The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated

By John Angell James, 1852

STRONG faith, and the ASSURANCE of faith

Growth and maturity of strength are the general laws of life. Feebleness and a stationary condition are the exceptions. This is as true of the spiritual life, as it is of vegetable and animal existence, and indeed is set forth in the metaphors by which Christian vitality is represented in the Word of God. The Christian is compared to various trees and animals, all, of course, importing advancement, growth, increase. Whatever is good tends to what is better—and it can be only through neglect or opposition, that this tendency towards growth is checked.

Yet in the Divine life, growth is in many, perhaps we may add in most cases, so sadly neglected. Professors are contented, as children, to be always babes; as pupils, to be always in the alphabet of experimental religion. It would seem as if the least degrees of holiness would satisfy them, as if they had no ambition; no earnest desire to "grow in grace;" no agonizing endeavor to be "strengthened with all might in the inner man." What a prayer that is, of the apostle for the believing Hebrews– "The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work." Heb. 13:20-21. Make you perfect; not only in one thing but in every good work.

The Scriptures dwell much, very much, on that word perfection. And so ought we. Our aim should be perfect faith—perfect peace—perfect love—perfect hope. It is not enough to have faith—but our aim ought to be after strong faith, yes– "the full assurance of faith." The love, and desire, and pursuit of other things, increase with possession. It is so with money—with knowledge—with fame. The desire after these things is never satisfied. The incessant longing is for more, and the incessant cry is "give, give!" So should it be with the believer. To be satisfied with what he has, may indicate that he really has nothing.

It must be evident to every one, that faith is from its very nature, and in reference to all things, susceptible of degrees. There are all degrees of belief, from a state of mind in which doubt so far unsettles persuasion, as almost to change it into preponderating unbelief; up to that full conviction which excludes all doubt. There may be the perception of evidence, which is like the glimmer of a star amid the clouds of night, scarcely visible at times; and there may be that which is as the full blaze of a cloudless sun at noon-day. It is so in general matters, and it is so in spiritual ones.

Strong faith then in spiritual matters, means a full persuasion of the truth of God's promises in the face of some difficulties which seem to oppose their performance. The putting forth of strength on any occasion, at least in the case of a creature, seems to imply a resistance to be overcome, and an effort to subdue it. There can be no difficulties in any given case in the way of Omnipotence—but there may be in ours. Now this is strong faith, to take the promise, then look at all the obstacles which seem to hinder its accomplishment, and yet to say– "No matter, though these difficulties were ten times as great as they are, it must be fulfilled, for it is the Word of God." It is strong faith, when we have nothing else but the Word of God to depend upon; and when, though all things else are against us, still we believe without misgiving that it will be done.

It is a great thing really to commit the soul, or even any of our greater temporal interests, to the simple promise of God, when we have nothing else to rely upon—and it is not only great but difficult. "When," says Owen– "men come to close with the promise indeed, to make a life upon it, they are very ready to question and enquire whether it is possible the Word should ever be made good unto them. He who sees a little boat swimming at sea, observes no great difficulty in it; looks upon it without any solicitude of mind—beholds how it tosses up and down, without any fears of its sinking. But now let that man be required to commit his own life to sea, to that boat, what inquiries will he make? What a search into the vessel? 'Is it possible,' he will say, 'this little thing should safeguard my life in the ocean?' It is so with us in our view of the promises; while we consider them at large, as they lie in the Word, they are all true—all yes and amen; all shall be accomplished. But when we go to venture our souls upon a promise, in an ocean of wrath and temptations, then every blast we think will overturn it—it will not bear us above all these waves. Is it possible we should swim safely upon a plank in the midst of the ocean?"

This subject will be best illustrated by an example—and we will take that of Abraham, of whom the apostle has these remarkable words– "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform." Rom. 4:20, 21. Now here was a promise given that he should have a son; here were also apparently insuperable difficulties; he and his wife were past the age of procreation; and here also was Abraham's strong faith—he firmly believed that God would perform the promise, notwithstanding these difficulties. See how strongly it is set forth—every expression is emphatic, and we will therefore briefly comment upon each– "Against hope, he believed in hope;" all the arguments which should beget hope in him, were against him. What ground could there be for expecting that two bodies, in this respect dead, should be the source and fountain of "many nations?" Yet notwithstanding all this, he believed in hope. Why? Because God had promised. He had only the promise of God. No matter. He had that. It was enough. And he would for the same reason have believed—if God had promised him ten sons instead of one.

