THE NATURE AND EXERCISE OF FAITH
Faith is the gift and the operation of God. It comes by the Holy Spirit's power, moving and strengthening the sublimest faculties of the soul, and is really a regeneration, a re-begetting, a revival of life from the dead. Thus the believer is said to be "born of the Spirit;" because it is the Spirit's office in the covenant of grace to regenerate; and because it is the promise concerning the Spirit to call, even as many as God shall call." And thus also, the Christian is said to be "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
When this principle of divine life and light is given to the soul, it enables the soul to feel its own loss and misery, and to see its own sin and darkness. A man can have no true sight of the nature of sin but by this grace. He is, therefore, in some sense, a believer before he knows himself to be one. Faith acts in him, before he can be sensible of the reflex act of faith. He first lives; and then he feels his misery; and then he cries for mercy. He cries for mercy, and then is enlightened to see the way of mercy in the word of mercy. He is next enlightened to behold the free welcome and rich bounty of this mercy to all returning sinners. He is enabled to contemplate upon himself, and to view the fitness of God's mercy for him, and his fitness, as a needy convinced sinner, for it. He is then strengthened to embrace it, like a poor creature who must perish without it, but who shall never perish with it. And, at length, God's grace seals itself upon the soul, by giving a true taste of joy and peace in believing; insomuch that the broken, drooping heart revives, and is able to say, "I do humbly venture to believe that Christ died for me, and will save me for evermore."
Now, through all the course of this gracious work, which, according to the will of God, is slower in some than in others, there is often much doubting and disputing in the man's own conscience. It is a sore struggle, at times, to quell the clamours of unbelief, and the suggestions of Satan; and at last, perhaps, the soul embraces the reality of God's love in Christ, with a trembling kind of hopeless hope, and doubting believing. These things often puzzle the understanding, and perplex the whole will and affections. A true believer is like Rebecca labouring with twins, a faithless Esau, and trusting Jacob; and so, like her, he cries out, "If it be so, why am I thus?" Whereas, if it were not so, if he were not of God, it could not be thus. Nature alone would not struggle; nor can what is dead strive against the stream. The whole bent of nature is against grace. So again, if he were all grace and no sin, he would feel no trouble; for the opposition of grace is made to nature and to the sin which is in it. And it is a good sign, though not a pleasant feeling, that there is this conflict: it demonstrates the life of God to be within.
In this way, the Christian embraces the gospel. He is enabled in hope against hope to believe it, as the grand charter of his salvation. And this very act of believing is the evidence within, concurring with the evidence of the written word without, that his name is enrolled in the charter, and that he is consequently entitled to all its blessings.
Take heart, therefore, thou child of God, and fear not. Thou hast the promise, the power, the mercy, and the truth of Jehovah on thy side; and who can prevail against Him? If you do not wholly believe, or are not perfectly cleared from all doubts, be not however dismayed. The faithfulness of your Lord is not grounded upon the perfect exercise of your faith, but upon His own sovereign grace and love. You desire to trust Him with your whole heart; but you never could have desired this, if He had never wrought that disposition within you. He was the Author, and He will be the Finisher, of all in you, as well as all for you. If God did not spare His own Son for your sake, what will He spare beside? Who shall, or who can, lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God Himself, with whom there is neither evil nor folly, who justifies you from both. Who can condemn you? It is Christ who blotteth out your sins by His precious blood, or rather is risen again to present you faultless in His righteousness before the throne, and to plead for you as that Advocate who never lost a cause. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall the evils of life, all the distresses of time, all the rage of the devil? Nay, in all these things your almighty Saviour will render you a conqueror, and more than a conqueror, because He has loved you. O divine words that follow! From your inmost affections, from the very ardour and spirit of faith, may you not breathe them forth! "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 me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. '
From the Christian Remembrancer Ambrose Serle