30 June 2022

A word from William: 'Faith is not a feeling'

William Booth
2 July is the birthday of The Salvation Army – 157 years ago in 1865, William and Catherine Booth founded The Salvation Army in East London.

To mark Founders' Day, let's look back to a message that William Booth sent to corps to be read in Sunday meetings.

May his words, now 114 years old, encourage you to have renewed faith in our loving God for the days that lie ahead.

19 April 1908

Religious faith is much the same as any other faith. The difference consists not in the faculty or ability to believe, but in the greatness of the being who is its object and the importance of the blessings connected with its exercise.

You know what it is to have faith in your husband, wife or any other person; you trust them. Faith in God is the same kind of thing. You receive the word spoken or written by these dear ones as being true. That is exercising faith. But faith is more than believing in the spoken word. It signifies trust in an individual. It means confidence in the speaker.

Faith in God implies belief in the words he has spoken. However hard they may be to receive or however people may deny them, we are to believe that every word he has spoken is true and that every promise he has made will be fulfilled. But faith in God implies more than belief of his word – it includes faith in God himself as a living person. You need to believe, in spite of things happening within or around you, that God is loving you all the time and that he is making all things work together for your good.

Many serious mistakes are made respecting faith. Let me point out two or three of them, and so try to guard you from them.

First, faith is not feeling. In striving to believe you must not depend on any emotion. This is a mistake into which many people fall.

The moment they start to seek any blessing that has been made to depend upon their faith, they begin to look within to see if any feeling corresponding to the blessing they are seeking has broken out in their hearts. Discouraged at not finding the expected emotion there, they too often give up trying to believe.

Faith is quite a different thing from feeling. It is true that it is often so closely associated with feelings or followed so quickly by them that it may be mistaken for the same thing, but it is not the same. Believing ever goes ahead of feeling and to expect feelings before the exercise of faith is to put the cart before the horse. First believe and then feel.

Neither must faith be confounded with sight. Believing with what we call sometimes a ‘naked faith’ – a faith that trusts God without the assistance of signs and wonders, whether great or small – will be the most effective and enduring. I remember a man once saying to me as a youth, ‘Believe God in the dark, my son, and you will be most likely to trust him in the light.’

Believing that the thing is done or will be done is not the same as seeing the thing done or knowing it will be done. And yet how often we want to see the thing accomplished before we are willing to believe that it will come to pass!

When Elijah was praying for rain on Mount Carmel, he did not put off the exercise of faith until his servant told him of the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, which betokened the coming flood. Oh, dear no! Although the sky continued to be one vast glaring sea of brass and the servant reported again and again that he could not see any sign of the expected rain, Elijah persisted in saying: ‘The rain will come. Jehovah has heard and Jehovah will answer my prayer!’ He had faith in God.

Faith is neither more nor less than believing that the promises God has given you will come to pass. You must accept it as a fact that, whether you can see it or not, he is just as good and as faithful and as loving to you as he has described himself to be. Take God at his word.

I invite you to lay yourselves at his feet. Ask him to forgive all the unbelief of the past and wash out the memory of all the doubts and fears that you have allowed to live in your hearts.

Nay, go further. Is there not some blessing that you need that depends upon the exercise of faith? Is it the forgiveness of your sins? Is it restoration from backsliding? Is it a more certain assurance of the divine favour in your soul? Is it a pure heart? Is it a burning love for souls? Is it comfort or deliverance in some particular sorrow or trial?

Whatever the blessing may be that you need, believe that God is willing to give it to you. Ask for it, resting in the assurance that God is willing and able to bestow it. And if, after all, it be for a time or wholly withheld, trust him still and believe that, in withholding it, he seeks your truest and highest good.

Discover more

A celebration and reflection on General William Booth’s proposed reformation of social and welfare services from his bestselling book.

The International Heritage Centre tells the story of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s to the present, both in the UK and across the world.

Commissioner Keith Banks reviews 'Wings of Faith' by Dawn Volz.

Tim Green interviews Ivan Berezkin, a Salvationist on the front line of the war.

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