It was then added– "He was not weak in faith." This is only a negative form of the other expression. It is a mere weakness of faith, though some may think it the strength of our reason, that leads us to be poring upon the difficulties and seeming impossibilities that lie against the promise. Abraham being not weak in faith, thought these things not worth his consideration. It is a beautiful expression. He considered not the difficulties—did not take them into account—cast not a look at them—but considered only the promise. He seemed as much taken up with the promise as God was with the purpose; and difficulties seemed as completely lost sight of to the omnipotence of his faith as they were to the omnipotence of God's power. This is the right frame of mind, to be so taken up with the promise, as to see nothing else but that and its performance.

"He staggered not at the promise through unbelief." It is not merely said he did not fall only; he did not even "stagger." A man may stumble and stagger over a stone, who may not fall over a precipice—but such was Abraham's confidence in God's truth and power, that all the difficulties did not make him stumble even for a moment. His faith stepped over them all with the same ease as a giant would over an obstacle that would stop lesser and feebler men in their course. He had not unbelief enough to make him trip in his course. "But was strong in faith, giving glory to God." Here is the positive form of the expression—his faith was strong enough to believe without a moment's hesitation, that though now a hundred years old, and his wife nearly as old as him, he would be the father of many nations. Then his giving glory to God. This comes in very beautifully. Nothing honors God more than faith, except it be strong faith. This it is which treats God as being worthy of confidence. Are not we complimented, honored, gratified, when others who are dependent upon us say to us– "I fully confide in you?" So is God—trust in him honors him as a God of truth, wisdom, power, and goodness. Confidence is an homage to all God's natural and moral attributes at once. It is treating him as God. Little do Christians think how much God is dishonored by their weak and hesitating trust; or glorified by their prompt and strong dependence.

And what was the basis of Abraham's faith? "Being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform." To settle ourselves upon the all-sufficiency of God for the accomplishment of such things as are altogether impossible to anything else, is confidence indeed; and worthy of our imitation. It is also the wisdom of faith to pitch peculiarly on that in God which is accommodated to the difficulties with which it has to wrestle. Is Abraham to believe that from his dead body must spring a whole nation? He rests on God as "he who quickens the dead."

Were it necessary, we might dwell at equal length on Abraham's faith in a future period and another scene of his history, in reference to the child that was thus promised and given to him in his old age; and we should see that this act of confidence in God's truth and power was no less remarkable than in the present instance. "By faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac—and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall your seed be called—accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead." Heb. 11:17-19. On the life of Isaac depended the fulfillment of all the promises which God had given to the patriarch, and yet now he is commanded to slay that son and offer him up in sacrifice. If Abraham had been surrounded with children, or if no promises had been made connected with the life of Isaac, his faith would not have been so remarkable; but when there was that only child, and all hung upon his one life; then to believe that it was his duty to immolate him, and leave God to find out a way to fulfill his own word—this was strong faith. He believed that if Isaac were reduced to ashes, God could and would raise him up again. There was no other way in which the promise could be fulfilled; and in the persuasion of that, he stretched forth his hand and grasped the sacrificial knife, which would be employed to slay even this precious child of promise. Illustrious believer! Illustrious faith! No wonder that Abraham is called the 'father of believers' and the 'friend of God'. We wish to point out the strength of his confidence as consisting in this, that he had nothing but the promise of God to rely upon; and believed that in opposition to the most formidable difficulties, it would be fulfilled.

If other instances were necessary, we might point to several individuals under the New Testament dispensation. The faith of the apostles and the first Christians in looking through the outward poverty and lowliness of our Lord's appearance, and recognizing under that forbidding exterior, the Son of God and the Messiah—a persuasion the more remarkable on account of the opposition and rejection of Christ, by the rulers and bulk of the Jewish nation. The case of the Syrophenician woman mentioned in Matthew 15, is much in point as an instance and illustration of strong faith. We have already considered this, and we now only refer to it. She would allow no obstacle to hinder her suit. Like Abraham, she against hope, believed in hope. Her perseverance conquered the Savior, and drew from him the language of commendation and delighted surprise– "O woman, great is your faith."

