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True grace may ebb and flow, but never die – Joseph Caryl

July 18, 2010 Comments off

Job’s complaint ended in the former chapter: in this a hot dispute began. Job having cursed his day, as was indeed a wounding, such as almost at every word, drew blood; and was not only a rod upon his back, but a sword at his heart. Job was wounded first by Satan, he was wounded a second time by his wife, a third time he was wounded (not as it is spoken in the prophet, “in the house of friends, but) in his own house by his friends. these last wounds are judged by all good physicians, in soul afflictions) his deepest and sorest wounds.

Everyone who faileth or declineth or falleth off from what formerly was,or held forth, is therefore an hypocrite or hat his graces are false, and but pretences; there may be many declining’s and failings, many breaches and backsliding’s, and yet the spirit upright. Indeed, falling away and quite falling off, are an argument of insincerity and hypocrisie.; for true grace is everlasting grace, true holiness, endures forever. Therefore we are here to consider whence these failing were occasionined in Job, and how a failing maybe exprest, and continue so, as to conclude insincerity or hypocrisy.

First, it was from a sudden perturbation, not for a settled resolution. Job was not resolvedly thus impatient and unruly: an unexpected storm hurried his spirit so violently, that he was not master of his own actions; Job had not his affections at command, they got the bridle (as it were) on their necks, and away they carried him with such force, that he was not able to stop or stay them.

Secondly, it came from the smart and sense of pain in his flesh, not for the perverseness of his spirit. If the taint had been in his spirit, then Eliphaz, had a ground, a certain ground to have argued thus against him.

Thirdly, Job’s graces were hid and obscured, they were not lose or dead; the acts were suspended, the habits were not removed; when grace which hath been shewed, is quite lost, that grace was nothing but a shew of grace, painted fear, and painted confidence; but in Job’s case there was only a hiding of his graces or a vail cast over them.

Last we must not say, he falls from grace who falleth into sin; nor must it be concluded that he hath no grace who falls into a great sin: it follows not, that grace is false or none, because it doth not work like itself, or because it doth not sometimes work at all. True grace works not always uniformly; though it be always the same in itself, yet is is not always the same in its effects; true grace is always alive, yet it doth not always act, it retains life when motion is undiscerned Wherefore they who not work like themselves, or do not work at all (for a time) in gracious ways, are not to be concluded as having no grace, or nothing but a shew of grace.

Vol 2 Chaptaer 1

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Of faith. The definition of it. Its peculiar properties – Calvin

