In my last post on Bavinck’s booklet, The Certainty of Faith, I promised to quote Bavinck on certainty in places other than Reformation Christianity. Here are a few summary quotes from the third chapter of his book.
First, non-Christian religions teach us “that certainty is not the same as truth. Truth always brings certainty, but certainty is no proof of truth. The human spirit can find false rest in an error presumed to be the truth. We like to believe in what we wish were true. Certainty in itself, however, does not set one free. Only the truth can free man from the servitude of sin and death. If the Son has made you free, you shall be free indeed” (p. 33).
Second, certainty in the Roman Catholic Church “is, and remains, nothing more than an opinion, a surmise, an opinio conjecturalis. …There is no room for such [i.e. ineradicable certainty] in Rome’s system, for it does not see salvation as assured in Christ and sealed in the heart of the believer by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. …The Roman Catholic church never allows the Christian to become independent and to stand on his own feet. It never sets him loose but always retains a hold on him, even years after his death in purgatory. …Rome deliberately keeps the souls of believers in a restless, so-called healthy tension. Spiritual life fluctuates between false assurance and painful uncertainty” (p. 35, 37).
Certainty among the Reformers was “the normal condition of their spiritual lives.” “They were not mystics who retreated into isolation and left the world to its fate. They were not intellectualists and moralists who failed to do justice to the richness of emotional life. All unnatural, unhealthy pietism was foreign to them. Their religious lives were sound at heart – clear and plain, yet passionate and deep.” Bavinck then notes how the Heidelberg Catechism humbly yet boldly teaches assurance and certainty of salvation (p. 39-40).
Fourth, and finally, in post-orthodoxy pietism, “the believer was prompted to turn inward in order to assure himself about the reality of his faith.” They argued that “real faith is experience.” “Faith was not immediately certain of itself right from the beginning. …The first years of faith were full of sighing and lamentation, praying and hoping. Certainty was attained only after a series of experiences spread over many years. It was not given with faith itself, nor did it issue from it. Certainty was often added from the outside…sometimes through a sudden intrusion of some Bible passage,” sometimes “by a glorious light,” sometimes by being “drawn up into the third heaven and led into the inner chamber by the King.” Then came assurance on the “highest rung of faith” (p. 43-44).
Bavinck goes on to say how neither proofs nor experience can provide certainty – only the gospel that comes from outside of us brings the certainty of faith by the Word and Spirit. Not law, not morals, not experience, but only childlike trust in the free gospel of grace brings certainty (see pp. 60-83, for example).