Perhaps the brightest and most remarkable instance of faith in all the New Testament, is that of the penitent thief who was executed by the side of our Lord. I can never read that account without wonder. For this man in his own circumstances, and in the circumstances of Christ, to recognize in him who was crucified at the same time and in the same place as himself; who was mocked and reviled by his enemies and abandoned by his friends; who cried out amid his anguish, and acknowledged that he was forsaken by his God; who was challenged to prove his claims by descending from the cross—to recognize him, I say, as the Son of God and the Lord of glory; the king of heaven who had the keys of heaven at his disposal; and to present to him that prayer– "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom," this was on some accounts the most extraordinary act of faith on record. Who should have thought of going to Calvary at the time of the crucifixion, and finding in one of the malefactors crucified with Christ, the most triumphant instance of confidence in the Savior, to be found in the pages of the New Testament? What difficulties had his belief to surmount, and it did surmount them.

We will now put opposite to all this, some instances of a FEEBLE faith. Several are at hand. The Israelites left the house of bondage in Egypt at the command of God, and under the positive assurance that he would conduct them in safety to the promised land of Canaan. With this command and promise, and with all the evidence they possessed that God had thus authorized and warranted their expectations, no difficulties ought to have appalled them. Neither Pharaoh's army pursuing them—nor the Red Sea before them—nor the dreariness of the wilderness—nor the need either of bread or water—nor the number or power of their enemies, ought to have disheartened them. True, their difficulties were often great. What then? Had not God promised to be with them? Was not the token of his presence in the midst of them? They had the most positive assurance of protection and provision, and their obvious duty was to say– "No matter what obstacles or enemies lie in our way to Canaan; we shall go to it, and nothing can keep us from it!" Instead of this, every difficulty filled them with fears, doubts, alarms, distrust, murmuring, and rebellion. Now here we see believing trust giving way to difficulties. They had the promise—but they doubted its fulfillment, until their doubts degenerated into absolute unbelief.

In the New Testament we meet with instances no less instructive. Peter walking on the water shows the power of faith; his fearing and sinking when the wind rose, shows its weakness. He had the command of his Master to step down upon the waters, and though the waves had run mountains high, he was safe, and ought to have felt so. True, it seemed a perilous situation—but he had Christ's warrant for it, which he should have trusted. And he deserved the rebuke he received– "O you of little faith—why did you doubt?" On other occasions the apostles appear to have doubted of their ability to cast out demons and work miracles, the difficulties of which appeared to them greater than those of some other cases. They had the commission and the ability—but they staggered through unbelief. We abide then by our definition of strong faith—it is a firm belief of God's Word in the face of difficulties; or in reference to some things which are attended with what to reason appear to be improbabilities.

We must now attempt to distinguish true faith, from unwarranted presumption or delusion, with which some are but too apt to confound it. Faith in all cases is founded upon the Scriptures, or in other words, has for its object something which God has revealed, either in the way of command, promise, or threatening, so that where there is no revelation, there can be no belief. Now it is to be feared that some imagine the strength of this grace to consist rather in the confident persuasion of something God has not revealed—than the expectation of what he has revealed in his Word. With them it is a going on beyond the line of revelation, and looking for what is not included in the promise.

A man is falsely said to be very strong in faith, when he has a very confident persuasion that he shall receive some good thing, either temporal or spiritual, which is not personally promised in Scripture. Some have a very confident assurance of the conversion of a particular individual—and this they call strong faith. But is the conversion of that individual promised by God? If not, how can it become matter of belief? So in reference to any course of action, or to the result of any particular undertaking—many talk of having a strong faith in its success. But has God promised this successful result? If not, how can they believe it? Our imaginings are not God's promises, and to trust in our imaginings, without having God's promises to support them, may be faith in our expectations—but certainly not in God's promises.

Whatever we do must have the authority of a command or principle of Scripture, expressed or implied; and whatever we believe must have the warrant of a promise either general or particular. But is there not sometimes an inward as well as an outward revelation, the belief of which, is as truly faith as confidence in the written Word? That there was such in the case of inspired men is very true—and that even now in very extraordinary cases there may be such still, we would not positively deny. But such cases when they do occur, they carry their own light with them, and verify their Divine origin by results. In ordinary cases, and such are almost all that occur, belief must be regulated by the Word of God, and providence of God. Let it be once granted that strong faith means a strong persuasion of our own mind, apart from the Word of God, and what enthusiasm and fanaticism are we not immediately thrown open to?

It is this confounding of faith with presumption, or the impressions upon our own minds with the revelations of the Word of God, as an object or rule of faith, that has not only led to the wildest enthusiasm, and the most extravagant mysticism—but in some cases to assassination and murder. The test of a strong faith is not therefore how much we can believe which the Scripture has not revealed—but how much we can believe which the Scripture has revealed, and which seems to be attended in its performance with difficulties to human reason insuperable. To obtain this state of mind, therefore, our aim should be not to retire into ourselves, in order to quicken our own imaginings, or to stir up the depths of our own feelings—but to go outside of our own imaginings—to commune with the Word of God, and with God himself, through the medium of his Word.

