LACK OF ASSURANCE
Extracts from A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge
Sometimes the discouragements of God’s people are drawn from he lack of their evidence for heaven.
And thus they reason or argue: I am a poor creature, lacking assurance of the love of God and of mine own salvation; therefore I am thus discouraged. Indeed, if I had any evidence of an interest in Christ, I should never be discouraged whatever my condition were:
but, alas! I lack the assurance of God’s love, and of eternal life. Should I now die, I do not know whether I should go to heaven or hell; and what would become of my soul to all eternity? Oh, I lack assurance of my salvation, and therefore I am discouraged. Have I not good cause and reason for my discouragements?
No, no reason yet. It is indeed a great evil and a sore affliction, to lack the assurance of God’s love and of one’s own salvation; yet, notwithstanding, the lack of this assurance is no sufficient ground or bottom for your discouragement. I confess it is a great evil and a sore affliction for a man to lack assurance; for sin and affliction are twisted together in the lack of assurance. As of all blessings those are the greatest where grace and comfort are joined together; so where sin and affliction are twisted together, of all afflictions they are the most afflictive. And thus it is in the lack of assurance: for as in assurance there is something of grace, and something of comfort or reward; so in the lack of assurance there is somewhat of sin or unbelief, and somewhat of affliction too. Sin and affliction, affliction and sin, are both twisted together in the lack of assurance.
The truth is, a man that lacks the assurance of God’s love, and of his interest in Christ, is fit neither to receive mercy from God, nor to make return of love and praise to God as he should. Not fit to receive mercy as he should, for though he would have Christ come in, yet by unbelief he shuts the door against Him, and he makes an evil interpretation of mercies offered unto him. If a mercy or blessing be tendered unto him, he says, This comes in judgment to me; it is a blessing indeed in itself, but I fear it is a judgment to me. Thus he makes an ill interpretation of blessings, and so is unfit to receive them. And he is not fit to make returns of love to God again:
assurance returns praise. And therefore says the text here, O my soul, wait on God, hope in God, “for I shall yet praise Him”; why:
“for He is my God.” Praise grows upon assurance. And upon this account, I say, he is fit neither to receive mercy, nor to make return of praise as he should.
Yea further, he that lacks assurance of God’s love, converses too much with Satan. As he that has the assurance of God’s love converses with Christ, “the Spirit bearing witness to him that he is a child of God”; so he that lacks assurance converses with Satan, and Satan, though falsely, bears witness to his spirit that he is not a child of God. And is it not a misery to be in these converses with Satan, to be under his hellish droppings? David felt one pang of unbelief, and he cried out, and said, “It is too painful for me,” Psa. 73.16. Oh, what a pain is it then, to lie bed-ridden of an unbelieving heart. You know a chaste and loving wife counts it an affliction to her to be followed with the solicitations of an unworthy person, to suspect and be jealous of her husband’s love; for, says she, he follows me with these solicitations, to make me to suspect my husband’s love, that so he may attain his own filthy desires. So says a gracious soul;
the devil is always following and tempting me to suspect the love of Christ, and he does it that he may attain his mind upon me; for the devil knows well enough, that the more I suspect Christ’s love, the more I shall embrace Satan’s love.
The truth is, beloved, this lack of assurance of God’s love, or interest in Christ, is an inlet to many sins and miseries; for first a man doubts of his own salvation. Afterwards he has continued doubting. Then he rises up unto a full conclusion, saying. Now know I that Christ does not love me; I did but doubt before, but now I know He does not love me. And after he is risen to this conclusion, then shortly he rises higher, and he goes further, thus: If Christ does not love me now, He will never love me; and if I have not an interest in Christ now, after all the preaching I have heard, and ordinances I have enjoyed, I shall never have it; and so the longer I live, the more I shall aggravate my condemnation. Therefore as good in hell at first as at the last, and therefore now I will even make away with myself. Oh, what a black chain is here! and the first link is the lack of assurance.
