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Lecture X: Freedom to Believe

(Art. 12)

This our Faith and the assurance of the same proceeds not fra flesh and blude, that is to say, fra na natural poweris within us, bot is the inspiration of the holy Gost: Whome we confesse God equall with the Father and with his Sonne, quha sanctifyis us, and bringis us in al veritie be his awin operation, without whome we sulde remaine for ever enimies to God, and ignorant of his Sonne Christ Jesus; for of nature we are so dead, so blind, and so perverse, that nether can we feill when we are pricked, see the licht when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is reveiled, unles the Spirit of the Lord Jesus quicken that quhilk is dead, remove the darknesse from our myndes, and bowe our stubburne hearts to the obedience of his blessed will. And so as we confesse, that God the Father created us, when we were not, as his Sonne our Lord Jesus redeemed us, when wee were enimies to him; so also do we confesse that the holy Gost doth sanctifie and regenerat us, without all respect of ony merite proceeding from us, be it before, or be it after our Regeneration. To speak this ane thing zit in mair plaine words: As we willingly spoyle our selves of all honour and gloir of our awin Creation and Redemption, so do we also of our Regeneration and Sanctification, for of our selves we ar not sufficient to think one gude thocht, bot he quha hes begun the wark in us, is onlie he that continewis us in the same, to the praise and glorie of his undeserved grace.


We have come to the end of the first part of our lectures, and at the same time have reached the real centre of the Scottish Confession, the transition from the problems relating to the knowledge of God to those relating to the service of God. Article 12 shows us how these two, the knowledge of God and the service of God, not only belong together, but like two concentric circles with a common radius coincide. Nothing could be more foreign to the teaching of the Reformation than the idea of a knowledge of God which was not also in itself service of God, or a service of God which consisted in something else than knowledge of God. It is in this unity that they meet us in Article 12, in which besides all that has gone before is summed up and brought to its conclusion.

In accordance with what we have already heard, what do we mean by knowing God? It has become clear that it is not a matter here of observing, analysing, considering and judging an object, where the knower is permitted to consider himself disinterested, free and superior in his relation to his object. Knowledge of God, according to the teaching of the Reformation, consists, as we have seen, in the knowledge of the God who deals with man in His Revelation in Jesus Christ. Knowledge of God according to the teaching of the Reformation does not therefore permit the man who knows to withdraw himself from God, so to speak, and to maintain an independent and secure position over against God so that from this he may form thoughts about God, which are in varying degrees true, beautiful and good. This latter procedure is that of all natural theology. One can only choose between this and the procedure of Reformed theology, one cannot reconcile them. Knowledge of God according to the teaching of the Reformation is obedience to God and therefore itself already service of God. According to Reformed teaching the knowledge of God is brought about when the object reaches out and grasps the subject, and through this the latter, the man who knows becomes a new man. All thoughts which he forms about God can only be an echo of what was said to him through God's dealing with him, by means of which he became this new man.

But the new character which man possesses through the knowledge of God consists in his having faith. To have faith means to allow to God, the world and ourselves true and real existence of the kind declared and laid down for us through the action of God in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present and in the future. To have faith means to live as a man who is faced by Jesus Christ. Such a man is therefore faced by the prophet who can tell us the first thing and the last thing that we have to know in order to be able to live and die. He is faced by the priest who has made amends, does and will make amends for everything. And he is faced by the king, who possesses not only the will to do this but also the power, namely the omnipotence of God. To have faith means to serve this Lord. That is why knowledge of God is nothing else than service of God.


Who then has faith? How can anyone have faith? How does anyone come to have faith? On this question the Confessio Scotica expresses itself in the first instance negatively. “This our Faith and the assurance of the same, proceeds not fra flesh and blude, that is to say, fra na natural poweris within us, bot is the inspiration of the holy Gost.” Note that this answer holds good for everything that we have become acquainted with so far as Reformed teaching on the knowledge of God, and it will hold good also for everything that we will become acquainted with next year as Reformed teaching on the service of God.

