cast his Soul upon the truth thus believed; and also acteth differently, upon that which each particular, passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God, for this life, and that which is to come: But the principal acts of Saving Faith, have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for Justification, Sanctification, and Eternal Life, by virtue of the Covenant of Grace. (Acts 24:14; Psalms 27:7-10; Psalms 119:72; 2 Timothy 1:12; John 15:14; Isaiah 66:2; Hebrews 11:13; John 1:12; Acts 16:31; Galatians 2:20; Acts 15:11 )
This paragraph indicates that those with the faith spoken of in paragraph 1 also believe the Bible to God’s authoritative word. By this Faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself. The faith that enables the elect to believe unto salvation, also enables him or her to believe the Bible is the Word of God—the very authority of God himself. John MacArthur has noted that in all his years as a minister of the Word of God, he has never had to convince a Christian to believe the Bible to be the Word of God. This is an astute observation. We read of Paul’s belief in the Scriptures: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14 ESV). Here we have a creedal statement by Paul about the Scripture. As well, our Confession previously states in chapter 1 paragraph 5 the following: “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”
By this faith, the Christian not only believes the Bible to be true, but also apprehendeth an excellency therein above all other writings; and all things in the world This harkens back to chapter 1, paragraph 5, where the Word of God is spoken of as “having many incomparable excellencies, and perfections….” The non-Christian may read the Bible, and have no apprehension of its excellencies. To him or her, it may seem to be simply ancient literature. But the spiritual man grasps in his innermost being that the Bible is breathed out of the very mouth of God, and as such he apprehends that it is of excellent value beyond all other human writings. Chapter 1, paragraph 5 adds that all these excellencies “are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.”
Scripture exclaims its own excellency and worth to be far above all things in this world: “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (Psalm 119:14 ESV). “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 3:13-15 ESV). Job said: “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12b ESV). Jesus said: “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mat. 4:4 ESV). The value of God’s word can hardly be overestimated in a world that is so corrupt everywhere we look. How precious a commodity is the word of God to our souls; it is good when our souls sense its worth and value. Our appreciation of God’s Word often ebbs and flows, but often those seasons that are the hardest cause us to hang onto God’s Word as if our life depended on it. Indeed, in those times we best grasp how truly our lives do depend on the Scriptures. An easy life often overshadows the true value of Scripture.
“By this Faith…a Christian apprehendeth an excellency therein, above all other Writings; and all things in the world: as it [Scripture] bears forth the glory of God in his attributes.” As we know from chapter 2, Of the Holy Trinity, Scripture shows us (bears forth) God’s glory. The study of God (theology proper) is the most blessed study in Scripture, and raises our faith to great heights and our minds apprehend the very lofty things of God. Further, Scripture shows forth the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices. As we know from our study of chapter 8, Of Christ the Mediator, Scripture reveals most excellent and wondrous things about Christ’s nature, and his offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Further, Scripture bears forth the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations. Scripture shows us the amazing power of the Spirit : how he works in bringing salvation causing sanctification to excel in the life of the Christian. Notice how Trinitarian this portion is: Scripture bears forth God’s attributes, Christ’s nature and offices, and the Spirit’s workings and operations. There is no human writing capable of such things. There is nothing in this world, even creation, which can bear forth or reveal such glorious things.
By all these wondrous things the elect person is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth thus believed. This faith to believe the Bible is true in all it says, becomes the ground by which believers fully entrust their souls to those truths. We think of Hebrews 11 and those whose faith enabled them to believe in a promised city whose foundations are made by God. They sought something invisible which the world could never understand, but to the believer these things are as sure God himself. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). The entire chapter 11 of Hebrews is a testimony to the faith spoken of in this clause of the Confession. By this faith, which apprehends the truth of Scripture, the Christian also acteth differently, upon that which each particular, passage thereof containeth. In other words, by this faith the Christian acts upon the various types of instructions found in Scripture. By this faith the Christian yields obedience to the commands. By faith the believer trembles at the threatenings. By faith the elect embraces the promises of God. The Scripture tells us of the different types of instructions in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV). These categories in the Confession also reflects other passages such as: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2b ESV). We seek to act according to the different parts of Scripture which provide us with a multitude of things the Lord expects of his people. All these things are beneficial for this life, and that which is to come. The Confession may have in mind 1 Timothy 4:8b: “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (KJV). And, perhaps Hebrews 11:13: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (ESV).