If you should see a child, a pretty child, lie in the open streets, and none own it, would it not make your bowels yearn within you? You come to the little one, and say, Child, where is your father? I know not, says the child. Where is your mother, child? I know not. Who is your father? what is your father’s name, child? I know not. Would it not make your heart ache to see such a little one in the streets? But for a poor soul to lie in the streets, as it were, and not know his Father, whether God be his Father, or the devil be his father; for a soul to say, I do not know my father, whether God in Christ be my Father, yea or no; this is pitiful indeed. The word “father” is a sweet word, for it sweetens all our duties. Take the word “Father” out of prayer, and how sour it is! Surely, therefore, it is a sad and sore
affliction, to lack the assurance of God’s love in Christ. But now, although it be a great evil, and a sore affliction to lack this assurance, yet I say, the saints and people of God have no reason to be cast down or discouraged, although they do lack the same.
Coming to Christ
How may that appear?
Thus: if the lack of assurance be not the same thing as damning unbelief, then a man has no reason to be quite discouraged. Now, though there may be much unbelief bound up in the lack of assurance, yet I say, the bare lack of assurance is not that unbelief that shall damn one’s soul to all eternity; it is not that unbelief which Christ threatens with damnation. For if you look into John 3.18, you will find our Saviour speaking thus: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” But now, lest any poor soul that would believe, and cannot, should be afflicted and troubled at these words, therefore says our Saviour Christ, in the following words, I will tell you wherein lies the damnableness of unbelief, verse 19, “This is the condemnation (He speaks in relation to the words before), that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil; for every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (or discovered).” This light is Christ. Now therefore, do you hate the light, even Christ? and do you therefore keep from it lest your deeds should be discovered? Or rather on the contrary, do you not know there are evil deeds in your life, and much evil in your heart? and do you not therefore desire to come to Christ, who is the true light, that your deeds may be confessed, and your sin amended? Then, you cannot believe as you would, and though you lack assurance, and though you have much unbelief in you, the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken it, you will never be condemned for this lack to all eternity, but the Lord Christ will pardon this unto you: and L therefore certainly upon this account, God’s people have no reason for their discouragement.
If there be such an overruling hand of grace and mercy upon the lack of the saint’s assurance, as that it shall work to their and to others’ good, then they have no reason to be quite discouraged, although they do lack assurance.
As for their own good: thereby they do gain experience; thereby they come to see the emptiness and nothingness of all their own righteousness. David says (you know the scripture), Psa. 116.11, “I said in my haste, All men are liars.” The words in the Hebrew may
be read, “I said in my shaking, All men are liars.” David was shaken by men, and then he saw that men were liars. So, when a man is shaken in his own righteousness, then he sees the emptiness and the lying disposition of it. And, I pray, when is a man’s own righteousness more shaken, than when he lacks assurance of God’s love? Thereby also, a man comes to get more and stronger assurance of God’s love; Certissimum est, quod certum est post incertitudinem (that is most certain that is certain after uncertainty). The shaken tree grows the strongest. It is observed of Thomas, that of all the apostles, he cried out, and said, “My Lord and my God.” Two My’s Not one My: My Lord or My God. But two My’s, “My Lord and My God.” Two My’s! Why? Because he had two No’s before! “Unless I may put my finger into his side, I will not believe.” So you read it; but in the original there were two No’s, “I will not, not believe”; a double Not, John 20.24-29. And as there were two No’s of unbelief, so there are two My’s of faith. So far as a good man is sunk in unbelief, so far he will rise in faith. So much as a man is shaken by unbelief, and by the lack of assurance, so much he will rise unto assurance and be confirmed and steeled in it.
And as for others: a man is never more fit to comfort, to relieve, to satisfy others in their fears, than when he has been in fears and doubting himself. I would rather believe poor doubting Thomas, than confident Peter: I would rather believe poor doubting Thomas than Peter who never doubted. Thomas, who had himself once doubted, knew how to deal with a poor doubting soul. Thus, I say, God turns the lack of assurance of His servants unto their own and others’ good: and therefore there is no reason that they should be cast down, and quite discouraged, although they lack assurance for the present.
Comfort in Hope
If a man, a gracious man, may have comfort, yea, and live comfortably, although he lack assurance, then he has no reason to be quite discouraged, Now, though it may seem a paradox to you, yet you will find a truth in it: I say a man that has no assurance for the present, may have comfort; yea, he may live comfortably, if things be rightly ordered. For he that has no assurance, may have hope;
and hope is comfortable. He that has no assurance, may yet rely upon Jesus Christ, and stay his soul upon Christ; and in all reliance there is some comfort. He that has no assurance may be justified, and being justified by faith, we have peace with God. He that has no assurance may submit unto God’s commandments; and says the Psalmist, “the entrance into thy commandments giveth light,” and so comfort. “In keeping thy commandments there is great reward,” and so comfort. “It is a comfortable thing (says Solomon) to behold
the light”: and in all light there is some comfort. Now God is light, and the free grace and love of God is light, which a man may behold that has no assurance.
