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Concerning Believers’ Assurance of Salvation.
THEY who deny the certain perseverance of all true believers do, of course, not believe it is possible that any man should be sure of his own salvation: And it is certain, that the latter would not be possible, were the former not true. But if the covenant of grace contain a 125promise, that all who believe, shall persevere in faith unto salvation; so that there is a certain connection between the first act of faith and salvation; which has been proved in the preceding section; then, if the believer can know that he does now believe, he may infer, with certainty, that he shall be saved. He has just so much evidence, that he shall be saved, as he has, that he is a true believer, or is possessed of any thing which implies saving faith: And if he can be sure, that he has any exercises of this kind, he may be equally sure of final salvation.
This subject may be explained, and the truth vindicated, by attending to the following particulars:
1. Assurance of salvation, is not essential to saving faith; or a person may believe in Jesus Christ, and hereby be brought into a state of salvation; and yet not know that he does believe in Christ, as they do who shall be saved.
Many have thought, that saving faith consists in believing that they shall be saved; that God loves them, and designs to save them, and Christ died for them, &c. or that this is, at least, implied in faith; that it is in this sense, an appropriating act, taking salvation as their own, knowing that it belongs to them, and that they shall be saved. But it has been shown, in the section on the nature of saving faith, that such a notion of faith is not agreeable to scripture. Saving faith is a direct act, believing the gospel to be true, approving of it, and receiving Christ as he is there offered. This may take place, and a man be a real believer in Christ, without any knowledge or consciousness, or even the least thought, that he does believe, or that his exercises are saving faith; for the latter consists in reflex acts of the mind, in a view or consciousness of what does, or has taken place in his heart, or what are the direct acts of it towards Christ, &c. The knowledge or assurance that we do believe, is a reflex act of the mind, upon what has taken place in our hearts, by which we obtain a knowledge that we have believed, or do now believe: So that assurance of salvation, or that we have saving faith, is consequent on our believing; and saving faith must exist in the mind, and every thing essential to it must take 126place, before we can be conscious that we do believe, or have any knowledge of it, which consists in reflecting on those acts of our hearts, which are saving faith, or do imply it. These are, therefore, two distinct things in their nature, and are not necessarily connected. A person may have saving faith, and yet not reflect upon the acts of his own heart, so as to know or believe that they are those in which faith consists.
Saving faith is an appropriating act in this sense; it is receiving Christ as our Saviour, taking salvation as it is offered, and laying hold of the covenant of grace, so as to ensure all the blessings of it to ourselves. But this may be done without knowing that we do it, or thinking that the exercises of our minds, in which this consists, are of the nature of saving faith. This knowledge is obtained by reflecting upon our own exercises, with discerning to see of what kind they are; and the latter is not necessarily connected with the former, as has been now observed.
It is granted, that saving faith, even in the first acts of it, may be so strong and clear, that it may be attended with a consciousness and assurance, that the person does believe, and shall be saved; so that believing and assurance of salvation, may be both together, and connected in this respect; but still they are two distinct things, and consist in distinct acts of the mind; and the latter is consequent on the former; though the believer may not distinguish them, and not know that they are not one and the same act.
2. Assurance of salvation, therefore, consists in a person’s consciousness of the acts of his own heart, that he does believe in Christ; and knowing from intuition or reflection, that he has attained to those things which imply saving faith, and do accompany salvation, being infallibly connected with it, by the promise of God, in the covenant of grace.
3. It is certain, from fact and experience, that persons may know what the exercises of their own hearts are; and it is reasonable to suppose this may be the case in the instance before us. We do know what we love, and what we hate, in many instances at least; and what kind of exercises we have, respecting many objects 127with which we are concerned, which are agreeable, and which are not so. We know we love some persons, and that others are very disagreeable to us. And no reason can be given, why we may not believe and be sure that the gospel is true, and that Christ is the Son of God, and be so pleased with his character, and the way of salvation by him, and have such strong and fervent love to him, as that we may be conscious that we have these exercises, and be sure we do believe, and love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth. Peter was so conscious and sure that he loved his Lord, from an intuitive view, and reflection on the feelings and exercises of his own heart, that he could say, with confidence, and great assurance, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” And it is very unreasonable to suppose, that no person can have such constant, strong love to Christ, as to be sure he does love him, and has all those exercises which are implied in faith and love. Nothing can prevent this, but the low degree and weakness of these exercises, and the strength and appearance of contrary exercises, or mistakes with regard to the nature and operation of true grace.
