Once he feels its flame, a child will never doubt the candle’s heat. Likewise, the English Reformer William Tyndale once wrote, those who “feel” their faith will stand firm in the truth of Scripture and the promises of God. Convinced that Englishmen and women needed to hear God’s Word in their own language, Tyndale published in 1526 the first English New Testament translated from the Greek text. Throughout the 10 years of ministry that followed, he often spoke of “feeling” – a term that he used in his earliest translation of Romans 5.
In this passage, the apostle Paul writes that we have peace with God because we are justified by faith. Moreover, by God’s grace we have hope. In fact, faith gives us hope even amid tribulation. For this reason, we should rejoice in suffering. After all, Paul writes, suffering produces perseverance, which produces “feeling.” At least, “feeling” is the term that Tyndale used to translate a Greek word, dokimen, rendered elsewhere as “experience,” “character” or “proven character” (Rom. 5:1-4).
In a note, Tyndale referred the readers of his own translation to James 1:2-3, where a related Greek word (dokimion) is used. Here, James calls believers to rejoice amid tribulation, since the “testing (dokimion) of your faith” produces perseverance, which itself leads to complete Christian maturity. But, whereas James emphasizes the testing of faith through suffering, Paul in Romans 5 emphasizes the result – that is, the tested, refined and proven faith (or, perhaps, person of faith). He writes that such “feeling,” in turn, produces a hope that is assured by God’s love. And this love has been poured into the believer’s heart by the Holy Spirit and has been displayed by Christ’s death for sinners (Rom. 5:4-11).
Christians feel their faith, therefore, when refined by the intense heat of suffering, pain and persecution. “Mark this also, if God send thee to the sea and promise to go with thee and to bring thee safe to land, he will raise up a tempest against thee, to prove whether thou wilt abide by his word, and that thou mayest feel thy faith and percieve his goodness,” Tyndale wrote in 1528 in his book, The Obedience of a Christian Man. “For if it were always fair weather and thou never brought into such jeopardy whence his mercy only delivered thee, thy faith should be but a presumption and thou shouldest be ever unthankful to God and merciless unto thy neighbor.”
“Tribulation for righteousness is not a blessing only,” Tyndale added, “but also a gift that God giveth unto none save his special friends. … For Paul in the fifth chapter to the Romans saith, ‘Tribulation maketh feeling,’ that is, it maketh us feel the goodness of God and his help and the working of his Spirit. … Lo Christ is never strong in us, till we be weak.”
Speakers at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s “Sowing in Tears” conference, Jan. 27-28, translated Tyndale’s message into 21st-century English.
“You will suffer,” said international evangelist Sammy Tippit, who has trained pastors and proclaimed the gospel in the hardest-to-reach regions of the world. “This is the missing message in America. … Suffering is part of the Christian life.” But hope only comes, Tippit added, when we are hopeless, when our hope lies only in God.
Suffering strips from us the confidence that we have laid up in ourselves and in our own resources. It is at that point, when we have nothing to guide us but God’s promises, that we feel our faith. As Tyndale’s better-known contemporary, Martin Luther, once wrote, “But this is the glory of faith, simply not to know: not to know where you are going, not to know what you are doing, not to know what you must suffer, and … to follow the naked voice of God.”
By the way, Tyndale ultimately felt his faith in 1536. Latched to a stake, he was strangled and burned because he wanted people to read Scripture for themselves, in their own languages. As we try to follow God’s call in our lives, would we also risk feeling our faith to scatter God’s Word abroad and reach people with the gospel?