Is Faith a Choice?

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InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
This is somewhat bothering my mind at the moment, so I want to be sure I'm right. I believe faith is not a choice, in any shape or form. Faith is not a choice any more than love is a choice. God's command to have faith in Christ does not make it a choice any more than His command to love God makes love a choice. By the power of a mere decision, we cannot force ourselves to love God more, neither can we force ourselves to have faith in Christ more. Our love for God is the direct response of knowing God's love for us. Likewise, our faith in Christ is the direct response of knowing the person and work of Christ for us.

Faith is no different than a scientist discovering another planet in the universe with his telescope; he cannot help his faith in that planet, he cannot choose to not believe it. What he can do is lie to himself about the sufficiency and reliability of the evidence which is the foundation of his faith in the planet; he can distract and darken his own mind by abusing it.

For the Christian, the Word of God is the foundation of his faith (faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). When the Holy Spirit enables him to understand the Scriptures, and the person and work of Christ of which they are essentially about, his immediate response is faith.

Faith includes knowledge (its object), assent (the mind's inevitable acknowledgement of the object of faith; not a choice) and trust (the reflection of a person's affection or will for the object of faith).

Rather than saying faith is a choice, our choices are the result of our faith, our choices being works (as opposed to the nature of faith). Faith is not a choice, because a choice is essentially what defines a work. Why can Christ boast in His righteous works? Because they are by His choice (choice implies there is a person and a will behind the work). Exclude choice from work and all you are left with is a mere thing. Things don't have value or merit in themselves.

I know understand why I've had such a hard time defending monergism, in regeneration and the act of faith, against my father's synergistic, freewillish theology. Regardless of my defence of the necessity of regeneration preceeding the act of faith and justification, I have always admitted that this act of faith is a choice, and thereby I've unwillingly encouraged my father's theology of freewill in our receiving of Christ. When I now think about it, this idea of faith not being a choice completely destroys the idea of freewill and any reason of boasting in a sinner's regeneration. I believe this is essentially what it means when the Bible says faith is not of works (Eph. 2:8).

Feel free to comment.
 
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InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Actually, I think that neither have I presented the truth to my father accurately in saying regeneration necessarily preceeds the act of faith. I just realized that the very reason why I've put them in that order is because I thought the act of faith is a choice. However, since it is not, I should rather say regeneration, the act of faith (I think "act" is a bad term here; at least for me it sounds like "acting in faith") and justification all happen simultaneously. Regeneration includes faith and repentance, and where there is faith there is justification.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
God fundamentally changes our choices. We love because he first loved us. We freely choose God because he has given us hearts to love him more than all others, including our own life, comfort and happiness. This is a supernatural change and love. Praise God!
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
God fundamentally changes our choices. We love because he first loved us. We freely choose God because he has given us hearts to love him more than all others, including our own life, comfort and happiness. This is a supernatural change and love. Praise God!

Since I see nothing contradictory in your statements to mine, that must be an affirmation of my thoughts, correct?
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
I should add the necessary implication of our faith being the gift of God. Why is it a gift? Because we cannot come to it completely on our own. What separates the unbeliever and the believer is the element of trust in the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. The gift of faith, then, includes the gift of new heart which receives Christ with joy and affection.

When we look at this fact from the synergistic perspective, receiving faith (including trust) or cooperating with God to effect faith (including trust) in Christ becomes impossible, since all the sinner can do is have knowledge and assent, but God has to give a new heart to make this historical faith a living faith.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Samuel,

I think you are already grasping hold (or trying to grasp) important truths. Here are some thoughts that might help. The Gospel of John frequently brings together the concepts of "seeing" (physically) and "believing." e.g. Jn.1:34, 50-51; 2:23; 3:3, 36; 4:48; 6:26, 30, 62-65; 7:3; etc.

Jn.8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." This is clearly a spiritual seeing.

The healing of the man born blind, Jn.9, is particularly good because by the end of Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees after the healing and their treatment of the one restored, Jesus says,
37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

The reason for pointing this correlation out (also conveyed in Paul's contrasting statement, "For we walk by faith, not by sight," 2Cor.5:7) is that we can expand upon the idea of "sight" to enhance our understanding of faith.

Seeing requires certain elements: light, an organ, and life. We ourselves can not make ourselves see. We cannot give life to ourselves. We cannot create an eye. We do not produce the light. All are given to us. And where these are present, we see. As an infant, eyes opening in the world for the first time, the eyes open, they blink, the brain takes in visions that the mind cannot comprehend. He will learn, he will grow, he will begin to process the visions, for that is how he was designed.

