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(25 posts)

The Assurance of Our Perseverance

Monday··2007·07·23 · 2 Comments
Many Christians who are members of Bible-preaching, evangelical churches have been duped somehow into thinking that their perseverance in the faith is dependent on their own natural abilities to endure to the end. They have become practical deists, thinking that after God make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) he simply left us to our own devices while he just sits back observing us through life’s difficulties, waiting to see if we will make it to the end. In his first wartime address, delivered at Guildhall in London on September 4, 1914, Sir Winston Churchill (1874—1965) said: “Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer. You have only to persevere to save yourselves.” Considering what Churchill accomplished during his life, he proved this statement to be entirely appropriate. The British Prime Minister’s wartime victories demonstrated time and again his ability to persevere to the end he overcame great odds, and his self-sustained resilience enabled him to endure all the struggles of leadership during the Second World War. And while his assertion is accurate, it is accurate only insofar as it pertains to our natural human abilities. Churchill’s call to persevere in order to save oneself is by all means applicable to soldiers in wartime. It is a stern charge to fight to the end in order to overcome the enemy. Moreover, It conveys a similar exhortation found in the Bible. In Hebrews, we are called to run the race set before us (12:1). The apostle Paul likewise admonishes us to endure so that we might “reign with [Christ]” (2 Timothy 2:12). And while teaching his disciples, Christ himself said: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). In these passages and others, the Bible’s teaching is clear; we must persevere to the end in order to be saved. However, this is only one part of the biblical equation. If our perseverance in the faith is dependent upon us, we will surely fail and will by no means finish the race set before us. Moreover, our assurance of salvation will waver each and every day if we are counting on ourselves and our own natural abilities to persevere to the end (Romans 4:20; Hebrews 10:23). In order to have full assurance, we must be entirely dependent upon Christ and his Word, which he has provided for us as our only infallible rule to faith and life (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.2). In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul writes to the saints and faithful believers in Christ at Colossae: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1–3) —Burk Parsons, Assured by God (P&R 2006), 20–21.

It’s Not about Us

Tuesday··2007·07·24 · 5 Comments
Much of the reason that Christians lack full assurance of their salvation is because they do not possess a right understanding of the purpose of salvation. Most Christians think their salvation is first and foremost about them. When I begin premarital counseling with a couple in our church, one of the first things we talk about is the purpose of marriage. I usually astonish the couple when I tell them that their marriage is not about them. After the initial shock, the young man and woman usually just look at me with blank stares. I then go on to explain that marriage is first and foremost about God and his kingdom (Ephesians 5:30–32). We spend some time talking about the creation ordinance to be fruitful and multiply, and, considering the possibility that the couple may not have children in the future, I explain that their marriage is intended to bring glory to God as each fulfills his or her covenant role in the relationship. I explain that they are getting married not just to live under the same roof with the same last name, but that their relationship is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his bride (5:25–29). When the couple understands that, they have a solid foundation on which to build a loving and full marriage. —Burk Parsons, Assured by God (P&R 2006), 26.