But the principal acts of Saving Faith, have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for Justification, Sanctification, and Eternal Life, by virtue of the Covenant of Grace. The word “but” seems to serve here as a clarification of sorts. What is being clarified? While faith acts differently depending on the different passage in Scripture, yet the main (principal) acts of saving faith relate directly to Christ. How do the acts of saving faith relate directly to Christ? By accepting, receiving, and resting on Christ alone. What is the saving faith looking to Christ for? What is it looking for Christ to do for them? It looks to Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. The Puritan George Swinnock wrote: “First Faith must look out for Christ; secondly, Faith must look up to Christ for grace; thirdly, Faith must take Christ down, or receive him and grace. Thus faith’s object is Christ alone in all its saving aspects. Puritan John Flavel wrote: “The soul is the life of the body, faith is the life of the soul, and Christ is the life of the faith.” When we speak of saving faith, the object of saving faith is Christ, or in the words of the Confession here, faith has “immediate relation to Christ.” Scripture states of saving faith: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). “And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31 ESV). “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20 ESV). “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:11 ESV). Faith thus has the Lord Jesus as its object, and this faith has immediate relation to Christ. All these benefits are received by faith, yes, but they are ours by virtue the covenant of grace. That covenant is rooted in the covenant of redemption with the Father and the Son, and Christ fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works on our behalf, so that we may be partaker of the covenant of grace and all the benefits which flow from it. We are reminded of chapter 7, paragraph 2:“Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
- This Faith although it be different in degrees, and may be weak, or strong; yet it is in the least degree of it, different in the kind, or nature of it (as is all other saving Grace), from the Faith, and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore though it may be many times assailed, and weakened; yet it 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. (Hebrews 5:13, 14; Matthew 6:30; Romans 4:19, 20; 2 Peter 1:1; Ephesians 6:16; 1 John 5:4, 5; Hebrews 6:11, 12; Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 12:2)
The Confession now clarifies the difference between true saving faith, and the apparent so-called faith of those who only temporarily believe. It begins: This Faith although it be different in degrees, and may be weak, or strong. We need to determine what “this faith” refers to. It refers back to the faith spoken of in paragraph 1 and 2. We note that paragraph 1 begins with the phrase: “The grace of faith,” and paragraph 2 begins with the phrase: “By this faith.” And so also, this paragraph states “this faith.” Thus, “this faith” is the faith that has been discusses up to this point. The Confession indicates that “this faith” has various degrees of weakness and strength. We can see degrees of faith spoken of in Scripture. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith (Matthew 6:30 NASB)! Or, “Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:19-20 NASB). And so, we gather that faith can be weak or strong or anywhere in between.
So while “this faith” may be strong or weak, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers. The Confession indicates that though this faith is sometimes weak, nonetheless, it is still saving faith. Further, even if it is a weak saving faith, it is completely different from the so-called faith of those who appear to have saving faith, but in fact do not—termed “temporary believers.” We are reminded that God graciously gives his elect saving faith, and that faith given enables them to believe unto salvation (14:1). Peter indicates that the faith given to the apostles is the same kind of faith as is given to all the elect; that is, it is a saving faith: “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NASB). This saving faith is not of the same kind as those who only believe only for a time and then renounce their faith—the “temporary believer.”
What is the character of the temporary believer’s faith? Well, for one, it does not endure; that is why it is called “temporary.” Faith must endure to the end to be saving faith (Matt. 24:13). Secondly, the temporary believer’s apparent faith merely comes from common grace, not the special grace of effectual calling (10:2). Unless God sovereignly applies redemption to a person, beginning with effectual calling and regeneration, there is no grace of faith given to them, and thus they are not enabled to truly believe to the saving of their souls (14:1). We recall from chapter 10, paragraph 4: “Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men that receive not the Christian religion be saved; be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess.” Hebrews 6:4-8, also seems to address what amounts to a temporary believer:
- “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Heb. 6:4-8 ESV).
While the temporary believer does indeed have some belief in Christ, it is not the kind or nature of faith that brings them to “accept, receive, and rest on Christ alone for justification” (14:2).
The Confession adds that all other saving grace” is also of an entirely different ilk from what the temporary believer possesses. To best understand what is meant, we need to look back at chapter 11:2, and 13.1. Chapter 13, Of Sanctification. There the Confession states, “They more and more quickened, and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Thus these are not graces that save, but graces which flow from salvation, leading to the practice of holiness. So also, the Confession states in chapter 11, Of Justification, in paragraph 2: “Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” So here in 14:3, these graces flow out of and follow salvation. Thus, even though the temporary believer seems to believe and bear some fruit, these are not the graces of true salvation; these are merely the result of common grace, or the common operations of the Spirit; they are not to be confused with true saving graces.
