RPM, Volume 13, Number 39, September 25 to October 1 2011


By Walter Marshall

Chapter Ten

That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation in that very faith by which Christ Himself is received into our hearts. Therefore, we must endeavour to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely gives to us an interest in Christ and His salvation, according to His gracious promise.

It is evident that those comforts of the gospel that are necessary to a holy practice cannot be truly received without some assurance of your interest in Christ and His salvation, for some of these comforts consist in a good persuasion of our reconciliation with God, and of our future heavenly happiness, and of strength both to will and to do that which is acceptable to God through Christ, as has been before showed. Thus it will clearly follow that this assurance is very necessary to enable us for the practice of holiness, as those comforts that must go before the duties of the law, in order of nature, as the cause goes before the effect, though not in any distance of time. My present work is to show what this assurance is, that is so necessary unto holiness, and which I have here asserted we must act, in that very faith by which we receive Christ Himself into our hearts, even in justifying saving faith. This doctrine seems strange to many that profess themselves Protestants in late days, whereas it was formerly highly owned by the chief Protestants whom God made use of to restore the purity of the gospel, and to maintain it against the Papists for many years. They commonly taught that 'faith was a persuasion or confidence of our own salvation by Christ; and that we must be sure to apply Christ and His salvation to ourselves in believing'. And this doctrine was one of the great engines by which they prevailed to overthrow the popish superstition, of which doubtfulness of salvation is one of the principal pillars. But many of the successors of those Protestants have deserted them, and left their writings to be shamefully insulted by the Papists. And this innovation has been of longer standing among us than several other parts of our new divinity, and maintained by those that profess to abhor that corrupt doctrine which the Papists have built upon such principles. Modern divines may think they stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, whose labours they enjoy, and that they can see farther than they, as the schoolmen might have like thoughts of the ancient fathers, but, for all this, they may not be able to see so far, if the eyes of their predecessors were better enlightened by the Spirit of God to understand the mystery of the gospel. And why may we not judge that it is so in the present case? The eyes of men in these late years have been blinded in this point of assurance by many false imaginations. They think because salvation is not promised to us absolutely, but on condition of believing on Christ for it, therefore we must first believe directly on Christ for our salvation and, after that, we must reflect in our minds on our faith and examine it by several marks and signs, especially by the fruit of sincere obedience, and if, upon this examination, we find out certainly that it is true saving faith, then, and not before, we may believe assuredly that we in particular shall be saved. On this account, they say that our salvation is by the direct, and our assurance by the reflex act of faith, and that many have true faith and shall be saved that never have any assurance of their salvation as long as they live in this world. They find, by Scripture and experience, that many precious saints of God are frequently troubled with doubtings whether they shall be saved, and whether their faith and obedience are sincere, so that they cannot see assurance in themselves; therefore they conclude that assurance must not be accounted absolutely necessary to justifying faith and salvation, lest we should make the hearts of doubting saints sad and drive them to despair. They account that former Protestants were guilty of a manifest absurdity in making 'assurance to be of the nature and definition of saving faith', because all that hear the gospel are bound to saving faith, and yet they are not bound absolutely to believe that they themselves shall be saved; for then many of them would be bound to believe that which is not declared in the gospel concerning them in particular - yea, that which is a plain lie, because the gospel shows that many of those that are called are not chosen to salvation, but perish for ever (Matt. 20:16). No wonder if the appearance of so great an absurdity move many to imagine that 'saving faith is a trusting or resting on Christ as the only sufficient means of salvation, without any assurance, or that it is a desiring and venturing to trust or rely on Him, in a mere state of suspense and uncertainty concerning our salvation, or with a probable opinion or conjectural hope of it at best'.

Another objection against this doctrine of assurance is that 'it destroys self-examination, bringing forth the evil fruits of pride and arrogancy, as if they knew their places in heaven already, before the day of judgement, causes carelessness of duty, carnal security, all manner of licentiousness'. And this makes them commend doubtfulness of our salvation, as necessary to maintain in us humility, religious fears, watchfulness, much searching and trying our spiritual state and ways, diligence in good works and all devotion.

Against all these contrary imaginations, I shall endeavour to maintain this ancient Protestant doctrine of assurance, which I have expressed in the direction. And, first, I shall lay down some observations for the right understanding of it, which will be sufficient to turn the edge of the strongest objections that can be made against it.