Assured by God

This drawing is now closed. Is it possible to know for sure that you are saved, that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that you will spend eternity with Christ in Heaven? If so, you want to know, don’t you? Yet, many Christians struggle with doubt concerning their salvation and miss out on the joy God intends for them in knowing their salvation has been secured for them by the blood of Christ. At the same time, many unbelievers have been given a false basis of assurance and believe they are saved when, in fact, they are not. Burk Parsons, along with a distinguished cadre of theologians including R. C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, and John MacArthur, has written an excellent book addressing these concerns in Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace. At only 180 pages, it is a short, easy read, while thoroughly expounding the Biblical basis for assurance of salvation. Would you like to have a copy? Well, you can. Simply email me here, make sure the subject line says “Book Give-away II,” and you’ll be entered in a drawing that will take place the first week in September. I’ll be giving away two copies. You must email me. Entries will not be taken in the comments. Also, I am not able to reply to these emails. If you send your entry, you’ll just have to trust that your name is in the hat. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite: Biblical Tests of Faith While remembering in our quest for assurance that every Christian remains in this life a redeemed sinner, is it nonetheless possible to test the validity of our profession of faith? The answer is yes. The New Testament presents clear and objective standards as to what constitutes a credible profession of saving faith in Jesus Christ, by which we may become biblically grounded in our assurance of salvation. The apostle John presents three concise tests of our faith in his first epistle, an important aim of which is to help true believers attain to assurance. John writes: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). First is a doctrinal test: true believers see matters of truth in accordance with the teaching of the Bible (2:18–27; 4:1–6). He is concerned in part with heresies current in his own day, against which he asserts the need for believers to receive his apostolic testimony about Jesus: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (4:6). The heresies of his day denied the deity of Jesus, so John emphasizes this doctrine: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (2:22–23). In other portions of the Bible we are informed of other doctrines we must believe, including Christ’s substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3–7) and justification through faith alone (Galatians 1:6–9). If we believe the Bible’s teaching about God, Jesus and Salvation, this objectively indicates that we have saving faith, and according to Jesus’s teaching, it is only by the regenerating work of the Spirit that we can “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Therefore, doctrinal fidelity indicates that Christ’s redeeming work has been applied to our hearts by the ministry of the Spirit. John’s second test of faith is a moral test (1 John 2:3–6; 3:4–10): “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (2:4–6). Boice explains this: “Simply put, those who know God will increasingly lead righteous lives. It does not mean that they will be sinless. But they will be moving in a direction marked out by the righteousness of God.” Ryle marks moral looseness as another cause of believers lacking assurance: “A vacillating walk, a backwardness to take a bold and decided line, a readiness to conform to the world, a hesitating witness for Christ, a lingering tone of religion, a clinching from a high standard of holiness and spiritual life, all these make up a sure receipt for bringing a blight upon the garden of your soul.” Although our assurance of salvation is grounded not in our spiritual performance but only on the redeeming work of Christ, it is nonetheless God’s design that a lack of godliness will result in a faltering assurance. The Westminster Confession of Faith well states that “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” (18:4). This being the case, an incentive for continued growth in godliness is our desire to the joy of assurance that comes through increasing Christ-likeness. The third test of faith is a social test. John mentions this repeatedly in his letter, most notably in 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” As Donald Macleod notes, faith in Christ “revolutionizes our social preference. . . . We love our fellow Christians.” For this reason, nurture of Christian fellowship and increased communion in the life of the church is strongly conductive to strengthening our assurance of salvation. These sets of faith are given to inspire assurance in those with credible faith, not to inflict doubt on those with and imperfect faith. John began: “We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1:4). Assurance comes not through faith in our faith but through faith in the Redeemer Jesus Christ. We are bound to follow the apostles’ teachings to examine our faith, but we must do so remembering that while our strongest faith is unable to save us, the weakest faith in Christ grasps a mighty Savior in who we may rest out souls. —Richard D. Phillips, Assured by God (P&R 2006), 83–84.

Blessed Assurance

Monday··2007·12·10 · 5 Comments
Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. —Fanny Crosby I was sampling some music by a country musician I won’t name here, and came across a couple of religious albums he has produced. I’m always a bit cynical of these things, as I see celebrities sing hymns one minute and songs about adultery and drunkenness the next. But that’s a tangent for another day. As I was listening, I heard the song Blessed Assurance. It’s not a great song, but it’s not horrible, either. The first verse, quoted above, is probably the best part of the song. It almost captures the essence of our salvation in beautiful language. Purchased of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood, we are heirs of salvation, and our blessed assurance of that salvation certainly is a foretaste of the divine glory of Heaven. (The remaining verses are pretty squishy.) Yet I say it “almost captures the essence of our salvation” because, while Jesus is mine, that is not the fact upon which my assurance rests. My assurance of salvation is in the knowledge that I am his. There is nothing I have that I cannot lose, and that would include my salvation if it depended on me. But Jesus loses no one, and nothing can be taken from him. I was given to him by the Father, and I am assured that I will be kept and raised up on the last day. My salvation is guaranteed, not because he is mine, but because I am his. Blessed assurance, I belong to Christ!