July 14, 2010 Comments off
Book III Chapter 2.
This chapter consists of three principal parts.
I. A brief explanation of certain matters pertaining to the doctrine of Faith, sec. 1-14. First, of the object of faith, sec. 1. Second, of Implicit Faith, sec. 2-6. Third, Definition of Faith, sec. 7. Fourth, the various meanings of the term Faith, sec. 8-13.
II. A full exposition of the definition given in the seventh section, sec. 14-40.
III. A brief confirmation of the definition by the authority of an Apostle. The mutual relation between faith, hope, and charity, sec. 41-43.
Sections
1. A brief recapitulation of the leading points of the whole discussion. The scope of this chapter. The necessity of the doctrine of faith. This doctrine obscured by the Schoolmen, who make God the object of faith, without referring to Christ. The Schoolmen refuted by various passages.
2. The dogma of implicit faith refuted. It destroys faith, which consists in a knowledge of the divine will. What this will is, and how necessary the knowledge of it.
3. Many things are and will continue to be implicitly believed. Faith, however, consists in the knowledge of God and Christ, not in a reverence for the Church. Another refutation from the absurdities to which this dogma leads.
4. In what sense our faith may be said to be implicit. Examples in the Apostles, in the holy women, and in all believers.
5. In some, faith is implicit, as being a preparation for faith. This, however, widely different from the implicit faith of the Schoolmen.
6. The word of God has a similar relation to faith, the word being, as it were, the source and basis of faith, and the mirror in which it beholds God. Confirmation from various passages of Scripture. Without the knowledge of the word there can be no faith. Sum of the discussion of the Scholastic doctrine of implicit faith.
7. What faith properly has respect to in the word of God, namely, the promise of grace offered in Christ, provided it be embraced with faith. Proper definition of faith.
8. Scholastic distinction between faith formed and unformed, refuted by a consideration of the nature of faith, which, as the gift of the Spirit, cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.
9. Objection from a passage of Paul. Answer to it. Error of the Schoolmen in giving only one meaning to faith, whereas it has many meanings. The testimony of faith improperly ascribed to two classes of men.
10. View to be taken of this. Who those are that believe for a time. The faith of hypocrites. With whom they may be compared.
11. Why faith attributed to the reprobate. Objection. Answer. What perception of grace in the reprobate. How the elect are distinguished from the reprobate.
12. Why faith is temporary in the reprobate, firm and perpetual in the elect. Reason in the case of the reprobate. Example. Why God is angry with his children. In what sense many are said to fall from faith.
13. Various meanings of the term faith. 1. Taken for soundness in the faith. 2. Sometimes restricted to a particular object. 3. Signifies the ministry or testimony by which we are instructed in the faith.
14. Definition of faith explained under six principal heads. 1. What meant by Knowledge in the definition.
15. Why this knowledge must be sure and firm. Reason drawn from the consideration of our weakness. Another reason from the certainty of the promises of God.
16. The leading point in this certainty. Its fruits. A description of the true believer.
17. An objection to this certainty. Answer. Confirmation of the answer from the example of David. This enlarged upon from the opposite example of Ahab. Also from the uniform experience and the prayers of believers.
18. For this reason the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit in the soul of the believer described. The issue of this conflict, the victory of faith.
19. On the whole, the faith of the elect certain and indubitable. Conformation from analogy.
20. Another confirmation from the testimony of an Apostle, making it apparent, that, though the faith of the elect is as yet imperfect, it is nevertheless firm and sure.
21. A fuller explanation of the nature of faith. 1. When the believer is shaken with fear, he retakes himself to the bosom of a merciful God. 2. He does not even shun God when angry, but hopes in him. 3. He does not suffer unbelief to reign in his heart. 4. He opposes unbelief, and is never finally lost. 5. Faith, however often assailed, at length comes off victorious.
22. Another species of fear, arising from a consideration of the judgment of God against the wicked. This also faith overcomes. Examples of this description, placed before the eyes of believers, repress presumption, and fix their faith in God.
23. Nothing contrary to this in the exhortation of the Apostle to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fear and faith mutually connected. Confirmation from the words of a Prophet.
24. This doctrine gives no countenance to the error of those who dream of a confidence mingled with incredulity. Refutation of this error, from a consideration of the dignity of Christ dwelling in us. The argument retorted. Refutation confirmed by the authority of an Apostle. What we ought to hold on this question.
25. Confirmation of the preceding conclusion by a passage from Bernard.
26. True fear caused in two ways, viz., when we are required to reverence God as a Father, and also to fear him as Lord.
27. Objection from a passage in the Apostle John. Answer founded on the distinction between filial and servile fear.
28. How faith is said to have respect to the divine benevolence. What comprehended under this benevolence. Confirmation from David and Paul.
29. Of the Free Promise which is the foundation of Faith. Reason. Confirmation.
30. Faith not divided in thus seeking a Free Promise in the Gospel. Reason. Conclusion confirmed by another reason.
31. The word of God the prop and root of faith. The word attests the divine goodness and mercy. In what sense faith has respect to the power of God. Various passages of Isaiah, inviting the godly to behold the power of God, explained. Other passages from David. We must beware of going beyond the limits prescribed by the word, lest false zeal lead us astray, as it did Sarah, Rebekah, and Isaac. In this way faith is obscured, though not extinguished. We must not depart one iota from the word of God.
32. All the promises included in Christ. Two objections answered. A third objection drawn from example. Answer explaining the faith of Naaman, Cornelius, and the Eunuch.
33. Faith revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. 1. The mind is purified so as to have a relish for divine truth. 2. The mind is thus established in the truth by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
34. Proof of the former. 1. By reason. 2. By Scripture. 3. By example. 4. By analogy.
35. 5. By the excellent qualities of faith. 6. By a celebrated passage from Augustine.
36. Proof of the latter by the argument a minore ad majus. Why the Spirit is called a seal, an earnest, and the Spirit of promise.
37. Believers sometimes shaken, but not so as to perish finally. They ultimately overcome their trials, and remain steadfast. Proofs from Scripture.
38. Objection of the Schoolmen. Answer. Attempt to support the objection by a passage in Ecclesiastes. Answer, explaining the meaning of the passage.
39. Another objection, charging the elect in Christ with rashness and presumption. Answer. Answer confirmed by various passages from the Apostle Paul. Also from John and Isaiah.
40. A third objection, impugning the final perseverance of the elect. Answer by an Apostle. Summary of the refutation.
41. The definition of faith accords with that given by the Apostle in the Hebrews. Explanation of this definition. Refutation of the scholastic error, that charity is prior to faith and hope.
42. Hope the inseparable attendant of true faith. Reason. Connection between faith and hope. Mutually support each other. Obvious from the various forms of temptation, that the aid of hope necessary to establish faith.
43. The terms faith and hope sometimes confounded. Refutation of the Schoolmen, who attribute a twofold foundation to hope, viz., the grace of God and the merit of works.
1. All these things will be easily understood after we have given a clearer definition of faith, so as to enable the readers to apprehend its nature and power. Here it is of importance to call to mind what was formerly taught, first, That since God by his Law prescribes what we ought to do, failure in any one respect subjects us to the dreadful judgment of eternal death, which it denounces. Secondly, Because it is not only difficult, but altogether beyond our strength and ability, to fulfill the demands of the Law, if we look only to ourselves and consider what is due to our merits, no ground of hope remains, but we lie forsaken of God under eternal death. Thirdly, That there is only one method of deliverance which can rescue us from this miserable calamity, viz., when Christ the Redeemer appears, by whose hand our heavenly Father, out of his infinite goodness and mercy, has been pleased to succor us, if we with true faith embrace this mercy, and with firm hope rest in it. It is now proper to consider the nature of this faith, by means of which, those who are adopted into the family of God obtain possession of the heavenly kingdom. For the accomplishment of so great an end, it is obvious that no mere opinion or persuasion is adequate. And the greater care and diligence is necessary in discussing the true nature of faith, from the pernicious delusions which many, in the present day, labour under with regard to it. Great numbers, on hearing the term, think that nothing more is meant than a certain common assent to the Gospel History; nay, when the subject of faith is discussed in the Schools, by simply representing God as its object, they by empty speculation, as we have elsewhere said (Book 2, chap. 6, sec. 4), hurry wretched souls away from the right mark instead of directing them to it. For seeing that God dwells in light that is inaccessible, Christ must intervene. Hence he calls himself “the light of the world;” and in another passage, “the way, the truth, and the life.” None cometh to the Father (who is the fountain of life) except by him; for “no man knoweth who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” For this reason, Paul declares, “I count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” In the twentieth chapter of the Acts, he states that he preached “faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ;” and in another passage, he introduces Christ as thus addressing him: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness;” “delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,” – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified through faith which is in me.” Paul further declares, that in the person of Christ the glory of God is visibly manifested to us, or, which is the same thing, we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It is true, indeed, that faith has respect to God only; but to this we should add, that it acknowledges Jesus Christ whom he has sent. God would remain far off, concealed from us, were we not irradiated by the brightness of Christ. All that the Father had, he deposited with his only begotten Son, in order that he might manifest himself in him, and thus by the communication of blessings express the true image of his glory. Since, as has been said, we must be led by the Spirit, and thus stimulated to seek Christ, so must we also remember that the invisible Father is to be sought nowhere but in this image. For which reason Augustine treating of the object of faith (De Civitate Dei, lib. 11, ch. 2), elegantly says, “The thing to be known is, whither we are to go, and by what way;” and immediately after infers, that “the surest way to avoid all errors is to know him who is both God and man. It is to God we tend, and it is by man we go, and both of these are found only in Christ.” Paul, when he preaches faith towards God, surely does not intend to overthrow what he so often inculcates, viz., that faith has all its stability in Christ. Peter most appropriately connects both, saying, that by him “we believe in God” (1Pe_1:21).
2. This evil, therefore, must, like innumerable others, be attributed to the Schoolmen, who have in a manner drawn a veil over Christ, to whom, if our eye is not directly turned, we must always wander through many labyrinths. But besides impairing, and almost annihilating, faith by their obscure definition, they have invented the fiction of implicit faith, with which name decking the grossest ignorance, they delude the wretched populace to their great destruction. Nay, to state the fact more truly and plainly, this fiction not only buries true faith, but entirely destroys it. Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church? Faith consists not in ignorance, but in knowledge – knowledge not of God merely, but of the divine will. We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace every dictate of the Church as true, or leave to the Church the province of inquiring and determining; but when we recognize God as a propitious Father through the reconciliation made by Christ, and Christ as given to us for righteousness, sanctification, and life. By this knowledge, I say, not by the submission of our understanding, we obtain an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. For when the Apostle says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom_10:10); he intimates, that it is not enough to believe implicitly without understanding, or even inquiring. The thing requisite is an explicit recognition of the divine goodness, in which our righteousness consists.
3. I indeed deny not (so enveloped are we in ignorance), that to us very many things now are and will continue to be completely involved until we lay aside this weight of flesh, and approach nearer to the presence of God. In such cases the fittest course is to suspend our judgment, and resolve to maintain unity with the Church. But under this pretext, to honor ignorance tempered with humility with the name of faith, is most absurd. Faith consists in the knowledge of God and Christ (Joh_17:3), not in reverence for the Church. And we see what a labyrinth they have formed out of this implicit faith – every thing, sometimes even the most monstrous errors, being received by the ignorant as oracles without any discrimination, provided they are prescribed to them under the name of the Church. This inconsiderate facility, though the surest precipice to destruction, is, however, excused on the ground that it believes nothing definitely, but only with the appended condition, if such is the faith of the Church. Thus they pretend to find truth in error, light in darkness, true knowledge in ignorance. Not to dwell longer in refuting these views, we simply advise the reader to compare them with ours. The clearness of truth will itself furnish a sufficient refutation. For the question they raise is not, whether there may be an implicit faith with many remains of ignorance, but they maintain, that persons living and even indulging in a stupid ignorance duly believe, provided, in regard to things unknown, they assent to the authority and judgment of the Church: as if Scripture did not uniformly teach, that with faith understanding is conjoined.
4. We grant, indeed, that so long as we are pilgrims in the world faith is implicit, not only because as yet many things are hidden from us, but because, involved in the mists of error, we attain not to all. The highest wisdom, even of him who has attained the greatest perfection, is to go forward, and endeavor in a calm and teachable spirit to make further progress. Hence Paul exhorts believers to wait for further illumination in any matter in which they differ from each other (Phi_3:15). And certainly experience teaches, that so long as we are in the flesh, our attainments are less than is to be desired. In our daily reading we fall in with many obscure passages which convict us of ignorance. With this curb God keeps us modest, assigning to each a measure of faith, that every teacher, however excellent, may still be disposed to learn. Striking examples of this implicit faith may be observed in the disciples of Christ before they were fully illuminated. We see with what difficulty they take in the first rudiments, how they hesitate in the minutest matters, how, though hanging on the lips of their Master, they make no great progress; nay, even after running to the sepulchre on the report of the women, the resurrection of their Master appears to them a dream. As Christ previously bore testimony to their faith, we cannot say that they were altogether devoid of it; nay, had they not been persuaded that Christ would rise again, all their zeal would have been extinguished. Nor was it superstition that led the women to prepare spices to embalm a dead body of whose revival they had no expectation; but, although they gave credit to the words of one whom they knew to be true, yet the ignorance which still possessed their minds involved their faith in darkness, and left them in amazement. Hence they are said to have believed only when, by the reality, they perceive the truth of what Christ had spoken; not that they then began to believe, but the seed of a hidden faith, which lay as it were dead in their hearts, then burst forth in vigor. They had, therefore, a true but implicit faith, having reverently embraced Christ as the only teacher. Then, being taught by him, they felt assured that he was the author of salvation: in fine, believed that he had come from heaven to gather disciples, and take them thither through the grace of the Father. There cannot be a more familiar proof of this, than that in all men faith is always mingled with incredulity.
5. We may also call their faith implicit, as being properly nothing else than a preparation for faith. The Evangelists describe many as having believed, although they were only roused to admiration by the miracles, and went no farther than to believe that Christ was the promised Messiah, without being at all imbued with Evangelical doctrine. The reverence which subdued them, and made them willingly submit to Christ, is honored with the name of faith, though it was nothing but the commencement of it. Thus the nobleman who believed in the promised cure of his son, on returning home, is said by the Evangelist (Joh_4:53) to have again believed; that is, he had first received the words which fell from the lips of Christ as an oracular response, and thereafter submitted to his authority and received his doctrine. Although it is to be observed that he was docile and disposed to learn, yet the word “believed” in the former passage denotes a particular faith, and in the latter gives him a place among those disciples who had devoted themselves to Christ. Not unlike this is the example which John gives of the Samaritans who believed the women, and eagerly hastened to Christ; but, after they had heard him, thus express themselves, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (Joh_4:42). From these passages it is obvious, that even those who are not yet imbued with the first principles, provided they are disposed to obey, are called believers, not properly indeed, but inasmuch as God is pleased in kindness so highly to honor their pious feeling. But this docility, with a desire of further progress, is widely different from the gross ignorance in which those sluggishly indulge who are contented with the implicit faith of the Papists. If Paul severely condemns those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” how much more sharply ought those to be rebuked who avowedly affect to know nothing?
6. The true knowledge of Christ consists in receiving him as he is offered by the Father, namely, as invested with his Gospel. For, as he is appointed as the end of our faith, so we cannot directly tend towards him except under the guidance of the Gospel. Therein are certainly unfolded to us treasures of grace. Did these continue shut, Christ would profit us little. Hence Paul makes faith the inseparable attendant of doctrine in these words, “Ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph_4:20, Eph_4:21). Still I do not confine faith to the Gospel in such a sense as not to admit that enough was delivered to Moses and the Prophets to form a foundation of faith; but as the Gospel exhibits a fuller manifestation of Christ, Paul justly terms it the doctrine of faith (1Ti_4:6). For which reason, also he elsewhere says, that, by the coming of faith, the Law was abolished (Rom_10:4), including under the expression a new and unwonted mode of teaching, by which Christ, from the period of his appearance as the great Master, gave a fuller illustration of the Father’s mercy, and testified more surely of our salvation. But an easier and more appropriate method will be to descend from the general to the particular. First, we must remember, that there is an inseparable relation between faith and the word, and that these can no more be disconnected from each other than rays of light from the sun. Hence in Isaiah the Lord exclaims, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa_4:3). And John points to this same fountain of faith in the following words, “These are written that ye might believe” (Joh_20:31). The Psalmist also exhorting the people to faith says, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice” (Psa_95:7), to hear being uniformly taken for to believe. In fine, in Isaiah the Lord distinguishes the members of the Church from strangers by this mark, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isa_54:13); for if the benefit was indiscriminate, why should he address his words only to a few? Corresponding with this, the Evangelists uniformly employ the terms believers and disciples as synonymous. This is done especially by Luke in several passages of the Acts. He even applies the term disciple to a woman (Act_9:36). Wherefore, if faith declines in the least degree from the mark at which it ought to aim, it does not retain its nature, but becomes uncertain credulity and vague wandering of mind. The same word is the basis on which it rests and is sustained. Declining from it, it falls. Take away the word, therefore, and no faith will remain. We are not here discussing, whether, in order to propagate the word of God by which faith is engendered, the ministry of man is necessary (this will be considered elsewhere); but we say that the word itself, whatever be the way in which it is conveyed to us, is a kind of mirror in which faith beholds God. In this, therefore, whether God uses the agency of man, or works immediately by his own power, it is always by his word that he manifests himself to those whom he designs to draw to himself. Hence Paul designates faith as the obedience which is given to the Gospel (Rom_1:5); and writing to the Philippians, he commends them for the obedience of faith (Phi_2:17). For faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but also, nay chiefly, a perception of his will toward us. It concerns us to know not only what he is in himself, but also in what character he is pleased to manifest himself to us. We now see, therefore, that faith is the knowledge of the divine will in regard to us, as ascertained from his word. And the foundation of it is a previous persuasion of the truth of God. So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds from him is sacred, inviolable truth.
7. But since the heart of man is not brought to faith by every word of God, we must still consider what it is that faith properly has respect to in the word. The declaration of God to Adam was, “Thou shalt surely die” (Gen_2:17); and to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen_4:10); but these, so far from being fitted to establish faith, tend only to shake it. At the same time, we deny not that it is the office of faith to assent to the truth of God whenever, whatever, and in whatever way he speaks: we are only inquiring what faith can find in the word of God to lean and rest upon. When conscience sees only wrath and indignation, how can it but tremble and be afraid? and how can it avoid shunning the God whom it thus dreads? But faith ought to seek God, not shun him. It is evident, therefore, that we have not yet obtained a full definition of faith, it being impossible to give the name to every kind of knowledge of the divine will. Shall we, then, for “will”, which is often the messenger of bad news and the herald of terror, substitute the benevolence or mercy of God? In this way, doubtless, we make a nearer approach to the nature of faith. For we are allured to seek God when told that our safety is treasured up in him; and we are confirmed in this when he declares that he studies and takes an interest in our welfare. Hence there is need of the gracious promise, in which he testifies that he is a propitious Father; since there is no other way in which we can approach to him, the promise being the only thing on which the heart of man can recline. For this reason, the two things, mercy and truth, are uniformly conjoined in the Psalms as having a mutual connection with each other. For it were of no avail to us to know that God is true, did He not in mercy allure us to himself; nor could we of ourselves embrace his mercy did not He expressly offer it. “I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth. Withhold not thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy loving-kindness and thy truth continually preserve me” (Psa_40:10,Psa_40:11). “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (Psa_36:5). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psa_25:10). “His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever” (Psa_117:2). “I will praise thy name for thy loving-kindness and thy truth” (Psa_138:2). I need not quote what is said in the Prophets, to the effect that God is merciful and faithful in his promises. It were presumptuous in us to hold that God is propitious to us, had we not his own testimony, and did he not prevent us by his invitation, which leaves no doubt or uncertainty as to his will. It has already been seen that Christ is the only pledge of love, for without him all things, both above and below speak of hatred and wrath. We have also seen, that since the knowledge of the divine goodness cannot be of much importance unless it leads us to confide in it, we must exclude a knowledge mingled with doubt – a knowledge which, so far from being firm, is continually wavering. But the human mind, when blinded and darkened, is very far from being able to rise to a proper knowledge of the divine will; nor can the heart, fluctuating with perpetual doubt, rest secure in such knowledge. Hence, in order that the word of God may gain full credit, the mind must be enlightened, and the heart confirmed, from some other quarter. We shall now have a full definition of faith, if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
8. But before I proceed farther, it will be necessary to make some preliminary observations for the purpose of removing difficulties which might otherwise obstruct the reader. And first, I must refute the nugatory distinction of the Schoolmen as to formed and unformed faith. For they imagine that persons who have no fear of God, and no sense of piety, may believe all that is necessary to be known for salvation; as if the Holy Spirit were not the witness of our adoption by enlightening our hearts unto faith. Still, however, though the whole Scripture is against them, they dogmatically give the name of faith to a persuasion devoid of the fear of God. It is unnecessary to go farther in refuting their definition, than simply to state the nature of faith as declared in the word of God. From this it will clearly appear how unskillfully and absurdly they babble, rather than discourse, on this subject. I have already done this in part, and will afterwards add the remainder in its proper place. At present, I say that nothing can be imagined more absurd than their fiction. They insist that faith is an assent with which any despiser of God may receive what is delivered by Scripture. But we must first see whether any one can by his own strength acquire faith, or whether the Holy Spirit, by means of it, becomes the witness of adoption. Hence it is childish trifling in them to inquire whether the faith formed by the supervening quality of love be the same, or a different and new faith. By talking in this style, they show plainly that they have never thought of the special gift of the Spirit; since one of the first elements of faith is reconciliation implied in man’s drawing near to God. Did they duly ponder the saying of Paul, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom_10:10), they would cease to dream of that frigid quality. There is one consideration which ought at once to put an end to the debate, viz., that assent itself (as I have already observed, and will afterwards more fully illustrate) is more a matter of the heart than the head, of the affection than the intellect. For this reason, it is termed “the obedience of faith” (Rom_1:5), which the Lord prefers to all other service, and justly, since nothing is more precious to him than his truth, which, as John Baptist declares, is in a manner signed and sealed by believers (Joh_3:33). As there can be no doubt on the matter, we in one word conclude, that they talk absurdly when they maintain that faith is formed by the addition of pious affection as an accessory to assent, since assent itself, such at least as the Scriptures describe, consists in pious affection. But we are furnished with a still clearer argument. Since faith embraces Christ as he is offered by the Father, and he is offered not only for justification, for forgiveness of sins and peace, but also for sanctification, as the fountain of living waters, it is certain that no man will ever know him aright without at the same time receiving the sanctification of the Spirit; or, to express the matter more plainly, faith consists in the knowledge of Christ; Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.
9. In their attempt to mar faith by divesting it of love, they are wont to insist on the words of Paul, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1Co_13:2). But they do not consider what the faith is of which the Apostle there speaks. Having, in the previous chapter, discoursed of the various gifts of the Spirit (1Co_12:10), including diversity of tongues, miracles, and prophecy, and exhorted the Corinthians to follow the better gifts, in other words, those from which the whole body of the Church would derive greater benefit, he adds, “Yet show I unto you a more excellent way” (1Co_12:30). All other gifts, how excellent soever they may be in themselves, are of no value unless they are subservient to charity. They were given for the edification of the Church, and fail of their purpose if not so applied. To prove this he adopts a division, repeating the same gifts which he had mentioned before, but under different names. Miracles and faith are used to denote the same thing, viz., the power of working miracles. Seeing, then, that this miraculous power or faith is the particular gift of God, which a wicked man may possess and abuse, as the gift of tongues, prophecy, or other gifts, it is not strange that he separates it from charity. Their whole error lies in this, that while the term faith has a variety of meanings, overlooking this variety, they argue as if its meaning were invariably one and the same. The passage of James, by which they endeavor to defend their error, will be elsewhere discussed (infra, chap. 17, sec. 11). Although, in discoursing of faith, we admit that it has a variety of forms; yet, when our object is to show what knowledge of God the wicked possess, we hold and maintain, in accordance with Scripture, that the pious only have faith. Multitudes undoubtedly believe that God is, and admit the truth of the Gospel History, and the other parts of Scripture, in the same way in which they believe the records of past events, or events which they have actually witnessed. There are some who go even farther: they regard the Word of God as an infallible oracle; they do not altogether disregard its precepts, but are moved to some degree by its threatening and promises. To such the testimony of faith is attributed, but by catachresis; because they do not with open impiety impugn, reject, or condemn, the Word of God, but rather exhibit some semblance of obedience.
10. But as this shadow or image of faith is of no moment, so it is unworthy of the name. How far it differs from true faith will shortly be explained at length. Here, however, we may just indicate it in passing. Simon Magus is said to have believed, though he soon after gave proof of his unbelief (Act_8:13-18). In regard to the faith attributed to him, we do not understand with some, that he merely pretended a belief which had no existence in his heart: we rather think that, overcome by the majesty of the Gospel, he yielded some kind of assent, and so far acknowledged Christ to be the author of life and salvation, as willingly to assume his name. In like manner, in the Gospel of Luke, those in whom the seed of the word is choked before it brings forth fruit, or in whom, from having no depth of earth, it soon withereth away, are said to believe for a time. Such, we doubt not, eagerly receive the word with a kind of relish, and have some feeling of its divine power, so as not only to impose upon men by a false semblance of faith, but even to impose upon themselves. They imagine that the reverence which they give to the word is genuine piety, because they have no idea of any impiety but that which consists in open and avowed contempt. But whatever that assent may be, it by no means penetrates to the heart, so as to have a fixed seat there. Although it sometimes seems to have planted its roots, these have no life in them. The human heart has so many recesses for vanity, so many lurking places for falsehood, is so shrouded by fraud and hypocrisy, that it often deceives itself. Let those who glory in such semblances of faith know that, in this respect, they are not a whit superior to devils. The one class, indeed, is inferior to them, inasmuch as they are able without emotion to hear and understand things, the knowledge of which makes devils tremble (Jam_2:19). The other class equals them in this, that whatever be the impression made upon them, its only result is terror and consternation.
11. I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.
12. Although faith is a knowledge of the divine favor towards us, and a full persuasion of its truth, it is not strange that the sense of the divine love, which though akin to faith differs much from it, vanishes in those who are temporarily impressed. The will of God is, I confess, immutable, and his truth is always consistent with itself; but I deny that the reprobate ever advance so far as to penetrate to that secret revelation which Scripture reserves for the elect only. I therefore deny that they either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but will in process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. In short, as by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished. There is nothing to prevent His giving some a slight knowledge of his Gospel, and imbuing others thoroughly. Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. Thus for a time a pious affection prevailed in Saul, disposing him to love God. Knowing that he was treated with paternal kindness, he was in some degree attracted by it. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection. The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom_5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them or their sins, and also propitious to their persons. It is not from fictitious dread that they deprecate his anger, and yet they retake themselves to him with tranquil confidence. It hence appears that the faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretence. They are borne along by some sudden impulse of zeal, and erroneously impose upon themselves, sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care. Such probably was the case of those whom John describes as believing on Christ; but of whom he says, “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (Joh_2:24, Joh_2:25). Were it not true that many fall away from the common faith (I call it common, because there is a great resemblance between temporary and living, everduring faith), Christ would not have said to his disciples, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Joh_8:31, Joh_8:32). He is addressing those who had embraced his doctrine, and urging them to progress in the faith, lest by their sluggishness they extinguish the light which they have received. Accordingly, Paul claims faith as the peculiar privilege of the elect, intimating that many, from not being properly rooted, fall away (Tit_1:1). In the same way, in Matthew, our Savior says, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up” (Mat_16:13). Some who are not ashamed to insult God and man are more grossly false. Against this class of men, who profane the faith by impious and lying pretence, James inveighs (Jam_2:14). Nor would Paul require the faith of believers to be unfeigned (1Ti_1:5), were there not many who presumptuously arrogate to themselves what they have not, deceiving others, and sometimes even themselves, with empty show. Hence he compares a good conscience to the ark in which faith is preserved, because many, by falling away, have in regard to it made shipwreck.
13. It is necessary to attend to the ambiguous meaning of the term: for faith is often equivalent in meaning to sound doctrine, as in the passage which we lately quoted, and in the same epistle where Paul enjoins the deacons to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience;” in like manner, when he denounces the defection of certain from the faith. The meaning again is the same, when he says that Timothy had been brought up in the faith; and in like manner, when he says that profane babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so called, lead many away from the faith. Such persons he elsewhere calls reprobate as to the faith. On the other hand, when he enjoins Titus, “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;” by soundness he means purity of doctrine, which is easily corrupted, and degenerates through the fickleness of men. And indeed, since in Christ, as possessed by faith, are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col_1:2, Col_1:3), the term faith is justly extended to the whole sum of heavenly doctrine, from which it cannot be separated. On the other hand, it is sometimes confined to a particular object, as when Matthew says of those who let down the paralytic through the roof, that Jesus saw their faith (Mat_9:2); and Jesus himself exclaims in regard to the centurion, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mat_8:10). Now, it is probable that the centurion was thinking only of the cure of his son, by whom his whole soul was engrossed; but because he is satisfied with the simple answer and assurance of Christ, and does not request his bodily presence, this circumstance calls forth the eulogium on his faith. And we have lately shown how Paul uses the term faith for the gift of miracles – a gift possessed by persons who were neither regenerated by the Spirit of God, nor sincerely reverenced him. In another passage, he uses faith for the doctrine by which we are instructed in the faith. For when he says, that “that which is in part shall be done away” (1Co_13:10), there can be no doubt that reference is made to the ministry of the Church, which is necessary in our present imperfect state; in these forms of expression the analogy is obvious. But when the name of faith is improperly transferred to a false profession or lying assumption, the catachresis ought not to seem harsher than when the fear of God is used for vicious and perverse worship; as when it is repeatedly said in sacred history, that the foreign nations which had been transported to Samaria and the neighbouring districts, feared false gods and the God of Israel: in other words, confounded heaven with earth. But we have now been inquiring what the faith is, which distinguishes the children of God from unbelievers, the faith by which we invoke God the Father, by which we pass from death unto life, and by which Christ our eternal salvation and life dwells in us. Its power and nature have, I trust, been briefly and clearly explained.
14. Let us now again go over the parts of the definition separately: I should think that, after a careful examination of them, no doubt will remain. By knowledge we do not mean comprehension, such as that which we have of things falling under human sense. For that knowledge is so much superior, that the human mind must far surpass and go beyond itself in order to reach it. Nor even when it has reached it does it comprehend what it feels, but persuaded of what it comprehends not, it understands more from mere certainty of persuasion than it could discern of any human matter by its own capacity. Hence it is elegantly described by Paul as ability “to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph_3:18, Eph_3:19). His object was to intimate, that what our mind embraces by faith is every way infinite, that this kind of knowledge far surpasses all understanding. But because the “mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations” is now “made manifest to the saints” (Col_1:26), faith is, for good reason, occasionally termed in Scripture understanding (Col_2:2); and knowledge, as by John (1Jo_3:2), when he declares that believers know themselves to be the sons of God. And certainly they do know, but rather as confirmed by a belief of the divine veracity than taught by any demonstration of reason. This is also indicated by Paul when he says, that “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight)” (2Co_5:6, 2Co_5:7:) thus showing, that what we understand by faith is yet distant from us and escapes our view. Hence we conclude that the knowledge of faith consists more of certainty than discernment.
15. We add, that it is sure and firm, the better to express strength and constancy of persuasion. For as faith is not contented with a dubious and fickle opinion, so neither is it contented with an obscure and ill-defined conception. The certainty which it requires must be full and decisive, as is usual in regard to matters ascertained and proved. So deeply rooted in our hearts is unbelief, so prone are we to it, that while all confess with the lips that God is faithful, no man ever believes it without an arduous struggle. Especially when brought to the test, we by our wavering betray the vice which lurked within. Nor is it without cause that the Holy Spirit bears such distinguished testimony to the authority of God, in order that it may cure the disease of which I have spoken, and induce us to give full credit to the divine promises: “The words of the Lord” (says David, Psa_12:6) “are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times:” “The word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him” (Psa_18:30). And Solomon declares the same thing almost in the same words, “Every word of God is pure” (Pro_30:5). But further quotation is superfluous, as the 119th Psalm is almost wholly occupied with this subject. Certainly, whenever God thus recommends his word, he indirectly rebukes our unbelief, the purport of all that is said being to eradicate perverse doubt from our hearts. There are very many also who form such an idea of the divine mercy as yields them very little comfort. For they are harassed by miserable anxiety while they doubt whether God will be merciful to them. They think, indeed, that they are most fully persuaded of the divine mercy, but they confine it within too narrow limits. The idea they entertain is, that this mercy is great and abundant, is shed upon many, is offered and ready to be bestowed upon all; but that it is uncertain whether it will reach to them individually, or rather whether they can reach to it. Thus their knowledge stopping short leaves them only mid-way; not so much confirming and tranquilizing the mind as harassing it with doubt and disquietude. Very different is that feeling of full assurance (ple4roforia) which the Scriptures uniformly attribute to faith – an assurance which leaves no doubt that the goodness of God is clearly offered to us. This assurance we cannot have without truly perceiving its sweetness, and experiencing it in ourselves. Hence from faith the Apostle deduces confidence, and from confidence boldness. His words are, “In whom (Christ) we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Eph_3:12) thus undoubtedly showing that our faith is not true unless it enables us to appear calmly in the presence of God. Such boldness springs only from confidence in the divine favor and salvation. So true is this, that the term faith is often used as equivalent to confidence.
16. The principal hinge on which faith turns is this: We must not suppose that any promises of mercy which the Lord offers are only true out of us, and not at all in us: we should rather make them ours by inwardly embracing them. In this way only is engendered that confidence which he elsewhere terms peace (Rom_5:1); though perhaps he rather means to make peace follow from it. This is the security which quiets and calms the conscience in the view of the judgment of God, and without which it is necessarily vexed and almost torn with tumultuous dread, unless when it happens to slumber for a moment, forgetful both of God and of itself. And verily it is but for a moment. It never long enjoys that miserable obliviousness, for the memory of the divine judgment, ever and anon recurring, stings it to the quick. In one word, he only is a true believer who, firmly persuaded that God is reconciled, and is a kind Father to him, hopes everything from his kindness, who, trusting to the promises of the divine favor, with undoubting confidence anticipates salvation; as the Apostle shows in these words, “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Heb_3:14). He thus holds, that none hope well in the Lord save those who confidently glory in being the heirs of the heavenly kingdom. No man, I say, is a believer but he who, trusting to the security of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death, as we are taught by the noble exclamation of Paul, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom_8:38). In like manner, the same Apostle does not consider that the eyes of our understanding are enlightened unless we know what is the hope of the eternal inheritance to which we are called (Eph_1:18). Thus he uniformly intimates throughout his writings, that the goodness of God is not properly comprehended when security does not follow as its fruit.
17. But it will be said that this differs widely from the experience of believers, who, in recognizing the grace of God toward them, not only feel disquietude (this often happens), but sometimes tremble, overcome with terror, so violent are the temptations which assail their minds. This scarcely seems consistent with certainty of faith. It is necessary to solve this difficulty, in order to maintain the doctrine above laid down. When we say that faith must be certain and secure, we certainly speak not of an assurance which is never affected by doubt, nor a security which anxiety never assails; we rather maintain that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own distrust, and are thus far from thinking that their consciences possess a placid quiet, uninterrupted by perturbation. On the other hand, whatever be the mode in which they are assailed, we deny that they fall off and abandon that sure confidence which they have formed in the mercy of God. Scripture does not set before us a brighter or more memorable example of faith than in David, especially if regard be had to the constant tenor of his life. And yet how far his mind was from being always at peace is declared by innumerable complaints, of which it will be sufficient to select a few. When he rebukes the turbulent movements of his soul, what else is it but a censure of his unbelief? “Why art thou cast down, my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God” (Psa_42:6). His alarm was undoubtedly a manifest sign of distrust, as if he thought that the Lord had forsaken him. In another passage we have a fuller confession: “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes” (Psa_31:22). In another passage, in anxious and wretched perplexity, he debates with himself, nay, raises a question as to the nature of God: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” (Psa_77:9). What follows is still harsher: “I said this is my infirmity; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” As if desperate, he adjudges himself to destruction. He not only confesses that he is agitated by doubt, but as if he had fallen in the contest, leaves himself nothing in reserve – God having deserted him, and made the hand which was wont to help him the instrument of his destruction. Wherefore, after having been tossed among tumultuous waves, it is not without reason he exhorts his soul to return to her quiet rest (Psa_116:7). And yet (what is strange) amid those commotions, faith sustains the believer’s heart, and truly acts the part of the palm tree, which supports any weights laid upon it, and rises above them; thus David, when he seemed to be overwhelmed, ceased not by urging himself forward to ascend to God. But he who anxiously contending with his own infirmity has recourse to faith, is already in a great measure victorious. This we may infer from the following passage, and others similar to it: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psa_27:14). He accuses himself of timidity, and repeating the same thing twice, confesses that he is ever and anon exposed to agitation. Still he is not only dissatisfied with himself for so feeling, but earnestly labors to correct it. Were we to take a nearer view of his case, and compare it with that of Ahaz, we should find a great difference between them. Isaiah is sent to relieve the anxiety of an impious and hypocritical king, and addresses him in these terms: “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not,” &c. (Isa_7:4). How did Ahab act? As has already been said, his heart was shaken as a tree is shaken by the wind: though he heard the promise, he ceased not to tremble. This, therefore, is the proper hire and punishment of unbelief, so to tremble as in the day of trial to turn away from God, who gives access to himself only by faith. On the other hand, believers, though weighed down and almost overwhelmed with the burden of temptation, constantly rise up, though not without toil and difficulty; hence, feeling conscious of their own weakness, they pray with the Prophet, “Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouths” (Psa_119:43). By these words, we are taught that they at times become dumb, as if their faith were overthrown, and yet that they do not withdraw or turn their backs, but persevere in the contest, and by prayer stimulate their sluggishness, so as not to fall into stupor by giving way to it. (See Calv. in Psa_88:16).
18. To make this intelligible, we must return to the distinction between flesh and spirit, to which we have already adverted, and which here becomes most apparent. The believer finds within himself two principles: the one filling him with delight in recognizing the divine goodness, the other filling him with bitterness under a sense of his fallen state; the one leading him to recline on the promise of the Gospel, the other alarming him by the conviction of his iniquity; the one making him exult with the anticipation of life, the other making him tremble with the fear of death. This diversity is owing to imperfection of faith, since we are never so well in the course of the present life as to be entirely cured of the disease of distrust, and completely replenished and engrossed by faith. Hence those conflicts: the distrust cleaving to the remains of the flesh rising up to assail the faith enlisting in our hearts. But if in the believer’s mind certainty is mingled with doubt, must we not always be carried back to the conclusion, that faith consists not of a sure and clear, but only of an obscure and confused, understanding of the divine will in regard to us? By no means. Though we are distracted by various thoughts, it does not follow that we are immediately divested of faith. Though we are agitated and carried to and fro by distrust, we are not immediately plunged into the abyss; though we are shaken, we are not therefore driven from our place. The invariable issue of the contest is, that faith in the long run surmounts the difficulties by which it was beset and seemed to be endangered.
19. The whole, then, comes to this: As soon as the minutest particle of faith is instilled into our minds, we begin to behold the face of God placid, serene, and propitious; far off, indeed, but still so distinctly as to assure us that there is no delusion in it. In proportion to the progress we afterwards make (and the progress ought to be uninterrupted), we obtain a nearer and surer view, the very continuance making it more familiar to us. Thus we see that a mind illumined with the knowledge of God is at first involved in much ignorance – ignorance, however, which is gradually removed. Still this partial ignorance or obscure discernment does not prevent that clear knowledge of the divine favor which holds the first and principal part in faith. For as one shut up in a prison, where from a narrow opening he receives the rays of the sun indirectly and in a manner divided, though deprived of a full view of the sun, has no doubt of the source from which the light comes, and is benefited by it; so believers, while bound with the fetters of an earthly body, though surrounded on all sides with much obscurity, are so far illumined by any slender light which beams upon them and displays the divine mercy as to feel secure.
20. The Apostle elegantly adverts to both in different passages. When he says, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part;” and “Now we see through a glass darkly” (1Co_13:9, 1Co_13:12), he intimates how very minute a portion of divine wisdom is given to us in the present life. For although those expressions do not simply indicate that faith is imperfect so long as we groan under a height of flesh, but that the necessity of being constantly engaged in learning is owing to our imperfection, he at the same time reminds us, that a subject which is of boundless extent cannot be comprehended by our feeble and narrow capacities. This Paul affirms of the whole Church, each individual being retarded and impeded by his own ignorance from making so near an approach as were to be wished. But that the foretaste which we obtain from any minute portion of faith is certain, and by no means fallacious, he elsewhere shows, when he affirms that “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Co_3:18). In such degrees of ignorance much doubt and trembling is necessarily implied, especially seeing that our heart is by its own natural bias prone to unbelief. To this we must add the temptations which, various in kind and infinite in number, are ever and anon violently assailing us. In particular, conscience itself, burdened with an incumbent load of sins, at one time complains and groans, at another accuses itself; at one time murmurs in secret, at another openly rebels. Therefore, whether adverse circumstances betoken the wrath of God, or conscience finds the subject and matter within itself, unbelief thence draws weapons and engines to put faith to flight, the aim of all its efforts being to make us think that God is adverse and hostile to us, and thus, instead of hoping for any assistance from him, to make us dread him as a deadly foe.

