THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH Notes of an address, London, July 9, 2004 Introduction
This is a matter of serious personal and pastoral concern. There is need of great care to avoid two extremes: a false assurance on the one hand and a damaging lack of assurance on the other. I can well understand the fear of spiritually sensitive souls when they deeply feel their own sins and failures.
Paul’s testimony in Romans 8.28-39 is a shining example of what I mean when I speak of the Assurance of Faith.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among marry brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, their he also called: and whom he called, their he also justified: and whom he justified, their he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for its, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condenrneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand oj’ God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us frorrr the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. The use of the word Faith
The word `faith’ in the Bible is used in two ways;
i. Belief of the truths given by God in the Scriptures, or that body of doctrines received and believed by all true Christians, simply referred to as `the faith’. As in; Acts 6.7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
The introduction to Luke’s Gospel speaks in a similar way. Forasmuch as marry have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration oj’those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered their unto us, which frorrr the beginning were
eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to the also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou tnightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. Luke 1.1-4
ii. The second use of the word faith is when referring to personal belief in Christ as that central point in the experience of salvation. This includes all that is meant in the first use of the word but is more than that. We certainly need to know of Christ and believe the truth about Him and receive all that He taught if we are ever to experience salvation. As John says, speaking of the great works and miracles of Jesus, And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. John 20.30-31
And so Paul speaks in Ephesians 2.8, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of’God: Professor John Murray speaks of this faith as, `The whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences’. Again he says;
`It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to Him, but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to Him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved. It is to us in our lost condition that the warrant of faith is given’.
What does he mean by the warrant of faith’? I would put it like this; It is Christ’s assurance of welcome to all who come to Him for what He has freely promised to give to all who do so come.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11.28
Isaiah speaks of Christ in the same way; Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Isaiah 55:1
Similarly in Isaiah 55.6-7, Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
This personal faith and trust in Christ is sometimes referred to as the primary or direct act of faith but our concern this evening is especially with the second aspect of this faith and which is sometimes called the secondary or reflex act of faith.
2. The Believer’s Assurance
By the words, `Assurance of Faith’, I mean that which is the fruit of the primary or direct act of faith. It is the personal assurance that I am a believer and that Christ has blessed me with salvation and with all the precious consequences of His saving love. In the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (and in almost the same words in the Westminster Confession of Faith) we read in Chapter 18.1 & 2.
OF THE ASSURANCE OF GRACE AND SALVATION.
1 Although temporary believers, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation, which hope of theirs shall perish;’ yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.;
‘Job 8.13,14. Matt. 7,22,23. 1 John 2.3; 3.14,18,19,21,24; 5.13. ‘Rom. 5.2,5.
2 This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel;’ and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God;’ and, as a fruit thereof, keeping the heart both humble and holy.’
‘Heb. 6.1 1,19. Heb. 6.17,18. `2 Pet. 1.4,5,10,11. ‘Rom. 8.15,16. I John 3.1-3.
This assurance does not originate in our feelings even though it is so deeply experienced in our self-consciousness, our thoughts, and our feelings. It originates in the Person and work of our Lord. It is a confidence in Him and in His exceeding great and precious promises which leads us to experience inward joy and peace in believing.
It also arises from our inward awareness of what the Holy Spirit has done in our souls. In that precious first epistle of John there are a number of times when John speaks of what we know. His purpose in writing this epistle is found in 1 John 5.13, These things have I written unto you that believe oil the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
He continues in 1 John 5.19-20,
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given its an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in hint that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the trite God, and eternal life.
He gives a simple evidence of our salvation in I John 3.14, We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
This assurance is also given by a direct and conscious activity of the Holy Spirit as in Romans 8.14-17.
For as many cis are led by the Spirit of Cod, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry; Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of Cod, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
It is important to say that this personal witness of the Spirit with our own spirit is not detached from what I have previously been saying. It is that work of the Spirit by whom we come to know God as our Father and become conscious of the Spirit of adoption welcoming us into the family of God, so that we can truly pray, `Our Father…’.
This is powerfully confirming and brings strong personal assurance of our relationship with our Lord. It also produces a stronger desire to love, honour, and obey Him and never leads to carelessness in our Christian behaviour.
3. Problems with Assurance
When one realises the solemnity of the warnings in scripture against a false faith as in Matthew 7.21-23, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter- into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Marry will say to me in that clay, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me ye that work iniquity.
Or the fearful warnings of the Epistle to the Hebrews about final apostasy, in Hebrews 6.4-6, For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
It is no wonder that sensitive souls may have serious problems. The Confession of Faith puts it like this in 18.3.
3 This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it; yet being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of means, attain thereunto:”‘ and therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance;” – so far is it from inclining men to looseness.’
‘Isa. 50.10, Ps. 88, Ps. 77.1-12. “1 John 4.13, Heb. 6.11,12. “Rpm. 5.1,2, 5; 14.17, Ps. 119.32. “Rpm. 6.1,2.
My own first glimpse of this assurance came through a sermon I heard on Eph. 2, especially the verses 1 and 19;
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
I saw that I was no longer dead in trespasses and sins. I was not what I wanted to be but I was not what I once had been and the difference must have been the work of the Holy Spirit.
4. Threats to Assurance
Reading in the Confession of Faith again, 18.4.
4 True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as by negligence in preserving of it,” by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; 14 by some sudden or vehement temptation,” by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light,” yet are they never destitute of the seed of God” and life of faith,” that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived,” and by the which, in the meantime, they are preserved from utter despair .
“Cant. 5.2,3,6. “Ps. 51.8,12,14. Vs. 116.11; 77.7,8; 31.22. “Ps. 30.7. “1 John 3.9. “Luke 22.32. “Ps. 42.5,1 1. s”Lam. 3.26-31. It is evident that these threats to assurance arise from;
a. Negligence in preserving it.
b. Falling into some special sin that wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit.
c. By some sudden or vehement temptation, Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Ephes. 6.16
d. By God, for wise reasons, allowing us for a while to walk in darkness as in Isaiah 50.10, Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and bath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. 5. Encouragements for those lacking assurance.
I. Be diligent in the use of the `means o1′ grace’. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together; as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as Ye see the day approaching. Hebrews 10.25
2. Be much in prayer.
3. Remember Peter’s exhortation, `Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’. 2 Peter 3.18.
4. Be careful to avoid all known sin.
5. Be careful to obey all your Lord’s commands.
6. It has been said, `For one look within at your soul let there be ten looks to Christ’.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every, weight, and the sin which loth so easily beset its, and let its run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; vvho for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in Your minds. Heb. 12.1-3.