Caring for the Lost

The doctrine of Particular Redemption (more commonly known as Limited Atonement) is ought to be a great comfort to believers and strengthen our assurance of salvation. It should also motivate us in evangelism. If it glorifies Jesus that He makes salvation possible for everyone, it glorifies Him even more that He actually saves particular individuals. Christian salvation is universal in its offer but particular in its application. A great example of this comes in the account of how Jesus went out of His way to bring His gospel to the woman at the well and, through her, to an entire village. Here we see Jesus the Evangelist bringing the gospel to those whom He would save. John 4 contains a number of famous statements, but the most glorious may be the one in verse 4. John begins this chapter by telling us that Jesus started gathering followers, who were baptized by the twelve disciples, and then He “left Judea and departed again for Galilee” (John 4:3). John then says: “and he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). What makes this statement so wonderful is the way in which it was not true. Geographically, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria, and for many reasons it was inconvenient for Him to do so. But John informs us that Jesus had to go this way; it was necessary for Him. The reason was Jesus’ determination to save his own, among whom was this woman by the well. . . . One way to motivate yourself to care for others is to realize how much Jesus sacrificed to care for your own soul. We see His particular concern for individuals in His journey through Samaria. Had Jesus merely wanted to open a way for salvation for whoever would come, He need never have gone to Samaria. What He soon was to do in Jerusalem—namely, His death on the cross for our sins—was sufficient to make a way to God. Jesus did not have to go to Samaria for this. But Jesus died not only generally for all who would come, but actually to save particular people known to Him, including the woman He knew was coming to draw water from this well. If you are a believer, the same is true of you. Just as Jesus personally brought the gospel to the Samaritan woman, so He personally sought you for salvation. If you have heard the gospel and believed, it was not by chance! Jesus cared for your soul, so He died on the cross for your sins, He sent His witnesses to you, and He commissioned the Holy Spirit to open your heart to believe. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” He said (John 15:1). Realizing His sacrificial care for your soul ought to inspire you to care for the salvation of people you know and love that He might send you as His witness to them. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 110, 111–112.

An Everlasting Love

The wonder of adoption is that those who had no love for God were chosen to be the objects of his love, not just for a while, but forever. [H]ow astonishing it is that, unlike people’s heirs who don’t share their estates with their friends, we as God’s adopted children share the same privileges that belong to God’s only-begotten Son! The puritans reveled in what Christ prays in John 17:23: “[Thou] hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” This is the essence of God’s fatherhood. It shows us how far God is willing to go to reconcile us to himself. How great is the love the father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)—we who deserve His judgment, dethroned Him from our lives, spurned His love, and defied His laws. We never deserved God’s love, yet He graciously lavished His love on us. Here, surely, is the great assurance of the child of God, that God the father loved him when he was bound for hell. God loved the sinner who had no thought of God in his heart, and He adopted him. How wonderful is the assurance of the Father’s words: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). —Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008), 44.