If faith is the life of the man who faces Christ as the one from Whom alone he receives his salvation, then it is easy to understand that the man who lives in faith, when he is confronted by the faithfulness of God, sees himself convicted of his own unfaithfulness,—a truth developed in the fifth lecture. Such a man will see that he is in no position to have faith in himself, or to ascribe to himself a capacity or power by means of which he himself could somehow bring about his salvation, or co-operate in bringing it about. What proceeds from himself, the man who believes can only consider as the sin which is forgiven him. If he were to any extent to rely on himself too, as well as on Jesus Christ, he would to that extent fall back into sin, and deny the completeness of the salvation received through Jesus Christ and thus the glory of Jesus Christ as the only Saviour. But if he cannot rely on himself, he cannot rely on his own faith as a work, to accomplish which he possesses the organs and the capabilities in himself. That man is more or less religiously inclined—if it is true—may well be a good thing. But the man who really has faith will never consider his faith as a realisation or manifestation of his religious life, but will on the contrary admit that his capacity for religion would in itself have led him to the gods and idols, but by no means to Jesus Christ. The man who really has faith knows the truth of the sentence of the Confession quoted above, that it is impossible for him by his own efforts to have faith. It is only those who do not possess faith, who always imagine that faith is a human potentiality, which they will probably say happens to have been denied them personally. And the would-be possessors of faith also, who disagree with the Confession's negative statement, and who see in their own faith the realisation of a human potentiality, are really not possessed of faith. Faith is not an art, nor is it an achievement. Faith is not a good work of which some may boast, while the others with a shrug of their shoulders can excuse themselves by saying that they have not the capacity for it. With faith itself comes the conclusive insight, that no one has the capacity for faith by his own effort, that is either the capacity to prepare for faith or to start it, or to persevere in it, or to perfect it. The man who has faith will understand the man who does not possess it, the sceptic or the atheist, better in this respect than they will understand themselves. For he will consider this incapacity for faith not merely to be accidental, as does the non-believer, but he will consider it to be inevitable. Let us hear the Confession itself. “For of nature we are so dead, so blind and so perverse, that nether can we feill when we ar pricked, see the licht when it shines, nor assent to the will of God when it is reveiled.” We have as little share in our rebirth, as we have in our being created or as we have in what Jesus Christ has done for us. “For of our selves we ar not sufficient to think one gude thocht . . . .” That is a hard saying, but note that it is not unbelief but faith that speaks in this way. Unbelief has, at all times, spoken quite differently.


Let us ask once more, who then has faith, who can have faith, who can come to have faith? The positive answer given at this point by the Scottish Confession in common with all Reformed Confessions is a simple answer, and our answer, too, can be a very simple one. Everyone comes to have faith, can have faith, and has faith who does not try to evade the action of God in His revelation in Jesus Christ, but stands firm, and therefore receives the salvation effected through Jesus Christ as a divine salvation and also as the salvation specially appointed for him. Whoever does that, possesses—by doing it—also the freedom, the opportunity and the capacity to do it. Is it his own freedom—a freedom that he already possessed before he did this? Is it a freedom which, so to speak, he brought with him, and has now simply applied in making the decision to believe instead of not to believe—just like the freedom by virtue of which we can decide to cross to the right instead of to the left hand side of the street? Is it therefore a freedom which belongs to the human mind? No-one who really believes has yet understood and described his freedom to believe as a freedom which he possessed before, and brought with him. On the contrary, by receiving what he was permitted to receive from Jesus Christ, he confessed and acknowledged that the fact that he did receive (instead of refusing to receive) was itself the receiving of a divine gift—God's faithfulness reaching over and grasping him, and in this he, who found in himself nothing but unfaithfulness, could only see an undeserved act of kindness and an incomprehensible miracle. Was it then a spell, a piece of magic or a marvel? No, he really did receive here, while in possession of his mind, understanding, will and all his five senses. He was not an extraordinary sort of man, and it was nothing extraordinary which happened when he believed instead of not believing. It was in itself nothing more out of the ordinary than if he had crossed from the left to the right hand side of the street. He was not passive. On the contrary, he acted. He made no sacrificium intellectus. On the contrary, he thought, and that, it is to be hoped, as rigorously and consistently as it is possible for a man to think. It was not a matter of putting the intellect to sleep. He sank into no mystic trance. On the contrary, he was as wide awake and as sober as it is possible to be. And what of his religious nature? He probably manifested too his capacity for religion! In short, everything came about in a perfectly human way. He was no stone or log, to which something had happened without his knowing or willing it, but on the contrary he made a decision, in the way in which men are accustomed to make decisions. So hidden was the real change of life which took place in him, when it really came about that he believed instead of not believing. But the fact that he did come to this decision, that he really believed and that he actually had freedom to enter this new life of obedience and hope—all this was not the work of his spirit, but the work of the Holy Spirit. No one who has really had faith, has understood his faith in any other way. And the whole of Scripture bears us witness that it is impossible to understand faith in any other way. The possibility of faith becomes manifest in its actuality, but it is in its actuality that it becomes manifest as a divine possibility. Can God be known? Yes, God can be known, but God can only be known through Himself, through His revelation and through the awakening of faith in His revelation, through His eternal Word, which has become flesh, and through His Holy Spirit, which brings hearts of stone to life. In tuo lumine videbimus lumen—in thy light we shall see light (Ps. 36, 9). That is the first and the final word of Reformed teaching on the knowledge of God.