1. Observe diligently that the assurance directed to is not a persuasion that we have already received Christ and His salvation, or that we have been already brought into a state of grace, but only that 'God is pleased graciously to give Christ and His salvation to us, and to bring us to a state of grace, though we have been altogether in a state of sin and death until this present time', so that this doctrine does not at all tend to breed presumption in wicked and unregenerate men that their state is good already, but only encourages them to come to Christ confidently for a good state. I acknowledge that we may, yea, many must be taught to doubt whether their present state is good; and that it is humility so to do; and that we must find out the certainty and sincerity of our faith and obedience by self-examination, before we can have as well-grounded assurance that we are in a state of grace and salvation already; and that such an assurance belongs to that which they call the reflex act of faith (if any act of faith can be made of it, it being a spiritual sense of feeling of what is in myself), and is not ?the essence of that faith by which we are justified and saved; and that many precious saints are without it, and subject to many doubts that are contrary to it; so that they may not know at all that it shall go well with them at the day of judgement; and that it may be sometimes intermitted, if not wholly lost after it is gotten; and that we should strive to walk holily, that we may attain to it, because it is very useful to our growth and increase in faith, and in all holiness. Most Protestants among us, when they speak or write of assurance, mean only that which is by reflection. And I have said enough briefly to show that what I assert is consistent with the doctrine which is commonly received concerning it, and destructive to none of the good fruits of it, therefore not guilty of those evils that some falsely charge it with. This kind of assurance, which I speak of, does not answer the question: 'Whether I am already in a state of grace and salvation?' There is another great question that the soul must answer that it may get into a state of grace: 'Whether God is graciously pleased now to bestow Christ and His salvation on me, though I have been until now a very wicked creature?' We must be sure to resolve this question comfortably by another kind of assurance in the direct act of faith, in which we are to persuade ourselves (without reflecting on any good qualifications in ourselves) that God is ready graciously to receive us into the arms of His saving mercy in Christ, notwithstanding all our former wickedness, according to that gracious promise: 'I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, there shall they be called the children of the living God' (Rom. 9:25, 26).

2. The assurance directed to is not a persuasion of our salvation, whatever we do, or however we live and walk, but only in a limited way, through mere free grace in Christ, by partaking of holiness as well as forgiveness and by walking in the way of holiness to the enjoyment of the glory of God. We shall not heartily desire or endeavour to assure ourselves of such a salvation as this is, if we be not brought first to see our own sinfulness and misery, and to despair of our own righteousness and strength, and to hunger and thirst for the sanctifying as well as justifying grace of God in Christ, so that we may walk in His ways of holiness to the enjoyment of heavenly glory. The faith by which we receive Christ must have in it, not only a persuasion of happiness, but these and the like good qualifications that will make it a most holy faith. Certainly an assurance thus qualified will not beget any pride in us, but rather humility and self-loathing, except any account it pride to rejoice and glory in Christ, when we have no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). It will not destroy religious fear and breed carnal security; but rather it will make us fear going aside from Christ our only refuge and security and walking after the flesh. Noah had cause to enter into the ark and to abide there with assurance of his preservation; yet he might well be afraid to venture out of the ark, because he was persuaded that continuance in the ark was his only safety from perishing in the flood. And how can a persuasion of salvation in a way of holiness breed slothfulness in duty, carelessness and licentiousness? It rather mightily allures and stirs us up to 'be always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know, that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord' (1 Cor. 15:58).

They that are persuaded of the free grace of God towards them in Christ are not, indeed, solicitous about earning their salvation by their own legal works. And Satan is ready to suggest to them that this is a sinful carelessness and tends to licentiousness. But they that will believe this false suggestion of Satan show plainly that they do not yet know what it is to serve God in love, and that they are held in to all their obedience by the bit and bridle of slavish fear, 'as the horse and mule that have no understanding' (Ps. 32:9).

3. Beware of thinking so highly of this assurance as if it were inconsistent with any doubting in the same soul. A great reason why many Protestants have receded from the doctrine of their ancestors in this point is because they think there can be no true assurance of salvation in any that are troubled with doubtings, as they find many be, whom they cannot but own as true believers and precious saints of God. True, indeed, this assurance must be contrary to doubtings in the nature of it and so, if it be perfect, in the highest degree, it would exclude all doubting out of the soul; and it now excludes it in some degree. But is there not flesh, as well as spirit, in the best saints on earth? (Gal. 5:17.) Is there not a law in their members warring against the law of their minds? (Rom. 7:23.) May not one that truly believes say, 'Lord, help my unbelief?' (Mark 9:24.) Can any on earth say they have received any grace in the highest degree, and that they are wholly free from the contrary corruption? Why then should we think that assurance cannot be true, except it is perfect and free the soul from all doubtings? The apostle counts it a great blessing, to the Thessalonians, that they had much assurance; intimating that some true assurance might be in a less degree (1 Thess. 1:5). Peter had some good assurance of Christ's help when he walked on the water at Christ's command, and yet he had some doubtfulness in him, as his fear showed when he saw the wind boisterous. He had some faith contrary to doubting, though it were but little, as Christ's words to him show: 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?' (Matt. 14:29-31.) It is strange if the flesh and the devil shall never oppose a true assurance and assault it with doubtings. A believer may be sometimes so overwhelmed with doubtings that he may not be able to perceive an assurance in himself. He is so far from knowing his place in heaven already (as some scoffingly object) that he will say that he does not know any assurance that he has of being there, and needs diligent self-examination to find it out. Yet, if at that time he can blame his soul for doubting, 'Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him' (Ps. 42:11); if he can condemn his doubtings as sinful, and say with himself, 'This is my infirmity' (Ps. 77:10), these doubtings are of the flesh, and of the devil; if he still endeavour to call God 'Father', and complain to Him that he doubts whether He is his Father, and pray that God will give him the assurance of His fatherly love, which he is not sensible of, and dispel those fears and doubtings; I say, that such a one has some true assurance, though he must strive to grow to a higher degree, for, if he were not persuaded of the truth of the love of God towards him, he could not rationally condemn his fears and doubts concerning it as sinful; neither could he rationally pray to God as his Father, or that God would assure him of that love that he does not think to be true.

