One question the Christian might ask about his faith is this: “Do my doubts mean my faith is not true?” William Gurnall (d. 1679) gave a helpful answer to this in his exposition of Ephesians 5:16 (…In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one NASB). Here’s an edited summary of Gurnall’s answer:
- The doubtings of a true believer are attended with much shame and sorrow of spirit for those doubtings. Do you sigh and cry because of your doubt? This is a sign of true faith, because unbelief will not mourn for unbelief. Sighing and mourning over doubt shows there is a principle of faith in the soul.
- The doubtings of a sincere believer are accompanied with ardent desires after those things which it most calls in questions and doubts of. The weak believer questions whether God loves him or not, but he seriously desires to know God’s love. He doubts whether he belongs to Christ, but if you ask him he will tell you that he values Christ and would anything to be His. If he did not have true faith, he would not desire God’s love or desire to belong to Christ.
- The doubtings of a truly believing soul make him more inquisitive how he may get what he sometimes fears he does not have. Many sad thoughts come into his head, whether he is saved, whether the promises are his, and these sad thoughts cause such a turmoil in his soul that he cannot rest until the doubts are settled. He longs to have the doubts settled and know that he is saved and that God’s promises are his. This is proof of true faith, because an unbelieving heart is secure and does not care about salvation or God’s promises.
- In the midst of the true believer’s doubts his heart leans on Christ and has a desire to cling to Him. At the same time that Peter’s feet were sinking into the water, he was lifting up a prayer to Christ; this proved the truth of his faith, though his sinking proved he had doubts. The weak Christian’s doubting is like the wavering of a ship at anchor – he is moved, but not removed from his hold on Christ. The unbeliever, however, has no anchor and is at the mercy of the wind because he does not even want Jesus to hold him.
To be sure, doubts make the Christian walk difficult, but they don’t mean the walk is not a Christian one. Peter’s faith was mixed with doubt. Many of the Psalms ask questions of God that reveal doubt and uncertainty. Or consider the prayer that most of us know well: I do believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24 NASB). In fact, as Gurnall noted, doubts are like annoying smoke that prove there’s a fire of faith. So pray for a stronger faith and pray hard that your doubts would weaken, but don’t despair because of them. Even faith like a tiny mustard seed saves, because it rests upon a strong, patient, and loving Savior.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)