Chapter 2. Of faith. The definition of it. Its peculiar properties.This chapter consists of three principal parts. I. A brief explanation of certain matters pertaining to the doctrine of Faith, sec. 1-14. First, of the object of faith, sec. 1. Second, of Implicit Faith, sec. 2-6. Third, Definition of Faith, sec. 7. Fourth, the various meanings of the term Faith, sec. 8-13. II. A full exposition of the definition given in the seventh section, sec. 14-40. III. A brief confirmation of the definition by the authority of an Apostle. The mutual relation between faith, hope, and charity, sec. 41-43.Sections1. A brief recapitulation of the leading points of the whole discussion. The scope of this chapter. The necessity of the doctrine of faith. This doctrine obscured by the Schoolmen, who make God the object of faith, without referring to Christ. The Schoolmen refuted by various passages.2. The dogma of implicit faith refuted. It destroys faith, which consists in a knowledge of the divine will. What this will is, and how necessary the knowledge of it.3. Many things are and will continue to be implicitly believed. Faith, however, consists in the knowledge of God and Christ, not in a reverence for the Church. Another refutation from the absurdities to which this dogma leads.4. In what sense our faith may be said to be implicit. Examples in the Apostles, in the holy women, and in all believers.5. In some, faith is implicit, as being a preparation for faith. This, however, widely different from the implicit faith of the Schoolmen.6. The word of God has a similar relation to faith, the word being, as it were, the source and basis of faith, and the mirror in which it beholds God. Confirmation from various passages of Scripture. Without the knowledge of the word there can be no faith. Sum of the discussion of the Scholastic doctrine of implicit faith.7. What faith properly has respect to in the word of God, namely, the promise of grace offered in Christ, provided it be embraced with faith. Proper definition of faith.8. Scholastic distinction between faith formed and unformed, refuted by a consideration of the nature of faith, which, as the gift of the Spirit, cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.9. Objection from a passage of Paul. Answer to it. Error of the Schoolmen in giving only one meaning to faith, whereas it has many meanings. The testimony of faith improperly ascribed to two classes of men.10. View to be taken of this. Who those are that believe for a time. The faith of hypocrites. With whom they may be compared.11. Why faith attributed to the reprobate. Objection. Answer. What perception of grace in the reprobate. How the elect are distinguished from the reprobate.12. Why faith is temporary in the reprobate, firm and perpetual in the elect. Reason in the case of the reprobate. Example. Why God is angry with his children. In what sense many are said to fall from faith.13. Various meanings of the term faith. 1. Taken for soundness in the faith. 2. Sometimes restricted to a particular object. 3. Signifies the ministry or testimony by which we are instructed in the faith.14. Definition of faith explained under six principal heads. 1. What meant by Knowledge in the definition.15. Why this knowledge must be sure and firm. Reason drawn from the consideration of our weakness. Another reason from the certainty of the promises of God.16. The leading point in this certainty. Its fruits. A description of the true believer.17. An objection to this certainty. Answer. Confirmation of the answer from the example of David. This enlarged upon from the opposite example of Ahab. Also from the uniform experience and the prayers of believers.18. For this reason the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit in the soul of the believer described. The issue of this conflict, the victory of faith.19. On the whole, the faith of the elect certain and indubitable. Conformation from analogy.20. Another confirmation from the testimony of an Apostle, making it apparent, that, though the faith of the elect is as yet imperfect, it is nevertheless firm and sure.21. A fuller explanation of the nature of faith. 1. When the believer is shaken with fear, he retakes himself to the bosom of a merciful God. 2. He does not even shun God when angry, but hopes in him. 3. He does not suffer unbelief to reign in his heart. 4. He opposes unbelief, and is never finally lost. 5. Faith, however often assailed, at length comes off victorious.22. Another species of fear, arising from a consideration of the judgment of God against the wicked. This also faith overcomes. Examples of this description, placed before the eyes of believers, repress presumption, and fix their faith in God.23. Nothing contrary to this in the exhortation of the Apostle to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fear and faith mutually connected. Confirmation from the words of a Prophet.24. This doctrine gives no countenance to the error of those who dream of a confidence mingled with incredulity. Refutation of this error, from a consideration of the dignity of Christ dwelling in us. The argument retorted. Refutation confirmed by the authority of an Apostle. What we ought to hold on this question.25. Confirmation of the preceding conclusion by a passage from Bernard.26. True fear caused in two ways, viz., when we are required to reverence God as a Father, and also to fear him as Lord.27. Objection from a passage in the Apostle John. Answer founded on the distinction between filial and servile fear.28. How faith is said to have respect to the divine benevolence. What comprehended under this benevolence. Confirmation from David and Paul.29. Of the Free Promise which is the foundation of Faith. Reason. Confirmation.30. Faith not divided in thus seeking a Free Promise in the Gospel. Reason. Conclusion confirmed by another reason.31. The word of God the prop and root of faith. The word attests the divine goodness and mercy. In what sense faith has respect to the power of God. Various passages of Isaiah, inviting the godly to behold the power of God, explained. Other passages from David. We must beware of going beyond the limits prescribed by the word, lest false zeal lead us astray, as it did Sarah, Rebekah, and Isaac. In this way faith is obscured, though not extinguished. We must not depart one iota from the word of God.32. All the promises included in Christ. Two objections answered. A third objection drawn from example. Answer explaining the faith of Naaman, Cornelius, and the Eunuch.33. Faith revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. 1. The mind is purified so as to have a relish for divine truth. 2. The mind is thus established in the truth by the agency of the Holy Spirit.34. Proof of the former. 1. By reason. 2. By Scripture. 3. By example. 4. By analogy.35. 5. By the excellent qualities of faith. 6. By a celebrated passage from Augustine.36. Proof of the latter by the argument a minore ad majus. Why the Spirit is called a seal, an earnest, and the Spirit of promise.37. Believers sometimes shaken, but not so as to perish finally. They ultimately overcome their trials, and remain steadfast. Proofs from Scripture.38. Objection of the Schoolmen. Answer. Attempt to support the objection by a passage in Ecclesiastes. Answer, explaining the meaning of the passage.39. Another objection, charging the elect in Christ with rashness and presumption. Answer. Answer confirmed by various passages from the Apostle Paul. Also from John and Isaiah.40. A third objection, impugning the final perseverance of the elect. Answer by an Apostle. Summary of the refutation.41. The definition of faith accords with that given by the Apostle in the Hebrews. Explanation of this definition. Refutation of the scholastic error, that charity is prior to faith and hope.42. Hope the inseparable attendant of true faith. Reason. Connection between faith and hope. Mutually support each other. Obvious from the various forms of temptation, that the aid of hope necessary to establish faith.43. The terms faith and hope sometimes confounded. Refutation of the Schoolmen, who attribute a twofold foundation to hope, viz., the grace of God and the merit of works.1. All these things will be easily understood after we have given a clearer definition of faith, so as to enable the readers to apprehend its nature and power. Here it is of importance to call to mind what was formerly taught, first, That since God by his Law prescribes what we ought to do, failure in any one respect subjects us to the dreadful judgment of eternal death, which it denounces. Secondly, Because it is not only difficult, but altogether beyond our strength and ability, to fulfill the demands of the Law, if we look only to ourselves and consider what is due to our merits, no ground of hope remains, but we lie forsaken of God under eternal death. Thirdly, That there is only one method of deliverance which can rescue us from this miserable calamity, viz., when Christ the Redeemer appears, by whose hand our heavenly Father, out of his infinite goodness and mercy, has been pleased to succor us, if we with true faith embrace this mercy, and with firm hope rest in it. It is now proper to consider the nature of this faith, by means of which, those who are adopted into the family of God obtain possession of the heavenly kingdom. For the accomplishment of so great an end, it is obvious that no mere opinion or persuasion is adequate. And the greater care and diligence is necessary in discussing the true nature of faith, from the pernicious delusions which many, in the present day, labour under with regard to it. Great numbers, on hearing the term, think that nothing more is meant than a certain common assent to the Gospel History; nay, when the subject of faith is discussed in the Schools, by simply representing God as its object, they by empty speculation, as we have elsewhere said (Book 2, chap. 6, sec. 4), hurry wretched souls away from the right mark instead of directing them to it. For seeing that God dwells in light that is inaccessible, Christ must intervene. Hence he calls himself “the light of the world;” and in another passage, “the way, the truth, and the life.” None cometh to the Father (who is the fountain of life) except by him; for “no man knoweth who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” For this reason, Paul declares, “I count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” In the twentieth chapter of the Acts, he states that he preached “faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ;” and in another passage, he introduces Christ as thus addressing him: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness;” “delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,” – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified through faith which is in me.” Paul further declares, that in the person of Christ the glory of God is visibly manifested to us, or, which is the same thing, we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It is true, indeed, that faith has respect to God only; but to this we should add, that it acknowledges Jesus Christ whom he has sent. God would remain far off, concealed from us, were we not irradiated by the brightness of Christ. All that the Father had, he deposited with his only begotten Son, in order that he might manifest himself in him, and thus by the communication of blessings express the true image of his glory. Since, as has been said, we must be led by the Spirit, and thus stimulated to seek Christ, so must we also remember that the invisible Father is to be sought nowhere but in this image. For which reason Augustine treating of the object of faith (De Civitate Dei, lib. 11, ch. 2), elegantly says, “The thing to be known is, whither we are to go, and by what way;” and immediately after infers, that “the surest way to avoid all errors is to know him who is both God and man. It is to God we tend, and it is by man we go, and both of these are found only in Christ.” Paul, when he preaches faith towards God, surely does not intend to overthrow what he so often inculcates, viz., that faith has all its stability in Christ. Peter most appropriately connects both, saying, that by him “we believe in God” (1Pe_1:21).2. This evil, therefore, must, like innumerable others, be attributed to the Schoolmen, who have in a manner drawn a veil over Christ, to whom, if our eye is not directly turned, we must always wander through many labyrinths. But besides impairing, and almost annihilating, faith by their obscure definition, they have invented the fiction of implicit faith, with which name decking the grossest ignorance, they delude the wretched populace to their great destruction. Nay, to state the fact more truly and plainly, this fiction not only buries true faith, but entirely destroys it. Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church? Faith consists not in ignorance, but in knowledge – knowledge not of God merely, but of the divine will. We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace every dictate of the Church as true, or leave to the Church the province of inquiring and determining; but when we recognize God as a propitious Father through the reconciliation made by Christ, and Christ as given to us for righteousness, sanctification, and life. By this knowledge, I say, not by the submission of our understanding, we obtain an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. For when the Apostle says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom_10:10); he intimates, that it is not enough to believe implicitly without understanding, or even inquiring. The thing requisite is an explicit recognition of the divine goodness, in which our righteousness consists.3. I indeed deny not (so enveloped are we in ignorance), that to us very many things now are and will continue to be completely involved until we lay aside this weight of flesh, and approach nearer to the presence of God. In such cases the fittest course is to suspend our judgment, and resolve to maintain unity with the Church. But under this pretext, to honor ignorance tempered with humility with the name of faith, is most absurd. Faith consists in the knowledge of God and Christ (Joh_17:3), not in reverence for the Church. And we see what a labyrinth they have formed out of this implicit faith – every thing, sometimes even the most monstrous errors, being received by the ignorant as oracles without any discrimination, provided they are prescribed to them under the name of the Church. This inconsiderate facility, though the surest precipice to destruction, is, however, excused on the ground that it believes nothing definitely, but only with the appended condition, if such is the faith of the Church. Thus they pretend to find truth in error, light in darkness, true knowledge in ignorance. Not to dwell longer in refuting these views, we simply advise the reader to compare them with ours. The clearness of truth will itself furnish a sufficient refutation. For the question they raise is not, whether there may be an implicit faith with many remains of ignorance, but they maintain, that persons living and even indulging in a stupid ignorance duly believe, provided, in regard to things unknown, they assent to the authority and judgment of the Church: as if Scripture did not uniformly teach, that with faith understanding is conjoined.4. We grant, indeed, that so long as we are pilgrims in the world faith is implicit, not only because as yet many things are hidden from us, but because, involved in the mists of error, we attain not to all. The highest wisdom, even of him who has attained the greatest perfection, is to go forward, and endeavor in a calm and teachable spirit to make further progress. Hence Paul exhorts believers to wait for further illumination in any matter in which they differ from each other (Phi_3:15). And certainly experience teaches, that so long as we are in the flesh, our attainments are less than is to be desired. In our daily reading we fall in with many obscure passages which convict us of ignorance. With this curb God keeps us modest, assigning to each a measure of faith, that every teacher, however excellent, may still be disposed to learn. Striking examples of this implicit faith may be observed in the disciples of Christ before they were fully illuminated. We see with what difficulty they take in the first rudiments, how they hesitate in the minutest matters, how, though hanging on the lips of their Master, they make no great progress; nay, even after running to the sepulchre on the report of the women, the resurrection of their Master appears to them a dream. As Christ previously bore testimony to their faith, we cannot say that they were altogether devoid of it; nay, had they not been persuaded that Christ would rise again, all their zeal would have been extinguished. Nor was it superstition that led the women to prepare spices to embalm a dead body of whose revival they had no expectation; but, although they gave credit to the words of one whom they knew to be true, yet the ignorance which still possessed their minds involved their faith in darkness, and left them in amazement. Hence they are said to have believed only when, by the reality, they perceive the truth of what Christ had spoken; not that they then began to believe, but the seed of a hidden faith, which lay as it were dead in their hearts, then burst forth in vigor. They had, therefore, a true but implicit faith, having reverently embraced Christ as the only teacher. Then, being taught by him, they felt assured that he was the author of salvation: in fine, believed that he had come from heaven to gather disciples, and take them thither through the grace of the Father. There cannot be a more familiar proof of this, than that in all men faith is always mingled with incredulity.5. We may also call their faith implicit, as being properly nothing else than a preparation for faith. The Evangelists describe many as having believed, although they were only roused to admiration by the miracles, and went no farther than to believe that Christ was the promised Messiah, without being at all imbued with Evangelical doctrine. The reverence which subdued them, and made them willingly submit to Christ, is honored with the name of faith, though it was nothing but the commencement of it. Thus the nobleman who believed in the promised cure of his son, on returning home, is said by the Evangelist (Joh_4:53) to have again believed; that is, he had first received the words which fell from the lips of Christ as an oracular response, and thereafter submitted to his authority and received his doctrine. Although it is to be observed that he was docile and disposed to learn, yet the word “believed” in the former passage denotes a particular faith, and in the latter gives him a place among those disciples who had devoted themselves to Christ. Not unlike this is the example which John gives of the Samaritans who believed the women, and eagerly hastened to Christ; but, after they had heard him, thus express themselves, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (Joh_4:42). From these passages it is obvious, that even those who are not yet imbued with the first principles, provided they are disposed to obey, are called believers, not properly indeed, but inasmuch as God is pleased in kindness so highly to honor their pious feeling. But this docility, with a desire of further progress, is widely different from the gross ignorance in which those sluggishly indulge who are contented with the implicit faith of the Papists. If Paul severely condemns those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” how much more sharply ought those to be rebuked who avowedly affect to know nothing?6. The true knowledge of Christ consists in receiving him as he is offered by the Father, namely, as invested with his Gospel. For, as he is appointed as the end of our faith, so we cannot directly tend towards him except under the guidance of the Gospel. Therein are certainly unfolded to us treasures of grace. Did these continue shut, Christ would profit us little. Hence Paul makes faith the inseparable attendant of doctrine in these words, “Ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph_4:20, Eph_4:21). Still I do not confine faith to the Gospel in such a sense as not to admit that enough was delivered to Moses and the Prophets to form a foundation of faith; but as the Gospel exhibits a fuller manifestation of Christ, Paul justly terms it the doctrine of faith (1Ti_4:6). For which reason, also he elsewhere says, that, by the coming of faith, the Law was abolished (Rom_10:4), including under the expression a new and unwonted mode of teaching, by which Christ, from the period of his appearance as the great Master, gave a fuller illustration of the Father’s mercy, and testified more surely of our salvation. But an easier and more appropriate method will be to descend from the general to the particular. First, we must remember, that there is an inseparable relation between faith and the word, and that these can no more be disconnected from each other than rays of light from the sun. Hence in Isaiah the Lord exclaims, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa_4:3). And John points to this same fountain of faith in the following words, “These are written that ye might believe” (Joh_20:31). The Psalmist also exhorting the people to faith says, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice” (Psa_95:7), to hear being uniformly taken for to believe. In fine, in Isaiah the Lord distinguishes the members of the Church from strangers by this mark, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isa_54:13); for if the benefit was indiscriminate, why should he address his words only to a few? Corresponding with this, the Evangelists uniformly employ the terms believers and disciples as synonymous. This is done especially by Luke in several passages of the Acts. He even applies the term disciple to a woman (Act_9:36). Wherefore, if faith declines in the least degree from the mark at which it ought to aim, it does not retain its nature, but becomes uncertain credulity and vague wandering of mind. The same word is the basis on which it rests and is sustained. Declining from it, it falls. Take away the word, therefore, and no faith will remain. We are not here discussing, whether, in order to propagate the word of God by which faith is engendered, the ministry of man is necessary (this will be considered elsewhere); but we say that the word itself, whatever be the way in which it is conveyed to us, is a kind of mirror in which faith beholds God. In this, therefore, whether God uses the agency of man, or works immediately by his own power, it is always by his word that he manifests himself to those whom he designs to draw to himself. Hence Paul designates faith as the obedience which is given to the Gospel (Rom_1:5); and writing to the Philippians, he commends them for the obedience of faith (Phi_2:17). For faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but also, nay chiefly, a perception of his will toward us. It concerns us to know not only what he is in himself, but also in what character he is pleased to manifest himself to us. We now see, therefore, that faith is the knowledge of the divine will in regard to us, as ascertained from his word. And the foundation of it is a previous persuasion of the truth of God. So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds from him is sacred, inviolable truth.7. But since the heart of man is not brought to faith by every word of God, we must still consider what it is that faith properly has respect to in the word. The declaration of God to Adam was, “Thou shalt surely die” (Gen_2:17); and to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen_4:10); but these, so far from being fitted to establish faith, tend only to shake it. At the same time, we deny not that it is the office of faith to assent to the truth of God whenever, whatever, and in whatever way he speaks: we are only inquiring what faith can find in the word of God to lean and rest upon. When conscience sees only wrath and indignation, how can it but tremble and be afraid? and how can it avoid shunning the God whom it thus dreads? But faith ought to seek God, not shun him. It is evident, therefore, that we have not yet obtained a full definition of faith, it being impossible to give the name to every kind of knowledge of the divine will. Shall we, then, for “will”, which is often the messenger of bad news and the herald of terror, substitute the benevolence or mercy of God? In this way, doubtless, we make a nearer approach to the nature of faith. For we are allured to seek God when told that our safety is treasured up in him; and we are confirmed in this when he declares that he studies and takes an interest in our welfare. Hence there is need of the gracious promise, in which he testifies that he is a propitious Father; since there is no other way in which we can approach to him, the promise being the only thing on which the heart of man can recline. For this reason, the two things, mercy and truth, are uniformly conjoined in the Psalms as having a mutual connection with each other. For it were of no avail to us to know that God is true, did He not in mercy allure us to himself; nor could we of ourselves embrace his mercy did not He expressly offer it. “I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth. Withhold not thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy loving-kindness and thy truth continually preserve me” (Psa_40:10,Psa_40:11). “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (Psa_36:5). