Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul
by Octavius Winslow (1841)
Chapter 3: Declension in FAITH
"Lord, increase our faith." (Luke 15:5)
Each grace of the Spirit must be considered by the believer as forming an essential element of his Christian character, and, as such, inconceivably costly and precious. He may not be sensible of possessing them all in the same degree: for as we only know the extent of our mental or physical powers, as circumstances develop them, so a believer knows not what graces of the Spirit he may possess, until the dealings of a covenant God call them into holy and active exercise. Thus do infinite wisdom and goodness unfold themselves in all the transactions of God with his people. Not arbitrarily, nor wantonly, nor unnecessarily does the heavenly Father deal with his child; - every stroke of the rod is but the muffled voice of love; every billow bears on its bosom, and every tempest on its wing, some new and rich blessing from the better land. O that we should ever breathe a sigh, or utter a murmur at God's covenant dealings, or for one moment mistake their holy and wise design and tendency!
If, then, every grace of the Spirit be thus indispensable and costly, the declension and decay of that grace in the believer must attract the especial notice of God, and involve solemn and serious consequences. Any part of God's great and gracious work of grace in the soul that is suffered to decay, seems like a reflection upon God himself; there is a dishonoring of him in it to a degree of which the believer is but little aware. What, next to his Son, is most glorious, and costly, and precious in God's sight? Is it the world? - no, he sees no glory in that. Is it the heavens? - no, they are not clean in his sight, and he charges his angels with folly: what is it, then? - it is his kingdom in his saints, his renewing, adopting, sanctifying grace in his people. Next to his Son, nothing is so glorious and costly; he sees, compared with this, no real beauty in anything besides; here his profoundest thoughts dwell, here his fondest love rests; to commence, carry forward and perfect this, all his arrangements in the vast provinces of nature, providence, and grace, are rendered subservient. Let us imagine, then, what must be the mind of God in view of a decaying, declining state of grace in the soul, and what the peculiar method which he adopts to resuscitate and recover it. Having considered personal declension in two of its stages, we have arrived at another equally solemn and important, - the declension of the grace of faith. We shall adopt the same plan in discussing it; and proceed, in the outset, to unfold the scriptural nature and properties of this Christian grace.
Few subjects within the vast range of Christian theology have been more frequently discussed, and yet, perhaps, so little understood, as that of faith. Nor is it to be wondered at, that men who approach its investigation without strict regard to the simple teaching of God's word, and entire dependence upon the illumination of the Spirit, should find difficulty and even obscurity investing a subject so purely spiritual. Nor is Satan slothful in his attempts to obscure the minds of men in their researches into this great subject. Faith is that grace against which the attacks of Satan are more directly and constantly directed than almost any other. Not ignorant of its spiritual nature and essential importance; and knowing the great glory its exercise brings to God, the subtle and sleepless foe of the believer employs every are to mystify its simplicity, and neutralize its efforts. It is not surprising, then, that opinions upon a subject so important should often be conflicting, and that views of its nature should often be obscure.
And yet scriptural and spiritual views of faith form the very basis of experimental godliness. Faith, being the starting point of experimental religion, an error here must prove fatal to every succeeding step. It is of no real moment how beautiful that religious structure is, or how perfect its symmetry, and magnificent its arches, and lofty its turrets, if it is based upon an unsound faith. No system of religion, no doctrinal creed, no profession of Christianity, if it cannot bear the test of God's word, and is not found to answer that test, is of any real value. All mere religion of the intellect, and of the imagination, and of taste - and these only are popular with the world - resting upon an unscriptural and defective faith, are but splendid chimeras; they disappoint in periods of sorrow, they deceive in the hour of death, and they involve the soul in interminable woe in the world to come. It is, then, of the most solemn moment, that, in professing religion, a man should see that he starts with true faith. If a merchant, in balancing his books, commences with an error in his calculations, is it surprising that that error should extend throughout his account, and bring him to a wrong conclusion? Or, if a traveler, journeying towards his home, selects from the many roads that branch out before him, a wrong one, would it be any marvel if he should never arrive at it? Apply these simple illustrations to the subject before us. Man has a long and a solemn account to settle with God; he is a debtor to a large amount; he owes God a perfect obedience to his law, and has "nothing to pay." Yet another character: he is a traveler to eternity, and every step is conducting him towards the close of a brief but responsible probation. Now, if in his religion he commences with unsound, unwarrantable, unscriptural views of any essential doctrine of salvation, the error with which he commenced must affect his entire religion; and unless his steps are retraced, and the error discovered and corrected, the end must prove fatal to his eternal happiness. He who pens this page feels it of the most solemn importance, that this chapter should present a scriptural view of the nature, properties, and tendency of this essential part of the great plan of salvation. May the Spirit now be our teacher, and the word of God our text-book!
