Discern Faith

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
~ Isaiah 1:18

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
~ Jeremiah 31:34

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:19

In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
~ Colossians 1:14

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
~ Psalm 2:11-12

Distinction Between Faith and Spiritual Sense, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from Rule Six concerning Psalm 130:4 of his work, “The Forgiveness of Sin, A Practical Exposition Upon Psalm 130”.

Search the Scriptures.
—John 5:39a

But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
~ Psalm 130:4

RULE VI

Distinction between faith and spiritual sense.

Learn to distinguish between faith and spiritual sense.

This rule the apostle gives us, 2 Cor. 5:7, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” It is the sight of glory that is especially here intended. But faith and sense in any kind are clearly distinguished. That may be believed which is not felt; yea, it is the will and command of God that faith should stand and do its work where all sense fails, Isa. 50:10. And it is with spiritual sense in this matter as it is with natural. Thomas would not believe unless he saw the object of his faith with his eyes, or felt it with his hand. But saith our Saviour, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe,” —who believe upon the testimony of God, without the help of their own sense or reason. And if we will believe no more of God, of his love, of his grace, of our acceptance with him, than we have a spiritual affecting sense of, we shall be many times at a loss. Sensible impressions from God’s love are great springs of joy; but they are not absolutely necessary unto peace, nor unto an evidence that we do believe.

We will deal thus with the vilest person living,—we will believe him whilst we have the certainty of our sense to secure us. And if we deal so with God, what is there in our so doing praiseworthy? The prophet tells us what it is to believe in respect of providence, Hab. 3:17. When there is nothing left outward and visible to support us, then to rest quietly on God, that is to believe: so Ps. 73:26. And the apostle, in the example of Abraham, shows us what it is to believe with respect unto a special promise: Rom. 4:18, “Against hope, he believed in hope.” When he saw not any outward ordinary means for the accomplishment of the promise, when innumerable objections arose against any such hope as might have respect unto such means, yet he resolved all his thoughts into the faithfulness of God in the promise, and therein raised a new hope in its accomplishment; so in hope believing against hope.

To clear this matter, you must observe what I intend by this spiritual sense, which you must learn to distinguish faith from, and to know that true faith interesting the soul in forgiveness may be without it; that so you may not conclude unto a real want of pardon from the want of the refreshing sense of it.

Grace in general may be referred unto two heads:—1. Our acceptation with God through Christ,—the same upon the matter with the forgiveness of sin that we are treating of; and, 2. Grace of sanctification from God in Christ. Of each of these there is a spiritual sense or experience to be obtained, in both distinguished from faith that gives us a real interest in forgiveness.

1. Of the first, or the spiritual sense that we have of acceptance with God, there are sundry parts or degrees; as, first, hereunto belongs peace with God: Rom. 5:1, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” This peace is the rest and composure of the soul emerging out of troubles, upon the account of the reconciliation and friendship made for it by the blood of Christ. And it hath, as all peace hath, two parts,—first, a freedom from war, trouble, and distress; and, secondly, rest, satisfaction, and contentment in the condition attained;—and this, at least the second part of it, belongs unto the spiritual sense that we inquire after. Again: there is in it “joy in the Holy Ghost,” called “joy unspeakable, and full of glory,” 1 Pet. 1:8; as also “glorying in the Lord” upon the account of his grace, Isa. 45:25; with many the like effects, proceeding from a “shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts,” Rom. 5:5.

Yea, you say, these are the things you aim at; these are the things you would attain, and be filled withal. It is this peace, this joy, this glorying in the Lord, that you would always be in the possession of. I say, you do well to desire them, to seek and labour after them,—they are purchased by Christ for believers; but you will do well to consider under what notion you do desire them. If you look on these things as belonging to the essence of faith, without which you can have no real interest in forgiveness or acceptance with God, you greatly deceive your own souls, and put yourselves out of the way of obtaining of them. These things are not believing, nor adequate effects of it, so as immediately to be produced wherever faith is; out they are such consequents of it as may or may not ensue upon at, according to the will of God. Faith is a seed that contains them spirtually, and out of which they may be in due time educed by the working of the word and Spirit; and the way for any soul to be made partaker of them is to wait on the sovereignty of God’s grace, who createth peace in the exercise of faith upon the promises. He, when, that would place believing in these things, and will not be persuaded that he doth believe until he is possessed of them, he doth both lose the benefit, advantage, and comfort of what he hath, and, neglecting the due acting of faith, puts himself out of the way of attaining what he aimeth at.

These things, therefore, are not needful to give you a real saving interest in forgiveness, as it is tendered in the promise of the gospel by the blood of Christ. And it may be it is not the will of God that ever you should be intrusted with them. It may be it would not woe for your good and advantage so to be. Some servants that are all husbands must have their wages kept for them to the year’s end, or it will do them no good. It may be, some would be such spendthrifts of satisfying peace and joy, and be so diverted by them from attending unto some necessary duties,—as of humiliation, mortification, and self-abasement, without which their souls cannot live,—that it would not be much to their advantage to be intrusted with them. It is from the same care and love that peace and joy are detained from some believers, and granted unto others.

You are therefore to receive forgiveness by a pure act of believing, in the way and manner before at large described. And do not think that it is not in you unless you have constantly a spiritual sense of it in your hearts. See, in the meantime, that your faith bringeth forth obedience, and God in due time will cause it to bring forth peace.

2. The like may be said concerning the other head of grace, though it be not so direct unto our purpose, yet tending also to the relief of the soul in its depths. This is the grace that we have from God in Christ for our sanctification. When the soul cannot find this in himself; when he hath not a spiritual sense and experience of its inbeing and power; when it cannot evidently distinguish it from that which is not right or genuine,—it is filled with fears and perplexities, and thinks it is yet in its sin. He is so, indeed, who hath no grace in him; but not he always who can find none in him. But these are different things. A man may have grace, and yet not have it at sometimes much acting; he may have grace for life, when he hath it not for fruitfulness and comfort, though it be his duty so to have it, Rev. 3:2; 2 Tim. 1:6. And a man may have grace acting in him, and yet not know, not be sensible, that he hath acting grace. We see persons frequently under great temptations of apprehension that they have no grace at all, and yet at the same time, to the clearest conviction of all who are able to discern spiritual things, sweetly and genuinely to act faith, love, submission unto God, and that in a high and eminent manner. Ps. 88., Heman complains that he was “free among the dead,” “a man of no strength,” verses 4, 5,—as one that had no spiritual life, no grace. This afflicted his mind, and almost distracted him, verse 15; and yet there can be no greater expressions of faith and love to God than are mixed with his complaints.

These things, I say then, are not to be judged of by spiritual sense, but we are to live by faith about them. And no soul ought to conclude, that because it hath not the one it hath not the other,—that because it hath not joy and peace, it hath no interest in pardon and forgiveness.

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