Do but grant that it is the nature of saving faith thus to resist and struggle with slavish fears of wrath and doubting of our own salvation, and you grant, in effect, that there is, and must be something of assurance of our salvation in saving faith, by which it resists doubtings, and you are, in effect, of the same judgement with me in the assertion, however strange my expressions seem to you. If this that I have said concerning our imperfection in assurance, as well as in other graces, were well considered, this ancient Protestant doctrine would be freed from much prejudice and gain more esteem among us.

4. In the last place, let it be well observed that the reason why we are to assure ourselves in our faith that 'God freely gives Christ and salvation to us particularly' is not because it is a truth before we believe it, but because it becomes a certain truth when we believe it, and because it will never be true, except we do, in some measure, persuade and assure ourselves that it is so. We have no absolute promise of declaration in Scripture, that God certainly will or does give Christ and His salvation to any one of us in particular; neither do we know it to be true already by Scripture, or sense, or reason, before we assure ourselves absolutely of it: yea, we are without Christ's salvation at present, in a state of sin and misery, under the curse and wrath of God. Only I shall prove that we are bound by the command of God thus to assure ourselves, and the Scripture sufficiently warrants us that we should not deceive ourselves in believing a lie but, according to our faith, so shall it be to us (Matt. 9:29). This is a strange kind of assurance, far different from other ordinary kinds; and therefore no wonder if it be found weak and imperfect, and difficult to be obtained, and assaulted with many doubtings. We are constrained to believe other things on the clear evidence we have that they are true, and would remain true, whether we believe them or no, so that we cannot deny our assent, without rebelling against the light of our senses, reason or conscience. But here our assurance is not impressed on our thoughts by any evidence of the thing; but we must work it out in ourselves by the assistance of the Spirit of God, and in this way we bring our own thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ. None but God can justly require of us this kind of assurance, because He only calls those things that are not, as though they were (Rom. 4:17). He only can give existence to things that yet are not, and make a thing to be true, on our believing it, that was not true before. He only can make good that promise: 'What ever things you desire, when you pray; believe that you receive them, and you shall have them' (Mark 11:24). 'Who is he that says, and it comes to pass, when the Lord does not command it!' (Lam. 3:37). Therefore, this faith is due to God only and greatly redounds to His glory. Men will often require a believing something like it, as when one says, 'I will forgive your offence, and be your friend, if I can find that you believe it, and that you take me for a friend.' But their fallible word is not sufficient ground to make us persuade ourselves absolutely that we shall have their promised favour.

The faith of miracles gives us some light in this matter. Christ assured them on whom they were wrought, and who had power given them of working them, that the miracles should be wrought, if they believed without doubting of the event (Mark 11:22, 23). And there is a reason for this resemblance, because the end of working miracles was to confirm the doctrine of the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ's name, as the Scriptures clearly show, and, indeed, the salvation of a sinner is a very great miracle. It is reported that wizards often require those that come to them that they should believe they shall obtain what they desire of them, or at least that they are able to fulfil their desires; whereby the devil, the master of those wizards, shows himself to be God's ape, and that he would feign have that honour and glory ascribed to himself that is due to God alone.

Having thus explained the nature of that assurance which I have directed to, I shall now produce several arguments to prove that 'there is, and must necessarily be, such an assurance or persuasion of our salvation in saving faith itself'.

1. This assurance of salvation is implied in the description before given of that faith by which we receive Christ and His salvation into our hearts. I described faith to be a grace of the Spirit, by which 'we heartily believe the gospel, and also believe on Christ, as He is revealed and freely promised to us in it, for all His salvation'. And I showed in the explanation that believing on Christ is the same with resting, relying, leaning, staying ourselves on Christ, or God through Christ, for our salvation. It may be some will like the description the better, because faith was there described by terms that are ordinarily used, even by those that deny the necessity of assurance; but these ordinary terms do sufficiently include assurance in the nature of faith, and they cannot stand without it. And this shows that many hold the doctrine of assurance implicitly, and profess it, though they think the contrary. Believing on Christ for salvation, as freely promised to us, must needs include a dependence on Christ with a persuasion that salvation shall be freely given, as it is freely promised to us. Believing with a divine faith, grounded on the infallible truth of the promise, if it did not in some measure exclude a mere suspense and wavering opinion or conjecture, were not worthy to be so called. Some may be so absurd as to say that fait is only a believing that we shall be saved by Christ, if we perform such conditions as He requires, and then, indeed, it will leave us where it found us as to any certainty of salvation, until those conditions are performed.