I now go on to show in what circumstances, and in reference to what things in the Christian life, the strength of faith may be exercised and displayed. And here we may mention two distinct spheres of influence, or classes of objects, which call for this putting forth of a strong belief.

The objects of the first class are SPIRITUAL ones. It is the work of a powerful belief to grasp and hold fast the truths essential to salvation, and confidingly to rest upon them, notwithstanding the doubts and difficulties which to reflecting minds present themselves. There may be not only a true belief—but even a strong one, where at times considerable doubts may arise in the mind, and many difficulties present themselves. To the enquiring and penetrating mind, difficulties will appear, from which less reflecting believers are happily free. The doctrine of the Trinity and the complex person of Christ; the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility of man; the atonement of the cross, justification by faith, and the work of the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of the body and the eternal state, will all at times present vast difficulties, and occasion some doubts. And oh, what mental agonies have some endured in struggling with these spectral forms of unbelief. The house which is founded upon a rock may be assailed by the storm and the flood; and that it stands against the assault is a proof of the strength of the foundation. The veteran oak of centuries' growth may be shaken by the wind, and the very fact of its resisting the blast is a proof how deeply rooted it is in the earth. So the strongest believer may be troubled with doubts and fears at times, which would entirely overthrow a weaker conviction than his. This—this is the mighty power of faith—its trophy as well as its triumph; when amid all temptations from without, and all the reasonings and doubts from within, the believer holds fast by the great truths of salvation, and calmly says– "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day."

There is a very striking and instructive illustration and confirmation of this, in the life of Payson. During a long season of affliction his mind was much perplexed and troubled by certain doubts, difficulties, and objections, which to his view at that time, seemed to stand connected with Divine revelation. In so strong a light did these present themselves to his reason, that all the most formidable objections of all the infidel writers he had ever read, appeared to him as mere babble, compared with those which rose up in his own mind. And he said he would not for the world publish his doubts, for he thought by so doing he should unsettle the faith of half Christendom. What must have been the power of his faith so completely to master the sophistry of infidelity in its most appalling form and its most violent assaults, and with the force of evidence, to put this array of doubts, and difficulties, and objections to flight? It is not the mind that never doubted, perhaps because it never examined or reflected—but the mind which has doubted, and yet triumphed over its doubts, that exhibits the strength of true belief. The mind which grasps a positive proof on moral subjects with a tenacity that loosens not its hold under the counteracting influences of difficulties, is strong in faith indeed. Let it therefore be no source of perplexity to those who are thus troubled, that they see difficulties hidden from less inquisitive minds, as if their faith were feeble and fluctuating; if at the same time they hold fast their confidence and the rejoicing of their hope, steadfast unto the end. Such doubts, as the celebrated Robert Boyle says in his beautiful autobiography, are in the souls of Christians, like the toothache in the body, painful but not mortal.

It is strong faith which enables sinners who have gone to great lengths in sin, and who have sinned amid great aggravations, to believe and hope in the promise of mercy. Must we not admire the confidence of the three thousand of the murderers of Christ, who on the day of Pentecost, within sight of Calvary, could so calmly expect such a sin to be forgiven? So again, what an assurance of faith had Saul of Tarsus, when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and though his conscience was then loaded with the guilt of the murder of saints, he believed that even these crimes would be all forgiven. We may be sure that there is not in any one of our prisons a wretch so vile but that God is willing to blot out all the sins of his polluted life, and make even of that slave of vice and vassal of Satan—a child of God, in one moment. But how hard for him to believe this!

What confidence in the truth, mercy, and power of God, must it have been which enabled the witty, the immoral, the infidel Earl of Rochester, to hope in Divine mercy! Not that it is more difficult for God to forgive such a profligate than the most moral person that ever lived; or that there is such a wide difference, all things taken into account, between sinner and sinner. But how many and how great are the obstacles which such sinners themselves see in the way of their own forgiveness.

We may also bring under review the case of notorious backsliders, especially the case of David. One wonders almost less at his commission of the crimes of even murder and adultery, than that he could even bring himself to believe that God would forgive him. I marvel at that power of faith which could hush the accusations of conscience, and the reproaches of his own soul, so far as to allow him ever to come into a state of peace. For him, under all the aggravations of his crime—its complexity—its enormity—its publicity—so far to believe God's promises of forgiveness, as to hope for pardon, and cry out in accents of praise– "O the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, and in whose spirit there is no deceit." Had he a right to this peace? He had. Was it proper for him? It was. How did he acquire it? By believing God's promise. Yes. And had he not come to this confidence and peace, he would have sinned against God by unbelief. True it is, that though he believed that God had forgiven him, he ought never to have forgiven himself—and with peace, so far as the hope of pardon should produce it, there ought ever to have been associated the profoundest humiliation and self-abhorrence.

