Monday, August 10, 2015

So You Want to Be a Calvinist? John Calvin on the Nature of Faith

In this important analysis of the nature of faith, provided in the 1559 edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin establishes a direct relation between faith and the merciful promises of God. Note the emphasis placed upon the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing and sealing this knowledge. Calvin also deals with the question of whether the certainty of faith necessarily implies that doubt is excluded from the Christian life. For Calvin, doubt is a normal part of the Christian life, and is not inconsistent with his emphasis upon the trustworthiness of God’s promises. Calvin wrote:

Now we shall have a right definition of faith if we say that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us, which is founded upon the truth of the gracious promise of God in Christ, and is both revealed to our minds and sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit

When we stress that faith ought to be certain and secure, we do not have in mind a certainty without doubt, or a security without any anxiety. Rather, we affirm that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own lack of faith, and are far from possessing a peaceful conscience, never interrupted by any disturbance. On the other hand, we want to deny that they may fall out of, or depart from, their confidence in the divine mercy, no matter how much they may be troubled.

So you want to be a Calvinist? Please reread what John Calvin himself wrote.

1) Institutes, III.ii, in Joannis Calvini: Opera Selecta, ed. P. Barth and W. Niesel, vol.4 (Munich: Kaiser, 1931), 16.31-35; 27:25-36.

2) The Christian Theology Reader edited by Alister E. McGrath (Oxford: Blackwell), pg. 15
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