But I have already prevented such an absurdity by showing that this believing on Christ is itself, not only the condition of our salvation, but also the instrument by which we actually receive it. Believing, being the proper act of faith, must needs have the same contraries to it, as staggering (Rom. 4:20); wavering (Heb. 10:23); doubting (Matt. 14:31); fearing (Mark 5:36). These contraries do much illustrate the nature of faith and do show that believing must have some confidence in it, else it would have doubting in the very nature of it; for what man that understands the preciousness of his immortal soul, and his danger of losing it, can ever avoid fear, doubting and trouble of heart by any believing whereby he does not at all assure himself of his salvation? The other terms of 'trusting' and 'resting' on Jesus Christ, etc., by which faith is often described by orthodox teachers, must include assurance of salvation, because they signify the same thing with believing on Christ. The soul must have its sufficient support to bear it up against oppressing fears, troubles, cares, despair, that it may thus trust and rest. The right manner of trusting and hoping in the Lord is by assuring ourselves, against all fears and doubtings, that the Lord is our God, and He is become our salvation. 'I trusted in You, O Lord: I said You are my God' (Ps. 31:14). 'The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust' (Ps. 18:2). 'Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid' (Isa. 12:2). 'O my soul, hope in God, who is the health of my countenance, and my God' (Ps. 42:11). True hope is grounded in God only, that He will bless us, that He may be an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:17-19). If you trust, rely and stay yourselves on Christ, or hope in Him, without assuring yourselves at all of salvation by Him, you make no better use of Him than if He were a broken reed and, if you would stay yourselves on the Lord, you must look upon Him as your God; as the prophet teaches, 'Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God' (Isa. 50:10). If you will rest in the Lord, you must believe that He deals bountifully with you (Ps. 116:7), or else, for ought you know, you may make your bed in hell. And you will show little regard of Christ and of your soul if you dare to rest under the wrath of God, without any persuasion of a sure interest in Christ. People may please themselves with such a trusting or resting, etc. when they are at ease; but in time of temptation it vanishes away and appears to be no true faith, but is turned into shame. The soul that lives in such wavering and doubting concerning salvation does not stay itself, nor rest at all, but is 'like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed; he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways' (James 1:6, 8). If you continue on the mere suspense and doubtfulness of salvation by Christ, your desire to trust is but a lazy woulding, without any fixed resolution, and you dare not yet venture to persuade and assure yourselves of your desire to trust and rely on Jesus Christ, I may answer that you cannot do this much in a right manner, except you desire and venture to persuade and assure yourselves of your salvation by Christ, notwithstanding all the causes that you have to doubt and fear the contrary. If it is objected that we may trust on Christ only as a sufficient means of salvation, without any assurance of the effect, I shall acknowledge that the sufficiency of God and Christ is a good ground for us to rest on; but we must understand by it, not only a sufficiency of power, but also of goodwill and mercy towards us, for what have we to do more with the sufficiency of God and Christ's power than fallen angels, without His goodwill towards us? And if this be truly believed, it will exclude doubtfulness concerning your salvation.

2. Several places of Scripture declare positively and expressly that we are to be assured of our salvation in that faith by which we are justified and saved. I shall produce some instances. We are exhorted to draw near to God with full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:22). Many apply this text to that which they call the reflex act of faith, because they imagine that all assurance must needs be by reflection. But the words of the text clearly touch us to understand it of that act of faith by which we draw near to God, that is, the direct act, and it is that very faith by which the just do live - even justifying, saving faith (v. 8).

And this assurance must be full, at least in the true and proper nature of it, in opposition to mere doubtfulness and uncertainty, though we are yet further to labour for that which is full in the highest degree of perfection. And the same faith by which we are exhorted to draw near to God, and by which the just lives, is, a little after (Heb. 11:1), affirmed to be the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Why should saving faith have these high titles and attributes given to it, if it did not contain in it a sure persuasion of the great things of our salvation hoped for, making them to be evident to the eyes of our mind, as if they were already present in their substance, though yet not visible to our bodily eyes? That faith by which we are made partakers of Christ and to be Christ's house must be worthy to be called 'confidence', and accompanied with rejoicing hope: 'Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence, and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end' (Heb. 3:6, 14). What is confidence concerning anything, but trusting concerning it with a firm persuasion of the truth of it? If we have only a strong opinion concerning a thing, without any absolute certainty, we use to say that we are not altogether confident of it. The faith by which we are justified must be in a measure like to the faith by which 'Abraham, against hope, believed in hope, that his seed should certainly be multiplied according to the promise of God; though, by reason of the deadness of his own body, and Sarah's womb', he could have no evidence from his own qualifications to assure himself of it, but all appearances were rather to the contrary, as the apostle teaches clearly (Rom. 4:18, 19, 23, 24). As absolute as this promise was, thus made to Abraham, yet it was not to be fulfilled without this assurance of faith and, by the like faith, the free promises of salvation by Christ will be absolutely fulfilled to us.

The apostle James expressly requires that we should ask good things of God in faith, nothing doubting - which includes assurance manifestly, and he tells us plainly that without it a man ought not to think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. Therefore we may firmly conclude that without it we shall not receive the salvation of Christ (James 1:6, 7). And that which the apostle James requires us not to doubt of is the obtaining the things that we ask; as we may learn from an instruction to the same purpose given to us by Christ Himself: 'Whatever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them' (Mark 11:24).

More places of Scripture might be alleged to the same purpose, but these are sufficient to evince that we are bound to assure ourselves of our salvation in faith itself, or else we are never likely to enjoy it; and that it is not humility, but rather proud disobedience, to live in a state of mere suspense and doubtfulness concerning our salvation; and that this assurance must be in the direct act of faith by which we are justified and saved. For, as for that which is called the reflex act of faith, it is a certain truth, and generally owned, that it is not absolutely necessary to salvation to any, and that it is sinful and pernicious to many to believe that they are already entered into a state of grace and salvation.