I do not say, as some have most incautiously affirmed, that the greater the sinner the more welcome to Christ; but I do say, the greater the sinner the stronger is the confidence that trusts in Christ; and the greater the confidence, the more glorious and welcome to Jesus. It is a sight for heaven to wonder at—angels to rejoice over—devils to hate—man to imitate—and God to delight in; to see a poor creature polluted with almost every sin, broken-hearted yet not despairing—penitent and turning with loathing from his sins, and yet confidently relying upon the mercy of God in Christ, for a full, free, and cordial forgiveness!

It is strong faith which enables the soul to hold fast its grasp on the truth, and its profession of Christ in the face of suffering and death. The apostle, as we have already said, conducts us for displays of this grace into the trophy-house of the church, and points us to those who conquered through faith. "By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." Hebrews 11:33-39. You noble army of martyrs, who looked at the cross of Christ until you were inspired with a heroism to suffer on your own, we see here the nature, the power, and the all-but omnipotence of that principle of faith, which enabled you to overcome the love of life and brave the horrors of a cruel death.

Christ in all his glories—as he appeared to the martyr Stephen, standing at the right hand of God—must have been seen by you in those solemn moments. Heaven, with its ineffable grandeur—as it was surveyed by the apostle Paul in his rapture—must have opened to your view. Eternity, with its ever-rolling ages, as its perspective spreads out before the immortals, must have filled your field of vision. Faith, faith, gave a reality to all. It became "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Nothing teaches us the power of belief in Christ like this. To see weak, timid, delicate women, who once trembled at the sight of blood and the mere sound of groans, so raised above the fear of death as to bear the exposure of the amphitheater, the attack of wild beasts, or the agonies of the stake, with a heroism that surprised even their persecutors. How wonderful this! If the power of a cause be ascertained by its effects, what shall we say to this? Oh, what would faith not enable us to do, if we were really to give ourselves up to its influence!

A spirit of self-denial and sacrifice is also an instance of the operation of the same principle of faith. When we see a man surrendering the favor of friends, the prospects of gain, the comfort and ease of life, and the respectability and influence of connections for the sake of the gospel, and thus enduring that species of persecution which is a kind of perpetual martyrdom; we feel that this also is the great fight of faith—such a man is not loaded with fetters—nor immured in dungeons—nor burnt at the stake—but he is still one who demonstrates what is the exceeding greatness of God's power to those who believe.

The power and strength of this grace of faith, are exhibited in those who are eminent for the holiness of their lives, the spirituality of their affections, and the heavenliness of their aspirations; of whom it can be emphatically said– "They walk by faith, not by sight." In whose whole experience—their thoughts, feelings, desires and lives—there is a marked and unusual predominance of the invisible over the visible, the spiritual over the carnal—and the eternal over the temporal. Their "conversation is in heaven." Having become citizens of the new Jerusalem, they conduct themselves accordingly, and seem to be, as well as feel—that they are strangers here on earth, belonging to another state, and ever turning their attention homeward. Their eye is ever upward; their steps are ever forward. They act and endure as if their sympathies were with something else than seen and temporal things; and appear as if they were in communion with someone who was invisible. They have a real, personal, and intimate fellowship with Christ, even as if they saw him with the bodily eye. The objects that surround them, and the scenes which are passing before them, affect them but little; for they are habitually looking at other scenes which infinitely surpass them. They do not give up their interest in this world—its social ties and affections have not ceased; but all is subordinated to that other world which the Scriptures reveal. They love the house of God, and enjoy the means of grace. They are much in prayer and reading the Scriptures; but they stop not in these outward observances—but pass through them by a living, vigorous faith, to God, and Christ, and heaven! About them there is something of the abstractive elevation and enraptured devotion of the recluse; combined at the same time with all that is practical, rational, and social, in the zealous followers of the Lamb.

In short, they have a true, intelligent, and deep conviction of the great realities of the Bible, and they live under their influence, and walk under the power and constraint of them. It is not a mere cold, heartless assent they give to these matters—but they embrace them and are persuaded of them. Jesus is precious to them. They do see his glory and feel his inestimable worth. He is their righteousness and strength—and they live, and abide, and walk in him. There is a mighty transforming power ever going on upon their souls, by faith in Jesus.