He sees... because he must, because he is alive, his eyes work properly, and the light shines in them. "His whole body is full of light," Mt.6:22.

So it is with faith, which is the instrument by which we "see" the truth of our salvation. All by which we see is God's gift. Those who cannot see dwell in darkness, Is.9:2. Calvin calls faith that passive thing (in contrast to active working) by which we are saved. It is the man who believes (sometimes anti-calvinists say we think God believes for us).

The man doesn't will himself to believe (do you "will yourself" to see, after you roll out of bed in the morning?). Having grown up from the new birth, when his vision lacked comprehension, in his maturity he does more effectively engage his mind (or, maybe as he gets older he struggles to make sense of it all). But the fact is, spiritually alive people, who "have eyes to see," just believe because of the Light. Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world," Jn.1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46.

Thanks be to God.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
To be quite brief (not unhelpfully so, I hope,) I will say this by way of scripture: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

And by anecdote: when I was trying, laboring, and striving to choose to believe on Christ, I clearly did not trust Him.

When faith came, I ceased my efforts. His grace has made me trust Him.

As our lungs breathe, as our hearts beat, so our souls believe-- "not of ourselves, it is the gift of God."
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Samuel,

I think you are already grasping hold (or trying to grasp) important truths. Here are some thoughts that might help. The Gospel of John frequently brings together the concepts of "seeing" (physically) and "believing." e.g. Jn.1:34, 50-51; 2:23; 3:3, 36; 4:48; 6:26, 30, 62-65; 7:3; etc.

Jn.8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." This is clearly a spiritual seeing.

The healing of the man born blind, Jn.9, is particularly good because by the end of Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees after the healing and their treatment of the one restored, Jesus says,
37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

The reason for pointing this correlation out (also conveyed in Paul's contrasting statement, "For we walk by faith, not by sight," 2Cor.5:7) is that we can expand upon the idea of "sight" to enhance our understanding of faith.

Seeing requires certain elements: light, an organ, and life. We ourselves can not make ourselves see. We cannot give life to ourselves. We cannot create an eye. We do not produce the light. All are given to us. And where these are present, we see. As an infant, eyes opening in the world for the first time, the eyes open, they blink, the brain takes in visions that the mind cannot comprehend. He will learn, he will grow, he will begin to process the visions, for that is how he was designed.

He sees... because he must, because he is alive, his eyes work properly, and the light shines in them. "His whole body is full of light," Mt.6:22.

So it is with faith, which is the instrument by which we "see" the truth of our salvation. All by which we see is God's gift. Those who cannot see dwell in darkness, Is.9:2. Calvin calls faith that passive thing (in contrast to active working) by which we are saved. It is the man who believes (sometimes anti-calvinists say we think God believes for us).

The man doesn't will himself to believe (do you "will yourself" to see, after you roll out of bed in the morning?). Having grown up from the new birth, when his vision lacked comprehension, in his maturity he does more effectively engage his mind (or, maybe as he gets older he struggles to make sense of it all). But the fact is, spiritually alive people, who "have eyes to see," just believe because of the Light. Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world," Jn.1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46.

Thanks be to God.

Thank you very much, Rev. Buchanan. I was kind of hesitating to use the language of sight in defining the nature of faith, since it is said "we walk by faith, not by sight," but this does not nullify the truth that faith has become our spiritual eyes. Once we were blind, now we see. I like how Calvin calls faith passive, since that was exactly my point.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
To be quite brief (not unhelpfully so, I hope,) I will say this by way of scripture: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

And by anecdote: when I was trying, laboring, and striving to choose to believe on Christ, I clearly did not trust Him.

When faith came, I ceased my efforts. His grace has made me trust Him.

As our lungs breathe, as our hearts beat, so our souls believe-- "not of ourselves, it is the gift of God."

So, you're saying as an unbeliever you were actively believing, but when you got regenerated your believing became passive? I don't see any Biblical proof for asserting the former.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
Not in the least.

I was not believing at all, in the former situation. My attempts to muster up "faith," whereby God would necessarily save me (for, as I was taught and as I thought, faith depends on us), were in no way true faith, nor could they procure it, nor even if I could procure it was God obligated to save me or put me in Christ. 'Twas nothing but human effort and will, and "it is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Not in the least.

I was not believing at all, in the former situation. My attempts to muster up "faith," whereby God would necessarily save me (for, as I was taught and as I thought, faith depends on us), were in no way true faith, nor could they procure it, nor even if I could procure it was God obligated to save me or put me in Christ. 'Twas nothing but human effort and will, and "it is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."