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psa_25:10). “His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever” (Psa_117:2). “I will praise thy name for thy loving-kindness and thy truth” (Psa_138:2). I need not quote what is said in the Prophets, to the effect that God is merciful and faithful in his promises. It were presumptuous in us to hold that God is propitious to us, had we not his own testimony, and did he not prevent us by his invitation, which leaves no doubt or uncertainty as to his will. It has already been seen that Christ is the only pledge of love, for without him all things, both above and below speak of hatred and wrath. We have also seen, that since the knowledge of the divine goodness cannot be of much importance unless it leads us to confide in it, we must exclude a knowledge mingled with doubt – a knowledge which, so far from being firm, is continually wavering. But the human mind, when blinded and darkened, is very far from being able to rise to a proper knowledge of the divine will; nor can the heart, fluctuating with perpetual doubt, rest secure in such knowledge. Hence, in order that the word of God may gain full credit, the mind must be enlightened, and the heart confirmed, from some other quarter. We shall now have a full definition of faith, if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.8. But before I proceed farther, it will be necessary to make some preliminary observations for the purpose of removing difficulties which might otherwise obstruct the reader. And first, I must refute the nugatory distinction of the Schoolmen as to formed and unformed faith. For they imagine that persons who have no fear of God, and no sense of piety, may believe all that is necessary to be known for salvation; as if the Holy Spirit were not the witness of our adoption by enlightening our hearts unto faith. Still, however, though the whole Scripture is against them, they dogmatically give the name of faith to a persuasion devoid of the fear of God. It is unnecessary to go farther in refuting their definition, than simply to state the nature of faith as declared in the word of God. From this it will clearly appear how unskillfully and absurdly they babble, rather than discourse, on this subject. I have already done this in part, and will afterwards add the remainder in its proper place. At present, I say that nothing can be imagined more absurd than their fiction. They insist that faith is an assent with which any despiser of God may receive what is delivered by Scripture. But we must first see whether any one can by his own strength acquire faith, or whether the Holy Spirit, by means of it, becomes the witness of adoption. Hence it is childish trifling in them to inquire whether the faith formed by the supervening quality of love be the same, or a different and new faith. By talking in this style, they show plainly that they have never thought of the special gift of the Spirit; since one of the first elements of faith is reconciliation implied in man’s drawing near to God. Did they duly ponder the saying of Paul, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom_10:10), they would cease to dream of that frigid quality. There is one consideration which ought at once to put an end to the debate, viz., that assent itself (as I have already observed, and will afterwards more fully illustrate) is more a matter of the heart than the head, of the affection than the intellect. For this reason, it is termed “the obedience of faith” (Rom_1:5), which the Lord prefers to all other service, and justly, since nothing is more precious to him than his truth, which, as John Baptist declares, is in a manner signed and sealed by believers (Joh_3:33). As there can be no doubt on the matter, we in one word conclude, that they talk absurdly when they maintain that faith is formed by the addition of pious affection as an accessory to assent, since assent itself, such at least as the Scriptures describe, consists in pious affection. But we are furnished with a still clearer argument. Since faith embraces Christ as he is offered by the Father, and he is offered not only for justification, for forgiveness of sins and peace, but also for sanctification, as the fountain of living waters, it is certain that no man will ever know him aright without at the same time receiving the sanctification of the Spirit; or, to express the matter more plainly, faith consists in the knowledge of Christ; Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.9. In their attempt to mar faith by divesting it of love, they are wont to insist on the words of Paul, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1Co_13:2). But they do not consider what the faith is of which the Apostle there speaks. Having, in the previous chapter, discoursed of the various gifts of the Spirit (1Co_12:10), including diversity of tongues, miracles, and prophecy, and exhorted the Corinthians to follow the better gifts, in other words, those from which the whole body of the Church would derive greater benefit, he adds, “Yet show I unto you a more excellent way” (1Co_12:30). All other gifts, how excellent soever they may be in themselves, are of no value unless they are subservient to charity. They were given for the edification of the Church, and fail of their purpose if not so applied. To prove this he adopts a division, repeating the same gifts which he had mentioned before, but under different names. Miracles and faith are used to denote the same thing, viz., the power of working miracles. Seeing, then, that this miraculous power or faith is the particular gift of God, which a wicked man may possess and abuse, as the gift of tongues, prophecy, or other gifts, it is not strange that he separates it from charity. Their whole error lies in this, that while the term faith has a variety of meanings, overlooking this variety, they argue as if its meaning were invariably one and the same. The passage of James, by which they endeavor to defend their error, will be elsewhere discussed (infra, chap. 17, sec. 11). Although, in discoursing of faith, we admit that it has a variety of forms; yet, when our object is to show what knowledge of God the wicked possess, we hold and maintain, in accordance with Scripture, that the pious only have faith. Multitudes undoubtedly believe that God is, and admit the truth of the Gospel History, and the other parts of Scripture, in the same way in which they believe the records of past events, or events which they have actually witnessed. There are some who go even farther: they regard the Word of God as an infallible oracle; they do not altogether disregard its precepts, but are moved to some degree by its threatening and promises. To such the testimony of faith is attributed, but by catachresis; because they do not with open impiety impugn, reject, or condemn, the Word of God, but rather exhibit some semblance of obedience.10. But as this shadow or image of faith is of no moment, so it is unworthy of the name. How far it differs from true faith will shortly be explained at length. Here, however, we may just indicate it in passing. Simon Magus is said to have believed, though he soon after gave proof of his unbelief (Act_8:13-18). In regard to the faith attributed to him, we do not understand with some, that he merely pretended a belief which had no existence in his heart: we rather think that, overcome by the majesty of the Gospel, he yielded some kind of assent, and so far acknowledged Christ to be the author of life and salvation, as willingly to assume his name. In like manner, in the Gospel of Luke, those in whom the seed of the word is choked before it brings forth fruit, or in whom, from having no depth of earth, it soon withereth away, are said to believe for a time. Such, we doubt not, eagerly receive the word with a kind of relish, and have some feeling of its divine power, so as not only to impose upon men by a false semblance of faith, but even to impose upon themselves. They imagine that the reverence which they give to the word is genuine piety, because they have no idea of any impiety but that which consists in open and avowed contempt. But whatever that assent may be, it by no means penetrates to the heart, so as to have a fixed seat there. Although it sometimes seems to have planted its roots, these have no life in them. The human heart has so many recesses for vanity, so many lurking places for falsehood, is so shrouded by fraud and hypocrisy, that it often deceives itself. Let those who glory in such semblances of faith know that, in this respect, they are not a whit superior to devils. The one class, indeed, is inferior to them, inasmuch as they are able without emotion to hear and understand things, the knowledge of which makes devils tremble (Jam_2:19). The other class equals them in this, that whatever be the impression made upon them, its only result is terror and consternation.11. I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.12. Although faith is a knowledge of the divine favor towards us, and a full persuasion of its truth, it is not strange that the sense of the divine love, which though akin to faith differs much from it, vanishes in those who are temporarily impressed. The will of God is, I confess, immutable, and his truth is always consistent with itself; but I deny that the reprobate ever advance so far as to penetrate to that secret revelation which Scripture reserves for the elect only. I therefore deny that they either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but will in process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. In short, as by the revolt of the first man, the image of God could be effaced from his mind and soul, so there is nothing strange in His shedding some rays of grace on the reprobate, and afterwards allowing these to be extinguished. There is nothing to prevent His giving some a slight knowledge of his Gospel, and imbuing others thoroughly. Meanwhile, we must remember that however feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts, whereas the light which glimmers in the reprobate is afterwards quenched. Nor can it be said that the Spirit therefore deceives, because he does not quicken the seed which lies in their hearts so as to make it ever remain incorruptible as in the elect. I go farther: seeing it is evident, from the doctrine of Scripture and from daily experience, that the reprobate are occasionally impressed with a sense of divine grace, some desire of mutual love must necessarily be excited in their hearts. Thus for a time a pious affection prevailed in Saul, disposing him to love God. Knowing that he was treated with paternal kindness, he was in some degree attracted by it. But as the reprobate have no rooted conviction of the paternal love of God, so they do not in return yield the love of sons, but are led by a kind of mercenary affection. The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom_5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them or their sins, and also propitious to their persons. It is not from fictitious dread that they deprecate his anger, and yet they retake themselves to him with tranquil confidence. It hence appears that the faith of some, though not true faith, is not mere pretence. They are borne along by some sudden impulse of zeal, and erroneously impose upon themselves, sloth undoubtedly preventing them from examining their hearts with due care. Such probably was the case of those whom John describes as believing on Christ; but of whom he says, “Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (Joh_2:24, Joh_2:25). Were it not true that many fall away from the common faith (I call it common, because there is a great resemblance between temporary and living, everduring faith), Christ would not have said to his disciples, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Joh_8:31, Joh_8:32). He is addressing those who had embraced his doctrine, and urging them to progress in the faith, lest by their sluggishness they extinguish the light which they have received. Accordingly, Paul claims faith as the peculiar privilege of the elect, intimating that many, from not being properly rooted, fall away (Tit_1:1). In the same way, in Matthew, our Savior says, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up” (Mat_16:13). Some who are not ashamed to insult God and man are more grossly false. Against this class of men, who profane the faith by impious and lying pretence, James inveighs (Jam_2:14). Nor would Paul require the faith of believers to be unfeigned (1Ti_1:5), were there not many who presumptuously arrogate to themselves what they have not, deceiving others, and sometimes even themselves, with empty show. Hence he compares a good conscience to the ark in which faith is preserved, because many, by falling away, have in regard to it made shipwreck.13. It is necessary to attend to the ambiguous meaning of the term: for faith is often equivalent in meaning to sound doctrine, as in the passage which we lately quoted, and in the same epistle where Paul enjoins the deacons to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience;” in like manner, when he denounces the defection of certain from the faith. The meaning again is the same, when he says that Timothy had been brought up in the faith; and in like manner, when he says that profane babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so called, lead many away from the faith. Such persons he elsewhere calls reprobate as to the faith. On the other hand, when he enjoins Titus, “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;” by soundness he means purity of doctrine, which is easily corrupted, and degenerates through the fickleness of men. And indeed, since in Christ, as possessed by faith, are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col_1:2, Col_1:3), the term faith is justly extended to the whole sum of heavenly doctrine, from which it cannot be separated. On the other hand, it is sometimes confined to a particular object, as when Matthew says of those who let down the paralytic through the roof, that Jesus saw their faith (Mat_9:2); and Jesus himself exclaims in regard to the centurion, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Mat_8:10). Now, it is probable that the centurion was thinking only of the cure of his son, by whom his whole soul was engrossed; but because he is satisfied with the simple answer and assurance of Christ, and does not request his bodily presence, this circumstance calls forth the eulogium on his faith. And we have lately shown how Paul uses the term faith for the gift of miracles – a gift possessed by persons who were neither regenerated by the Spirit of God, nor sincerely reverenced him. In another passage, he uses faith for the doctrine by which we are instructed in the faith. For when he says, that “that which is in part shall be done away” (1Co_13:10), there can be no doubt that reference is made to the ministry of the Church, which is necessary in our present imperfect state; in these forms of expression the analogy is obvious. But when the name of faith is improperly transferred to a false profession or lying assumption, the catachresis ought not to seem harsher than when the fear of God is used for vicious and perverse worship; as when it is repeatedly said in sacred history, that the foreign nations which had been transported to Samaria and the neighbouring districts, feared false gods and the God of Israel: in other words, confounded heaven with earth. But we have now been inquiring what the faith is, which distinguishes the children of God from unbelievers, the faith by which we invoke God the Father, by which we pass from death unto life, and by which Christ our eternal salvation and life dwells in us. Its power and nature have, I trust, been briefly and clearly explained.14. Let us now again go over the parts of the definition separately: I should think that, after a careful examination of them, no doubt will remain. By knowledge we do not mean comprehension, such as that which we have of things falling under human sense. For that knowledge is so much superior, that the human mind must far surpass and go beyond itself in order to reach it. Nor even when it has reached it does it comprehend what it feels, but persuaded of what it comprehends not, it understands more from mere certainty of persuasion than it could discern of any human matter by its own capacity. Hence it is elegantly described by Paul as ability “to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph_3:18, Eph_3:19). His object was to intimate, that what our mind embraces by faith is every way infinite, that this kind of knowledge far surpasses all understanding. But because the “mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations” is now “made manifest to the saints” (Col_1:26), faith is, for good reason, occasionally termed in Scripture understanding (Col_2:2); and knowledge, as by John (1Jo_3:2), when he declares that believers know themselves to be the sons of God. And certainly they do know, but rather as confirmed by a belief of the divine veracity than taught by any demonstration of reason. This is also indicated by Paul when he says, that “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight)” (2Co_5:6, 2Co_5:7:) thus showing, that what we understand by faith is yet distant from us and escapes our view. Hence we conclude that the knowledge of faith consists more of certainty than discernment.15. We add, that it is sure and firm, the better to express strength and constancy of persuasion. For as faith is not contented with a dubious and fickle opinion, so neither is it contented with an obscure and ill-defined conception. The certainty which it requires must be full and decisive, as is usual in regard to matters ascertained and proved. So deeply rooted in our hearts is unbelief, so prone are we to it, that while all confess with the lips that God is faithful, no man ever believes it without an arduous struggle. Especially when brought to the test, we by our wavering betray the vice which lurked within. Nor is it without cause that the Holy Spirit bears such distinguished testimony to the authority of God, in order that it may cure the disease of which I have spoken, and induce us to give full credit to the divine promises: “The words of the Lord” (says David, Psa_12:6) “are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times:” “The word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him” (Psa_18:30). And Solomon declares the same thing almost in the same words, “Every word of God is pure” (Pro_30:5). But further quotation is superfluous, as the 119th Psalm is almost wholly occupied with this subject. Certainly, whenever God thus recommends his word, he indirectly rebukes our unbelief, the purport of all that is said being to eradicate perverse doubt from our hearts. There are very many also who form such an idea of the divine mercy as yields them very little comfort. For they are harassed by miserable anxiety while they doubt whether God will be merciful to them. They think, indeed, that they are most fully persuaded of the divine mercy, but they confine it within too narrow limits. The idea they entertain is, that this mercy is great and abundant, is shed upon many, is offered and ready to be bestowed upon all; but that it is uncertain whether it will reach to them individually, or rather whether they can reach to it. Thus their knowledge stopping short leaves them only mid-way; not so much confirming and tranquilizing the mind as harassing it with doubt and disquietude. Very different is that feeling of full assurance (ple4roforia) which the Scriptures uniformly attribute to faith – an assurance which leaves no doubt that the goodness of God is clearly offered to us. This assurance we cannot have without truly perceiving its sweetness, and experiencing it in ourselves. Hence from faith the Apostle deduces confidence, and from confidence boldness. His words are, “In whom (Christ) we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Eph_3:12) thus undoubtedly showing that our faith is not true unless it enables us to appear calmly in the presence of God. Such boldness springs only from confidence in the divine favor and salvation. So true is this, that the term faith is often used as equivalent to confidence.16. The principal hinge on which faith turns is this: We must not suppose that any promises of mercy which the Lord offers are only true out of us, and not at all in us: we should rather make them ours by inwardly embracing them. In this way only is engendered that confidence which he elsewhere terms peace (Rom_5:1); though perhaps he rather means to make peace follow from it. This is the security which quiets and calms the conscience in the view of the judgment of God, and without which it is necessarily vexed and almost torn with tumultuous dread, unless when it happens to slumber for a moment, forgetful both of God and of itself. And verily it is but for a moment. It never long enjoys that miserable obliviousness, for the memory of the divine judgment, ever and anon recurring, stings it to the quick. In one word, he only is a true believer who, firmly persuaded that God is reconciled, and is a kind Father to him, hopes everything from his kindness, who, trusting to the promises of the divine favor, with undoubting confidence anticipates salvation; as the Apostle shows in these words, “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Heb_3:14). He thus holds, that none hope well in the Lord save those who confidently glory in being the heirs of the heavenly kingdom. No man, I say, is a believer but he who, trusting to the security of his salvation, confidently triumphs over the devil and death, as we are taught by the noble exclamation of Paul, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom_8:38). In like manner, the same Apostle does not consider that the eyes of our understanding are enlightened unless we know what is the hope of the eternal inheritance to which we are called (Eph_1:18). Thus he uniformly intimates throughout his writings, that the goodness of God is not properly comprehended when security does not follow as its fruit.17. But it will be said that this differs widely from the experience of believers, who, in recognizing the grace of God toward them, not only feel disquietude (this often happens), but sometimes tremble, overcome with terror, so violent are the temptations which assail their minds. This scarcely seems consistent with certainty of faith. It is necessary to solve this difficulty, in order to maintain the doctrine above laid down. When we say that faith must be certain and secure, we certainly speak not of an assurance which is never affected by doubt, nor a security which anxiety never assails; we rather maintain that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own distrust, and are thus far from thinking that their consciences possess a placid quiet, uninterrupted by perturbation. On the other hand, whatever be the mode in which they are assailed, we deny that they fall off and abandon that sure confidence which they have formed in the mercy of God. Scripture does not set before us a brighter or more memorable example of faith than in David, especially if regard be had to the constant tenor of his life. And yet how far his mind was from being always at peace is declared by innumerable complaints, of which it will be sufficient to select a few. When he rebukes the turbulent movements of his soul, what else is it but a censure of his unbelief? “Why art thou cast down, my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God” (Psa_42:6). His alarm was undoubtedly a manifest sign of distrust, as if he thought that the Lord had forsaken him. In another passage we have a fuller confession: “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes” (Psa_31:22). In another passage, in anxious and wretched perplexity, he debates with himself, nay, raises a question as to the nature of God: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” (Psa_77:9). What follows is still harsher: “I said this is my infirmity; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” As if desperate, he adjudges himself to destruction. He not only confesses that he is agitated by doubt, but as if he had fallen in the contest, leaves himself nothing in reserve – God having deserted him, and made the hand which was wont to help him the instrument of his destruction. Wherefore, after having been tossed among tumultuous waves, it is not without reason he exhorts his soul to return to her quiet rest (Psa_116:7). And yet (what is strange) amid those commotions, faith sustains the believer’s heart, and truly acts the part of the palm tree, which supports any weights laid upon it, and rises above them; thus David, when he seemed to be overwhelmed, ceased not by urging himself forward to ascend to God. But he who anxiously contending with his own infirmity has recourse to faith, is already in a great measure victorious. This we may infer from the following passage, and others similar to it: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psa_27:14). He accuses himself of timidity, and repeating the same thing twice, confesses that he is ever and anon exposed to agitation. Still he is not only dissatisfied with himself for so feeling, but earnestly labors to correct it. Were we to take a nearer view of his case, and compare it with that of Ahaz, we should find a great difference between them. Isaiah is sent to relieve the anxiety of an impious and hypocritical king, and addresses him in these terms: “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not,” &c. (Isa_7:4). How did Ahab act? As has already been said, his heart was shaken as a tree is shaken by the wind: though he heard the promise, he ceased not to tremble. This, therefore, is the proper hire and punishment of unbelief, so to tremble as in the day of trial to turn away from God, who gives access to himself only by faith. On the other hand, believers, though weighed down and almost overwhelmed with the burden of temptation, constantly rise up, though not without toil and difficulty; hence, feeling conscious of their own weakness, they pray with the Prophet, “Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouths” (Psa_119:43). By these words, we are taught that they at times become dumb, as if their faith were overthrown, and yet that they do not withdraw or turn their backs, but persevere in the contest, and by prayer stimulate their sluggishness, so as not to fall into stupor by giving way to it. (See Calv. in Psa_88:16).18. To make this intelligible, we must return to the distinction between flesh and spirit, to which we have already adverted, and which here becomes most apparent. The believer finds within himself two principles: the one filling him with delight in recognizing the divine goodness, the other filling him with bitterness under a sense of his fallen state; the one leading him to recline on the promise of the Gospel, the other alarming him by the conviction of his iniquity; the one making him exult with the anticipation of life, the other making him tremble with the fear of death. This diversity is owing to imperfection of faith, since we are never so well in the course of the present life as to be entirely cured of the disease of distrust, and completely replenished and engrossed by faith. Hence those conflicts: the distrust cleaving to the remains of the flesh rising up to assail the faith enlisting in our hearts. But if in the believer’s mind certainty is mingled with doubt, must we not always be carried back to the conclusion, that faith consists not of a sure and clear, but only of an obscure and confused, understanding of the divine will in regard to us? By no means. Though we are distracted by various thoughts, it does not follow that we are immediately divested of faith. Though we are agitated and carried to and fro by distrust, we are not immediately plunged into the abyss; though we are shaken, we are not therefore driven from our place. The invariable issue of the contest is, that faith in the long run surmounts the difficulties by which it was beset and seemed to be endangered.19. The whole, then, comes to this: As soon as the minutest particle of faith is instilled into our minds, we begin to behold the face of God placid, serene, and propitious; far off, indeed, but still so distinctly as to assure us that there is no delusion in it. In proportion to the progress we afterwards make (and the progress ought to be uninterrupted), we obtain a nearer and surer view, the very continuance making it more familiar to us. Thus we see that a mind illumined with the knowledge of God is at first involved in much ignorance – ignorance, however, which is gradually removed. Still this partial ignorance or obscure discernment does not prevent that clear knowledge of the divine favor which holds the first and principal part in faith. For as one shut up in a prison, where from a narrow opening he receives the rays of the sun indirectly and in a manner divided, though deprived of a full view of the sun, has no doubt of the source from which the light comes, and is benefited by it; so believers, while bound with the fetters of an earthly body, though surrounded on all sides with much obscurity, are so far illumined by any slender light which beams upon them and displays the divine mercy as to feel secure.20. The Apostle elegantly adverts to both in different passages. When he says, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part;” and “Now we see through a glass darkly” (1Co_13:9, 1Co_13:12), he intimates how very minute a portion of divine wisdom is given to us in the present life. For although those expressions do not simply indicate that faith is imperfect so long as we groan under a height of flesh, but that the necessity of being constantly engaged in learning is owing to our imperfection, he at the same time reminds us, that a subject which is of boundless extent cannot be comprehended by our feeble and narrow capacities. This Paul affirms of the whole Church, each individual being retarded and impeded by his own ignorance from making so near an approach as were to be wished. But that the foretaste which we obtain from any minute portion of faith is certain, and by no means fallacious, he elsewhere shows, when he affirms that “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Co_3:18). In such degrees of ignorance much doubt and trembling is necessarily implied, especially seeing that our heart is by its own natural bias prone to unbelief. To this we must add the temptations which, various in kind and infinite in number, are ever and anon violently assailing us. In particular, conscience itself, burdened with an incumbent load of sins, at one time complains and groans, at another accuses itself; at one time murmurs in secret, at another openly rebels. Therefore, whether adverse circumstances betoken the wrath of God, or conscience finds the subject and matter within itself, unbelief thence draws weapons and engines to put faith to flight, the aim of all its efforts being to make us think that God is adverse and hostile to us, and thus, instead of hoping for any assistance from him, to make us dread him as a deadly foe.