Lord’s Day 32, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) Petitionary Hymns Poem VIII. John xiv. 17. He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Savior, I thy word believe, My unbelief remove; Now thy quick’ning Spirit give, The unction from above; Shew me, Lord, how good thou art, My soul with all thy fulness fill: Send the witness in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Dead in sin ’till then I lie, Bereft of power to rise; Till thy Spirit inwardly Thy saving blood applies: Now the mighty gift impart, My sin erase, my pardon seal: Send the witness, in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Blessed Comforter, come down, And live and move in me; Make my every deed thy own, In all things led by thee: Bid my every lust depart, And with me O vouchsafe to dwell; Faithful witness, in my heart Thy perfect light reveal. Let me in thy love rejoice, Thy shrine, thy pure abode; Tell me, by thine inward voice, That I’m a child of God: Lord, I choose the better part, Jesus, I wait thy peace to feel; Send the witness in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. Whom the world cannot receive, O manifest in me: Son of God, I cease to live, Unless I live in thee Now impute thy whole desert, Restore the joy from which I fell: Breathe the witness, in my heart The Holy Ghost reveal. —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987). Psalme 137 (Geneva Bible) 1 By the riuers of Babel we sate, and there wee wept, when we remembred Zion. 2 Wee hanged our harpes vpon the willowes in the middes thereof. 3 Then they that ledde vs captiues, required of vs songs and mirth, when wee had hanged vp our harpes, saying, Sing vs one of the songs of Zion. 4 Howe shall we sing, said we, a song of the Lord in a strange land? 5 If I forget thee, O Ierusalem, let my right hand forget to play. 6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleaue to the roofe of my mouth: yea, if I preferre not Ierusalem to my chiefe ioy. 7 Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Ierusalem, which saide, Rase it, rase it to the foundation thereof. 8 O daughter of Babel, worthy to be destroyed, blessed shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast serued vs. 9 Blessed shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy children against the stones. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord’s Day 33, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) The Glorious Gospel of the Blessed Godby Samuel Stennett (1727–1795) What wisdom, majesty, and grace, Through all the gospel shine! ’Tis God that speaks, and we confess The doctrine most divine. Down from His starry throne on high, The almighty Savior comes; Lays His bright robes of glory by, and feeble flesh assumes. The mighty debt that sinners owed, Upon the cross He pays; Then through the clouds ascends to God, ’Mid shouts of loftiest praise. There He, our great High Priest, appears before His Father’s throne; Mingles His merits with our tears, And pours salvation down. Great God, with reverence we adore Thy justice and Thy grace; And on Thy faithfulness and pow’r Our firm dependence place.—Worthy Is the Lamb (Soli Deo Gloria, 2004). Psalme 144 (Geneva Bible) A Psalme of David. 1 Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth mine hands to fight, and my fingers to battell. 2 He is my goodnes and my fortresse, my towre and my deliuerer, my shield, and in him I trust, which subdueth my people vnder me. 3 Lord, what is man that thou regardest him! or the sonne of man that thou thinkest vpon him! 4 Man is like to vanitie: his dayes are like a shadow, that vanisheth. 5 Bow thine heauens, O Lord, and come downe: touch the mountaines and they shall smoke. 6 Cast forth the lightning and scatter them: shoote out thine arrowes, and consume them. 7 Send thine hand from aboue: deliuer me, and take me out of the great waters, and from the hand of strangers, 8 Whose mouth talketh vanitie, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. 9 I wil sing a new song vnto thee, O God, and sing vnto thee vpon a viole, and an instrument of ten strings. 10 It is he that giueth deliuerance vnto Kings, and rescueth Dauid his seruant from the hurtfull sworde. 11 Rescue me, and deliuer me from the hand of strangers, whose mouth talketh vanitie, and their right hand is a right hand of falshood: 12 That our sonnes may be as the plantes growing vp in their youth, and our daughters as the corner stones, grauen after the similitude of a palace: 13 That our corners may be full, and abounding with diuers sorts, and that our sheepe may bring forth thousands and ten thousand in our streetes: 14 That our oxen may be strong to labour: that there be none inuasion, nor going out, nor no crying in our streetes. 15 Blessed are the people, that be so, yea, blessed are the people, whose God is the Lord. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord’s Day 35, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) AssuranceAlmighty God,I am loved with everlasting love, clothed in eternal righteousness, my peace flowing like a river, my comforts many and large, my joy and triumph unutterable, my soul lively with a knowledge of salvation, my sense of justification unclouded. I have scarce anything to pray for; Jesus smiles upon my soul as a ray of heaven and my supplications are swallowed up in praise. How sweet is the glorious doctrine of election when based upon thy Word and wrought inwardly within the soul! I bless thee that thou wilt keep the sinner thou hast loved, and hast engaged that he will not forsake thee, else I would never get to heaven. I wrong the grace in my heart if I deny my new nature and my eternal life. If Jesus were not my righteousness and redemption, I would sink into nethermost hell by my misdoings, shortcomings, unbelief, unlove; If Jesus were not by the the power of his spirit my sanctification, there is no sin I should not commit. O when shall I have his mind! when shall I be conformed to his image? All the good things of life are less than nothing when compared with his love, and with one glimpse of thy electing favor. All the treasures of a million worlds could not make me richer, happier, more contented, for his unsearchable riches are mine. One moment of communion with him, one view of his grace, is ineffable, inestimable. But O God, I could not long after thy presence if I did not know the sweetness of it; and such I could not know except by the Spirit in my heart, nor love thee at all unless thou didst elect me, call me, adopt me, save me. I bless thee for the covenant of grace.—The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Psalme 129 (Geneva Bible) A song of degrees. 1 They haue often times afflicted me from my youth (may Israel nowe say) 2 They haue often times afflicted me from my youth: but they could not preuaile against me. 3 The plowers plowed vpon my backe, and made long furrowes. 4 But the righteous Lord hath cut the cordes of the wicked. 5 They that hate Zion, shalbe all ashamed and turned backward. 6 They shalbe as the grasse on the house tops, which withereth afore it commeth forth. 7 Whereof the mower filleth not his hand, neither the glainer his lap: 8 Neither they, which go by, say, The blessing of the Lord be vpon you, or, We blesse you in the Name of the Lord. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

How Can You Know?