Now, my beloved, is there no excellency in God Himself to content the soul? Is there no faithfulness in God? Is there no love and mercy in God Himself? Is not the Lord the God of all consolation, and the God of mercy, without particular relation to my own condition? Is there not an ocean of excellent love and grace in God Himself? How many sweet stories of love and grace may you read in this little book, the Bible? Besides, a man that has no assurance, now and then may have some promise thrown into his soul, to uphold him. When Elijah was by the brook, and could not enjoy the ordinary meat of the land, a raven brought him meat: and whenever was any godly man in such a condition, but he had one raven or other to bring him comfort? Sometimes a temptation is a raven; God makes it so; sometimes a desertion is a raven;
sometimes an affliction; sometimes a particular word and promise is thrown into his soul; and is there no comfort in it? I say, though a man lacks assurance for the present, he may live comfortably. Surely therefore a godly man has no reason for his discouragement, though for the present he lacks assurance?
Having these Promises
But, you say, I not only lack this settled assurance of God’s love, and so the ordinary food of the land, but I have no raven to bring me any comfort. I mean, I have no promise, no particular word to bring comfort unto my soul, and to uphold me in my dark condition. Though I lack a settled assurance, yet if I had a particular word and promise to uphold my soul until I had this assurance, I should not be discouraged. But I lack this settled assurance, and I have no particular word or promise to uphold my soul with, until it come;
and therefore I am discouraged: have I not reason to be?
I answer. No. For, Christian, what particular word or promise would you have? Have you not the whole gospel before you, a bag of golden promises? A father has two children. He comes unto one, and gives unto that child a piece of gold. There, child, says he, supply thy want with that. But unto the other child he says: Here, child, I know that you are in need, and there are bags of silver and gold in my study; take the key of my study, and go in, and take what you will. Is not this latter in as good a condition as the former, or rather better? Thus it is with the saints. The Lord is pleased to give now and then a particular word to some of His children; but unto others. He says rather: Here, take the key of faith, for faith is the key, and has a power to unlock all the promises; I give you faith, and by this faith, I give you a power to go unto all my promises. Is not this latter in as good a condition as the other? Thus it is, I say, with
all the servants of God, “Having therefore these promises,” says the apostle, 2 Cor. 7.1.
I shall now desire you to consider three or four propositions.
1. Though it be possible for a man to attain to a full assurance of God’s love, yet a man may have saving faith that has no assurance. Faith and assurance differ; and therefore says the apostle, “Draw near with full assurance of faith,” Heb. 10.22. Assurance of faith comforts, but the reliance of faith saves. It is possible that a man or woman may have such an assurance, as that they never doubted of God’s love; but, ordinarily, a man never had assurance of his salvation, that never doubted of his salvation. The first step to salvation is to see that there is no salvation. We must go to heaven by hell gate; and he that is not troubled sometimes by Satan is possessed by him. I say, ordinarily a man never had assurance of his salvation, that never doubted of his salvation. A man may have true saving faith, that yet has no assurance of his salvation. This is the first.
2. As a man may have true saving faith, and yet lack assurance, so a man may have strong faith and assurance, yet many doubts, fears, and mistrustings may be left in his soul. Of all the churches, the church of the Thessalonians are most commended for their faith and their graces, “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe,” 1 Thess. 1.7. Yet in chap. 3, verse 10, the apostle says there was something lacking in their faith: “Night and day praying exceedingly, that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” Something was lacking in their faith, yet they were examples of faith unto all the churches.
3. As a man may have strong faith with assurance, and yet some doubts and fears may be left in the soul still; so a man may have strong faith and assurance, yet for a long time may be deprived of the feeling of it. And therefore, whereas the spouse in the Song of Songs in one place says, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine,” in another place she says, “I sought him whom my soul loveth, and I found him not: I opened to my Beloved, and he was gone, and my soul failed; I called and he answered not.”