It may be proper to state, that the authors of systems of divinity have generally classified the subject of faith. They speak of speculative faith, - of historical faith, - practical faith, - saving faith, - realizing faith. But as these distinctions serve only to mystify the subject and perplex the mind, and frequently lead to great errors, we set them aside, preferring and adopting the simple nomenclature of the inspired word, which can never perplex or mislead the humble disciple of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit speaks of but "one faith (Eph 4:5)," and that faith the "faith of God's elect (Tit 1:1)." And still the question recurs, What is faith? Briefly and simply, it is that act of the understanding and the heart by which a repenting sinner - a sinner under the mighty operation of the Eternal Spirit, convicting him of sin, and working in him true contrition - closes in with God's free proclamation of pardon through a crucified Savior: he believes, he receives, he welcomes the promise of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus "sets to his seal that God is true." We speak of the understanding as included in this act, because the advocates of evangelical truth have been accused of advancing doctrines which render nugatory all mental operation, and which make religion to consist in mere feeling. This witness is not true. We maintain that every faculty of the human mind is brought out in its full power, in the great work of heart-religion; that the Holy Spirit, working repentance and faith in man, does more to develop the intellectual faculties, than all human teaching beside. Have we not seen individuals, who, before conversion, gave no evidence of any than the most ordinary powers of mind, become, through the illumination of the Spirit by the revealed word, strong and commanding in intellect! Powers of reasoning, hitherto hidden were developed; and fountains of thought, hitherto sealed up, were opened; old things passed away, and all things became new. We repeat, then, it is the tendency of true religion to develop and strengthen the human intellect, and to give intensity and acuteness to all its faculties. No mind is so powerful as a renewed and sanctified mind.
Faith, then, has to do with the understanding and the heart. A man must know his lost and ruined condition before he will accept of Christ; and how can he know this, without a spiritually-enlightened mind? What a surprising change now passes over the man! He is brought, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, to a knowledge of himself; one beam of light, one touch of the Spirit, has altered all his views of himself, has placed him in a new aspect; all his thoughts, his affections, his desires, are diverted into another and an opposite channel; his fond views of his own righteousness have fled like a dream; his high thoughts are humbled, his lofty looks are brought low, and, as a broken-hearted sinner, he takes his place in the dust before God. O wondrous, O blessed change! to see the Pharisee take the place, and to hear him utter the cry, of the Tax-collector, - "God be merciful to me a sinner!" - to hear him exclaim, "I am lost, self-ruined, deserving eternal wrath; and of sinners, the vilest and the chief!" And now the work and exercise of faith commences; the same blessed Spirit that convinced of sin, presents to the soul a Savior crucified for the lost, - unfolds a salvation full and free for the most worthless, - reveals a fountain that "cleanses from all sin," and holds up to view a righteousness that "justifies from all things." And all that he sets the poor convinced sinner upon doing to avail himself of this, is simply to believe. To the momentous question, "What shall I do to be saved?" this is the only reply, - "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." The anxious soul eagerly exclaims, - "Have I then nothing to do but to believe? - have I no great work to accomplish? - no price to bring, no worthiness to plead? - may I come just as I am, without merit, without self-preparation, without money, with all my vileness and nothingness?" Still the reply is, "Only believe:" "Then, Lord, I do believe," exclaims the soul in a transport of joy, "help you my unbelief!" This, reader, is faith; faith, that wondrous grace, that mighty act of which you have heard so much, upon which so many volumes have been written, and so many sermons have been preached; it is the simple rolling of a wounded, bleeding heart, upon a wounded, bleeding Savior; it is the simple reception of the amazing truth, that Jesus died for the ungodly - died for sinners - died for the poor, the vile, the bankrupt; that he invites and welcomes to his bosom all poor, convinced, heavy-laden sinners. The heart, believing this wondrous announcement, going out of all other dependencies and resting only in this, - receiving it, welcoming it, rejoicing in it, in a moment, all, is peace. Do not forget, then reader, the simple definition of faith, - it is but to believe with all the heart that Jesus died for sinners; and the full belief of this one fact will bring peace to the most anxious and sin-troubled soul.
"Having begun in the Spirit," the believer is not to be "made perfect in the flesh;" having commenced his Divine life in faith, in faith he is to walk every step of his journey homewards. The entire spiritual life of a child of God is a life of faith, - God has so ordained it: and to bring him into the full and blessed experience of it, is the end of all his parental dealings with him. The moment a poor sinner has touched the hem of Christ's garment, feeble though this act of faith be, it is yet the commencement of this high and holy life; even from that moment, the believing soul professes to have done with a life of sense - with second causes, and to have entered upon a glorious life of faith on Christ. It is no forced application to him of the apostle's declaration: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." Let us briefly unfold some peculiar points of blessedness in this life.