Categories: Assurance, Doubt, Faith, Flesh Tags: ,

Ecclesiastes 8:14-17 – Matthew Henry

July 14, 2010 Comments off
Ecc 8:14  There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
Ecc 8:15  Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
Ecc 8:16  When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)
Ecc 8:17  Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.
Wise and good men have, of old, been perplexed with this difficulty, how the prosperity of the wicked and the troubles of the righteous can be reconciled with the holiness and goodness of the God that governs the world. Concerning this Solomon here gives us his advice.
I. He would not have us to be surprised at it, as though some strange thing happened, for he himself saw it in his days, Ecc_8:14. 1. He saw just men to whom it happened according to the work of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their righteousness, suffered very hard things, and continued long to do so, as if they were to be punished for some great wickedness. 2. He saw wicked men to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous, who prospered as remarkably as if they had been rewarded for some good deed, and that from themselves, from God, from men. We see the just troubled and perplexed in their own minds, the wicked easy, fearless, and secure, – the just crossed and afflicted by the divine Providence, the wicked prosperous, successful, and smiled upon, – the just, censured, reproached, and run down, by the higher powers, the wicked applauded and preferred.
II. He would have us to take occasion hence, not to charge God with iniquity, but to charge the world with vanity. No fault is to be found with God; but, as to the world, This is vanity upon the earth, and again, This is also vanity, that is, it is a certain evidence that the things of this world are not the best things nor were ever designed to make a portion and happiness for us, for, if they had, God would not have allotted so much of this world’s wealth to his worst enemies and so much of its troubles to his best friends; there must therefore be another life after this the joys and griefs of which must be real and substantial, and able to make men truly happy or truly miserable, for this world does neither.
III. He would have us not to fret and perplex ourselves about it, or make ourselves uneasy, but cheerfully to enjoy what God has given us in the world, to be content with it and make the best of it, though it be much better with others, and such as we think very unworthy (Ecc_8:15): Then I commended joy, a holy security and serenity of mind, arising from a confidence in God, and his power, providence, and promise, because a man has no better thing under the sun (though a good man has much better things above the sun) than to eat and drink, that is, soberly and thankfully to make use of the things of this life according as his rank is, and to be cheerful, whatever happens, for that shall abide with him of his labour. That is all the fruit he has for himself of the pains that he takes in the business of the world; let him therefore take it, and much good may it do him; and let him not deny himself that, out of a peevish discontent because the world does not go as he would have it. That shall abide with him during the days of his life which God gives him under the sun. Our present life is a life under the sun, but we look for the life of the world to come, which will commence and continue when the sun shall be turned into darkness and shine no more. This present life must be reckoned by days; this life is given us, and the days of it are allotted to us, by the counsel of God, and therefore while it does last we must accommodate ourselves to the will of God and study to answer the ends of life.
IV. He would not have us undertake to give a reason for that which God does, for his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, past finding out, and therefore we must be contentedly and piously ignorant of the meaning of God’s proceedings in the government of the world, Ecc_8:16, Ecc_8:17. Here he shows, 1. That both he himself and many others had very closely studied the point, and searched far into the reasons of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous. He, for his part, had applied his heart to know this wisdom, and to see the business that is done, by the divine Providence, upon the earth, to find out if there were any certain scheme, any constant rule or method, by which the affairs of this lower world were administered, any course of government as sure and steady as the course of nature, so that by what is done now we might as certainly foretel what will be done next as by the moon’s changing now we can foretel when it will be at the full; this he would fain have found out. Others had likewise set themselves to make this enquiry with so close an application that they could not find time for sleep, either day or night, nor find in their hearts to sleep, so full of anxiety were they about these things. Some think Solomon speaks of himself, that he was so eager in prosecuting this great enquiry that he could not sleep for thinking of it. 2. That it was all labour in vain, Ecc_8:17. When we look upon all the works of God and his providence, and compare one part with another, we cannot find that there is any such certain method by which the work that is done under the sun is directed; we cannot discover any key by which to decipher the character, nor by consulting precedents can we know the practice of this court, nor what the judgment will be. [1.] Though a man be ever so industrious, thou he labour to seek it out. [2.] Though he be ever so ingenious, though he be a wise man in other things, and can fathom the counsels of kings themselves and trace them by their footsteps. Nay, [3.] Though he be very confident of success, though he think to know it, yet he shall not; he cannot find it out. God’s ways are above ours, nor is he tied to his own former ways, but his judgments are a great deep.

Ecc 8:14-17  Wise and good men have, of old, been perplexed with this difficulty, how the prosperity of the wicked and the troubles of the righteous can be reconciled with the holiness and goodness of the God that governs the world. Concerning this Solomon here gives us his advice.I. He would not have us to be surprised at it, as though some strange thing happened, for he himself saw it in his days, Ecc_8:14. 1. He saw just men to whom it happened according to the work of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their righteousness, suffered very hard things, and continued long to do so, as if they were to be punished for some great wickedness. 2. He saw wicked men to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous, who prospered as remarkably as if they had been rewarded for some good deed, and that from themselves, from God, from men. We see the just troubled and perplexed in their own minds, the wicked easy, fearless, and secure, – the just crossed and afflicted by the divine Providence, the wicked prosperous, successful, and smiled upon, – the just, censured, reproached, and run down, by the higher powers, the wicked applauded and preferred.II. He would have us to take occasion hence, not to charge God with iniquity, but to charge the world with vanity. No fault is to be found with God; but, as to the world, This is vanity upon the earth, and again, This is also vanity, that is, it is a certain evidence that the things of this world are not the best things nor were ever designed to make a portion and happiness for us, for, if they had, God would not have allotted so much of this world’s wealth to his worst enemies and so much of its troubles to his best friends; there must therefore be another life after this the joys and griefs of which must be real and substantial, and able to make men truly happy or truly miserable, for this world does neither.III. He would have us not to fret and perplex ourselves about it, or make ourselves uneasy, but cheerfully to enjoy what God has given us in the world, to be content with it and make the best of it, though it be much better with others, and such as we think very unworthy (Ecc_8:15): Then I commended joy, a holy security and serenity of mind, arising from a confidence in God, and his power, providence, and promise, because a man has no better thing under the sun (though a good man has much better things above the sun) than to eat and drink, that is, soberly and thankfully to make use of the things of this life according as his rank is, and to be cheerful, whatever happens, for that shall abide with him of his labour. That is all the fruit he has for himself of the pains that he takes in the business of the world; let him therefore take it, and much good may it do him; and let him not deny himself that, out of a peevish discontent because the world does not go as he would have it. That shall abide with him during the days of his life which God gives him under the sun. Our present life is a life under the sun, but we look for the life of the world to come, which will commence and continue when the sun shall be turned into darkness and shine no more. This present life must be reckoned by days; this life is given us, and the days of it are allotted to us, by the counsel of God, and therefore while it does last we must accommodate ourselves to the will of God and study to answer the ends of life.IV. He would not have us undertake to give a reason for that which God does, for his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, past finding out, and therefore we must be contentedly and piously ignorant of the meaning of God’s proceedings in the government of the world, Ecc_8:16, Ecc_8:17. Here he shows, 1. That both he himself and many others had very closely studied the point, and searched far into the reasons of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous. He, for his part, had applied his heart to know this wisdom, and to see the business that is done, by the divine Providence, upon the earth, to find out if there were any certain scheme, any constant rule or method, by which the affairs of this lower world were administered, any course of government as sure and steady as the course of nature, so that by what is done now we might as certainly foretel what will be done next as by the moon’s changing now we can foretel when it will be at the full; this he would fain have found out. Others had likewise set themselves to make this enquiry with so close an application that they could not find time for sleep, either day or night, nor find in their hearts to sleep, so full of anxiety were they about these things. Some think Solomon speaks of himself, that he was so eager in prosecuting this great enquiry that he could not sleep for thinking of it. 2. That it was all labour in vain, Ecc_8:17. When we look upon all the works of God and his providence, and compare one part with another, we cannot find that there is any such certain method by which the work that is done under the sun is directed; we cannot discover any key by which to decipher the character, nor by consulting precedents can we know the practice of this court, nor what the judgment will be. [1.] Though a man be ever so industrious, thou he labour to seek it out. [2.] Though he be ever so ingenious, though he be a wise man in other things, and can fathom the counsels of kings themselves and trace them by their footsteps. Nay, [3.] Though he be very confident of success, though he think to know it, yet he shall not; he cannot find it out. God’s ways are above ours, nor is he tied to his own former ways, but his judgments are a great deep.

Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

July 6, 2010 Comments off

Mat 3:2  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mat_3:2.Repent ye

Matthew differs from the other two Evangelists in this respect, that he relates the substance of John’s doctrine, as uttered by John himself, while they relate it in their own words; though Mark has one word more than Luke: for he says, he came Baptizing, and preaching the baptism of repentance. But in substance there is the most perfect agreement: for they all connect repentance with the forgiveness of sins. The kingdom of God among men is nothing else than a restoration to a happy life; or, in other words, it is true and everlasting happiness. When John says, that the kingdom of God is at hand, his meaning is, that men, who were alienated from the righteousness of God, and banished from the kingdom of heaven, must be again gathered to God, and live under his guidance. This is accomplished by a free adoption and the forgiveness of sins, by which he reconciles to himself those who were unworthy. In a word, the kingdom of heaven is nothing else than “newness of life,” (Rom_6:4,) by which God restores us to the hope of a blessed immortality. Having rescued us from the bondage of sin and death, he claims us as his own; that, even while our pilgrimage on earth continues, we may enjoy the heavenly life by faith: for he “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph_1:3.)

Though we are like dead men, yet we know that our life is secure; for it “is hid with Christ in God,” (Col_3:3.)

From this doctrine, as its source, is drawn the exhortation to repentance. For John does not say, “Repent ye, and in this way the kingdom of heaven will afterwards be at hand;” but first brings forward the grace of God, and then exhorts men to repent. Hence it is evident, that the foundation of repentance is the mercy of God, by which he restores the lost. In no other sense is it stated by Mark and Luke, that he preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is not placed first, as some ignorantly suppose, as if it were the ground of the forgiveness of sins, or as if it induced God to begin to be gracious to us; but men are commanded to repent, that they may receive the reconciliation which is offered to them. Now, as the undeserved love of God — by which he receives into his favor wretched men, “not imputing their trespasses unto them,” (2Co_5:19) — is first in order; so it must be observed, that pardon of sins is bestowed upon us in Christ, not that God may treat them with indulgence, but that he may heal us from our sins. And, indeed, without hatred of sin and remorse for transgressions, no man will taste the grace of God. But a definition of repentance and faith may explain more fully the manner in which both are connected; which leads me to handle this doctrine more sparingly.

With regard to the meaning of the present passage, it is proper to observe, that the whole Gospel consists of two parts, —forgiveness of sins, and repentance. Now, as Matthew denominates the first of these the kingdom of heaven, we may conclude, that men are in a state of deadly enmity with God, and altogether shut out from the heavenly kingdom, till God receives them into favor. Though John, when he introduces the mention of the grace of God, exhorts men to repentance, yet it must not be forgotten that repentance, not less than the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, is the gift of God. As he freely pardons our sins, and delivers us, by his mercy, from the condemnation of eternal death, so also does he form us anew to his image, that we may live unto righteousness. As he freely adopts us for his sons, so he regenerates us by his Spirit, that our life may testify, that we do not falsely, (245) address him as our Father. In like manner, Christ washes away our sins by his blood, and reconciles our Heavenly Father to us by the sacrifice of his death; but, at the same time, in consequence of “our old man being crucified with him, and the body of sin destroyed,” (Rom_6:6) he makes us “alive” unto righteousness. The sum of the Gospel is, that God, through his Son, takes away our sins, and admits us to fellowship with him, that we, “denying ourselves ” and our own nature, may “live soberly, righteously, and godly,” and thus may exercise ourselves on earth in meditating on the heavenly life.

Spiritual Desertion – a Brakel

July 6, 2010 Comments off

The thoughts and ways of the Lord are not the same as ours. Since many do not understand this, nor submit themselves well to the wise and sovereign dealings of God, they conduct themselves foolishly and manifest an increasingly negative disposition. Some who may have received a measure of light and life, would now wish to prescribe to the Lord the way in which He ought to lead His children. If, however, the Lord‟s dealings are not according to their conception, they either resist or are unable to justify the Lord in His way by subjecting themselves to them with quiet resignation. If they do so, it is only in view of their sinfulness, deeming themselves worthy of being dealt with in this manner—acting as if they were still in the covenant of works, subject to God‟s wrath, and as yet not having been translated into the state of grace. If we were wise, we would not disown our spiritual state when God deals with us in a distasteful manner. We would then submit ourselves to God—not only in view of having sinned, and thus having to endure all this, but also because all the Lord‟s dealings are only wise, good, faithful, and loving. We would then believe this and willingly submit ourselves to the Lord‟s government—however painful this would be, and however little we would be able to comprehend the Lord‟s reasons and purposes.

Among all the ways in which the Lord leads His people, spiritual desertion is among the most unique. Believers generally do not behave themselves well when thus led, and it will therefore be fruitful if we delineate the nature of this condition, comfort those who are deserted, and give them direction.

What Spiritual Desertion is Not

First, in discussing spiritual desertion we do not understand this to refer to the desertion of the unconverted. God does grant much temporal prosperity, riches, honor, and prominence to the unconverted. He may grant them external illumination, historical faith, conviction, stirrings unto repentance, and a fleeing from the base pollutions of the world. When such persons abuse all these common blessings and do not repent in consequence of this, God deserts them altogether and gives them over to themselves. Then they become even more abominable than before, upon which even more dreadful judgments may follow. This may already occur in this world, so that divine justice is both observed and glorified in them. However, this will especially occur after they die—in hell. This is to be observed in 1 Sam 16:14: “But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him,” as well as in (Rom 1:21-26). However, we are here discussing the desertion of the regenerate.

