Learning and Arriving: Justifying Faith
by Doug Rose
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation. – Westminster Larger Catechism, Answer 72.
My first pastor during my nascent adult conversion endeavored to explain to me the conversion process with the aphorism, “Faith is taught, not caught.” By this expression, I understood the pastor to mean that he was disinclined to adopt a charismatic, “Damascus road” theory of conversion whereby an adult proselyte would be fully sanctified by being swept up in a wave of baptism by the Holy Spirit, and that he was more disposed to believe that reformation, regeneration, and sanctification was a lifelong process involving heart, soul, and mind. After more than twenty years of reflection on this saying, I am inclined to propose that the pastor’s aphorism say, “Faith is neither caught nor taught, but wrought.”
Our confession teaches us that the grace of faith is first and foremost the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 14, Section 1. The Catechism expresses this faith as being wrought in our sinful hearts by the Spirit and the Word of God. “Wrought” in the sense of the seventeenth century divines at Edinburgh, is the past participle of the verb “wright”: to make, construct, or work on. Faith is worked into our hearts, and our hearts are hammered or beaten into shape in the forge of the Holy Spirit, just as “wrought iron” designs are manufactured from an unformed lump of metal.
To “catch” faith seems to require some initial effort on our parts, viz. that we run and strive by our own strength and merits to acquire the pearl of great value or the hidden treasure. Similarly, to “learn” faith also seems to put the responsibility, the onus, of coming to justifying and saving faith on the individual to study (which we ought in any event) and grasp an intellectual foundation. Scripture is quite clear, however, Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6). Only if the Spirit of the LORD works justifying faith into us can we be reformed into the likeness of Christ. Only He can help our unbelief. Only by His power can justifying faith be wrought.