There is its security: a believer stands by faith, - "You stands by faith (Rom 11:20)." Why is it that you have been kept to the present moment? You have seen many a tall cedar bowed to the earth; many who did appear to "run well," but who, in the hour of temptation, when worldly power, and wealth, and distinction increased, made shipwreck of their fancied faith, and fell into diverse lusts and snares which drowned their souls. Why have you been kept? your vessel weathering the storm, your feet yet upon the rock? Because "you stands by faith," - the "faith of God's elect" has kept you; and though you are deeply conscious of many and great departures, - sins, it may be, which if known to an ungodly, ignorant world, would bring upon you the laugh of scorn, - yet you have never been left quite to unhinge your soul from Jesus; you have discovered your sins, and mourned over and confessed them, and sought their forgiveness through a fresh application of the atoning blood, - and still, "you stands by faith." Ah! if faith had not kept you, where would you now have been? where would that temptation have driven you? into what consequences would that sin have involved you? But O, that brokenness, that contrition, that mourning, that going afresh to the open fountain, does prove that there was that in you which would not let you quite depart! The cedar may have been bowed to the earth, but it has risen again; the vessel may have been tossed in the tempest, and even may have been worsted by the storm, yet it has found its port: the "faith of God's elect" has kept you. "Be not high-minded, but fear." Your own vigilance, and power, and wisdom, had been but poor safeguards, but for the indwelling of that faith that can never die.
There is, too, the peculiar blessedness of the life of faith: "We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7)." This walk of faith takes in all the minute circumstances of every day's history; a walking every step by faith: a looking above trials, above necessities, above perplexities, above improbabilities and impossibilities, above all second causes; and, in the face of difficulties and discouragements, going forward, leaning upon God. If the Lord were to roll the Red Sea before us, and marshal the Egyptians behind us, and thus, hemming us in on every side, should yet bid us advance, it would be the duty and privilege of faith instantly to obey, - believing, that, before our feet touched the water, God, in our extremity, would divide the sea, and take us dry-shod over it. This is the only holy and happy life of a believer; if he for a moment leaves this path, and attempts to walk by sight, difficulties will throng around him, troubles will multiply, the smallest trials will become heavy crosses, temptations to depart from the simple and upright walk will increase in number and power, the heart will sicken at disappointment, the Spirit will be grieved, and God will be dishonored. Let this precious truth ever be before the mind, - "We walk by faith, not by sight."
Faith is an essential part of the spiritual armor: "Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked (Eph 6:16)." Faith is also spoken of as the believer's bosom-plate: "But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the bosom-plate of faith (1 Thess 5:8)." There is not a moment, even the holiest, but we are exposed to the "fiery darts" of the adversary. The onset, too, is often at a moment when we least suspect its approach; seasons of peculiar nearness to God, of hallowed enjoyment, - "for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (marg. "heavenly places")," - are frequently selected as the occasion of attack. But, clad in this armor, - the shield and the bosom-plate of faith, - no weapon formed against us shall prosper; the "fiery dart" shall be quenched, and the enemy shall be put to flight. Faith in a crucified, living Head, - faith eyeing future glory, the crown glittering, and the palm waving in its view, is the faith that overcomes and triumphs. Faith dealing constantly and simply with Jesus, - flying to his atoning blood, drawing from his fullness, and at all times and under all circumstances looking unto him, will ever bring a conflicting soul off more than conqueror: "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
Faith is a purifying grace: "Purifying their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9)," "Sanctified by faith that is in me (26:18)." It is a principle holy in its nature and tendency; he is most holy who has most faith; he who has least faith is most exposed to the assaults of his inbred corruptions. If there is in any child of God a desire for Divine conformity, for more of the spirit of Christ, more weanedness, and crucifixion, and daily dying, this should be his ceaseless prayer, - "Lord, increase my faith." Faith in Jesus checks the power of sin, slays the hidden corruption, and enables the believer to "endure as seeing him who is invisible."
This, too, is the grace that smooths the rugged way, lightens the daily burden, "glorifies God in the fire;" is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;" rests upon God's word because he has said it; and keeps the soul, through all its conflicts and trials, safe unto eternal glory: "Kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation." But we have mainly to do with the declension of this precious grace.
We have already remarked, that there is nothing essentially omnipotent in any single grace of the Spirit; to suppose this, would be to deify that grace: that, although regeneration is a spiritual work, and all the graces implanted in the soul are the product of the Spirit, and must necessarily be in their nature spiritual and indestructible, yet they may so decline in their power, become so enfeebled and impaired in their vigor and tendency, as to be classed among the "things that are ready to die." It is pre-eminently so with faith; perhaps there is no part of the Spirit's work more constantly and severely assailed, and consequently more exposed to declension, than this. Shall we look at the examples in God's word? We cite the case of Abraham, the father of the faithful; beholding him, at God's command, binding his son upon the altar, and raising the knife for the sacrifice, we unhesitatingly exclaim, - "Surely never was faith like this! Here is faith of a giant character; faith, whose sinews no trial can ever relax, whose luster no temptation can ever dim." And yet, tracing the history of the patriarch still further, we find that very giant faith now trembling, and yielding under a trial far less acute and severe; he, who could surrender the life of his promised son - that son, through whose lineal descent Jesus was to come - into the hands of God, could not entrust that same God with his own. We look at Job: in the commencement of his deep trial we find him justifying God; messenger follows messenger with tidings of yet deeper woe, but not a murmur is breathed; and as the cup, now full to the brim, is placed to his lips, how sweetly sounds the voice of holy resignation, - "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord;" "In all this did not Job sin with his lips:" and yet the very faith, which thus bowed in meekness to the rod, so declined, as to lead him to curse the day of his birth! We see David, whose faith could at one time lead him out to battle with Goliath, now fleeing from a shadow, and exclaiming, - "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul!" And mark how the energy of Peter's faith declined, who at one period could walk boldly upon the tempestuous sea, and yet at another could deny his Lord, panic-struck at the voice of a little maid. Who will say that the faith of the holiest man of God may not at one time greatly and sadly decline?