God gives special grace to his elect enabling them to believe savingly, and he gives the graces which enable them to endure in faith; therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory. Despite many assaults on saving faith, even though faith at times is weakened and doubts, the grace given enables them to believe savingly and victoriously unto glorification. True faith will get the victory. This is speaking of the perseverance of the saints (see chapter 17). Scripture states, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5 ESV)? Even if we are assailed, “faith gets the victory.” How very encouraging in a world where our faith can seem to fail at times. We may be down, as they say, but we won’t be out!
This true and enduring faith will grow up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ. A growing faith will bring full assurance of salvation in many of God’s elect, but the fact the Confession uses the word “many” tells us this will not be the case in all of God’s elect. While all true faith is saving, that faith may never grow to full assurance of salvation. A lack of assurance is a sure sign of a weak faith, but nonetheless, weak faith is not indicative of a non-saving faith. This truth is of critical importance to the comfort of those who struggle with a lack of assurance. Assurance of salvation is such an important topic that the Confession has an entire chapter on the subject (chapter 18). Ideally, those with weak faith will grow to have a stronger faith, so as to attain a full assurance of salvation, but for various reasons that may not happen to every single elect person.
This has practical implications. For one, we cannot know for certain whether someone merely has a weak saving faith or a temporary non-saving faith, merely on the basis of a lack of assurance. Even as the author writes this, he has in mind one person who has professed Christ for about 4-5 years, yet still from time to time he calls with doubts and struggles of the most basic kind. It may be that he is a temporary believer, as the author has suspected. But the fact that he has still has not abandoned his faith, may very well mean that perhaps he has a weak, saving faith that simply lacks assurance. Thus, we have to be careful how we handle people like this; we must be very gentle and ever so patient. It is the hope that most will grow to have an assured faith, but if it does not happen we must be careful not to further undermine their assurance of salvation by questioning their faith. The writer of Hebrews desired his readers to have assurance of their salvation: “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:11-12 ESV). We note not only the desire by the writer of Hebrews for their assurance of salvation, but their “earnestness” or diligence, which affects full assurance of hope. Notice as well that full assurance of our salvation also affects our spiritual zeal. If we lack assurance we will be sluggish. Paul wrote similarly: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Col 2:2 ESV).
Full assurance of salvation comes through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of faith. We have this incredible encouragement in Scripture, which the Confession cites: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a KJV). Our faith was authored by Christ, and just as he authored our faith he will finish it. That is our great hope for our weak faith. Puritan, Thomas Watson states:
- “He is a pillar in the temple of God, ‘Rooted and built up in him; and stablished in the faith’ Col. ii:7. Unbelievers are skeptics in religion; they are unsettled; they question every truth; but when faith is on the increasing hand, it doth stabilire animum [strengthen the spirit], it corroborates [confirms] a Christian. He is able to prove his principles; he holds no more than he will die for; as a martyr women said, ‘I cannot dispute for Christ, but I can burn for him.’ An increasing faith is not like a ship in the midst of the sea, that fluctuates, and is tossed upon the waves; but like a ship at anchor, which is firm and steadfast.”
The Confession has addressed the grace of saving faith which ought to continue to grow and bring sanctification by faith-full use of the means of graces God has given us; these consist of the ministry of the Word of God, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and other means. By faith we apprehend the truth of Scripture and all that it says about what we are to believe about God, and what he requires of us. Saving faith is that faith which accepts, receives, and rests upon Christ alone, who alone saves, sanctifies and gives eternal life. Even if this faith is very weak, it is nonetheless saving, unlike those who may appear strong in faith, but are mere temporary believers. True faith endures to the end, and while most will attain a full assurance of salvation, some may not; a lack of assurance is not necessarily to be equated with a faith which does not save. Faith rests on Christ alone for salvation, not on an assurance of salvation; we must keep this important distinction in mind for ourselves, and those to whom we minister.
 George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, in The Works of George Swinnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 1:203. As cited by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), Kindle location 20280.
 John Flavel, The Method of Grace, in The Works of John Flavel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 2:104. As cited by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), Kindle location 20025.
 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692, reprinted, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 204.