Such people have come to the ASSURANCE of faith. By which we mean, a delightful consciousness that they have committed their souls into his hands and are safe. They have "the full assurance of understanding," Col. 2:2; which means a clear, comprehensive, soul-establishing acquaintance with divine truth; or as Doddridge renders it– "the richest and most assured understanding of the gospel." This is introductory, and leads on, to the full unwavering conviction of its truth, which is the full assurance of faith; and this ends in, and is connected with– "the full assurance of hope."

By the full assurance of hope—as distinguished from the full assurance of faith—is generally considered a strong persuasion of our own personal interest in the blessings of salvation. Between these two there is an obvious distinction—one signifies belief, and the other a consciousness of belief. One expresses itself thus– "I do really and fully believe in Christ." The other thus– "I know I believe in Christ." But though they are distinct in their nature, they are inseparable in their existence.

The belief of the gospel is the spring and origin of hope. We cannot hope if we do not believe; we cannot but hope—if we do believe. If hope springs from faith, it follows that in proportion to the simplicity and firmness of our faith, must be the strength and liveliness of our hope. To say a man may have a very strong belief in Christ, and yet a very feeble hope, or a very feeble belief and yet a very strong hope, is something like a contradiction in terms. As is the faith, so must be the hope. A strong belief will produce very strong fruits of faith; just because a mighty principle in operation will be followed with proportionate effects. The fruits of faith must bear a proportion to itself. Hence the full assurance of faith must be followed with the full assurance of hope.

By this assurance, we do not mean a bold and confident method of speaking of our state, leading us to say– "I am as confident I am a child of God as if a voice from heaven declared it; and am as sure of getting to heaven as if I were there." All that is intended by ASSURANCE in Scripture, appears to me to consist in a satisfactory persuasion that we have so believed in Christ as to be savingly interested in the blessings of his salvation, and to be enabled to look forward with pleasing expectation to eternal glory. Such a persuasion itself admits of course of various degrees. If it be asked whence this assurance comes, I answer, not by any witness or testimony granted directly to the soul in the way of revelation or impression; but in the way of consciousness and comparison of our faith as to its fruits with the Word of God, according to the declaration of the apostle– "I write this to you who believe in the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13.

We see then how to answer various questions concerning the assurance of hope. Is it of the essence of faith? As hope is a distinct thing from faith, and is rather the fruit of faith than its essence—so assurance is itself rather a fruit of faith—more than a mere similarity to faith. Yet as hope inseparably springs from faith, there must ever be as much hope as there is faith; and if hope be weak, faith must be weak.

We are again asked why so many Christians who are supposed to have faith, have no assurance? Many answers may be given to this.

First. Because many who really have faith, mistake as to the nature of assurance, by supposing it is a state of mind which forever excludes all doubts and all degrees, and prompts a man boldly to say– "I am as perfectly sure of salvation, as if I were before the throne of the Lamb." I should rather put the case thus– "I feel I am a poor, sinful, guilty, lost creature—worthless, helpless, hopeless. But I really believe the record that God has given us of his Son. Here I place my hopes. I am sure that Christ is my all. And I feel him infinitely precious to my soul. I dare affirm that I love him. And I am desirous and studious to keep his commandments; and therefore though I should hesitate to adopt the bold and confident language of some in reference to my state, yet I have no serious doubts that I am a child of God; and am actually living in the peaceful enjoyment of that blessed persuasion." This is the language of assurance. The man who can say this is not only a believer—but he knows he is; and this knowledge is assurance.

Secondly—another reason why so many professors are without this is, because they either have no faith at all, or their faith is so feeble as to produce no hope, and therefore no assurance of hope. No wonder multitudes are without assurance—it would be a wonder if in their state of mind they really possessed it. Their possession of it would be the depth of deceit and the power of delusion. They have no deep conviction of sin—no solicitude after pardon—no joyful reliance on the Savior—no peace in believing—no fervent love to Christ. On the contrary, they are so worldly and so careless, and so utterly destitute of all holy feeling, that they can have no consciousness of faith—no fruit of holiness. And where there is, or may be supposed to be, a 'small spark' of faith, it is so cramped in its growth, like a plant in an uncongenial soil and atmosphere, that it never grows, and always appears in a sickly and dying state.