But we need not travel out of ourselves for the evidence and the illustration of the affecting truth we are upon: let every believer turn in upon himself. What, reader, is the real state of your faith? is it as lively, vigorous, and active, as it was when you first believed? Has it undergone no declension? Is the Object of faith as glorious in your eye as he then was? Are you not now looking at second causes in God's dealings with you, instead of lifting your eye and fixing it on him alone? What is your faith in prayer? - do you come boldly to the throne of grace, asking, nothing doubting? Do you take all your trials, your wants, your infirmities, to God! What is your realization of eternal things, - is faith here in constant, holy exercise? Are you living as a pilgrim and a sojourner, "choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," than float along on the summer-sea of this world's enjoyments? What is the crucifying power of your faith? - does it deaden you to sin, and wean you from the world, and constrain you to walk humbly with God and near to Jesus? And when the Lord brings the cross, and says, "Bear this for me," does your faith promptly and cheerfully acquiesce, "any cross, any suffering, any sacrifice for you, dear Lord?" Thus may you try the nature and the degree of your faith; bring it to the touchstone of God's truth, and ascertain what its character is, and how far it has suffered declension. Permit us to adduce a few causes to which a feeble and declining faith may frequently be traced.
When a believer's visits to his closet grow less frequent and spiritual, faith will assuredly decline. Prayer is the channel that supplies faith with its nourishment and vigor. As well might we cut off all the rills and streams which flow down the mountain's side, and expect that the valleys beneath will present their enameled and verdant aspect, as to close up the channel of prayer, and then look for a healthy, vigorous, and growing faith. There is a beautiful connection between faith and prayer, - their influence is reciprocal: constant and ardent prayer strengthens faith, and faith, brought into exercise, stimulates to prayer. A praying man will be a believing man, and a man of faith will be a man of prayer. Mary Queen of Scotland is said to have expressed a greater dread of the prayers of John Knox the Reformer, than of all the armies leagued against her. But what infused such power into the prayers of Knox, rendering them "terrible as an army with banners?" - it was his mighty faith; and his mighty faith rendered him mighty in prayer. Here, then, we have one cause, and a most fruitful one, of the weak and powerless faith of many professors: they live at a distance from God, and the consequence is, faith receives no nourishment; there is but little going to Jesus, but little dealing with his blood, but little drawing from his fullness; forgetting that, as he is the Author, so is he the Sustainer of faith, and that the soul only lives, as it lives "by the faith of the Son of God." Reader, is your faith in a feeble, sickly, declining state? Look well to your closet: see if you can not trace the cause there. What is your accustomed habit of prayer? How much time of twelve hours is spent with God? What! do your business, your family, your worldly engagements, consume all your time? What! but little time for prayer? - but few stolen moments for God? - no hours redeemed from secular pursuits, and devoted to holy communion and filial fellowship with your Father in secret? It is well near all consumed upon yourself, in worldly care, confusion, and excitement? Wonder not that your faith is feeble, drooping, and ready to die: the greatest wonder is, that you are not quite dead: that the feeble, flickering spark is not entirely extinguished. Rouse you from your fearful slumber! Your situation, drowsy professor, is perilous in the extreme; you are sleeping on enchanted ground; your shield and your bosom-plate lying unbuckled at your side, and all your enemies gathering in fearful numbers around you! - a return to prayer is your only safety.
Dealing much with a life of sense, is a most influential cause of declension in faith. If we desire to see our way every step of our homeward path, we must abandon the more difficult, though more blessed ascent of faith; it is impossible to walk by sight and by faith at the same time; the two paths run in opposite directions. If the Lord were to reveal the why and the wherefore of all his dealings; if we were only to advance as we saw the spot on which we were to place our foot, or only to go out as we knew the place where we were going, it were then no longer a life of faith that we lived, but of sight. We should have exchanged the life which glorifies, for the life which dishonors God. When God, about to deliver the Israelites from the power of Pharaoh, commanded them to advance, it was before he revealed the way by which he was about to rescue them. The Red Sea rolled its deep and frowning waves at their feet; they saw not a spot of dry ground on which they could tread; and yet, this was the command to Moses, - "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward." They were to "walk by faith, not by sight." It had been no exercise of faith in God, no confidence in his promise, no resting in his faithfulness, and no "magnifying of his word above all his name," had they halted until the waters cleaved asunder, and a dry passage opened to their view. But like the patriarchs, they "staggered not at the promise, of God through unbelief; but were strong in faith, giving glory to God." Have little to do with sense, if you would have much to do with faith. Expect not always to see the way. God may call you to go into a place, not making known to you where you go; but it is your duty, like Abraham, to obey. All that you ever have to do is go forward, leaving all consequences and results to God: it is enough for you that the Lord by this providence says, "Go forward!" This is all you may hear; it is your duty instantly to respond, "Lord, I go at your bidding; bid me come to you, though it be upon the stormy water."