I see. So, as an unbeliever you had both knowledge and assent, but you were lacking trust and tried to choose to trust in Christ. That is, you were trying to choose to love God when you actually hated Him. The Bible says no unbeliever seeks after God, so what you are saying about trying to choose to trust in Christ cannot be true. But here is the thing: even if you said you are trying to choose to trust in Christ as a born-again Christian, if you really intend the literal meaning of that sentence, you are not being wise. Why? As I've shown in my OP, we cannot add to our faith (including trust) and love anything by "the power" (there is none!) of a mere choice. It doesn't matter how many times you are making a choice to trust in Christ, unless you are doing something that actually benefits and increases your trust (searching the Scriptures for knowledge in prayer and meditating on the person and work of Christ). The problem is choices are the result of our faith, not the other way around. You can't make yourself become something you are not by making a decision to be something else. That is a waste of time and you should not expect any positive result from such practise. I cannot but think about believers who are putting their trust in their decisions to believe in Christ that they made in the past.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
Whew.

I confess when I was laboring to know God, I knew not God, and was searching after a Christ who could be subject to my will. And so the statement "no man seeks for God" yet stands.

Did you misread me somewhere and conclude that I said that I am still choosing to have faith, or still trusting in a decision? Those were in my days of darkness-- I no longer hold to such, since God gave me faith. I cannot tell if you misread me, or if you just decided to restate everything.

As I said, the believer is no more responsible for the origination or continuation of his faith than he is of his own heartbeat. All things are of God.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Did you misread me somewhere and conclude that I said that I am still choosing to have faith, or still trusting in a decision? Those were in my days of darkness-- I no longer hold to such, since God gave me faith. I cannot tell if you misread me, or if you just decided to restate everything.

No, that is why I used the theoretical words, "even if you said." I cannot understand your thinking or what exactly you have against my reasoning in my OP, but not that I care to start arguing about it. I'm sure there has been laid sufficient evidence in this thread to conclude faith is by definition passive and not dependent on choice.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
Samuel,
That is exactly what I am saying. I was not reasoning against your original post in any way.

Faith is by definition passive. I agree, completely. When I was blind to God's grace, I thought it was by choice. Now I know it is passive. I have said about 3 times that I "used" (in the past, not anymore) to believe it was by choice, and I now, by grace, know otherwise.

I've been agreeing with you the whole time and trying to show it. :) My comments were to chime in on your side, an "amen," if you will.
 
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InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Samuel,
That is exactly what I am saying. I was not reasoning against your original post in any way.

Faith is by definition passive. I agree, completely. When I was blind to God's grace, I thought it was by choice. Now I know it is passive. I have said about 3 times that I "used" (in the past, not anymore) to believe it was by choice, and I now, by grace, know otherwise.

I've been agreeing with you the whole time and trying to show it. :) My comments were to chime in on your side, an "amen," if you will.

Ben, I'm so sorry for not seeing this. I just couldn't get that sense from the second paragraph of your first post.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
It is OK! An indication I should have been more clear. I re-read my posts and saw how it was perhaps misunderstood.

It is a favorite saying of mine when people ask me incredulously, "Are you saying we do not have free-will to believe," to reply, "No more than we have free-will to live."
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Faith is by no means passive, just as unbelief is not passive. We freely choose life just as the unbeliever freely pursues a life in opposition to God. We are freely obedient to Christ because we have been given a new nature that delights to do his will, while the unbeliever is at enmity to God because he is, at heart, God's enemy. I disagree with the OP that states that faith is not a choice.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
JWithnell,

How then are we to understand Heb 11:1, for example? I am asking sincerely. I do not see how that scripture makes sense unless you would say assurance and confidence (which is equated to faith) are also active choices (which I believe they are not.)

Furthermore, it does not say that the acts of the saints of the faith was faith. It says that by faith they did those acts-- the acts they did, are distinguished from the faith they had. That is, by faith, which is passive, proceeds action, which is active.

Even further, in James it says, Faith without Works is dead-- not that faith is works. Again the passive is the foundation, which is distinguished and separate from that which it produces.

This is my understanding.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I am pretty narrowly focused here on the faith that flows out of a regenerated heart rather than on good works and assurance which are topics that deserve discussion on their own.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Faith is by no means passive, just as unbelief is not passive. We freely choose life just as the unbeliever freely pursues a life in opposition to God. We are freely obedient to Christ because we have been given a new nature that delights to do his will, while the unbeliever is at enmity to God because he is, at heart, God's enemy. I disagree with the OP that states that faith is not a choice.