Thirdly, we answer another question, How is this assurance to be obtained? Observe the order. Begin with the full assurance of the understanding. Get by study and prayer, a clear, rich, full understanding of the gospel. Go on to the full assurance of faith. Open the whole mind and heart to the deep, abiding, practical conviction of the great truths of the gospel. Come by faith into a personal communion and friendship with Christ. And thus giving all diligence, you will come into the full assurance of hope unto the end.

We now go on to consider the exercise of a strong faith in reference to PROVIDENTIAL DISPENSATIONS and TEMPORAL things.

Faith begins with a firm persuasion of an over-ruling Providence, so comprehensive as to include the destinies of empires and worlds; and so minute as to extend to individuals. A Providence which is ever active, ever directing, ever controlling, and ever subordinating all things to its own purposes and plans. It is a conviction of this great truth, so deep, so satisfying, and so tranquilizing—as not at all to be shaken by the chaotic aspect of human affairs—the prevalence of gigantic evils—and the delays which occur in outworking of the spread of the gospel. A weak belief must give way before the deep mysteries—the confounding events—the defeats of what is good—and the triumphs of what is evil, which are perpetually going on in our world's history. The stream of Providence is so twisting, so dark, apparently so murky, and occasionally so devastating—that it requires faith at the full stretch of its power to believe that it is the work of God and not of chance; and that if the work of God—it is just, and wise, and good. "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28. "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!" Revelation 19:6.

The page of both civil and church history, is a problem—to the solution of which nothing is equal but a profound, strong, and intelligent belief of the doctrine of Providence. Leaving the history of nations and of the church of Christ, and coming to that of individuals, we still find scope and necessity for the exercise of the strongest confidence in God.

In the darkest dispensations of Providence affecting ourselves, strong faith realizes that it is all from God; and must therefore be wise, and just, and good. To be able really say, "It is well. I am sure it is right. I cannot tell how it is right. I do not understand why this deep afflictive Providence came. I can find no key to unlock the mystery. But I am as confident that it is right, as if God's whole purpose were transparent to my reason, and I could see the event in all its connections, bearings, and results. I cannot see how or why--but I believe that my deep affliction is for God's glory and my ultimate benefit. I know that God causes everything to work together for good."

Faith assures us that the darker, the more confounding, the more disappointing events--are all right and just, and good. Strong faith walks on amid shadows and darkness, grasping the arm of God, believing that He is leading us, and will lead us right. Strong faith gives up all into His hands, saying, "I cannot even see a glimmering of light! I cannot see where to place my next step! But I can most implicitly trust in the wisdom, power, and truth of God! I follow like a little blind child, grasping the hand of his father!"

Times of great troubles and difficulties, are seasons and opportunities for the exercise of faith. God is always the Christian's best refuge--and often his only one! He is sometimes reduced to extremity, and is compelled to say, "He alone is my rock and my salvation! My help comes from the Lord! No one else will help me--no one else can!" He is closed up to God, and therefore to faith. Sense and reason both fail. No door of escape presents itself—nor any way of relief. There is nothing left for him to do but to take up the promise and carry it in the hand of faith, knock by prayer at the door of mercy, and as he stands there to say– "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Yes, Lord, you have bid me come, when I could go nowhere else. And here according to your command and promise I will remain—waiting, trembling, yet believing and hoping."

"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you! I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3.

The poor widow with her fatherless children; the godly honest tradesman in his difficulties; the Christian mother with her hungry babes, feeding upon her last crust; the friendless believer with no one to counsel, comfort, or support him; the devoted minister with his scanty supplies; and a thousand other cases of deep necessity and pressing poverty, have no other to look to but to Him who hears the young ravens when they cry—and there are among them some who have faith enough to say– "I am sure God will come and help me. My heavenly Father knows the necessities of his poor dependent child, and he will come in his own time, and in his own way, and I will wait for him. My bread will be given me, and my water will be sure." This is strong faith.

The prospect of difficult duties, new situations of trial, and perplexing circumstances, calls for the exercise of this strong confidence in God. When God by a vision of glory called Isaiah to a special mission, his heart sunk within him under a sense of his vileness; but when God sent his seraphim, and with a live coal from the altar touched and purified his lips, he received such confidence that he said– "Here I am—send me!" When Jeremiah was called to the prophetic office, appalled with the difficulties which presented themselves to his mind, he recoiled from its responsibilities, and exclaimed– "Ah, Lord God, I cannot speak for I am a child!" When God reproved him for his timidity, and promised him his Divine help and support, he yielded himself to the call and went courageously forward.