Faith unexercised in dark and afflictive providences, leads greatly to its declension. The exercise of faith strengthens, as the neglect of exercise weakens it. It is the constant play of the arm that brings out its muscular power in all its fullness; were that arm allowed to hang by our side, still and motionless, how soon would its sinews contract, and its energy waste away! So it is with faith, the right arm of a believer's strength; the more it is exercised, the mightier it becomes; neglect to use it, allow it to remain inert and inoperative, and the effect will be a withering up of its power. Now when gloomy providences, and sharp trials and temptations, thicken around a poor believing soul, then is it the time for faith to put on its strength, and come forth to the battle. God never places his child in any difficulties, or throws upon him any cross, but it is a call to exercise faith; and if the opportunity of its exercise passes away without improvement, the effect will be, a weakening of the principle, and a feeble putting forth of its power in the succeeding trial. Do not forget, that the more faith is brought into play, the more it increases; the more it is exercised, the stronger it becomes; the reverse of this is frequently the cause of its sad declension.
The habitual, or even the occasional, doubtful apprehension indulged in of his interest in Christ, will tend materially to the enfeebling and decay of a believer's faith: no cause can be more certain in its effects than this. If it be true, as we have shown, that the exercise of faith develops its strength, it is equally true, that the perpetual indulgence of doubtful apprehensions of pardon and acceptance, must necessarily eat as a cankerworm at the root of faith. Every misgiving felt, every doubt cherished, ever fear yielded to, every dark providence brooded over, tends to unhinge the soul from God, and dims its near and loving view of Jesus. To doubt the love, the wisdom, and the faithfulness of God; to doubt the perfection of the work of Christ; to doubt the operation of the Spirit on the heart, - what can tend more to the weakening and decay of this precious and costly grace? Every time the soul sinks under the pressure of a doubt of its interest in Christ, the effect must be a weakening of the soul's view of the glory, perfection, and all-sufficiency of Christ's work. But imperfectly may the doubting Christian be aware what dishonor is done to Jesus, what reflection is cast upon his great work, by every unbelieving fear he cherishes. It is a secret wounding of Jesus, however the soul may shrink from such an inference; it is a lowering, an undervaluing of Christ's obedience and death, - that glorious work of salvation with which the Father has declared himself well pleased, - that work with which Divine justice has confessed itself satisfied, - that work on the basis of which every poor, convinced sinner is saved, and on the ground of which millions of redeemed and glorified spirits are now bowing around the throne, - that work, we say, is dishonored, undervalued, and slighted by every doubt and fear secretly harbored, or openly expressed by a child of God. The moment a believer looks at his unworthiness more than at the righteousness of Christ, - supposes that there is not a sufficiency of merit in Jesus to supply the absence of all merit in himself before God, what is it but a setting up his sinfulness and unworthiness above the infinite worth, fullness, and sufficiency of Christ's atonement and righteousness? There is much spurious humility among many of the dear saints of God. It is thought by some, that to be always doubting one's pardon and acceptance, is the evidence of a lowly spirit. It is, allow us to say, the mark of the very opposite of a lowly and humble mind. That is true humility that credits the testimony of God, - that believes because he has spoken it, - that rests in the blood, and righteousness, and all-sufficiency of Jesus, because he has declared that "whoever believes in him shall be saved." This is genuine lowliness, - the blessed product of the Eternal Spirit. To go to Jesus just as I am, a poor, lost, helpless sinner, - to go without previous preparation, - to go glorying in my weakness, infirmity, and poverty, that the free grace and sovereign pleasure, and infinite merit of Christ, may be seen in my full pardon, justification, and eternal glory. There is more of unmortified pride, of self-righteousness, of that principle that would make God a debtor to the creature, in the refusal of a soul fully to accept of Jesus, than is suspected. There is more real, profound humility in a simple, believing venture upon Christ, as a ruined sinner, taking him as all its righteousness, all its pardon, all its glory, than it is possible for any mortal mind to fathom. Doubt is ever the offspring of pride: humility is ever the handmaid of faith.
Nor must we forbear to specify, as among the most fruitful causes of a declension of faith, the power of unsubdued sin in the heart: nothing, perhaps, more secretly and effectually militates against the vigor of a life of faith than this. Faith, as we have seen, is a holy, indwelling principle; it has its root in the renewed, sanctified heart; and its growth and fruitful-ness depend much upon the progressive richness of the soil in which it is embedded: if the noxious weeds of the natural soil are allowed to grow and occupy the heart, and gain the ascendancy, this celestial plant will necessarily droop and decay. In order to form some conception of the utter incongruity of a life of faith with the existence and power of un-mortified sin in the heart, we have but to imagine the case of a believer living in the practice of unsubdued sin. What is the real power of faith in him? where is its strength? where are its glorious achievements? where the trophies it has won in the field of battle ?