3. God gives us sufficient ground in Scripture to come to Christ with confident faith at the very first, trusting assuredly that Christ and His salvation shall be given to us, without any failing and delay, however vile and sinful our condition has been before. The Scripture speaks to the vilest sinners in such a manner as if it were framed on purpose to beget assurance of salvation in them immediately (Acts 2:39; 3:26). This promise is universal that 'whoever believes on Christ shall not be ashamed', without making a difference between Jew and Greek (Rom. 10:11, 12). And this promise is confirmed by the blood of Christ, who was given for the world and lifted up upon the cross for this very end, that 'whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life' (John 3:14 -16). His invitation is free to any: 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink,' and this drink is promised to everyone that believes (John 7:37, 39). The command of believing is propounded, not only in general, but in particular; and the promise of salvation on believing is also applied personally, and that to such as have been before in a state of sin and wrath, as to the wicked, persecuting, self-murdering jailer: 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, and your house' (Acts 16:31). God commanded them that walked altogether in sin before to call Him their own Father, in their very first returning (Jer. 3:4). So God saith He will say, 'You are My people; and they shall say, You are my God' (Hos. 2:23), confidently averring their personal interest in Him. God has joined confidence or salvation inseparably together: 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; and quietness and confidence shall be your strength' (Isa. 30:15).

What a poor slender use and improvement do many make of these discoveries of the rich grace of God towards sinners, who say that, if we see that we have performed the condition of believing, then we may take Christ confidently as our own? They skip over the first principal use they ought to make of them. The very performance of the condition is to take Christ as our own immediately, and to eat and drink Him by believing confidently on Him for our salvation. If an honest rich man say to a poor woman, 'I promise to be your husband, if you will have me; say but the word, and I am yours,' may not she presently answer confidently, 'You are my husband, and I claim you for my husband'? And should she not rather say so, than say, 'I believe not what you say'? If an honest man say, 'Do but take this gift, and it is your own; do but eat and drink, and you are freely welcome,' may not I take the gift and eat and drink at first without any further ado, and with assurance that it is mine freely? If I do it doubtingly, I disparage the honesty and credit of the donor, as if he were not a man of his word. In like manner, if fearing to be too confident, lest we should believe a lie, we should come to Christ doubtingly and in mere suspense whether we should be freely entertained, after all God's free invitations and promises, should we not disparage the faithfulness of God? And should we not be guilty of making God a liar? As the apostle John teaches, because of our not believing the record which God gave of His Son, 'And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life: and this life is in His Son' (1 John 5:10, 11).

And what if the salvation promised is not absolutely intended for all to whom the gospel comes? It is enough that God gives us His faithful word that they that believe shall have it, and none else; and has absolutely intended to fulfil His word that none shall find it to be a lie to them, and has joined believing and salvation inseparably together.

On this ground God may justly cause the promise of this salvation to be published to all, and may justly require all to believe on Him assuredly for their own salvation, that so it may appear whether they will give Him the glory of His truth; and if they will not, He may justly reject them, and punish them severely for dishonouring Him by their unbelief. In this case, we must not look to the secret decrees of God, but to His revealed promises and commands. Thus God promised to the Israelites in the wilderness that He would give them the land of Canaan, and would fight for them against their enemies, and required them not to fear or be discouraged, that so the promise might be fulfilled to them; yet God never absolutely decreed or intended that those Israelites should enter in, as the event did quickly manifest (Deut. 1:20, 21, 29, 30). Yet were they not bound in this case to trust confidently in God to give them victory over their enemies, and to give them the possession of the land? Had they not sufficient ground for such a faith? Was it not just with God to consume them in the wilderness for their unbelief? 'Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being made of entering into this everlasting rest through Christ, we should come short of it, and fall after the same example of unbelief' (Heb. 4:1, 11).

4. The professors of true godliness that we read of through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament commonly professed their assurance and persuasion of their interest in God and His salvation, and were directed by the Word of God so to do, and true saints had still some true assurance of it. And we have no cause to judge that this assurance was grounded on the certainty of their own good qualifications, but rather on the promises of God by the direct act of faith. We may judge of the ordinary profession of the frame of spirit that was in saints by some instances. I shall begin with the profession that the church made when it was very corrupt, at its first coming out of Egypt, when few of them could assure themselves by their own good qualifications that they were in a state of grace already - which many now imagine to be the only way of assurance. Even in that corrupt time the children of Israel sung that triumphant song of Moses, 'The Lord is my strength and my song, and He is become my salvation; He is my God,' etc. (Exod. 15:2). Moses taught them in this song to assure themselves of their own personal interest in the salvation, and he guided them to the practice of their duty. And they did not find fault with Moses, as some do with ministers in these days, for putting them to express more confidence in their song than they can find ground for from their qualifications; but they applied themselves to the exercise of their faith, agreeably to the song and, doubtless, this faith was unfeigned in some few of them, though but feigned in others, for it is testified of them, that when 'they believed His words, they sang His praise' (Ps. 106:12).

Several other psalms and songs that were by divine appointment in common use under the Old Testament are as clear an evidence as we can desire of that assurance of faith which is commonly professed, and that people were generally bound to, under the Old Testament, as Psalms 23, 27, 44 and 46. Many other psalms, or expressions in psalms, might be alleged. The spirits of few in comparison could have thoroughly complied with such psalms, though they were true believers, if all the assurance of love of God must altogether depend upon the certain knowledge of the sincerity of their own hearts.