4. As a man may have strong faith, and yet for a great time may be deprived of the feeling of it; so it is possible a man may be a godly, gracious man, yet may continue and go on doubting for a long time, yea possibly, he may die doubting also. The godly and the wicked are contrary. As for the wicked, you shall find that a wicked man may think his condition good, yet it may be very bad; he may have hope and persuasion that he shall go to heaven, and he may die in these persuasions, yet he may go to hell. In Rev. 3 you read thus of
the church of Laodicea, at verse 16, “So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth: I would thou wert cold or hot,” verse 15. These were very wicked; had these people any thoughts of mercy, or did they think their spiritual condition was good? Read verse 17, “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” So that I say, a wicked man may think his condition good, and yet it may be very bad. Yea, daily experience tells us, besides the parable of the foolish virgins, that he may die in these persuasions. And on the contrary, a man may think his condition may be very good. Consider it rightly. I know indeed, ordinarily, God comes in with some comfort or other unto a child of God before he dies; but I would be loth to say, and you will be loth to think, that certainly that man goes to hell that doubts of his salvation, or that dies doubting of his salvation. No, possibly a man may doubt and fear, and doubt long, even die doubting, without a settled assurance of God’s love, yet he may go to heaven and be saved for ever. What then, though you have waited long, and have long lacked assurance, yet God has not led you so far as He has led some, and your condition is no other than that which may befall the dear servants and children of God.
1. Do you lack the assurance of God’s love and of your own salvation? Labour more and more to put to sea, I mean to the sea and ocean of God’s love, and the deeps of Christ’s merit and satisfaction. There is sea room enough in the ocean of God’s free love, and of Christ’s merits and satisfaction; but if you touch upon your own righteousness, you do but endanger your soul, and sink your own heart into more despairing doubts and fears. Stand off, therefore, now, from your own shore, and keep to sea, even that great sea of God’s love and Christ’s merits.
2. If you lack assurance, take heed that you do not hearken unto any thing out of an ordinance, contrary unto the comfort which the Lord speaks to you in the time of an ordinance.
3. Take heed that you be not discontented with your condition. Discontentment breeds discouragement. But do you lack the assurance of God’s love? Say thus with your own soul; however it be, yet will I wait on God; when the Lord pleases He will give me assurance; I will only labour to be contented with my condition. But if you are discontented, you will certainly be discouraged.
4. If you lack assurance of God’s love and of your own salvation, take heed that you do not say, I shall never be assured; take heed
you do not say, I shall never have a promise; take heed you do not say, I shall never be comforted; take heed you do not say, I shall never have the testimony of the Spirit bearing witness with my spirit that I am a child of God. Do not say thus, I shall never be helped; I am in a sad condition, and I shall never be better; I am in an uncomfortable condition, and I shall never be comforted; I lack assurance, and I shall never have assurance. Beloved, this you cannot say, for who knows what God will do: His ways are in the deep, and His foot-steps are not known. You know how it is with a sick person. If the physician come and tell him there is hope of life, then his heart dies not. But if the physician says to him. Sir, you are in a great and dangerous fever, and I would wish you to settle your estate, and look out for comfort for your soul, for the truth is, you will never be recovered, then his heart dies. So here, take a poor soul that lacks assurance. If he says, there is hope that I may be assured, he is not discouraged. But if he says, I have no assurance, and I shall never have it, then he is quite discouraged. It is this word never, that discourages. Oh, I shall never be encouraged, and I shall never have assurance, and I shall never have the testimony of God’s Spirit! Take heed that you do not say, I shall never be assured. That is a temptation. Take heed of the word never, in this case.
5. Carry this with you for a rule, and remember it much, that the less assurance you have, the more precious your obedience may be, and the more kindly God may take it at your hands. It is good for a Christian to be obedient at all times, and the more assurance you have, the more you are bound to obey. But does your soul fear that God will disinherit you? and yet do you say. However it be, I will obey God, for He is my Father; though I cannot see Him, yet will I serve Him; and though I have no comfort from God, yet will I be obedient to Him, for it is my duty, He is my Father? The Lord will take this kindly at your hands, and what you lack in the largeness, shall be made up in the ingenuousness of your obedience. Wherefore, then, do you lack assurance of the love of God? Comfort yourself with this, and say within your own soul. Well, though I lack assurance, I hope, through grace, I am in some measure obedient, and the less assurance I have, the more kindly God takes my obedience at my hand: and therefore why should I be discouraged or cast down? Think, and think often of this rule; and it will help you to be obedient, and bear up your hearts also in the absence of assurance.