Secondly, we do not understand this to be an entire or a final desertion. That is impossible, due to God‟s immutable decree and election, Christ‟s atonement, the sealing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and all the sure promises of God. During a period of desertion, the Lord sustains the regenerate by secret and imperceptible influences. “The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (Ps 145:14).

Thirdly, we do not understand this to be a lesser infusion of spiritual grace in the one as compared to the other. In His church, God has children of various maturity. There are children, young men, and fathers. The children have a much smaller measure of grace than the fathers, but they are therefore not in a state of desertion. A father can be in a state of desertion while having and preserving more grace than the children.

Fourthly, we also do not understand it to refer to the cessation of extraordinary illuminations and comforts, after which those of an ordinary nature continue. When Paul returned again from the third heaven, it could not be said of him that he was deserted. God also grants certain of His children something extraordinary which is above and beyond the way in which they are commonly led. When this ceases, He causes them to return to their normal state. Such are not to think that they are deserted to a greater or lesser degree since they now have to miss the extraordinary.

Fifthly, we also do not understand this to refer to daily offenses, even though they occur due to the absence of the Spirit‟s influence, who indeed would have been able to keep us from such

offenses. This is nevertheless not a withdrawal of His normal influences. Even if the falling into special sins (against which we would have been able to remain standing by way of the normal support of the Spirit) indeed occurs due to the withdrawal of His influence—“God left him” 2 Chron 32:31—this is nevertheless not the desertion which is under discussion here.

Sixthly, we also do not understand this to refer to a reduction of habitual grace. God does not only move His own by way of external influences, but rather, He brings spiritual life into the soul, and this life is more vigorous in the one than in the other. This life, by reason of its spiritual principle, not only has an inherent inclination to be active, but in reality also is active by virtue of the normal operation of the Spirit. Thus, this infused propensity is enhanced by way of exercise, but can also be diminished by a variety of causes. In spiritual desertion God neither removes these propensities entirely nor partially. Instead, He withholds the normal operation of the Spirit, and as a necessary consequence of this, habitual graces sometimes diminish. This is, however, not true for all desertion, for in some cases habitual graces will increase—such as is true for tree roots, both during storms as well as during winters.

Spiritual Desertion Defined

Spiritual desertion is a lengthy withholding and withdrawal of those normal operations and influences of the Holy Spirit in the regenerate by which He illuminates them, assures them of His favor, comforts them, fortifies them against sin and temptation, and renders them help in and deliverance from temporal trials. This causes them to be in darkness, weak in faith, disconsolate, to fall into sin, succumb to temptations, and to remain grieved and fretful in the bearing of a temporal cross.

Thus, desertion pertains to both justification (and all that relates to it) and sanctification. The desertion of one person may pertain more to justification, and to sanctification with another. For the one person it is of longer duration and for the other of shorter duration. Some experience this at the outset of their conversion. It can go so far that it seems as if all will come to nought, and it seems more unlikely than ever before that their conversion is true. However, the Lord will intermittently manifest Himself to them and cause them to be steadfast again. Some come into this grievous condition after they have made some progress, the Lord having manifested Himself intimately. This will occur either suddenly or gradually. Some have to taste this at the end of their life, and sometimes the Lord will grant them His comforts again prior to their death, causing them to depart triumphantly. Sometimes they die in a condition of great desertion, darkness, and powerful temptations. In one moment they go from one extreme to the other, and that which they never thought they would attain to, they receive unexpectedly.

Believers, who, from the Word of God and their experience, have not sufficiently become acquainted with their impotence, rely upon their own strength. Even though they believe and confess otherwise, this negative frame proceeds from themselves. In doing so, they are not suggesting that they have not given the Lord reason to desert them—which is certainly the truth—but that they do not believe the Lord‟s hand to be in it. Instead, they believe that their soul is turned from God due to their neglect and inordinate desires. Thus, they secretly imagine that all will come to rights again by their own activity if they would but engage themselves, believing that they would most certainly perish if they were to neglect to do so. Others, however, who tangibly perceive this to be the work of God (namely, that He withdraws His normal support), immediately disown their spiritual state and believe it to be an evidence of God‟s wrath, and a declaration that their eternal judgment is pending—and are thus filled with fear and terror. They therefore will neglect almost all use of the means, being of the opinion that there is no hope, and they are thus consumed by despondency. There are but few who remain silent and possess their soul in patience, look to heaven for help, continue to seek even though they are in thick darkness, persevere, occasionally weep heartily, and desire to hope in the Lord—even if He were to slay them. Such are generally delivered earlier, and reap the most benefit from spiritual desertion.

Desertion is the Lord’s Withdrawal of the Normal Influences of His Spirit

It is of the greatest importance to know that it is the Lord who, in the state of desertion, withdraws His normal operation, infusion of grace, illumination, and comfort. In the Word of God this is represented with a variety of expressions, each of which are expressive of a specific manner of desertion:

(1) to return: “I will go and return to My place” (Hos 5:15); “I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone: my soul failed when He spake (that is, succumbed due to shame and sorrow)” (Song 5:6);

(2) to forsake: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee” (Isa 54:7); “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Ps 22:1);

(3) to hide: “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me” (Isa 57:17); “How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” (Ps 13:1);

(4) to forget: “How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?” (Ps 13:1);

(5) to restrain: “Where is Thy zeal and Thy strength, the sounding of Thy bowels and of Thy mercies toward me? are they restrained?” (Isa 63:15);

(6) to keep silence; to hold one’s peace: “Keep not Thou silence, O God: hold not Thy peace, and be not still, O God” (Ps 83:1);

(7) to stand afar: “Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord?” (Ps 10:1);

(8) to shut up: “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah” (Ps 77:9);

(9) to cast off: “Lord, why castest Thou off my soul? why hidest Thou Thy face from me?” (Ps 88:14);

(10) to be wrathful: “Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; Thy terrors have cut me off” (Ps 88:16).

From all this it is evident that believers do not always bring themselves into a state of being estranged from God due to their misbehavior—even though this may be the case at other times. Rather, it can be that God also hides Himself from His side and departs for a season, withholding His illuminating, comforting, and sanctifying operations.

This is a most grievous and distressing condition. I pity all those who are in it; I commiserate with them. Even though God preserves His own from eternal condemnation, He does yet permit them to taste somewhat of it. Damnation consists in the missing of God‟s countenance, the sense of His wrath, and all manner of pain in soul and body. An unconverted person does not know what it is to miss God, for he has never experienced the sweetness of having had communion with God. He always finds something in this life whereby he can entertain and refresh himself. To be utterly destitute, however, to have a howling heart after it has been filled, to be without any expectation that this emptiness shall be filled, and then to miss God is a hell in the soul—even when man is yet outside of hell. God‟s children, however, who are acquainted with and who have tasted that it is good to be near unto the Lord, when they are deserted by God, and not only must miss fellowship with God, but also must experience that God is withdrawing Himself, and who, instead of enjoying His favor, must experience God‟s wrath and rejection, succumb when they experience this. “I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand” (Ps 39:10). Then their “heart panteth” (Ps 38:10). Then their condition is as expressed by Asaph: “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed” (Ps 77:3).

It is nearly impossible to express all these disturbing thoughts and sorrowful motions within. We shall nevertheless present some, so that they who are thus may know that they are not alone in this (which they generally believe to be the case). Furthermore, we do so in order that they may know that there is reason for their sorrow, and that they—their condition having been held before them—would become tender and begin to weep, for this will refresh their soul. This will yet engender hope that at one time they will return to God.

Particular Aspects of Being in a Deserted State

It is no wonder that you are so troubled, for:

First, your Father hides Himself. How perplexed a child is whose father and mother have departed, leaving the child in a lonely and dark place! How this child will cry! And if someone were to ask, “Why are you crying,” the child would answer, “My father and mother are gone.” Has your heavenly Father also departed—your Father with whom you so intimately shared your need, before whom you could bring your desire with supplication, who used to answer and comfort you in such a familiar manner, and to whom you customarily cried out, “My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth?” Poor child, has your beloved Father departed? One will say, “If only I knew that God was my Father, then I would melt away.”

Secondly, your Jesus—your Beloved—your Bridegroom has departed. If one were to ask you, “Why are you so sorrowful,” would you then not answer, “My Beloved who used to kiss me with the kisses of His mouth; under whose shadow I used to sit; whose fruit was sweet to my mouth; who led me into the banqueting house; who waved His banner of love over me; who was all my delight; upon whom I used to lean as my Beloved; and of whom I used to boast, His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely Song 5:16—He who is my Beloved and my friend has departed, and therefore I am so sorrowful.”

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit refrains His influences, and thus what light, comfort, and joy can you then have? There can be nothing other than sorrow, unrest, and anxiety. “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the Comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me” (Lam 1:16).

Fourthly, a deserted soul is in the dark, is surrounded by darkness, walks in darkness, and does not know where she is going. Wherever she turns, she suffers a setback and stumbles over the

smallest thing, for the Lord who is her light has departed from her. The Lord Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, is gone down. The Dayspring from on high does not shine upon her, and the renowned Morning Star does not arise in her heart. This causes her to be sorrowful, anxious, and full of fear.

Fifthly, she is weak and impotent, for the Lord who is the strength of her life has departed. She is ill, for the Lord Jesus her Physician has departed from her. There is no balm in Gilead for her healing, and therefore she is ready to die.

Sixthly, she is desperate and knows not what to undertake. Now she seeks it here and then there, but she knows not where to find it. The Lord Jesus, whose name is Counselor and who used to counsel her so sweetly in her perplexities, directing her to the way and to the means (always having fared so well in doing so), leaves her to herself and refuses to give her counsel. Therefore no matter what way she enters upon, she finds herself at a loss and is entangled in all manner of snares.

Seventhly, she would desire to turn to God and indeed begins to do so, but she is not able. The way is fenced up, enclosed with hewn stone, and encompassed by thorns, which she cannot penetrate, for the Lord Jesus who is the way, without whom no one can come to the Father, has departed. The Holy Spirit does not help in her infirmities and does not groan within her with groanings that cannot be uttered. Even when she prays, the Lord encompasses Himself with a cloud so that no prayer can penetrate, and when she calls, He does not answer her at all. And thus she must depart again without comfort.

Eighthly, when she takes refuge to the Word of God in order to derive some comfort from it, it is a closed Book for her. She finds nothing there for herself. Her eyes may indeed fall upon a passage of Scripture, but it disturbs her, and that which should lift her up has the opposite effect, casting her down. The Word of God is nothing more to her than a fire and a two-edged sword. It neither makes an impression nor does it have an effect upon her, for the Spirit neither joins Himself to it, nor works by means of it, and therefore it is not efficacious.

Ninthly, the enemies attack her from all sides, and everyone of them gets the advantage over her. Every arrow hits, Satan is successful in every attack, all the scorn of the world wounds her, and every manifestation of a sinful desire draws her away. She is thus as a bird caught in the snare, for her King has forsaken her and does not go into battle with her. The Lord, who is her shield, has departed and lets her stand without protection.

Tenthly, if only it were true that the soul in all this were as yet always sensible, tender, and able to cry. But no, despondency makes her numb, closes her heart, and she is, so to speak, frozen solid in a harsh winter. The Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus, who formerly caused the heart to burn within, neither set her aflame any longer nor baptize her with fire. The fountain of life has been stopped and water no longer issues forth.

Eleventhly, all this would cause more stirring within if we could but believe ourself to be a child of God. Here is, however, the primary source of anxiety: We then believe that we are not elected, never had grace, have nothing more than external illumination, and have indeed been cast away by God in His wrath. We furthermore believe that God will never be gracious to us, but that He will condemn us forever. This sense of hopelessness therefore makes us so dead and insensitive, that not a thing can move us any more. All we feel is the fatal wound in our heart. Or else we shall be so tossed about by despair that we, feeling hell so to speak, begin to entertain all manner of desperate thoughts and words. This will aggravate our sorrow to such an extent that we shall be fretful and we shall not be able to silently resign ourselves.

Thus the poor soul languishes, is as a woman forsaken, grieves in spirit, is oppressed, tossed with tempest, and not comforted. And thus her life is consumed by sorrow and her years with sighing. If the Lord did not secretly sustain her, what would then come of it all? The Lord keeps her in His power, however, and by reason of His unchangeable grace and goodness to her, will restore her again, reveal Himself to her again, and will by renewal speak to her heart and comfort her. “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him” Isa 57:16,18-19.

When God’s children encounter a trial of some sort, they are not satisfied to know that it is from the Lord—with which they ought to be satisfied, knowing it to be the good, holy, and benevolent will of God with which their will ought to agree with delight, even if it were with tears in their eyes. However, they also wish to know the reason, not so much because they desire to know how they can improve their condition from their side, but to sit in judgment about the dealings of God and judge whether God‟s dealings are righteous. For they reason as follows: “If I am a child

of God, reconciled through Christ, loved of God, and an heir of eternal life, and if God does not deal thus with His other children, who prosper in body and soul, why then does God deal with me thus?” They would then conclude, “I am not a child of God,” doing so more in fretfulness than in earnest. Therefore, it is commonly their question: “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” (Job 10:2). Even though you need not know any reasons—for God does not give an account of His deeds—I shall nevertheless give you some.

How God Is Glorified in Desertion

First, God wills thus to be glorified. There are others beside you who will observe how God deals with you.

(1) It is to you and them that God wants to show His sovereignty and freeness in manifesting His mercy to whomever and whenever He wills. The fact that He receives you and passes others by; that you know God in Christ; that you strive to receive Jesus unto justification and sanctification; and that you have the principle of spiritual life within you, whereas others are deprived of this—all of this is not your work, but is due to the sovereign grace of God. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom 9:15). This is the lesson the angels and believers who are acquainted with your condition learn. You will learn this lesson while in your straits, God is glorified by others by it, and He will also be glorified by you concerning this. If we were always to live in the enjoyment of spiritual embrace, we would secretly imagine that we were entitled to this—as if it were in our power to keep ourself near to God. Upon missing it, however, we learn to know the sovereignty of God, and we learn to acknowledge and love it. Then the thought ceases, “Why am I not as another person is?” Then we learn, “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Dan 4:35). To learn this is worth some anxiety.

(2) The Lord thus reveals the greatness of His mercy. Not only does one become acquainted with himself as to how sinful and unworthy he is of the least grace and what a wonder it is that God would look upon him in grace; but he also knows and acknowledges that all is empty and that nothing but God can satisfy him. Oh, the mercy of God becomes so precious to him! If he may be the object of mercy, he is able and willing to miss everything, for if he must miss God, he must die for sorrow. To learn this, that is, to esteem God above his own supreme happiness, is indeed worth the occasional experience of desertion.

(3) The Lord thus demonstrates His holiness and righteousness, and His aversion for sin. Furthermore, the Lord hereby shows that, even though the believer is pleasing to Him in Christ, his corruption nevertheless displeases Him. His eyes are too pure than that they would behold evil. Believers must perceive that God is righteous in dealing with them thus—yes, that God would be righteous if He would forsake them and eternally cast them away from before His countenance, “that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Ps 51:4). To perceive and embrace this is indeed worthy of the experience of some measure of sorrow.

(4) The Lord thus reveals His immutability, faithfulness, longsuffering and truthfulness. All this is confirmed by the fact that God bears with the believer in his wrong and foolish actions while being subject to His chastisement; and that God secretly supports and upholds him during this desertion so that his spiritual life is not extinguished, neither does he succumb to despair nor break forth with abominable words and deeds. God neither casts him away, nor deserts him excessively, but is still with him when he must go through the water and the fire; He restores him, and by renewal causes him to taste the mercies he previously enjoyed.

We may previously have believed in, and have acknowledged all these perfections. However, by way of spiritual desertion we shall become acquainted with them experientially. Such knowledge, such acknowledgement, and such worship far exceeds what we had before this. It is true that during a time of desertion we do not perceive all this very well, but we shall experience this subsequently. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee” (Job 42:5). Thus, spiritual desertion is subservient to the glory of God.

God’s Children Benefit from Desertion

Secondly, spiritual desertion will serve the best interest of God’s children. This is not only because they thus become better acquainted with the perfections of God and glorify them more, but:

(1) They thus also become better acquainted with themselves. They perceive their sinful nature and deeds; how abominable they are before God, angels, and men; what they are worthy of; and what they should expect if God were to deal with them according to their conduct. This causes the soul to sink away in humility and in her nothingness. The soul experiences her impotence, neither being able to lift herself up by faith, nor being able to comfort herself thereby. Thus, if she is to be restored, her restoration must come from the Lord alone, without there being the least worthiness in her.

(2) Hereby they learn to esteem grace all the more highly. The crumbs which they previously did not regard, the least longing for the Lord Jesus, the least sigh, the feeblest prayer, the smallest measure of light, and the smallest measure of hope now appear exceedingly precious to them, presently refresh them, and they thank the Lord for them. They thus become all the more careful to preserve grace. They actively will seek to preserve what they have in order that they may continue to enjoy the love of God and His communion. When Hezekiah, after his sorrow, by renewal enjoyed comfort, he said, “What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul” (Isa 38:15). When the bride found her bridegroom again after having been deserted by him, she said, “I held him, and would not let him go” (Song 3:4).

(3) They are thus weaned from the world and all creatures. They no longer cleave to it, nor do they desire it. They have no need for it, and expect nothing from man. They only make use of the means as a matter of obedience—not as if thereby to obtain their desires, as if they were contingent upon these means. Time and again they turn to the Lord as their portion and their resting place, saying, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Ps 73:28-26); “But it is good for me to draw near to God” (Ps 73:28).

(4) Hereby the Lord makes known to the world and His children what graces He has planted in them, thus manifesting His omnipotence, goodness, faithfulness, and immutability. How would we have ever been acquainted with Job‟s patience, unless he had been in those trying circumstances? How would we have known about Abraham‟s faith and obedience, unless he had been subjected to those severe trials? Such is also the case when believers must experience desertion. Everyone who receives knowledge of this and interacts with them, will perceive from their actions that they despise the world and all that is in it, that they deem all their comfort to consist in having communion with God, and that the only reason for their mourning is that they must miss communion with God. This is further confirmed when, upon having been restored, it is perceived how they emerge from this trial; how they are as tried gold coming out of the fire; how fearful they are of sin; how majestic and glorious God is in their eyes; how precious Jesus is to them; how godly, humble, longsuffering, compassionate, and obliging they are; how encouraged they are in the Lord; and how they trust in Him. And thus everyone will be astonished about their change. This will be to the conviction of worldly people. It will teach God‟s children to understand the Lord‟s ways, make them strong to hope upon the Lord in trials, motivate them to thank and glorify the Lord, and also stir them up to fear and serve the Lord increasingly.

Tell me now—you who have asked for reasons why the Lord brings desertion upon His children—do not these reasons express the wisdom and goodness of God, and is it not beneficial?

Objection: God can grant all this without bringing desertion upon them.

Answer: They could not have been acquainted with all this in an experiential way, and it would be as much as to ask: “Why doesn‟t God make His children perfect from the moment of their birth? Why doesn‟t God take His children to heaven in their childhood?” There is no other way for me to answer you than by saying, “It is the wisdom and the goodness of God.” By way of His dealings, angels and men thus attain to a greater measure of felicity, greater admiration, and are rendered more fit to answer to their purpose of glorifying God in His perfections as they are revealed in Christ.

Desertion: Due to Specific Sins

Thirdly, God will at times desert His children due to specific sins. God will not desert his children because of their daily weaknesses and offenses; however, He will do so due to certain specific sins.

(1) He will do so for great sins which, in spite of many inner warnings, are deliberately committed against the conscience, and which cause great offense. Such is true for adultery, this being the reason why David had to experience desertion Ps 51. Desertion will also occur when we—in order to gratify our lust for dominance, honor, money, and whatever else there may be—conspire with the world and the men of the world, and thus forsake God‟s cause and His children, conducting ourselves as if we were one with the world, or engage in evil practices by way of lying and hypocrisy. It will be observed that God deserts such in regard to their internal comforts and their sanctification. Externally He will bring upon them shame, contempt, and distress; loss of husband, wife, children, health, and goods; and He will cause them to die in fear.