We have a great cloud of witnesses gathered out of the whole history of the Old Testament (Heb. 11) who did, and suffered and obtained great things by faith, whose examples are produced on purpose that we follow them in believing to the saving of our souls (Heb. 10:39). And, if we consider these examples particularly, we shall find that many of them do evidently guide us to such a saving faith as has an assurance of the effect contained in the nature of it. I confess we read several times of the fears and doubtings of the saints under the Old Testament; but we read also how they themselves condemned them as contrary to faith, as in the Psalms (Ps. 42:11, 31:22; 78:7, 10). The most mournful psalm in Scripture begins with an expression of some assurance (Ps. 88:1). And we may note that the doubtings that we meet with of the saints of old were commonly occasioned by some extraordinary affliction, or some heinous transgression, not by common failings, or the common original depravation of nature, or the uncertainty of their election, or any thought that it is humility to doubt and that they were not bound to be confident of God's salvation, because then many might be bound to believe a lie. It is hard to find any of these occasions of doubting under the Old Testament, though they are grown too rife among us now under the New Testament.

In the time of the apostles we may well expect that the assurance of faith grew higher, because the salvation of Christ was revealed and the Spirit of adoption poured forth plentifully and the church made free from its former bondage under the terrifying legal covenant. Paul could prove to primitive Christians, by appeals to their own experience, that they were the 'children and heirs of God, because they had not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, by which they cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirits [or, bears our spirits witness] ,' as the Syriac and vulgar Latin render it, and as the like Greek phrase is rendered (Rom. 9:1), 'that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs' (Rom. 8:15 -17; Gal. 4:6). And the apostle tells the Ephesians that after they believed 'the were sealed with the Holy Spirit, which was the earnest o7their inheritance' (Eph. 1:13, 14), that is, they were sealed from the same time that they believed, for the original words are in the same tense. If this witness, seal and earnest of the Spirit had not been ordinary to believers, it would not have been sufficient to prove that they were the children of God, and such manner of arguing might have driven some to despair that wanted this witness, seal and earnest.

Let us enquire now whether the Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God and enables us to cry, 'Abba, Father', by the direct act, or by that which they call the 'reflex act' of faith? For we must not think that it is done by an enthusiasm, without any ordinary means; nor can we reasonably imagine that no true believers can call God 'Father', by the guidance of the Spirit, but only those few that are so sure of their own sincerity that by reflecting on it they can ground an act of faith concerning their own interest in Christ. No, surely. Therefore we may judge rather that the Spirit works this in us by giving us saving faith itself, by the direct act of which all true believers are enabled to trust assuredly on Christ for the enjoyment of the adoption of children; and all His salvation, according to the free promise of God, and to call God Father, without reflecting on any good qualifications in themselves, for the Spirit is received by the direct act of faith (Gal. 3:2); and so He is the Spirit of adoption and comfort to all that receive Him. They that assert that the Spirit witnesses our adoption, only by assuring us of the sincerity of our faith, love and other gracious qualifications, and by the reflex act of faith, teach also commonly that you must again try whether the Spirit thus witnessing is the Spirit of truth or of delusion, by searching narrowly whether our inward grace be sincere or counterfeit; so that in this way the testimony of the Spirit is rendered so hard to be discerned that it stands us in no stead, but all our assurance is made at last to depend on our own certain knowledge of our own sincerity.

There are several other evidences to show that believers generally were persuaded of their salvation in the apostles' time. They loved and waited for the coming of Christ to judge the world (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:8). They loved all the saints for the hope that was laid up for them in heaven (Col. 1:3-5). The Corinthians, that were very carnal and but babes in Christ, were persuaded that they should judge the world and angels, and that their bodies were members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6:2, 3, 15, 19). The very first coming of the gospel to the Thessalonians was 'in the Holy Ghost', and 'much assurance', so 'that they received it in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,' when as yet they had no considerable time to get assurance by reflecting on their good qualifications (1 Thess. 1:5, 6). Likewise, the believing Hebrews, when they were luminated at their first conversion, 'took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance,' and this was their confidence, which they were not to cast off, because the just lives by faith. And therefore it appears that this confidence belongs necessarily to justifying saving faith (Heb. 10:34, 35, 38).

Now, let those that allege the examples or experience of many modern Christians to disprove all that I have asserted consider well whether these are fit to be laid in the balance against all the Scripture examples and experience that I have produced out of the Old and New Testament. I confess that assurance of salvation is more rarely professed by Christians in these times than formerly; and we may thank some teachers for it, that have deserted the doctrine of former Protestants in this point, and vented against it several errors, such as have been already named, and now would take advantage to confirm the truth of their doctrine from those doubtings in Christians that have been chiefly occasioned by it. But, however, the nature of saving faith is still the same. And I assert that, in these day s as well as formerly, it always has in it some assurance of salvation by Christ, which does and will appear at least in resisting and condemning all doubtings, and praying against them, and endeavouring to trust assuredly, and to call God, 'Father'; except in extraordinary desertions, by which our case must not be tried.

We are not to trust the judgement of many concerning themselves. They will judge falsely that they have no assurance at all, because they know not yet, by marks and signs, that they are in a state of grace already, or because they think that there is no assurance when there are many doubtings, and because it is so weak, and so much oppressed with doubting, that it can hardly be discerned, as life in a fainting fit. But, if their judgements are better informed, they may be brought to discern some assurance in themselves. We are also to take heed of mistaking those for true believers that are not so, and for judging this point by their experiences, which is a vulgar error. The blind charity of some moves them to take all for true believers who are full of doubts and troubles concerning their salvation, though it may be they only are convinced of sin and brought to some zeal of God that is not according to the knowledge of the way of salvation by Christ; and they think it duty to comfort such ignorant persons by persuading them that their state is good, and their faith right, though they have no assurance of salvation. Thus they are brought to judge falsely concerning the nature of faith, out of their blind charity to such as are yet in ignorance and unbelief and, instead of comforting such, they rather take the direct way to harden them in their natural state, and to divert them from seeking consolation by saving faith in Christ, and to ruin their souls for ever.