You do realize you are neither agreeing with John Calvin and Rev. Buchanan's view above? You are failing to see what has been presented here. I have NOT said we cannot freely choose life, or that we cannot choose to believe in Christ. What I HAVE said is that faith is not a choice, and that choosing to believe in Christ does not do anything! As Rev. Buchanan said above, "We ourselves can not make ourselves see. We cannot give life to ourselves. We cannot create an eye. We do not produce the light." That is the argument here.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
I am pretty narrowly focused here on the faith that flows out of a regenerated heart rather than on good works and assurance which are topics that deserve discussion on their own.

So am I. You are the one talking about good works-- you mentioned our "obedience," saying that we "delight to do his will," and thereby you are directly referring to good works. Shall we define faith as obedience and doing His will?

The aforementioned confidence and assurance, according to Heb 11:1, is faith.
Which, does proceed from a regenerated heart.
Which, is passive, in that we cannot procure it or sustain it.

We may act based on faith, and in a sense you may say that is our faith acting, but really, faith would be the basis of our acting, and the acting itself would be an entirely different thing.

Hebrews 11:1 is THE definition of Faith in scripture-- I would much appreciate your thoughts on it, or at least your reasoning based upon other scriptures which you may have in mind.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
[QUOTE\Rather than saying faith is a choice, our choices are the result of our faith/QUOTE]
Some ideas are getting mashed together here. In reformed circles, the topics of regeneration and faith are place in a logical -- not temporal -- sequence. A person is regenerated by the sovereign and merciful work of God so that he may respond in faith. A great deal of effort has been made over the years, most notably by people such as Jonathan Edwards, to recognize that man's will has been changed as a result of this regeneration.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
[QUOTE\Rather than saying faith is a choice, our choices are the result of our faith/QUOTE]
Some ideas are getting mashed together here. In reformed circles, the topics of regeneration and faith are place in a logical -- not temporal -- sequence. A person is regenerated by the sovereign and merciful work of God so that he may respond in faith. A great deal of effort has been made over the years, most notably by people such as Jonathan Edwards, to recognize that man's will has been changed as a result of this regeneration.

Withnell, regeneration consists of both faith and repentance. What this means is that both faith and repentance are now qualities that are part of our very nature; they are not acts/choices distinct from our nature, but the nature of our acts/choices. Our choices stem ultimately from our nature, and faith being part of it, I can state that our choices are the result of our faith.

And again, sure we can choose to have faith or choose to repent or choose to love or whatever, but those are qualities of our nature, not acts or choices. And doing that won't help our sanctification whatsoever. Rather we should be choosing to do works, to work out our salvation by the means God has given us.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
What do you mean by "respond in faith?" Is that not simply most aptly described as... believing? It seems to me, that your definition, would have faith not be a simple believing, but a "believing and doing" of something. Obviously, to "respond in faith," is two words more than faith. If you are doing something in faith, then faith cannot be the doing. If I breathe in the air, my breathing is not the air. If I donate in love, my donation is external to my love. Love is a separate thing, from which comes results. So with faith.

I do not believe that sinners are regenerated so as to be made able to choose to believe. Otherwise, they live before believing, which is contrary to scripture that says that "by believing, we may have life in his name." John 20:31. But I believe that they are given life and given faith, and having faith, are justified. And so, in that sense at least, it is passive.

I have read Edwards' Freedom of the Will, which largely deals with the changing of man's will as a result of regeneration, as you say. Yet nowhere does he equate faith to "volition," and he does define "volition" as choice. So that, as far as I know, he never called faith a choice or choosing, leastways not in this book. Nor can I recall him setting forth faith as a product of regenerated volition (at least not in this book.)

I do not know what you mean by faith being active, because I have not seen you talk about faith-- instead you mention obedience, delight, volition, responses, and will, none of which are faith.

If you could kindly explain both John 20:31 and Heb 11:1 to ease my perplexity, I would be much obliged, or at least proffer some scriptures to support your proposition, so that they can be compared?
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
And again, sure we can choose to have faith.

Samuel, I have a question-- how can we choose to have that which is the very quality or state the precedes and permits the supposedly enabled choice?