Wednesday··2008·10·01 · 3 Comments
After spending some time on the doctrine of limited, or particular, atonement, explaining that Christ’s death did not merely make salvation possible, but actually secured it for a particular people, R. C. Sproul answers the question, “How can you know if you’re one of the elect?” If you are one of the flock of Christ, one of His lambs, then you can know with certainty that an atonement has been made for your sins. You may wonder how you can know you’re numbered among the elect. I cannot read your heart or the secrets of the Lambs Book of Life, but Jesus said: “‘My sheep hear My voice’” (John 10:27a). If you want Christ’s atonement to avail for you, and if you put your trust in that atonement and rely on it to reconcile you to almighty God, in a practical sense, you don’t need to worry about the abstract question of election. If you put your trust in Christ’s death for your redemption and you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then you can be sure that the atonement was made for you. That, more than anything else, will settle for you the mystery of God’s election. Unless you’re elect, you won’t believe on Christ; you won’t embrace the atonement or rest on his shed blood for your salvation. If you want it, you can have it. It is offered to you if you believe and trust. One of the sweetest statements from the lips of Jesus in the New Testament is this: “‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world‘” (Matt. 25:34b). There is a plan of God designed for your salvation. It is not an afterthought or an attempt to correct a mistake. Rather, from all eternity, God determined that He would redeem for Himself a people, and that which He determined to do was, in fact, accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ, His atonement on the cross. Your salvation has been accomplished by a Savior Who is not merely a potential Savior, but an actual Savior, One Who did for you what the Father determined He should do. He is your Surety, your Mediator, your Substitute, your Redeemer. He atoned for your sins on the cross. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 151–153.

That You May Know

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 Think of it: an entire letter written for the single purpose of enabling its recipients to know that they have eternal life. Five chapters written so that we may know that our sins are forgiven, that we are justified before God, and our salvation is secure. One hundred and five verses written so that we may know. Other than salvation itself, can there be a greater gift?

Hymns of My Youth II: I Know Whom I Have Believed

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. —2 Timothy 1:12 I Know Whom I Have Believed I know not why God’s wondrous grace To me He hath made known, Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love Redeemed me for His own. Refrain: But I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day. I know not how this saving faith To me He did impart, Nor how believing in His Word Wrought peace within my heart. Refrain I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing men of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him. Refrain I know not what of good or ill May be reserved for me, Of weary ways or golden days, Before His face I see. Refrain I know not when my Lord may come, At night or noonday fair, Nor if I walk the vale with Him, Or meet Him in the air. Refrain —Great Hymns of the Faith (Zondervan, 1968).

A Still Greater Mystery

I suppose I risk belaboring the point, but here’s another excerpt on the unknowability of the moment of regeneration, this time from Spurgeon. Scripture does not teach that Christians know the moment of their rebirth. No man can describe his first birth; it remains a mystery. Neither can he describe his new birth; that is a still greater mystery, for it is a secret work of the Holy Ghost, of which we feel the effect, but cannot tell how it is wrought. [Read sermon online: Life from the Dead.] I do not think you can tell, with regard to yourself, when the first gracious thought was sewn in you, when first you lived towards God. You can tell when you first perceived that you believed in God; but there was an experience before that. You cannot put your finger on such and such a place and say, “Here the east wind began,” nor canst thou say, “Here the Spirit of God began to work in me.” [Read sermon online: The Spirit and the Wind.] This truth has an important practical lesson: an individual may have passed from death to life in regeneration and yet not recognize it at first. This explains how a person can be truly “willing to believe” and yet uncertain if Christ will accept him. To such a person Spurgeon could say, “If the power of God has made a man will to believe, the greater work has been done, and his actual believing will follow in due course . . . Rising from the dead is a greater thing than the performance of an act of life.” — Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 54–55.

The Best News

It is assurance of salvation that enables the saints to suffer persecution and even die for their faith. Assurance should allow any of God’s own to die happily and without fear. ‘When I live in a settled and steadfast assurance about the state of my soul,’ said Bishop Hugh Latimer, ‘then I am as bold as a lion.’ John Bradford, another martyr could say, ‘If Queen Mary gives me my life, I will thank her; if she burns me, I will thank her.’ Nor is it only in days of persecution that Christians have been able to speak in this way. Many believers, when dying, have been as ready as Richard Baxter to affirm that they were ‘almost well’. William White, a country pastor in Virginia, on hearing from his doctor that he had only a few days to live, could declare, ‘That’s the best news I have heard in twenty years.’ A bedridden Methodist woman in Cornwall, and eager for ‘home’, told her attentive daughter that she was too weak to take a drink. ‘Do not say so,’ the daughter urged, ‘you will be down among us again yet.’ To which the response was, ‘You are always a-foreboding!’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 171.