5. The chief office of this faith in its direct saving act is to receive Christ and His salvation actually into our hearts, as has been proved; which office cannot be rationally performed except we do, in some measure, persuade our hearts and assure ourselves in the enjoyment of Him. As the body receives things into itself by the hands and mouth, so the soul receives these things to itself, and lays actual hold on them, by the faculty of the will, making choice of them and embracing them in a way of present enjoyment and possession, as it does by the faculty of the understanding, see and apprehend them. Thus the soul receives comfort from outward things, as a righteous person cannot receive inward comfort from outward things, as from worldly estate, wife, husband, friends, etc., except he choose them as good, and account them his own by a right and title. This is the only rational way by which the soul can actively lay hold on Christ, and take actual possession of Him and His salvation, as He is freely offered and promised to us in the gospel by the grace of faith, which God has appointed to be our great instrument for the receiving of Him and closing with Him. If we do not make choice of Christ as our only salvation and happiness, or if we be altogether in a state of suspense and doubting whether God will be pleased to give Christ to us or no, it is evident that our souls are quite loose from Christ, and have no holdfast or enjoyment of Him. They do not so much as pretend to any actual receiving, or laying hold, or choosing of Him, neither are they fully satisfied that it is lawful for them so to do; but rather they are yet to seek whether they have any good ground and right to lay hold on Him or not.

Let any rational man judge whether the soul does or can put forth any sufficient act for the reception and enjoyment of Christ as its Saviour, Head or Husband, while it is yet in doubt whether it is the will of Christ to be joined with it in such a near relation? Can a woman honestly receive anyone as her husband, without being assured that he is fully willing to be her husband? The same may be said concerning the several parts of Christ's salvation which are to be received by faith. It is evident that we do not aright receive the benefit of remission of sins, for the purging of our consciences from that guilt that lies on them, unless we have an assured persuasion of God's forgiving them. We do not actually receive into our hearts our reconciliation with God and adoption of children and the title to an everlasting inheritance, until we can assure ourselves that God is graciously pleased to be our God and Father, and take us to be His children and heirs. We do not actually receive any sufficient strength to encourage our hearts to holiness in all difficulties, until we can steadfastly believe that God is with us, and will not forsake us.

Thus then we may firmly conclude that whoever seeks to be saved by faith, and does not seek to have assurance or confidence of his own salvation, but deceives himself and deludes his soul with a mere fancy instead of saving faith and, in effect, seeks to be saved in his corrupt natural state, without receiving and laying actual hold of the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation.

6. It is also a great and necessary office of saving faith to purify the heart, and to enable us to live and walk in the practice of all holy duties by the grace of Christ, and by Christ Himself living in us, as has been shown before; which office faith is not able to perform, except some assurance of our own interest in Christ and His salvation be comprehended in the nature of it. If we would live to God, not ourselves, but by Christ living in us, according to Paul's example, we must be able to assure ourselves as he did, 'Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me' (Gal. 2:20). We are taught that 'if we live in the Spirit, we should walk in the Spirit' (Gal. 5:25). It would be high presumption if we should endeavour to walk above our natural strength and power by the Spirit, before we have made sure of our living by the Spirit. I have showed that we cannot make use of the comfortable benefits of the saving grace of Christ, by which the gospel engages and encourages us to a holy practice, except we have some confidence of our own interest in those saving benefits. If we do not assuredly believe that we are dead to sin, and alive to God through Christ, and risen with Christ, and not under the law but under grace, and members of Christ's body, the temple of His Spirit, the dead children of God, it would be hypocrisy to serve God on the account of such privileges as if we reckoned ourselves to be partakers of them.

He that thinks he should doubt of his salvation is not a fit disciple for this manner of doctrine, and he may reply to the preachers of the gospel, 'If you would bring me to holiness, you must make use of other more effectual arguments, for I cannot practise upon these principles, because I do not have faith enough to believe that I have any interest in them. Some arguments taken from the justice and wrath of God against sinners, and His mercy towards those that perform the condition of sincere obedience, would work more powerfully on me.' O what a miserable, worthless kind of saving faith is this, that cannot fit a believer to practise in a gospel manner on the most pure and powerful principles of grace, but rather leaves him to work on legal principles, which can never bring him to serve God acceptably out of love! And as such a faith fails wholly in the right manner of obeying upon gospel principles, so it fails also in the very matter of some great duties, which are of such a nature that they include assurance of God's love in the right performance of them; such are those great duties of peace with God, rejoicing in the Lord always, hope that does not make ashamed, owning the Lord as our God and our Saviour, praying to Him as our Father in heaven, offering up body and soul as an acceptable sacrifice to Him, casting all our cares of body and soul upon Him, contentment and hearty thanksgiving in every condition, making our boast in the Lord, triumphing in His praise, rejoicing in tribulation, putting on Christ in-our baptism, receiving Christ's body as broken for us and His blood as shed for us in the Lord's Supper, committing our souls willingly to God as our Redeemer whenever He shall be pleased to call for us, loving Christ's second appearance and looking for it as that blessed hope.