4. It appears from scripture, that many good men, were in fact assured of their salvation. Job says, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.”206206 Job xix. 23, 26, 27. The Psalmist says, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”207207 Psalm lxxiii. 24, 26. And it appears from the New Testament, that the apostles, and many, if not the most of the primitive christians were sure that they should be saved.—The apostles speak in the language of assurance; and represent this to be common to believers of that day, by using such language in their name. The apostle Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded (or confident) that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him, against that day. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course. 128Henceforth, there is laid up for me, a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me, at that day.”208208 2 Tim. i. 12. iv. 7, 8. And he speaks of himself as sure of salvation, in his letter to the church at Philippi. “I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 1 am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.”209209 Chap. i. 19, 21, 23. And he uses this language of assurance, when he speaks in the name of others, as well as of himself. “We know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, &c.”210210 2 Cor. v. 1-8. The apostle John speaks the same language: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. We know that we are of God. And we know, that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true: And we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”211211 1 John iii. 14. v. 19, 20.
Thus it appears from scripture, that believers have been in fact assured of their salvation: And therefore that it is possible, that others, and even all believers, may attain to this, in the same way in which they obtained it, viz. by arriving to such a degree of faith and christian exercises, as to produce a consciousness, and certain knowledge, that they have faith, or christian holiness, which is connected with salvation.
This leads to another particular.
5. There is no other way of obtaining this assurance, but by having such high degrees of christian holiness, in actual exercise; and accompanied with such spiritual discerning, as that it is seen and known by the person who has it, to be real gospel holiness, or true, saving faith. True grace, or holiness, is in the nature of it, clearly distinguishable from every thing which is not so: And if it be not distinguished by the believer, and seen and known to be what it is, it must be owing either to the small degree of it, so that it cannot be discerned, or 129to the want of spiritual sight and discerning, or both of them. And indeed, it is always owing to both these, if they may be considered as distinct things, which they really are not; for they both go together, and are inseperable.212212 Though the exercise of holiness, and spiritual discerning, are several times mentioned distinctly, in this section, it is not intended that they should be understood as two really distinct things. Holiness, is spiritual light and discerning; and spiritual light, is holiness. See the section on Divine Illumination. Holiness is itself, light and discerning; and the more there is of this in the heart, and the stronger and more constant the exercises of it are, the more the mind is illuminated, and sees spiritual things more clearly; and with greater certainty discerns and distinguishes between true grace, and that which is not of that kind. Therefore, an increase of holiness magnifies the object, and renders it more visible, and easy to be seen by the spiritual eye, so as to be distinguished from every thing else; and at the same time is the spiritual eye, and increases the spiritual sight and ability of discerning, so as more clearly and with greater certainty to see and distinguish truth from falsehood. Therefore, in proportion to the degree of holiness exercised, other things being equal, there will be evidence to the mind, that such are the exercises of it, and consequently that they are connected with salvation; and they may rise to such a degree, and holiness be acted out in such a measure and manner, as to be accompanied with great and well grounded assurance, that it is real holiness, which is by the promises of the covenant of grace connected with salvation. Therefore, this is the way which professing christians are exhorted to take, in order to have and maintain assurance of their salvation.—“And we desire, that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope, unto the end. That ye be not slothful, but followers of them, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.”213213 Heb. vi. 11, 12.—The “Assurance of Faith,” is mentioned in this Epistle,214214 Chap. x. 22. by which is meant an assured belief of the truth of the gospel, which is expressed in the following words, by Peter. “We believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”215215 John vi. 69. The assurance of hope is an assured hope 130of salvation, which is the same with assurance of their salvation. And the way to obtain this, which is here proposed, is diligence and engagedness in the exercise and expression of love to Christ, and to his people, in opposition to sloth and negligence; which is the same with the strong and fruitful exercise of christian grace. Therefore,
6. The believer is wholly dependent on God for assurance of salvation. Believers are entirely dependent on God for the least degree of holiness, as it is his sovereign gift; but they have a special and peculiar favour from him, who are brought to such a degree of holy exercise, and spiritual discerning, as to be assured that they are born of God, are his children, and shall inherit everlasting life. It is by the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits, that they are brought to see and know, they are the children of God. This the scripture declares. “The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”216216 Rom. viii. 16. This is done, not by any immediate suggestion, revelation or testimony to the believer, that he is a child of God, as some have seemed to imagine; but by forming the heart to that degree of holy affection, and spiritual discerning, that the believer is able to look on this work of the Spirit, and know that he is born of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit of God produces this evidence and witness in the heart of the believer, that he is born of God, and gives that discerning to him, that it becomes a witness to his spirit, that the Spirit of God is in him, and has formed him to holiness, by which he is become a child of God, and has the spirit of a child, disposing him to look to God, as his Almighty Friend and Father. What the Apostle John says amounts to the same thing, and may serve to illustrate these words of St. Paul. “Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us. Hereby know we, that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”217217 1 John iii. 24. iv. 13.—See President Edwards, on Religious Affections. First Edition, p. 125-133.