He Who Loves Me

While good works play no part in justification, nor—I would argue, contra Iain Murray and many other fine theologians—do they have any causal relationship to sanctification, they are a necessary ground for assurance of salvation. Those who conclude that because works and obedience have no place in the believers justification, therefore they need have no place in assurance, are . . . in serious error. Christ teaches emphatically that the assuring work of the Spirit and the comfort of his presence is related to obedience: ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (John 14:21). J. C. Ryle is commenting on this same truth when he writes: ‘I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works . . . But I would never have any believer forget that our sense of salvation depends much on our manner of living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes and bring clouds between us and the sun.’ —Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 181.

Perseverance & Assurance: Standing on the Promises

All Christians (so-called “free grace” advocates excepted) believe that perseverance in the faith is necessary for final salvation. Not all, however, believe that perseverance is sure. Consequently, a great many believers never experience real assurance of salvation. Can a genuinely saved person, a man or woman who has truly come to faith in Jesus, lose that salvation by failing to persevere? The Arminian answers, “Yes,” whereas the Calvinist answers, “No.” Both agree that those once saved must continue to be saved through an enduring faith. But while the Arminian states that perseverance is possible but not certain, the Calvinist asserts that for a true Christian perseverance is sure. . . . The great difference is that the Reformed doctrine of perseverance calls for the Christian to look not to himself for assurance of salvation but to God and His promises in Christ. While a laxity concerning sin is to be loathed, the presence of sin in our hearts is only to be expected. Even Paul confessed, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). So we look not to ourselves for perseverance, but to the faithful God’s sovereign, preserving grace. That this is the biblical doctrine of perseverance may be seen in many passages, but perhaps most clearly in Paul’s teaching in Philippians 1:6. While Arminians and Calvinists agree that a saint must persevere in salvation, who is the principal agent of my perseverance? Is perseverance something that occurs by my activity, though with the help of God? Or do Christians persevere by God’s activity, though certainly with the full involvement of the believer? Paul answers, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 88, 90.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

Be of Good Courage

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. —John 16:33 One of the great blessings of the Christian’s position in Christ is our assured triumph. As he has overcome the world, so we who are in him will overcome. These things I have spoken to you. He again repeats how necessary those consolations are which he had addressed to them; and he proves it by this argument, that numerous distresses and tribulations await them in the world. We ought to attend, first, to this admonition, that all believers ought to be convinced that their life is exposed to many afflictions, that they may be disposed to exercise patience. Since, therefore, the world is like a troubled sea, true peace will be found nowhere but in Christ. Next, we ought to attend to the manner of enjoying that peace, which he describes in this passage. He says that they will have peace, if they make progress in this doctrine. Do we wish then to have our minds calm and easy in the midst of afflictions? Let us be attentive to this discourse of Christ, which in itself will give us peace. But be of good courage. As our sluggishness must be corrected by various afflictions, and as we must be awakened to seek a remedy for our distress, so the Lord does not intend that our minds shall be cast down, but rather that we shall fight keenly, which is impossible, if we are not certain of success; for if we must fight, while we are uncertain as to the result, all our zeal will quickly vanish. When, therefore, Christ calls us to the contest, he arms us with assured confidence of victory, though still we must toil hard. I have overcome the world. As there is always in us much reason for trembling, he shows that we ought to be confident for this reason, that he has obtained a victory over the world, not for himself individually, but for our sake. Thus, though in ourselves almost overwhelmed, if we contemplate that magnificent glory to which our Head has been exalted, we may boldly despise all the evils which hang over us. If, therefore, we desire to be Christians, we must not seek exemption from the cross, but must be satisfied with this single consideration, that, fighting under the banner of Christ, we are beyond all danger, even in the midst of the combat. Under the term World, Christ here includes all that is opposed to the salvation of believers, and especially all the corruptions which Satan abuses for the purpose of laying snares for us. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:161–162.

