In part 3, we compared the Romanist (Tridentine) definitions of faith and justification to the Reformed definitions of faith and justification. According to Rome, in the Council of Trent, anyone who teaches that sinners are declared righteous before God only (sola) on the basis of Christ’s righteousness for us imputed to us and that sinners receive Christ and his righteousness only (sola) through faith resting on and receiving Christ is eternally condemned. According to Rome anyone who claims to know with certainty that he is now justified is presumptuous and arrogant because, apart from a supernatural work of grace (a second blessing), no one can know that he is justified because, ordinarily, no one is actually justified before God before perfection (complete sanctification).
This brings us to the third aspect of the Reformed definition of faith: trust. We confess:
21. What is true faith?
True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
The German text of Heidelberg Catechism says “herzliches Vertrauen,” i.e., a heartfelt trust. The contrast with Rome is a little more pointed, however, in the Latin text of the catechism, which says, “certa fiducia.” This word fiducia (trust, confidence) is the very word used by Trent in 1547 and the very idea she condemned. According to Trent, it is presumption to say, “I am justified.” How did she arrive at this conclusion?
In the Vulgate fiducia is often used to mean confidence or trust (e.g., Deut 28:52; Ps 21:10/22:9 in English; 70:5/71:5). It also means boldness (Acts 4:29, 31; 9:27) and finally confidence (Heb 3:6; 10:19; Eph 3:12; 1Tim 3:13) but there are passages (e.g., Job 8:14; 18:14) where the sense is closer to presumption or misplaced trust. That is the sense in which Rome tends to use fiducia.
We confess, however, that it is not presumption or arrogance to say that we are certain that we are justified, because we do not share Rome’s definition of justification as a process (progressive sanctification) nor do we share here definition of faith as sanctification. In the act (declaration) of justification, faith is knowledge, assent, and confidence in God’s promises, in Christ.
That’s why the Palatinate theologians were so pointed here. That is why they chose the words “certa fidicua.” They wanted to be crystal clear that we have a rock-solid confidence because its ground is not our sanctification in this life. Its ground is Christ’s perfect righteousness for us (pro nobis). This is why I sometimes tell students that the Protestant preposition is for and the Romanist preposition is in. Of course we believe that we in Christ but when it comes to justification, the first thing we say is not in but but for, not Christ in us (that was Osiander’s great error) but Christ’s obedience for us which is reckoned to us. Because his whole obedience was perfect and because his whole obedience is reckoned to us, it is as if we ourselves had done all that he did.
This why our doctrines of faith and justification are not a legal fiction. When the Romanists say that about us, they show that they do not understand Scripture or the Reformed confession. They are judging our doctrine by their own, confused standards. It is the Romanists who are presumptuous, who have a legal fiction. After all, the righteousness by which we stand before God is actually, intrinsically, inherently perfect. The righteousness by which they foolishly plan to present themselves to God is not. That is why they appeal to God’s promise, they claim, to impute perfection to our best efforts. There’s your legal fiction!
We have confidence because the object of our trust is Christ. He is worthy of confidence, even of boasting. That’s what Scripture says. Paul says in Ephesians 3:12 that we have “boldness (fiducia in the Vulgate) and access with confidence….” That is why we draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (fiducia in the Vulgate), because we have free access to it, through Christ’s body, on the basis of his finished work (Heb 4:16). We have confidence (fiducia) to enter the Holy places through Christ’s blood shed for us, not in some alleged, magical Eucharistic sacrifice, but in the once-for-all death of Christ (Heb 10:19). Our heart does not condemn us, because Christ is for us, and therefore we have confidence (fiducia) before God (1Jn 3:21). This is why we pray with confidence (fiducia; 1Jn 5:14).
The gospel is plain enough in the Vulgate that even Rome should be able to see it but she can’t because she won’t. She won’t because she is blinded by two things: rationalism that knows what Scripture must say even before it speaks and pride. Rome does the same thing to Scripture that Pelagius did. He knew that Paul couldn’t mean what he seemed to mean, and Rome knows how the story must come out before she ever begins. So, she has developed a theory of history that says, in effect, what ever she teaches today is what she has always really believed, even if the the facts are to the contrary. This means, of course, that real dialogue is futile. The only thing left is to preach and to teach and to pray and to trust the Spirit to break through the seemingly impenetrable fortress of darkness. We may be thankful that the Spirit of God does that sort of thing regularly–as we ourselves know!
So, there are thee aspects to faith: knowledge, assent, and trust. A proper definition of faith cannot omit any of the three. There are some Protestants who seek to re-define faith purely as knowledge and assent to propositions. They omit trust. In so doing, they deny the Reformed confession, even as they set themselves up as the arbiters of the Reformed faith. That is why we have an objective definition of the adjective Reformed. It is the teaching of the Word of God as confessed by the churches. If the churches have erred by teaching three aspects to the definition of faith, then let the revisionists make their case to the churches, from God’s Word (sola Scriptura) but until then, they are just QIRC-ers.
Others would truncate the definition by omitting knowledge and assent and holding only to trust. That makes faith blind, which is a contradiction in terms. We know whom we have believed. Faith isn’t comprehensive, it is apprehending, if you will. It lays hold of the Triune God, who has revealed himself in Christ, who has made us alive by the Spirit, through the gospel. It knows the Trinitarian persons and it knows and affirms truths about those persons. God has revealed those truths about himself, about us, about our salvation, and about how we are to live in light of that salvation. Just as it is arrogant to omit trust from the definition of faith, so it is blind to omit knowledge and assent.
Next time: True faith is a gift.