When we fall into any sudden doubting whether we are in a state of grace already, when we are called to any present undertaking, as to partake of the Lord's Supper, or any duty that required assurance to the right performance of it, we must relieve ourselves by trusting confidently in Christ for the present gift of His salvation, or else we shall be driven to omit the duty, or not to perform it rightly or sincerely. Can we judge ourselves already in a state of grace, by the reflex act of faith, if we do not find that we perform these duties, at least several of them, sincerely, or if we do not find that we have such a holy faith as enables, or inclines us to the performance of them? And can we be thus enabled and inclined by any faith that is without some true assurance of our salvation? Therefore, I conclude that we must necessarily have some assurance of our salvation in the direct act of faith, by which we are justified, sanctified and saved, before we can upon any good ground assure ourselves that we are already in a state of grace by that which we call the reflex act.

Give me such a saving faith as will produce such fruits as these. No other faith will work by love, and therefore will not avail to salvation in Christ (Gal. 5:6). The apostle James puts you on showing your faith by your works (James 2:18). And in this trial, this faith of assurance comes off with His praise and honour. When God called His people to work outward miracles by it, all things have been possible to them, and it has frequently brought forth such works of righteousness as may be deservedly esteemed great spiritual miracles. From this has proceeded that heroic fortitude of the people of God, whereby their absolute obedience to God has shined forth in doing and suffering those great things which are recorded in the Holy Scriptures and in the histories of the church. And if we be ever called to the fiery trial, as Protestants formerly were, we shall find their doctrine of assurance will encourage us in suffering for the sake of Christ.

7. The contrary doctrine, which excludes assurance out of the nature of saving faith, brings forth many evil fruits. It tends to bereave our souls of all assurance of our salvation and solid comfort, which is the life of religion, by placing them after sincere universal obedience; whereas, if we have them not first, we can never attain to this obedience, nor to any assurance that depends on it, as has been proved. And this, as far as it prevails, makes us subject to continual doubtings concerning our salvation, and to tormenting fears of wrath, which casts out true love to God and can produce no better than slavish hypocritical service. It is one of the principal pillars by which manifold superstitions in Popery are supported, as their monkish orders, their satisfactions for sin, by works of penance, bodily macerations, whippings, pilgrimages, indulgences, trusting on the merits of saints, etc. When once men have lost the knowledge of the right way to assure themselves of salvation, they will catch at any straw, to avoid drowning in the gulf of despair.

There is no way to administer any solid comfort to the wounded spirits of those that see themselves void of all holiness, under the wrath and curse of God, dead in sin, not able so much as to think a good thought. You do but increase their terror and anguish, if you tell them they must first get faith and obedience and, when they find they have done that, they may persuade themselves that God will receive them into His grace and favour. Alas! They know that they cannot believe, nor obey, except God assist them with His grace and favour. And what if they be even at the point of death, and struggling with death's pangs, so that they have no time or leisure to get good qualifications, and examine the goodness of them? You must have a more speedy way to comfort such, by discovering to them the free promise of salvation to the worst of sinners by faith in Christ, and by exhorting them to apply those promises and trust on Christ confidently for remission of sins, holiness, and glory; assuring them also that God will help them to believe sincerely on Christ, if they desire it with all their hearts, and that it is their duty to believe, because God commands it.

Several other evils are occasioned by the same doctrine. Men are unwilling to know the worst of themselves and prone to think their qualifications better than they are, that they may avoid despair. Others please and content themselves without any assurance of their interest in Christ, because they think that it is not necessary to salvation, and that but few attain to it; and in this they show little love to Christ, or to their own souls. Some foster doubtings of salvation as signs of humility, though they will hypocritically complain of them. Many spend their time in poring upon their own hearts to find out some evidence of their interest in Christ, when they should rather be employed in receiving Christ and walking in Him by a confident faith.

Some are troubled with doubts whether they should call God 'Father', and what apprehensions they should have of Him in prayer; and are offended at ministers that in their public prayers use any expressions that the people cannot loin in, as when they do own God as their God and Father, and Christ as their Saviour, and on the same account they are offended at the public singing of many of David's psalms, and avoid partaking of the Lords Supper, because they are not satisfied about their interest in Christ.

Though true believers have some assurance of salvation in saving faith itself, yet it is much weakened in many by this contrary doctrine and assaulted with many doubtings; and then other good qualifications must needs be low and weak together with it, and so obscure that it is very hard to discern them. How hard a thing then will it be for true believers to assure themselves, by the certain knowledge of their own sincerity, that they are in a state of grace already, which some say is the only assurance of faith? Some prescribe such marks and signs to distinguish sincerity from hypocrisy that believers cannot sufficiently try themselves by them, except they have more knowledge and experience than ordinary.

Thus many believers walk heavily in the bitterness of their souls, conflicting with fears and doubtings all their days. And this is the cause that they have so little courage and fervency of spirit in the ways of God, and that they so much mind earthly things, and are so afraid of sufferings and death; and if they get some assurance by the reflex act of faith, they often soon lose it again by sins and temptations. The way to avoid these evils is to get your assurance, and to maintain it, and renew it upon all occasions by the direct act of faith, by trusting assuredly on the name of the Lord, and staying yourself on your God, when you walk in darkness, and see no light in any of your own qualifications (Isa. 50:10). I doubt not but the experience of choice Christians will bear witness to this truth.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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