“He who lacks these qualities”

We must never believe that we are saved by any good works. We are saved by the work of Christ alone, applied to us through faith. At the same time, an obedient life is a necessary result of genuine saving faith (James 2:17). Therefore, while Christ alone is the ground of assurance, our sole source of hope and object of trust, we can have no assurance if our faith is not demonstrated in our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17). Assurance is a gift of God, not enjoyed by a disobedient believer. Read what Peter says. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, Christian love (2 Peter 1:5–7). What is the purpose of such a virtuous life, such true spiritual character? For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:8–10). The point is not that we are gaining salvation or even keeping salvation. Those great realities are bound up eternally with the sovereignty of God. Peter’s point is that we may enjoy the sense of assurance, confidence, security that should accompany our entrance into the kingdom. —John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 10–13.

Why No Assurance?

It is the will of God that all believers know the security of their salvation (1 John 5:13). All, however, will struggle with doubts from time to time. Some doubts are the result of the human frailty of our faith. Others may stem from an inconsistent life. There is a connection between holiness and assurance. I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works. By grace we are saved—not by works of righteousness—through faith—without the deeds of the law. But I never would have any believer for a moment forget that our sense of salvation depends much on the manner of our living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes, and bring clouds between us and the sun. The sun is the same behind the clouds, but you will not be able to see its brightness or enjoy its warmth, and your soul will be gloomy and cold. It is in the path of well doing that the day-spring of assurance will visit you, and shine down upon your heart. . . . Paul was a man who exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man (Acts 24:16). He could say with boldness, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.’ I do not therefore wonder that the Lord enabled him to add with confidence, ‘Henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it me at that day.’ If any believer in the Lord Jesus desires assurance, and has not got it, let him think over this point also. Let him look at his own heart, look at his own conscience, look at his own life, look at his own ways, look at his own home. And perhaps when he has done that, he will be able to say, ‘There is a cause why I have no assured hope.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 162–163.

Without Christ (3)

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. —Ephesians 2:12 What is the ground for assurance of salvation? Many would say it is the appearance of godliness in one’s life. Surely, the absence of the fruit of the Spirit indicates an absence of the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit is absent, Christ is absent. But one may lead a very good and moral life without Christ, and consequently, without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what may look very much like a Spirit-filled life may not indicate a genuine saving faith in Christ. There is but one ground for assurance: the atoning blood of Christ. To be without Christ is to be without peace. Every man has a conscience within him, which must be satisfied before he can be truly happy. So long as this conscience is asleep or half dead, so long, no doubt, he gets along pretty well. But as soon as a man’s conscience wakes up, and he begins to think of past sins, and present failings, and future judgment, at once he finds out that he needs something to give him inward rest. But what can do it? Repenting, and praying, and Bible-reading, and church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and self-mortification may be tried, and tried in vain. They never yet took off the burden from anyone’s conscience. And yet peace must be had! There is only one thing can give peace to the conscience, and that is the blood of Jesus Christ sprinkled on it. A clear understanding that Christ’s death was an actual payment of our debt to God, and that the merit of that death is made over to man when he believes, is the grand secret of inward peace. It meets every craving of conscience. It answers every accusation. It calms every fear. It is written, ‘These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.’ ‘He is our peace.’ ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (John 16:33; Eph. 2:14; Rom. 5:1.) We have peace through the blood of His cross: peace like a deep mine—peace like an everflowing stream. But ‘without Christ’ we are without peace. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), PP.

Hope for the Vilest Sinner

Guilt is a powerful thing. It is necessary that we know our guilt, or we would never come to Christ for forgiveness. But once we come to him, we must know that there is no sin beyond his ability to forgive. Just as no saint is good enough to be justified before God, no sinner is to wicked to be forgiven. But to suppose the worst, what if you were really the vilest sinner that ever lived upon the face of the earth? What if “your iniquities had gone up into the heavens” every day, and “your transgressions had reached unto the clouds, Rev. xviii. 5.” reached thither with such horrid aggravations, that earth and heaven should have had reason to detest you as a monster of impiety? Admitting all this, “is any thing too hard for the Lord? Gen. xviii. 14.” Are any sins, of which a sinner can repent, of so deep a dye, that the blood of Christ cannot wash them away? Nay, though it would be daring wickedness and monstrous folly, for any “to sin that grace may abound, Rom. vi. 1.” yet had you indeed raised your account beyond all that divine grace has ever yet pardoned, who should “limit the holy One of Israel? Psal. lxxviii. 41.” or who shall pretend to say, that it is impossible that God may, for your very wretchedness, choose you out from others, to make you a monument of mercy, and a trophy of hitherto unparalleled grace? The apostle Paul strongly intimates this to have been the case with regard to himself; and why might not you likewise, if indeed “the chief of sinners,” obtain mercy, that in you, as the chief, “Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who shall hereafter believe? 1 Tim. i. 15, 16.” —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 109. The vilest offender who truly believes, That moment from Jesus a pardon receives. —Fanny Crosby