It is to say, we may choose to live, which I think is an intrinsic falsehood because if we are choosing to live, we are already alive. And so with faith, in that if we are choosing to have it, we must already have it-- as you have said above, those who have no faith cannot choose to have faith, and so anyone choosing to have faith must already have faith, in which case they need not choose it, but only to demonstrate it, by a regenerated nature that acts (or wills) in a holy and godly manner (which is really not ourselves working, but Christ working in us, as you all know and affirm.)

The choice, then, is not a choosing of faith itself, but of things that demonstrate the reality of our possession of said faith, i.e., the repentance, or the good works, or the acts of love and kindness, all of which is not faith but exists (and indeed can only exist) in the framework of faith. And because the Arminians love the word "choice," as it implies free-will to some, I think it best that we Christians think of "choice" as the inevitable volitional outcome of possessing faith. If we are led by the Spirit, we really have no choice-- it is a sure thing.


And if I might add, the difference between sincerely swapping Faith itself with the Produce of said Faith, i.e. calling Faith itself the Good Works thereof, is the difference between justification by faith, and justification by [insert alternate definition of Faith here, namely, good works.]
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Faith must include "choice," if by that is meant an act of the will. Faith is simply the man believing. Man thinks, wills, and affects. Therefore faith is defined in terms of knowledge, assent, and trust. It is certain that man cannot will anything spiritually good in a fallen and unregenerate condition, but it is equally certain that when a man is regenerated he is enabled to believe in Christ for salvation. God does not believe for him. God works in him to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Hebrews 11:1 provides a definition of what faith does rather than what faith is. It is describing the function rather than the nature of faith. It is regrettable that it has been translated in subjective terms when it is indicating something that is objective.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
I'm finally willing to admit faith is a choice, as long as knowledge and assent are passive (therefore, not choices), but trust is active (that which renders faith a choice).
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
How in the world is Heb 11:1 describing the function of faith by using a noun? They are not even participles (which I am sure you know what means.)

What is more, I think the nouns used have no verbal counterpart. I have never heard of a function being described by employing a noun.

Furthermore, how are the nouns ὑπόστασις, "assurance, substance, reality" and ἔλεγχος "a proof, persuasion, reproof" in the least way translated subjectively, by "assurance" and "confidence?" Such words imply absoluteness.

Furthermore, if they were translated subjectively, only then would it make sense for their meaning to be interpreted as a function. A definition, being an objective thing, is much more in line with an objective word that a subjective, and by your own statement, they are indicating that which is objective.


Also, faith must indeed include "choice" if by that is meant an act of the will. However, faith is not an act of the will, any more than is breathing. And so, faith must not include choice in the least. As stated above, faith is a quality, an attribute, and not a volition. Man does think, but not always volitionally. Man may believe, and he may believe autonomously, i.e. that the sun will rise (we do not choose to believe such, do we?) and above that, by God's grace, he may believe autonomously in Christ, i.e. faith.

If we have to choose to believe, then we may sin sometimes by choosing wrong and having no faith, as we may choose to do other sins. However, no place in scripture ever indicates that a Christian may ever for a moment be without faith. And, any area in which we have choice, we will undoubtedly fail-- as evidenced by the entire lives of anyone reading this sentence.

No sir, faith is not a choice any more than grace of God is a choice.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
Furthermore, might I add, that while God's gracious providence and assistance in keeping us from sins and upholding us by His Spirit are wonderful things, they are not called the "gifts" of God.

The "Gifts" of God include such things, according to Scripture, as the Holy Spirit, Grace, Calling, Justification, Eternal Life, and also, Faith. (These exclude what are known as "spiritual gifts," which are ministerial gifts.) And we know that the gifts of God are without repentance-- so to say that faith is a choice and our volition, is to say that one of God's gifts, being without repentance, may nevertheless be temporarily lost by us, through our sinful volition.

Unless, perhaps, someone can procure a scripture to the effect that, the one "sinful choice" we are unable to make is the "choice" not to have faith-- as we know that all other sinful choices are a possibility, and sadly often a reality, in the life of a believer.

My ideas could afford to be more fleshed out, but time presses and I believe I have said enough for now.
 

BDB

Puritan Board Freshman
One last thing: when a man is regenerated, he is not "enabled" to believe in Christ, with a possible choice thereof. Not even with a certain "choice." If something is certain, then there is no choice, either.

He is, rather, "made" to believe in Christ, persuaded, convicted, assured, proved, and convinced. Faith does not depend on volition-- the Spirit gives faith which, by nature, causes the soul of man to believe on, trust in, and acquiesce to Christ. Faith is, as I say, the heartbeat of the soul, and we could not choose it nor stop it in the least, as with our own hearts beating.
 
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