We look for the fruit of faith, - the lowly, humble, contrite spirit - the tender conscience - the traveling daily to the atoning blood - the living upon the grace that is in Christ Jesus - the carrying out of Christian principle - crucifixion to the world - patient submission to a life of suffering - meek resignation to a Father's discipline - a living as beholding Him who is invisible - a constant and vivid realization of eternal realities, - we look for these fruits of faith; but we find them not. And why ? because there is the worm of unmortified sin feeding at the root; and until that is slain, faith will always be sickly, unfruitful, and "ready to die." "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you shall die; but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live."
A looking off of Christ will tend greatly to the weakening and unfruitfulness of faith. It is said, that the eagle's eye becomes strong through the early discipline of the parent; placed in such a position when young, as to fix the gaze intently upon the sun, the power of vision gradually becomes so great, as to enable it in time to look at its meridian splendor without uneasiness, and to observe the remotest object without difficulty. The same spiritual discipline strengthens the eye of faith; the eye grows vigorous by looking much at the Sun of righteousness. The more constantly it gazes upon Jesus, the stronger it grows; and the stronger it grows, the more glory it discovers in him, the more beauty in his person, and perfection in his work. Thus strengthened, it can see things that are afar off, - the promises of a covenant-keeping God, the hope of eternal life, the crown of glory - these it can look upon and almost touch: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." And of the Old Testament worthies it is recorded by the same Spirit: " These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." O precious, costly grace of the Eternal Spirit! who would not possess you? who would not mortify everything that would wound, enfeeble, and cause you to decay in the soul ?
It only remains for us to show in what way the Holy Spirit revives, strengthens, and increases the declining grace of faith. And this he does, in the first place, by discovering to the believer the cause of its declension, and setting him upon, and strengthening him in, the work of its removal. The Spirit leads the declining believer to the spiritual duty of self-examination. When any grace of the Spirit is in a sickly and declining state, an effect so painful must originate in a cause that needs to be searched out: the great difficulty in a backsliding soul, is, to bring it to the spiritual and needed duty of self-scrutiny: There is something so humiliating, so foreign to the natural inclination of the heart, and withal, to which the very declension of the soul is so strongly opposed, that it requires no little putting forth of the Spirit's grace, to bring the believer honestly and fully into it. Just as the merchant, conscious of the embarrassed state of his affairs, shrinks from a thorough investigation of his books, so does the conscious backslider turn from the honest examination of his wandering heart. But as the cure of any disease, or the correction of any evil, depends upon the knowledge of its cause, so does the revival of a declining believer closely connect itself with the discovery and removal of that which led to his declension. Declining believer, what is the cause of your weak faith ? Why is this lovely, precious, and fruitful flower drooping, and ready to die? What has dimmed the eye, and paralyzed the hand, and enfeebled the walk of faith? Perhaps it is the neglect of prayer: you have lived, it may be, days, and weeks, and months, without communion with God; there have been no constant and precious visits to your closet; no wrestling with God; no fellowship with your Father. Marvel not, beloved, that your faith languishes, droops, and fades. The greater marvel is, that you have any faith at all; that it is not quite dead, plucked up by the root; and but for the mighty power of God, and the constant intercession of Jesus at his right hand, it would long since have ceased to be. But what will revive it ? - An immediate return to prayer; revisit your closet; rebuild the broken altar; rekindle the expiring flame; seek your forsaken God. O how can faith be revived, and how can it grow, in the neglect of daily, secret, and wrestling prayer with God? The Eternal Spirit laying this upon your heart, showing you your awful neglect, and breathing into you afresh the spirit of grace and supplication, will impart a new and blessed impulse to faith.
Perhaps you have been misinterpreting the Lord's providential dealings with you; you have been indulging in unbelieving, unkind, unfilial views of your trials, bereavements, and disappointments; you have said, " Can I be a child, yet be afflicted thus? can he love me, yet deal with me so?" O that thought! O that surmise! Could you have looked into the heart of your God when he sent that trial, caused that bereavement, blew upon that flower, and blasted that fair design, you would never have murmured more: so much love, so much tenderness, so much faithfulness, so much wisdom would you have seen as to have laid your mouth silent in the dust before him. Wonder not that, indulging in such misgivings, interpreting the covenant dealings of a God of love in such a light, your faith has received a wound. Nothing perhaps more tends to unhinge the soul from God, engender distrust, hard thoughts, and rebellious feelings, than thus to doubt his loving-kindness and faithfulness in the discipline he is pleased to send. But faith, looking through the dark cloud, rising on the mountain wave, and anchoring itself on the Divine veracity, and the unchangeable love of God, is sure to strengthen and increase by every storm that beats upon it.