(2) He will do so if we become proud in civil life, and if in the spiritual realm we pride ourselves in our gifts, knowledge, and grace; if we wish to be esteemed as a great person in the church

and seek the praise of others. We do so if inwardly, and with our behavior, we despise those among the godly who either have a lower station in the world, or are not as advanced in grace; and if we envy those who either have a higher position in the world or a greater measure of grace and gifts than we ourselves have. In this way—in thought, word, and deed—we stir up those emotions that beget envy. Pride is a dreadful thing which God cannot tolerate. “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

(3) He will do so if we esteem the grace of God and communion with Him of little value—not judgmentally, for that cannot be, but rather with our will, and in our practice and conduct. Such is true when we begin to love the world, halt between two opinions, and are divided in our heart and love: God something and the world something. If we thus neglect to seek God with our whole heart, with earnestness and zeal, and as the only One whom we desire; if we lightly omit our scheduled devotions or conduct them hastily in order to pacify our conscience and to assure ourselves of our salvation; if we do not open to a Jesus who is knocking, but let Him stand before the door, thereby demonstrating that communion with Him is but of little value, being without desire to make any effort; and if we grieve but little over our backsliding—then it is as if God says: “If I am worth that little to you, go your way; enjoy and entertain yourself in the world.” God will then withdraw Himself and allow this person to fend for himself.

(4) He will do so if we become conceited and depart from the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus, being desirous to have something new. We shall then engage ourselves in study in order to gain in wisdom and to acquire knowledge. Spiritual matters are too common, as they concern matters about which we are already knowledgeable and have frequently heard about. All that is new we readily embrace, regardless of whether it is truth or not. We then imagine that only now the light has dawned upon us, we have become wise, have become steadfast in the faith, and have overcome our previous dragging of our feet. We then mock with those who live tenderly and have strife. We turn our backs upon such and join ourselves to those who likewise enjoy this new-found light, irrespective of whether they fear the Lord or not. We are then at liberty and have freedom to do all that which previously smote our conscience. We are then able to boast as the world does, and do as the world does, while imagining that we are increasing wondrously. In the meantime, however, God sends a leanness into the soul. Since we do not embrace internal spiritual truths with more heartfelt love, God does at times also leave us to go our own way, not allowing us to proceed beyond the letter, and thus decrease our understanding of the spiritual dimension. Happy are they who remember from whence they have fallen, repent, and do their first works. It is rare, however, that such regain their initial level of spirituality.

Restoration for Those in Spiritual Desertion

Having presented to you spiritual desertion in its nature, consequences, and causes, we now wish to be of assistance to such and help them out of this grievous condition—even though it is a difficult task. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Prov 18:14). It is, however, the duty of the strong to assist the weak and to lift up those who are bowed down. God also frequently blesses the means above expectation. Words, the strongest encouragements, the most serious exhortations, and the most effective arguments are not sufficient to that end. Deserted persons are too destitute of strength to be lifted up by this. The God who has deserted them must by renewal visit and take them by the hand. God occasionally does this in an immediate manner, infusing new grace solely by the Holy Spirit, and quickening residual grace—and they are thus restored, so to speak, in a moment. Sometimes God does this by way of external circumstances and events, which in and of themselves are not capable of being a means to that end. However, God generally uses His read or spoken Word for this purpose, which is applied to them. In order that we might be a means to your restoration, we shall propose some comforts and then give you some guidance.

Prior to this, however, I would like to ask those who are in a state of desertion the following questions: “Do you desire to be delivered from this condition? Are you desirous that the Lord would clear up your darkness and shine upon you with His light; that the Lord would assure you of having been adopted as His child and of being an heir of eternal life; that the Lord would say unto your soul, I am thy salvation, call you by name, and declare to you that you have found grace in His eyes; that the Lord would lovingly embrace your soul and cast all your sins behind His back; and that the Lord Jesus would kiss you with the kisses of His mouth and manifest His love to you? Are you desirous to again weep sweet tears, pray, believe, have loving fellowship with Him and to walk in tender piety before His countenance?” What is your answer? If you answer in the affirmative, then I ask you, “Is this true and do you really mean it?” Do you again answer “Yes,” with the sigh, “I wish it were so, but I cannot expect this”? However, there is hope in this respect; that is, only if you are willing to be delivered. If you are indeed willing, then with composure listen to the following:

The deserted person does not believe that he is a child of God and a recipient of grace. He thinks that if he were able to believe that, he would be enabled to persevere courageously in this darkness, even if it pleased the Lord not to permit him to feel His grace and comforts. Although he would very much desire this, he would nevertheless cleave to the Lord. It is thus our first task to convince the deserted person that he has grace.

First, reflect upon the days of old. Do you still remember when you were entirely in the state of nature, and neither knew God nor sought Him? Proceed and reflect upon the way which led to your change, and subsequently upon the change you have experienced. Reflect upon the prayers you offered, the tears you wept, that wrestling with and fleeing unto Jesus, that receiving of Him unto reconciliation and godliness. Furthermore, consider the insight you received concerning God and the way of salvation, and how much this differed from the knowledge of natural men. You perceived that with all their knowledge, they were as yet blind. Proceed by considering what your general objective was; how there was the fear of God, a tenderness of conscience, sensitivity toward sin, a repeated seeking of forgiveness; what a love for God, His service, and His children you then had. Furthermore, you then had an awareness in your soul of quietness, peace, hope, occasional assurance, and a sweet inclination toward God. You know these things to be true; now, set aside the sinfulness which cleaves to all God‟s children, consider these matters in their essential nature, and draw a conclusion from all this. Is there then no evidence that you did possess true grace? You will certainly not be able to say that it was hypocrisy, knowing that in all this you were dealing with God, and that your heart frequently bore witness that your conduct was in truth. You will also not be able to say that all this was but the result of external illumination and a mere work of nature. At that time you perceived the difference between yourself and those who had but external light. The fact that you are presently desirous to experience these motions again proves that you still deem all that to have been in truth, even though you impulsively speak and think otherwise. Would you not consider someone to be a gracious person if you were to hear, without his knowledge, how he wrestled with God in prayer, and if you knew his heart to be as such? This proves again that you consider your previous condition to be gracious. Therefore, proceed with your work in truth and conclude that the work in you has been in truth. Turn with this to the Holy Scriptures and believe that the gifts of God and His calling are without repentance, that He will also finish the good work He has begun in you, and that He will not forsake the work of His hands.

Secondly, consider your present state, and you will yet detect grace in it, as despairing as you may be of your condition. Also here you are to deal truthfully, even as if you were judging someone else.

(1) You have light, know the way of salvation in Christ, are acquainted with having spiritual communion with God, and know what it is to have true dealings with God. Not only do you know what faith is, but you also know how a believing soul functions. You are acquainted with the nature of inner, spiritual life; as well as that which differs from it. Your knowledge of all this is not due to the drawing of some obscure conclusion; that is, by concluding the one thing from the other. Rather, you are acquainted with the essential nature of these things, and your knowledge is such that it engenders esteem and love, together with a desire to possess them—even if they are of no comfort to you at the present.

(2) Why are you sorrowful? It is indeed not because you lack something in this world, but rather due to God being distant, Jesus having departed, and your having been forsaken. You are not merely and primarily motivated by a fear of being damned. If you were assured of the fact that you would not be damned and had everything in the world which you would desire, would you then be satisfied and would your sorrow then cease? Indeed not! This question will stimulate your inclination, and with all your heart you will declare, “I am sorrowful because I miss God, and I cannot be happy as long as I cannot draw near to Him. If that were to take place, I would be happy.” However, to perceive the deficiency of life is life, and sorrow over that which is lacking is a sure evidence of love. Such mourners are pronounced blessed, and to them pertains the promise of comfort, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).

(3) Add to this those heartfelt desires which go out after God. If you think upon having sweet communion with God, union with Christ, a walking in love, obedience, and the service of God; and you think to yourself, “If once again I were thus”—doesn‟t that enliven your soul? Does that set your affections in motion, and would they not mount upward with wings if despondency did not hinder them in this? And as hopeless as your condition is, can you keep from lifting your eyes on high? Are you able to refrain entirely from praying? What do you then desire? This indeed shows that you desire to have something—something from God. Your heart will confess that it is God Himself, and you are thus to be convinced that your desires are after God Himself. Desire proceeds from love, however, and the promise is: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6).

Thirdly, acknowledge the intermittent comforts which the Lord grants you in the midst of your desertion.

(1) Upon entering church a fitting word is spoken which touches you. You are sensibly moved, wholeheartedly receive Jesus, the wall of separation between God and you is removed, you receive an opened door and free access to God, and you have freedom to address Him as “Abba, Father!” It may be that you join the fellowship of the godly, and behold, the Lord reveals to you there that He is present, for your soul becomes lively. It is as if the darkness disappears, and as if you are fully restored.

(2) Has the Lord not occasionally visited you in your sleep so that you were awake while sleeping? You were able to pray, were comforted, became lively, and upon awaking your sleep had been sweet. Yes, do you long for such nights, because your soul is not in a better frame than when asleep? This will occur occasionally; however, also the opposite can be true, as Job testifies in (Job 7:14).

(3) It may also occasionally occur while you are in solitude—be it in your room or in the field—that your heart is sweetly moved by God‟s Spirit—yes, the tears will flow, and there will be a calling upon and a cleaving unto the Lord. The Lord may at times visit you with comforts, assurances, and joy. You who have experienced this, however, is this not a sure evidence that the Lord neither has nor will forsake you? Strengthen yourself with this and persevere by faith when life and light are lacking, and it readily becomes dark again.

Fourthly, be it known that it is God‟s common way to cause His children to occasionally experience desertions—particularly those whom He desires to give an additional measure of grace for the purpose of growth and comfort. Nothing strange is befalling you, for God does not deal with you any differently from His other children. Perhaps you do not have the opportunity to have fellowship with such, and when you meet someone who is in such a condition, you are amazed that there are more who have come into such circumstances as you. It is as if this gives you some courage, and I tell you from experience that God generally deals with His children in this manner. Every person has his cross, whether they are pious or not. However, this particular cross is reserved for the godly only. Others have no knowledge of this; they ridicule it and consider it a case of melancholy and foolishness. We may thus even conclude from bearing this cross that the Lord has bestowed grace upon us, even though this will be difficult for us to do. Therefore, be not troubled by this, but bow yourself, and humble yourself under the mighty hand of the Lord so that He may exalt you in due time.

Fifthly, the Lord will most certainly grant deliverance and restore you. He has done so to others, even though those who have not behaved themselves all that well during their trial will not be fully restored in this life. However, they will receive this in heaven. Therefore, take courage and focus upon the promises of God. “In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours. … And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa 54:8,11,13); “For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lam 3:31-32).

Therefore, neither let the consolations of God be small to you, nor ignore His promises—they are true. Others have experienced this to be so and their faith has been strengthened that much more; the Lord will also return your sense of comfort to you. Thus you may strengthen your heart with God‟s promise: Though He tarry, wait for Him; because He will surely come, He will not tarry (Hab 2:3).

Guidance in Desertion

It now remains to give some guidance to those who are experiencing desertion, as well as to those who are called to deal with such persons. A deserted person has to be on guard against certain things and has to practice certain things. The person who is deserted must refrain himself from:

(1) Disqualifying his preceding state; that is, his conduct Godward, and God‟s work in him. In so doing he would declare the work of the Holy Spirit to be a lie, which is a dreadful sin. He is not capable of judging this now as well as when he had spiritual enjoyment and light. If he cannot presently ascertain this, he must ultimately let matters be and say, “I presently cannot judge about this.” In his present condition he cannot conclude that all that has transpired in the past was not right. True children of God do indeed experience desertion, as has been shown above.

(2) Being insensitive toward and hardening himself against the Lord; that is, as if he did not wish to take this chastisement to heart—adjusting himself to the fact that if God is not comforting him, he can do without this comfort. This would greatly displease the Lord. “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock” (Jer 5:3).

(3) Murmuring and being fretful. “If any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38); “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction” (Prov 3:11). When you are thus, the Lord will not be moved to help you, and the cross will be doubly heavy for you.

(4) Despair and despondency, thinking: “The Lord has made me the object of His wrath; it is done with me, and my hope has vanished.” This in turn begets fretful, inappropriate, and evil thoughts. Do not say, “My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord” (Lam 3:18). Be on guard for the inner turmoil of Job. “My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it” (Job 7:15-16). Rather, follow his example when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Quiet patience is pleasing to God.

(5) Neglecting the means: the reading of God‟s Word, singing, the hearing of God‟s Word, and prayer. This would be identical to a person being faint for hunger not wanting to eat due to being faint.

(6) Seeking any other comfort outside of God, entertaining yourself by eating, drinking, recreation, entertaining company, etc., and thus seeking rest in that—even though bodily refreshment can at times be a means to the enlivening of the spirit. Furthermore, be on guard against yielding to other sentiments and errors which cause one to proceed no further than judgmental knowledge, while fully neglecting a tender walk with God, and thus avoiding all spiritual struggle.

The deserted person must also practice certain things. I shall not prescribe many means here, for they are as difficult to perform as the matter itself. Consider only the following:

First, strive very much for quiet and patient subjection to the Lord‟s dealings. To be humble, to mourn as a dove which has lost its partner, and to chatter as a swallow, coming before the Lord in such a frame while longing for Him, is the appropriate disposition in these trials, and it is a fit disposition for the Lord to work in you. “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope” (Lam 3:28-29).

Secondly, if we become aware that the Lord has withdrawn Himself due to a specific sin—some of which we have identified earlier—then it is of critical importance that we wholeheartedly repent from that sin, deeply humble ourselves, abhor ourselves, confess it with sorrow, justify God for withdrawing Himself because of that sin, and be resolved to refrain from such sin in the

future. We must then look unto the blood of Jesus in order to obtain reconciliation thereby, and pray for forgiveness. For how can the chastisement be removed as long as we do not humble ourselves over the causes and turn from them? When David was heavily oppressed so that the hand of the Lord was upon him day and night, and his moisture was changed into the drought of summer, he said, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps 32:5).

Thirdly, continue to practice your devotions habitually as you did in former days. Do not neglect this and do it to the best of your ability. Read the Word, even if you neither have the least desire to do so, nor are moved in the least by it. Bend your knees as you are accustomed to do, and pray as best as you know how—even if you were to read a psalm prayerfully. If your soul is overwhelmed, do not walk away from this; and if inner strife intensifies, then endure it (as you would sit out a hailstorm). If you say, “This is but mechanical activity which cannot be pleasing to the Lord,” then I reply, “Go on in performing your task mechanically.” The Lord knows your motivating principle to be spiritual. He knows that you are neither satisfied with but a mechanical performance, nor a serving of Him as such, but that you are using it as the ordained means to receive help. Continue in your temporal calling and do not resign from it. Maintain fellowship with the godly, and exhort others as you have done aforetime. If you thus perform this duty, then it will be a means to you for not becoming estranged any further—yes, you will gradually be corrected by it.

Fourthly, become accustomed to living by faith. I am not speaking here of the exercise of faith in which there is utmost clarity, but of that faith by which we cleave to the Lord. Perhaps you cannot assure yourself that you are in the state of grace, but you nevertheless believe that the Lord Jesus offers Himself to a lost sinner, and that therefore whosoever will, may and must receive Him. Rely upon this expectantly, in a waiting frame, exercising faith, and surrendering yourself—even though you may neither find light nor comfort. Do not say, “It is too late, and for me there is no hope.” Rather, reply by saying, “It is a lie; I am yet alive, I still have the Word of God, and I am indeed willing if I could but find Him.” Do not yield to unbelieving thoughts, but rely upon the Word of God and you will at last experience that the Lord will again visit you in this way.

Those who must deal with those who are in a state of desertion, must pay attention as to how they deal with them, for the Lord will take note of this. He loves His children who are in a state of desertion, and if anyone adds grief to their grief, and if anyone deserts them as well, it will displease Him. Therefore, first of all refrain from:

(1) Judging them as if they were greater sinners than others, or as if they were living in an abominable sin—be it that you either condemn them in your heart, with your countenance and conduct, or in word. This was the sin of the friends of Job, who were rebuked by the Lord concerning this.

(2) Ridiculing and mocking with them as if they were going insane and were giving in to illusions and melancholy. This would greatly arouse God‟s wrath against you.

(3) Giving them evil advice, suggesting that they depart from the way of tender godliness, saying, “That is what you get if you wish to be such a wise person, be so considerate, and stand above others. Come, live as others do; give yourself some diversion, and entertain yourself together with us. Live as other people and all these illusions will disappear.” Worldly people will thus deal with them. God observes this, however, and it displeases Him; they will receive their judgment upon this.

(4) Being without hope as far as their restoration is concerned, saying, “It is useless; there is no sense in trying. Whatever one does for them is all fruitless.” There is indeed hope for their restoration, but the power to restore such is neither to be found in you nor in your words. Instead, the Lord uses others to restore such by means of their dealings with them.

Secondly,

(1) Join yourself to them instead, even if it were but to show your love by your presence, thereby encouraging such deserted souls.

(2) Let your sentiment concerning their sorrowful condition be tempered and let your conduct be consistent with this. On the one hand you must not be insensitive, and on the other hand, be not fainthearted, lest such a deserted soul be grieved or become even more fainthearted.

(3) Show your compassion as well as your inclination to help them bear this.

(4) Use your ability—as little as it may be—to comfort and encourage them.

(5) Pray for such souls, and occasionally pray with them—as capable or incapable as you may be—and do so daily in your closet. This will be pleasing to the Lord. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble” (Ps 41:1).

Source: The Christian’s reasonable service, vol 3

Categories: Desertion Tags: ,

The duty to join the church and remain with her

July 3, 2010 Comments off

In the previous chapter we have defined the nature of the church. It is, however, not sufficient to be acquainted with her as such, but everyone with a desire to be saved is obligated to join the church, to remain with her, and not to separate himself from her in order to establish a more orthodox church. Furthermore, he who wishes to remain with her must also persevere in having fellowship with her by the use of the holy sacraments. We shall now discuss each of these matters in detail.

It is the duty of everyone who desires to be saved to turn to the church, making diligent effort to be accepted as a member of the church community.
First, this is God’s way whereby He leads the elect unto salvation. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47); “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from His people” (Isa 56:3).
Secondly, this has been the task of the apostles in accordance with their commission (Matt 28:19), as is to be observed in the entire Acts of the Apostles.
Thirdly, this is consistent with the nature of God’s children. As soon as they are converted, they cannot rest until they have been received into the bosom of their spiritual mother (Gal 4:26).
Fourthly, this is the consistent confession of the church of all ages, and particularly of churches of the Netherlands. In article 28 of the Belgic Confession we read: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or
condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it.” We have elaborated on this in chapter 24.
Fifthly, the church is the glory of Christ. It is there that Christ is confessed and proclaimed throughout the world, being held forth as a banner upon a hill around which one must gather himself. This is the city upon a hill, and a light shining in the darkness. She is the means whereby the truth is made known and preserved, and the means unto the conversion of souls. Everyone is therefore obligated to facilitate this by joining himself to the church.

Source: Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), 55, 56.

Categories: Church Tags: ,

Discontentment – a Brakel

July 3, 2010 Comments off

Discontentment: A Characteristic of the Unconverted

The unconverted are discontented.

(1) Something is always wrong. He either has no child or he has one too many. He has learned the wrong trade, for ―if I were a storekeeper, knew a trade, or had such and such a skill, then I would be much better off. In whatever I begin, I go against the stream; where will it ultimately end? Such and such get all the customers and enjoy love and esteem; however, they turn their backs upon me. Everyone opposes me; they shortchange me, deal with me and my family in an ungodly manner. They slander me, rob me of my honor, and everyone is after me. They are always surrounded by bears so that neither day nor night can they find rest due to external and internal unrest.

(2) Another person may be lethargic and lazy—and thus insensitive.