Likewise, when Paul was converted from a persecutor to an apostle of Christ—no sooner had the Lord laid before him his mission, and promised to stand by him, than he accepted the commission and went boldly forward in his career. Yet what difficulties must he have known he would have to encounter. No matter. He had the promise of help from Christ, and though they were a thousand times greater he could face them all; for he believed in Christ. Whatever duties the Lord calls us to, he will most assuredly provide us ability to perform them.

Perhaps the most striking instance on record, beyond the range of Scripture, is that of Luther, when cited before the diet of Worms. His friends attempted to dissuade him from trusting himself in the midst of his enemies. "You will be burnt alive," said they– "and your body reduced to ashes as they did with John Huss." What was his reply? "Though they kindle a fire whose flame shall reach from Worms to Wittenberg, and rise up to heaven, I would go through it in the name of the Lord, and stand before them—I would enter the jaws of the behemoth, break his teeth, and confess the Lord Jesus Christ!" One day when he had entered into an inn, and the crowd was as usual pressing around him, an officer made his way through, and thus addressed him– "Are you the man who has taken in hand to reform the Papacy? How can you expect to succeed?" "Yes," answered Luther– "I am the man. I place my dependence upon that Almighty God whose Word and commandment is before me." The officer deeply affected, gazed upon him with a mild expression, and said– "Dear friend, there is much in what you say, I am a servant of Charles—but your Master is greater than mine—He will help and protect you." Here, in Luther, was courage, faith, heroism, such as the world has rarely seen. Did the Lord Jesus leave his servant defenseless? Did he? No—but gave him a mouth and wisdom which all his enemies were able neither to gainsay nor resist.

We are not called to such duties as those of the great Reformer—but there may still be duties which to us appear as much above our strength. Let us only satisfy ourselves they are duties—let us only take care that we go only where Christ has sent us, and undertake only that to which he has called us, and we may step as firmly, speak as boldly, and expect help as confidently as did Luther in the diet of Worms. No matter what scenes of trial, difficulty, or suffering, are before us—do they lie in the way of duty?—are they of God's appointment?—then it is no presumption—but a part of the exercise of faith to say,

"Let earth against my soul engage,
 And hellish darts be hurled;
 Still I can smile at Satan's rage,
 And face a frowning world!"

And how shall we obtain this strong faith?

Let us earnestly desire it, for it brings glory to God—it is productive of great comfort and benefit to ourselves; it will be a glorious example to others; and it will prepare us to enjoy the beatific vision with greater felicity. If we do not value it—we shall not covet it; and if we do not covet it—we shall never have it!

Let us contemplate the perfections of God; the glory of Christ; the truth, reality, and felicity of heaven; as set forth in holy Scripture. It is not by any working upon our own minds subjectively—but by contemplating the realities of Scripture objectively, that, we shall grow in grace. By looking at the great objects of faith—we grow in faith. The objects draw out the acts which are appropriate to them. To grow in love with beauty—we gaze upon it. To be fired with moral excellence—we meditate upon it. Faith mounts stronger and stronger by meditation. It grows before the cross—and the portals of heaven—and the throne of a faithful and covenant-keeping God.

Let us exercise what faith we have. Instead of despising the day of small things in ourselves, and refusing to believe, or to carry on a course of belief because it is so feeble, let us believe as we can, and continuing in this exercise, we shall by-and-by believe as we should. There are two extremes to be avoided—despising weak faith, and being satisfied with it. It is a sin to be weak in grace; but it is a mercy to have any grace. This grace, like every other, grows by exercise—therefore exercise it.

Let us contemplate the noblest examples of believers. The study of the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews would be of service to us. Yes, the whole of the Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testaments, are full of biographical illustrations of the power of faith. Who can rise from the perusal of Abraham's history, or Paul's, or even of many uninspired pieces of biography in which faith has been conspicuous, without feeling a perceptible growth of it in themselves?

Let us recollect our own experience. And everyone should be conversant with this. Perhaps there is no history which is so profitable to us as our own—when it is properly read. What fulfillment of promises—what dissipating of fears—what realizations of hopes—what helps in duty—what comforts in affliction, do we find there! And of what service may these be to us as aids and props to our faith in its future exercises.

Let us pray for this great blessing. Lord, increase our faith, is a petition that suits us all. Whose faith does not need to be increased—and who does not desire this increase? That man must be a self-deceiver or a hypocrite, who does not covet to grow in grace; and he must be totally ignorant of the means of growth, who neglects to pray for the dewy influences of the Holy Spirit, and the vivifying rays of the Sun of Righteousness!