Is it the enchantment of the world that has seized upon your faith? has it stolen upon you, beguiled you, caught you with its glitter, fascinated you with its siren song, overwhelmed you with its crushing cares?óCome out from it, and be separate; resign its hollow friendship, its temporizing policy, its carnal enjoyments, its fleshly wisdom, its sinful conformity. All these becloud the vision, and enfeeble the grasp of faith. The world, and the love of it, and conformity to it, may please and assist the life of sense, but it is opposed to, and will retard, the life of faith. Not more opposed in their natures are the flesh and the Spirit, darkness and light, sin and holiness, than are a vigorous life of faith and a sinful love of the world. Professor of the Gospel! guard against the world; it is your great bane: watch against conformity to it in your dress, in your mode of living, in the education of your children, in the principles, and motives, and policy, that govern you. We would say to every professing Christian, be a non-conformist here; separate yourselves from the world, - that world that crucified your Lord and Master, and would crucify his faith that is in you; touch not the unclean thing, for, "you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Would you be " strong in faith, giving glory to God?" - then yield obedience to the voice which, with an unearthly tongue, exclaims to every professing child of God, " be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God!"
Is it unmortified sin that feeds at the root of faith ? Bring it to the cross of Christ, - condemn it there, nail it there, and leave it not until you are enabled to exclaim, " Thanks be unto God, who always causes me to triumph through Christ Jesus!"
Is it the indulgence of unbelieving and dishonoring fears touching your interest in Christ? Yield them, and let the wind scatter them; there is no ground for the doubts and unbelief of a child of God; there may be much in himself to cast him down, but nothing in the truth which he professes to believe; there is nothing in the subject-matter of faith, nothing in Christ, nothing in the work of Christ, nothing in the word of God, calculated to beget a doubt or a fear in the heart of a poor sinner. On the contrary, everything to inspire confidence, strengthen faith, and encourage hope. Does his sin plead loud for his condemnation? - the voice of Immanuel's blood pleads louder for his pardon; does his own righteousness condemn ? - the righteousness of Christ acquits. Thus there is nothing in Christ to engender an unbelieving doubt in a poor convinced sinner. Himself he may doubt, - he may doubt his ability to save himself, - he may doubt his power to better his condition, to make himself more worthy and acceptable, but never let him doubt that Christ is all that a poor, lost, convinced sinner wants. Let him not doubt that Jesus is the Friend of sinners, the Savior of sinners, and that he was never known to cast out one who in lowliness and brokenness of heart, sought his compassionate grace. O seek, reader, more simple views of Jesus; clearer views of his great and finished work; take every doubt as it is suggested, every fear as it rises, to him; and remember that whatever of vileness you discover in yourself that has a tendency to lay you low, there is everything in Jesus calculated to lift you from the ash-heap, and place you among the princes. Discovering to the backsliding believer these points, - making known to him which it is that causes the declension of his faith, the Eternal Spirit of God takes the first step in the great and precious work of revival.
A further step by which the Holy Spirit revives the decaying faith of the believer is, by leading him to rest more simply on the faithfulness of God. What a restorative to drooping faith are these declarations of the Divine word, which represent God as infinitely unchangeable and faithful: " I am the Lord, I change not": " Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning ": " I will betroth you unto me in faithfulness " : " Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his thoughts ": " Nor will I suffer my faithfulness to fail": " Great is your faithfulness": " Faithful is he who promised!" And then to remember, that the unbelief of the believer never affects the faithfulness of God! " If we believe not, yet he abides faithful; he cannot deny himself." This is the only true and secure anchorage-ground for a poor soul, tossed amid the waves of doubt and perplexity; - to know that God cannot alter his word, - that it is impossible that he should lie, that were he to deviate from his infinite perfection, he would cease to be a perfect Being, and consequently would cease to be God: to know, too, that he is faithful in the midst of the unfaithfulness and perpetual startings aside of his child, - faithful in the depth of the deepest affliction, - faithful when earthly hopes wither, and human cisterns are broken, and when the soul is led to exclaim, "His faithfulness has failed!" O what a spring to a tried and drooping faith, is this view which God himself has given of his own glorious and perfect character! It is no small triumph of faith to walk with God, when all is darkness with the soul, and there is no light; to feel amid the roaring of the waves that still he is faithful; that though he slay, yet the soul can trust him; that though he were to take all else away, he would never remove himself from his people. O glorious triumph of faith! " Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness, and has no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
It will tend much to the revival of a tried and drooping faith to remember, that when the Lord is about to impart any peculiar mercy, there is always a travail of faith for that mercy. Some of the choicest mercies of the covenant brought into the experience of the believer, come by a travail of faith: it may be a tedious and painful process; faith may be long and sharply tried, yet the blessing it will bring forth will more than repay for all the weeping, and suffering, and crying, it has occasioned. Be not surprised, then, at any severe trial of faith; be sure that when it is thus tried, God is about to bring your soul into the possession of some great, and perhaps, hitherto unexperienced mercy. It may be a travail of faith for spiritual blessing; and the result may be a deepening of the work in your heart, increase of spirituality, more weanedness from creature-trust, and more child-like leaning upon the Lord; more simple, close, and sanctifying knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Or, it may be a travail of faith for temporal mercy, for the supply of some want, the rescue from some embarrassment, the deliverance out of some peculiar and trying difficulty; but, whatever the character of the trial of faith be, the issue is always certain and glorious. The Lord may bring his child into difficult and strait paths, he may hedge him about with thorns so that he cannot get out, but it is only to draw the soul more simply to repose in himself; that, in the extremity, when no creature would or could help, when refuge failed and no man cared for his soul, that then faith should go out and rest itself in Him who never disowns his own work, but always honors the feeblest exhibition, and turns his ear to the faintest cry. " Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication." " In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears." "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." " This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him; and saved him out of all his troubles." Here was the severe travail of faith, and here we see the blessed result. Thus true is God's word, which declares that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." " He who goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
But more, - the trial of faith is a test of its degree. We know not what faith we possess, until the Lord calls it into exercise; we may be greatly deceived as to its nature and degree; to walk upon the stormy water, may be thought by us an easy thing; to witness for Christ, no hard matter: but the Lord brings our faith to the test. He bids us come to him upon the water, and then we begin to sink; he suffers us to be assailed by our enemies, and we shrink from the cross; he puts our faith to the trial, and then we learn how little we possess.