(3) Another person has a sweet and tender disposition and can endure everything.

(4) Others use reason and perceive how matters are, or else they perceive that there is no way out. Therefore, patience par force; that is, there is nothing to be done about it. Or they will engage themselves in such a manner that all will go well.

(5) Others, when the shore eludes them, hold on to a floating patch of grass and occupy themselves with one thing or another.

(6) Others become completely discouraged and despondent and would be inclined to hang themselves in order to bring their suffering to an end.

(7) Others, even though they can handle the present, are concerned about the future. Every evil tiding causes them to tremble, robbing them of the peaceful enjoyment of the present.

(8) Others want to find their satisfaction in eating and drinking, money, prestige, and the gratification of their sinful lusts.

(9) Others seek gratification in the work of their hands and burrow as moles in the earth to derive their gratification from that. Or they seek it in men by being obsequious, flattering, and by worshiping them in order to gain their favor. Every unconverted person seeks rest in this manner without finding it, and his contentment is nothing but unrest.

(10) Another will fare somewhat better and, according to his saying, is satisfied with the will of God—even though he has never sought nor obtained reconciliation with God and therefore cannot expect God‘s help or favor.

All whose disposition agrees with what has just been stated ought to know:

(1) That you are without God and Christ, and that God is not for you, but against you. If He stirs things up, who will then quiet matters down? If He forsakes you, what will then be of assistance to you? Then you cannot but be filled with fear—within and without.

(2) That all your tossing and turning, and all your contentment

and discontentment, are nothing but sin and filth in which you wallow as a swine wallows in the mud. It makes you increasingly abominable in the eyes of God and increasingly a stench for the truly godly. And if you imagine your current circumstances to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, the outcome of all that you pursue will have evil consequences for you and will issue forth nothing but discontent, sorrow, terror, apprehension, and fear—until eternal damnation will rob you of all that with which you now occupy yourself to some degree. The wrath of God and the fire of hell will then forever occupy you. Therefore, turn to the Lord and seek reconciliation with God in Christ. He will then be your satisfaction, and being satisfied in Him, all things will work together for good.

The Godly: Also Subject to Discontentment

I shall now address the godly. It is sad that those who have God as a reconciled God, who have chosen God to be their only and all-sufficient portion (while rejecting all that is not God), yet have so much discontentment, because they, both according to body and soul, do not fare in this world as their nature would desire to have it.

(1) Their eyes and heart look too much to that which is of the world; that is, to that which is lofty, beautiful, and good, as well as to food, drink, and clothing—as if that could yield them any satisfaction.

(2) They also want to have their way, and if this does not occur and men do not yield to them, they are sorrowful, fretful, and angry.

(3) They eat their bread with discontentment since the quantity and the taste is not such as they would desire it to be.

(4) They tremble and quiver as far as the future is concerned. They say, ―What shall we eat and wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(5) Anxiety troubles the heart, and concerns take away the joy of life.

(6) They waver in regard to God‘s providence.

(7) They immediately perceive God as being angry with them.

(8) They reject their spiritual state.

(9) They make themselves vulnerable to the assaults of the devil who then easily gets hold of them, tossing them to and fro.

(10) Spiritual life will lose its vigor, and if the Lord were not faithful and immutable, they would be corrupted in body and soul—so severely can worldly tribulations injure them. In such a condition they delight in being pitied and desire to be comforted, but in a manner concurring with the receipt of their desire—then they would be encouraged. Sorrow must first disappear, the matter must first be attained, they must first see and possess that from which they will live, and then comfort will have an effect. Then they would be able to live carefree and serve the Lord.

The Godly Exhorted Not to Be Fretful

What shall I say? Shall I pity you? That I shall do, but in such a manner that I shall neither harm nor encourage you in your sin. Rather, I shall do so by stirring you up to overcome these unproductive anxieties, this wicked discontentment, and these concerns which drag you down.

First, as we uncover all this, you yourself will perceive that you are yet very carnal and that you focus your attention upon things which are insignificant. Are you then still of this world as others are whose portion is in this life? Is that which is of the world able to satisfy you? When you entered into the covenant of grace, did you not stipulate that whatever would befall you according to the body would be to your satisfaction, or did you change your mind and have you rescinded this? Why should there be more concern for your body than for your soul? Why should bodily deficiencies be more grievous than the deficiencies of the soul? Be ashamed before God and man that you are yet so carnal.

Secondly, do you not perceive that this is idolatry? There is a secret departure from God, a neglect of depending upon Him, and a secret denial of God‘s providence. There is a secret accusation of cruelty and unwillingness on His part to care for you, of mutability, and of not being faithful to His promises. Under pretense of being concerned about necessities, there is a desire to rely upon temporal things and a living by bread alone—and even if one does not solely put his trust in temporal things, it is nevertheless partially true. God and the things of this world together must grant you satisfaction. Or else, do you serve God in order that He would give you temporal things? What an evil disposition this is! How far removed this is from Asaph‘s disposition: ―Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever (Ps 73:25-26)! Upon coming before God, be therefore ashamed about your sinful disposition.

Thirdly, these concerns and anxieties which cause one to tremble issue forth from a proud heart—relative both to God and to man. It is pride relative to God, as it implies that one is worthy of something and that God is obligated to serve us according to our wishes. If one were truly conscious of his sinfulness and guilt, and would reflect upon this, he would come to a lower place and sink away in amazement that God has still borne with us—yes, and has given us so much above others who have much less than we do—considering that we have sinned so grievously and are perhaps even more sinful than they are.

It is also a manifestation of pride relative to our neighbor, for we look toward those who are superior to us and ask, ―Why not I as well as he? Very seldom does the concern truly pertain to what is presently lacking, for as far as temporal needs are concerned, little suffices. Instead, it pertains to our lust to possess, to have as much as the other, and the retention of dignity by not being despised due to being poor and having to depend on the church or others. It is true that this, when considered in and of itself, should not be a matter of indifference to us. It is God‘s will that we have desires for our well-being and that our journey through this world be with dignity. However, we must overcome and deny these desires when God wishes to humble us and keep us humble. Therefore, concealed under the cover of being concerned about necessities, dignity, and being able to serve God, is pride. God wishes to be served by the one while having a higher position in the world, and by the other while in a more lowly position. The will of God must be our delight in whatever circumstances we are. Discouragement about being in a lower position is nothing but pride. Therefore, become humble and you will be delivered from many unprofitable cares.

Fourthly, all your concerns are in vain and you will not gain one penny by them. God has already decreed from eternity how much you will have. There is a ―convenient portion (Prov 30:8) which God has appointed for everyone and which He gives at His time. No one will take away this portion from you nor will it be diminished. With all your concerns and anxiety you will neither add one nickel nor break or change the determinate counsel of God. There were covetous Israelites who gathered much manna; however, when they came home, they had no more than their measure. There were others who, either due to lack of strength or being at a location where not much had fallen, had gathered little. When they came home their measure was also full. The one had no leftovers and the other did not lack anything (2 Cor 8:15). ―Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek (Matt 6:25, 27, 32).

Fifthly, you dishonor God and harm yourself, for by way of these nagging concerns you show that it does not suffice you to have God alone as your portion and that you cannot be satisfied with Him unless you have as many temporal goods as you deem necessary. Would it not be a dishonor to a father who has sufficient wealth if he were to permit his children to suffer want in spite of their cries and supplications? Are you then not also the cause that others by means of your dissatisfaction and fruitless concerns would begin to think about the Lord in this manner, as if He had neither love, mercy, compassion, nor care for His children? You would glorify Him, on the contrary, if you would be satisfied with your present circumstances, and if your felicity consisted in the enjoyment of God Himself. As far as you yourself are concerned—you bring yourself into continual unrest, apprehension, fear, and anxiety. You rob yourself of delighting and rejoicing in God. You impede your growth, since your disposition displeases God, and renders you unfit to appropriately use the means for spiritual growth. Your concerns will cause the Word and your good inner motions to be choked, thus rendering them unfruitful (Matt 13:22). Unbelief has opportunity to surface and will toss the anxious soul to and fro. The desire for religious exercise decreases and free access to God is hindered. The thoughts that these adversities come upon you in God‘s wrath cause the soul to tremble. Thus, to a great extent quietness, dependence upon God, a childlike confidence in God, and walking with God disappear. Would you lose all this for a greater or lesser quantity of bread, for getting your way, for your own honor, and for the future, of which you do not know how it will be? Oh, these matters are too insignificant to permit the well-being of your soul to dissipate.

Sixthly, after the Lord will have delivered you from your perplexity—which He certainly will do in His time—then, due to your previous dissatisfaction and grumbling, you will have made yourself incapable of being truly grateful to the Lord, and a sense of shame about your prior distrust will cause your soul new grief. It can also happen that the Lord, upon having fulfilled your inordinate desire, will send a leanness into your soul. You will then be confounded and wish that you were in the previous strait when you were in a better spiritual condition. Therefore conduct yourself well while you are in a school in which you can learn much that you cannot learn in a time of prosperity. Take heed therefore, and be on guard not to be murmurers and complainers about your condition while walking according to your lusts (Jude 16). Rather, possess your soul in patience and be satisfied with the present. You will then be fit to serve the Lord in both prosperity and adversity.

Exhortation to Strive for Contentment

Therefore, children of God—either rich, of the middle class, of limited means, insignificant, poor, oppressed, or tossed with tempest—whoever you may be and whatever your circumstances may be, you are all in need of an exhortation, for no circumstances in and of themselves yield contentment. Learn to adjust your desires to your circumstances—regardless of what they may be—and do not endeavor to adjust your circumstances to your desires, for there would be no end to that. Cast dissatisfaction far away from you as being a harmful pestilence for your spiritual life, and possess your soul in contentment.

To that end you must first of all meditate upon all forceful exhortations. Hear them from the mouth of the Lord, speaking to you in this way: ―Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass (Ps 37:5); ―Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved (Ps 55:22); ―Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Heb 13:5); ―Therefore take no thought … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things (Matt 6:31-32); ―Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure (Isa 33:16); ―Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you (1 Pet 5:7). Do not readily pass over these texts, but give attention to each one—yes, to every individual word. Take note of these words as being addressed to you by the God of heaven. He not only commands you to take no thought, but also to be content. Does not the command of God suffice so as to motivate you to render obedience? Is not His exhortation sufficient to stir you up? Take also notice, however, of the promises which the omnipotent, good, and true God makes in addition to this: ―He shall bring it to pass; He shall sustain thee; He shall not forsake thee; your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things; He careth for you. Are the promises of God not enough for you? Would He say it and not do it? Therefore, be satisfied, delight yourself, and rejoice in His promises, which will most certainly be fulfilled. It is true that the Lord does not always fulfill His promises when we judge it to be most suitable for us. However, the Lord will most certainly do it at His time. It is thus best if we do not receive it at our time; there is yet something to be learned by us and we must first be capable of using the promises well. It is the Lord‘s wisdom and goodness that He postpones the matter; however, the fulfillment is beyond doubt. He has not promised to give you a certain quantity, but rather as much as you will have need of. That ought to be sufficient for you and He will most certainly give it to you. Therefore, ―though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (Hab 2:3). Even if you do not perceive any means by which or from where it will come, He is almighty. He can also do it without means and sustain you and your children without food. Or else He will provide the means—even if ravens would have to bring it to you; even if He would cause bread to rain down from heaven; even if He would have to multiply flour and oil; or even if He would have to close the mouths of the lions and cause the fire to have no power. Therefore, be still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Secondly, is not God, who is your Father, sovereign? Would you wish that He were not so? You will indeed reply, ―No I am glad that He is so and do not wish to stand above Him. I approve of His sovereignty, and even if He were to kill me, I would worship His sovereign majesty. However, here the will of God stands over against your will. You say, ―I wish to have this, and God says, ―I do not wish to give this to you; such and such is the measure that you will have. Whose will shall have the upper hand, however—God‘s will or yours? Since you know that you cannot prevail against God, will you therefore fret and grumble, as children sometimes do toward their parents? That would indeed be a striving against God. Since He is sovereign, however, His will is supreme, and you approve of it with delight, subject your will to His will, and will what He wills. Delight yourself in your circumstances, since it is the will of God concerning you—especially since God is your Father to whom you pray daily, ―Thy will be done. Since you subject yourself to His will in prayer, should you then not also subject yourself to His will in His dealings with you—even if they are not according to your desires? Submit yourself therefore to God and glorify Him in doing so.

Thirdly, did not God, by saying, ―I am your God! cause Himself to be your portion so that you would enjoy all felicity in Him? If you have the all-sufficient One as your salvation, are you then still in need of anything else? Is He not better to you than a thousand worlds, a piece of money, or a piece of bread? Therefore, speak and practice what the godly did. ―The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him (Lam 3:24). As you consider God—the only blessed God, the God of full salvation—to be your portion, turn to Him in times of distress, take refuge with Him, delight yourself in Him by faith—even if it pleases Him not to give you the measure of enjoying Him as you would desire. This is laid away for you in eternity. Delight yourself in having Him as your portion, and let this satisfy you while foregoing the things of the world which you would desire to have. To that end, hold before yourself the example of Habakkuk: ―Although … the fields shall yield no meat … yet I will rejoice in the Lord (Hab 3:17-18).

Fourthly, the very God who has given you what is most precious to Him, namely, His own Son Jesus Christ, in order to deliver you from your wretched state and to bring you to eternal glory (which He has laid away as an inheritance for you (Rom 8:32))—would He permit that you would truly lack anything as far as the needs of your body? ―He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom 8:32). Behold, Christ has been given you as a Savior, you are partakers of all the benefits of the covenant of grace, and salvation is your eternal inheritance. Is that not sufficient for you? Must a piece of money and a piece of bread yet be added to this before you will be satisfied? Be ashamed that you think such thoughts. Would He who has given you that which is superior and eternal deny you that which is needful for your body? Would not He who has given you your life and body, also give you food and clothing? ―Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment (Matt 6:25). How do you dare to think such a thing? Therefore, be content with your present circumstances, and it will suffice you. Adjust your desires to your circumstances.

Fifthly, what is the world to you? What is it that you are so desirous for? What is it that you are so concerned about? Is it not all transitory? You yourself will not remain here eternally, and you, as well as all that exists in the world, do but exist for a moment. Why then do you trouble yourself so much about it? When death comes, it will not grieve you that you had so little in this life, nor will it render you joy if you had an abundance; you will not die any more peacefully because of it. If you were to consider every day as being your last and you were to imagine continually that you are presently dying, you would not be disquieted by whether you have either more or less—which you presently are doing. Therefore, remain focused upon the transitory nature of your existence and the insignificance of all that is of the world. Simultaneously focus upon the promises of God: He, as an added benefit, will bestow the things of the world upon you as you have need of them, and will care for you. You will then learn to be content.

Sixthly, has a godly person ever lacked anything? If you read the entire Bible, you will not find a single example. Consider your own case. God cared for you when you were small. He provided clothing for your convenience, breasts to be suckled, a bosom at which you could be cherished, bread and clothing as you grew up, and He has nourished you from the moment of your existence until now. And when you came into perplexing circumstances, did He not frequently deliver you? Would God then cease at this moment? He who grants the young ravens food when they cry to Him, provides food for the birds of heaven and sustains all that lives, who grants the ungodly food and gladness, would He forget you? Would He refuse to give you that which you need? Therefore, be content, trust in Him, and be satisfied with His dispensation. Even if the measure is not according to your desires, it will be as much as you have need of. That is sufficient and that ought to be sufficient for you.

The Blessed Benefits Issuing Forth from Contentment

Seventhly, contentment engenders many good things. ―And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom 8:28).

(1) There will be a quiet spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God (1 Pet 3:4). There will be a great inner delight. A contented person tramples upon all that is of the world, lives above that which is visible, and is beyond the reach of all the arrows of the enemies.

(2) There will be alienation from the world. Man by nature is greatly occupied with his body and with making provision for it by way of temporal things. There is still much to be found of this in a regenerate person. If, however, he becomes content with the will of God, he then begins to disassociate himself from the world and does not seek gratification in it, but sojourns in it as a stranger.

(3) It is a state in which there is prayer and communion with God. Since God is the believer‘s portion he delights himself in this and observes God‘s hand in all that he encounters, believing that it is to his advantage—even when a knife is used to cut open a boil. If he is in need of something, he prays in faith and believingly anticipates that which he has need of.

(4) There is a frequent experience of the help of God. To perceive that God looks upon him, hears his prayer, and delivers him, is ten times more precious to a believer, yielding him incomparably more joy than if he were to be translated from a state of extreme poverty to extreme wealth. This experience strengthens him in believing that the Lord will also deliver him time and again in the future. He who has delivered me from the bear and the lion will also deliver me from this Philistine. He who has delivered me from six troubles will not forsake me in the seventh.

(5) There will be gratitude. If we lack everything and see no way out, and God then grants us His help, a piece of bread will taste better than all delicacies enjoyed in prosperity. Then a shelter behind which there is refuge against rain and wind is more delightful and convenient than a palace previously would have been. The soul then lifts herself up to the Lord, acknowledging Him as the Giver. Then the soul will rejoice in the Lord and acknowledge herself not worthy of the least of all the Lord‘s mercies. The confession will be, ―Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies (Ps 103:2, 4).

(6) There is a longing for the state of glory. Then the believer will perceive that it is not to be found here below, but in heaven. He will therefore long to depart and to be with Christ. He will comfort himself with this expectation and will thus be strengthened and encouraged to endure all tribulations. He will then rejoice that rest has been laid away for him, and he will be hastening to enter into that rest.

(7) There is the manifestation of holiness. As the cares of this world are the thorns which choke the good seed, contentment likewise renders one fit to deny self, to be humble, to trust in God, to delight himself in God as being his portion, to freely own the Lord‘s cause, and to demonstrate that there is an all-sufficiency in God. Here is the fountain of all godliness.

Objection: Some may perhaps say, ―I would indeed be content if I but knew that I was a child of God, that the Lord was near to me, and that He would cause me to sense His goodness.

Answer: This is as much as to say, ―If I were only in heaven, I would be satisfied. No, we must find satisfaction here below in the will of God, by faith. Unbelief concerning your state issues forth from discontent and not from your lack. As long as you are not satisfied except your desire be fulfilled, so long will you also be tossed to and fro as far as your spiritual state is concerned, and your soul will be as ―a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed (James 1:6). In order for faith to be exercised, you must be content with the present, and upon being content you must then exercise faith; these two belong together. May the Lord grant you both!

Objection: Others will say, ―The Lord does not hear me, I am not delivered, and my perplexity becomes greater all the time. How can I then be content?

Answer: Do you now see that your contentment is contingent upon possession? No, not to possess and yet to be satisfied with the will of God, trusting that there will be deliverance—that is true contentment. The reason the Lord does not give it to you is because you do not yet need it. The Lord wants to teach you to be content with Him alone. He wishes to guide you into the proper use of what is good. He wishes to comfort and help you in a different manner from what you would prescribe to God in your foolishness.

Guidelines for Learning How to Be Content

If you wish to learn how to be content, then practice the following:

(1) Always consider what you deserve, and you will then be happy that you are not yet in hell.

(2) Look at others, and you will not want to exchange your condition with theirs. The one will have much less, and will be much more wretched than you are according to the body and will be an example to you as far as contentment is concerned. The other person will be without grace, and you would certainly not wish to trade places with him.

(3) Live only by the day and do not take upon you the difficulties of two, ten, or a hundred days. This would be too great a burden for you. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.

(4) Your difficulty is perhaps not as great as you make it out to be—this in consequence of your desire being excessive. You must therefore make more of an effort to adjust your desire to your circumstances—considering it to be the will of God—rather than seeking to improve your circumstances in accordance with your desire.

(5) Make use of the means with all diligence and faithfulness so that your conscience will not accuse you, and leave the outcome to the Lord. Trust in His promise and He will make it well.

(6) Let your focus continually be upon heaven, and consider the insignificance of all that is upon earth. The nearer you are to God, the more you will be at a distance from the creature. Everything will pass away, but he that doeth the will of God shall abide forever.

Source: The Christian’s reasonable service, vol 3, a Brakel