Misplaced Faith

It is not uncommon for Christians to lack peace about the state of their souls. At times, the cause is legitimate: a guilty conscience should provoke self-examination. Often, however, we suffer from a misplaced faith. While justification unfailingly produces sanctification, our sanctification is not the ground on which our salvation rests. Another cause of disquiet is, that men by a natural kind of popery seek for their comfort too much sanctification, neglecting justification, relying too much upon their own performances. St Paul was of another mind, accounting all but dung and dross, compared to the righteousness of Christ, Philip. iii. 8, 9. This is that garment, wherewith being decked, we please our husband, and wherein we get the blessing. This giveth satisfaction to the conscience, as satisfying God himself, being performed by God the Son, and approved therefore by God the Father. Hereupon the soul is quieted, and faith holdeth out this as a shield against the displeasure of God and temptations of Satan. Why did the apostles in their prefaces join grace and peace together, but that we should seek for our peace in the free grace and favour of God in Christ? No wonder why papists maintain doubting, who hold salvation by works, because Satan joining together with our consciences will always find some flaw even in our best performances; hereupon the doubting and misgiving soul comes to make this absurd demand, as, Who shall ascend to heaven? Ps. xxiv. 3, which is all one as to fetch Christ from heaven, and so bring him down to suffer on the cross again. Whereas if we believe in Christ we are as sure to come to heaven as Christ is there. Christ ascending and descending, with all that he hath done, is ours. So that neither height nor depth can separate us from God’s love in Christ, Rom. viii. 39. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:138–139

Sin, Neglected, Kills Assurance

In the previous post, Richard Sibbes listed seeking too much comfort from our sanctification as a cause of spiritual unease. Next, he presents a neglect of growth in holiness. While apparent spiritual fruit is no ground of assurance, a lack thereof is surely a warning sign. Where there is no fruit, the life must be doubted. We must remember, though the main pillar of our comfort be in the free forgiveness of our sins, yet if there be a neglect in growing in holiness, the soul will never be soundly quiet, because it will be prone to question the truth of justification, and it is as proper for sin to raise doubts and fears in the conscience, as for rotten flesh and wood to breed worms. And therefore we may well join this as a cause of disquietness, the neglect of keeping a clear conscience. Sin, like Achan, or Jonah in the ship, is that which causeth storms within and without. Where there is not a pure conscience, there is not a pacified conscience; and therefore though some, thinking to save themselves whole in justification, neglect the cleansing of their natures and ordering of their lives, yet in time of temptation they will find it more troublesome than they think. For a conscience guilty of many neglects, of allowing itself in any sin, to lay claim to God’s mercy . . . God will let us see what it is to make wounds to try the preciousness of his balm; such may go mourning to their graves. And though, perhaps, with much wrestling with God they may get assurance of the pardon of their sins, yet their conscience will be still trembling, like-as David’s, though Nathan had pronounced unto him the forgiveness of his sin, Ps. li., till God at length speaks further peace, even as the water of the sea after a storm is not presently still, but moves and trembles a good while after the storm is over. A Christian is a new creature and walketh by rule, and so far as he walketh according to his rule, peace is upon him, Gal. vi. 16. Loose walkers that regard not their way, must think to meet with sorrows instead of peace. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:139

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: I Know Whom I Have Believed

I Know Whom I Have Believed I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12 I know not why God’s wondrous grace To me He hath made known, Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love Redeemed me for His own. Refrain: But “I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.”I know not how this saving faith To me He did impart, Nor how believing in His Word Wrought peace within my heart. Refrain I know not how the Spirit moves, Convincing us of sin, Revealing Jesus through the Word, Creating faith in Him. Refrain I know not when my Lord may come, At night or noonday fair, Nor if I walk the vale with Him, Or “meet Him in the air.” Refrain —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).


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