The trial of faith is also a test of its character; it is the furnace that tries the ore, of what kind it is: it may be brass, or iron, or clay, or perhaps precious gold; but the crucible will test it. There is much that passes for real faith, which is no faith; there is much spurious, counterfeit metal; it is the trial that brings out its real character. The true character of Judas was not known until his covetousness was tempted; Simon Magus was not discovered to possess a spurious faith, until he thought to purchase the gift of God with money; Demas did not forsake the apostle, until the world drew him away. Thus solemnly has our Lord unfolded this truth, - "He who received the seed into stony places, the same is he who hears the word, and anon with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while: for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by-and-by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." But true faith stands the trial; where there is a real work of grace in the heart, no tribulation, or persecution, or power of this world, will ever be able to expel it thence: but if all is chaff, the wind will scatter it: if all is but dross and tinsel, the fire will consume it. Let the humble and tried believer, then, thank God for every test that brings out the real character of his faith, and proves it to be " the faith of God's elect." God will try his own work in the gracious soul; every grace of his own Spirit he will at one time or another place in the crucible; but never will he remove his eye from off it; he will " sit as a refiner," and watch that not a grain of the precious metal is consumed; he will be with his child in all and every affliction; not for one moment will he leave him. Let gratitude rather than murmuring, joy rather than sorrow, attend every test which a loving and faithful Father brings to his own gracious work, - " that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
Be careful of not making a Savior of faith. There is a danger - and it cannot be too vigilantly guarded against - of substituting the work of the Spirit for the work of Christ; this mistake it is that leads so many of God's saints to look within, instead of without, themselves for the evidences of their calling and acceptance; and thus, too, so many are kept all their spiritual course walking in a state of bondage and fear, the great question never fully and fairly settled, or, in other words, never quite sure of their sonship. The work of Christ is a great and finished work; it is so glorious that it can admit of no comparison, so complete that it can allow of no addition, and so essential that it can give place to no substitution. Precious as is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and essential as it is to the salvation of the soul, yet he who places it where the work of Jesus ought only to be, deranges the order of the covenant, closes up the legitimate source of evidence, and will assuredly bring distress and uncertainty into his soul. " Righteousness, peace, and joy," are the fruit of a full belief in the Lord Jesus Christ; and he who looks for them away from the cross, will meet with disappointment: but they are found in Jesus. He who looks away from himself, from his vileness, guiltiness, emptiness, and poverty, fully and believingly unto Jesus, shall know what the forgiveness of sin is, and shall experience the love of God shed abroad in his heart.
If, then, your faith is feeble and tried, be not cast down; faith does not save you. Though it be an instrument of salvation, and as such, is of vast importance, it is but the instrument; the finished work of Immanuel is the ground of your salvation, yes, it is your salvation itself. Then make not a Savior of your faith; despise it not if it is feeble, exult not in it if it is strong, trample not on it if it is small, deify it not if it is great; such are the extremes to which every believer is exposed. If your faith is feeble and sharply tried, it is no evidence that you are not a believer; but the evidence of your acceptance in the Beloved, is to arise from Jesus alone; then let your constant motto be, "looking unto Jesus"; looking to him just as you are; looking unto him when faith is feeble; looking unto him when faith is tried; looking unto him when faith is declining, yes, looking unto him when you fear you have no faith. Look up, tried and tempted soul! Jesus is the Author, the Sustainer, and he will become the Finisher of your faith. All you want is in him. One glimpse, dim though it be, of his cross, - one touch, trembling though it be, of his garment, - will lift you from your lowest depths, lighten your heaviest burden, gild your darkest prospect, and when you arrive at Jordan's brink, will bear you safely through its swellings, and land you on the sunny and verdant shores of Canaan. Let this be your prayer, urged unceasingly at the throne of grace until it is answered - "Lord, increase my faith "; and then, with holy Paul, you too shall be enabled with humble assurance to exclaim, " I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day!"