7. The assurance of salvation is not common to all christians; many never attain to it, and few, or none of those who do, have it constantly, without interruption.131
This is not promised to all believers in the covenant of grace, as perseverance is; but is given, or withheld as is most agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness, and so as to answer the best ends, and be most for the glory of God, the best good of his church, and of the individual members of it. Assurance is most common among them who are called to distinguished and eminent service and sufferings in the cause of Christ, as they seem to stand in most need of it, to support and animate them, in the midst of the greatest trials, dangers, and worldly evils. Thus, assurance of the love of God, and eternal salvation, seem to have been enjoyed, not only by the apostles, but by christians in general, in their day, as they were called to suffering in a peculiar manner and degree, in consequence of their becoming christians. And those christians who have been called to the greatest labours and sufferings, in all ages since, have appeared to have, and express the greatest assurance of their own salvation. It has been common for martyrs, to go to the stake, or to other most cruel deaths, in the joyful assurance, that they were going to heaven; as ecclesiastical history abundantly informs us. And in the limes of the greatest sufferings of the church of Christ, christians have appeared to be more generally assured of their interest in the covenant of grace.
And this can be accounted for, from what has been said above; for they who are called to extraordinary labour and suffering in the cause of Christ, not only need this support more than others; but their circumstances are suited to awaken their graces, and excite them to a higher and stronger degree of exercise, than common; by which they have clear evidence, that they have true grace: and God grants his Spirit to such, in uncommon degrees, which is a witness within them, to their spirit, that they are the children of God. And often, when christians are on a dying bed, and called to encounter the king of terrors, and feel themselves going into the invisible world, they have a greater measure of the holy Spirit, and their faith, and every grace, are in a stronger and more sensible exercise; and they are assured that Christ is their Saviour, and that they are passing into a state of perfect holiness, happiness and glory.132
There are different degrees of assurance, which different persons may have, or the same person, at different times. In this imperfect state, none, perhaps, may be properly said to be perfectly sure of their own salvation, so that there can be no addition to their assurance. They are not so sure of salvation, as they will be, when they actually arrive to heaven, and find themselves in possession of it; or as they are, who are now in heaven. And one christian may properly be said to have a stronger assurance than another, and the same believer may have a higher or greater degree of assurance, at one time, than at another, when he may be said to be sure. The disciples of Christ, say to him, upon a particular occasion, “Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any one should ask thee: By this we believe that thou earnest forth from God.”218218 John xvi. 30. They believed this before, and were sure that he knew ail things; but now their faith and assurance were stronger, and increased.
Christians who are not assured of their being in a state of grace, but entertain a hope of it, may, and actually do, have a stronger hope, or more hope, at one time, than at another, according to the different degrees in which their graces are in exercise, and as different feelings and exercises, in different circumstances, and on different occasions, take place. Sometimes their hope is assaulted with great and overbearing doubts and fears, and they hardly know, whether they have any hope or not; and are ready to conclude against themselves, that all is wrong, with respect to them, and they are really in a graceless state. At other times their hope revives, and is stronger, and their doubts, in a great measure, subside. And one christian differs very much, in this respect, from another. The hope of one is more strong and constant; and he has not so many doubts and fears, respecting his state: Another is generally full of doubts, and his hope is weak, and attended with great diffidence, and does not often rise, so as to expel his fears. This difference, is doubtless owing in many instances to the stronger and more constant exercise of christian holiness in the former; he having more grace, and with 133greater fervency of spirit, lives a watchful, prayerful life, and with more engagedness and constancy attends on all the duties of christianity, than the latter.
But it is not always owing to the different degrees of holiness, that persons thus differ, in their hopes and confidence, respecting their own christian character: But two persons, who have an equal decree of holiness, may greatly differ, as to their hope and confidence, of their being real christians. This may arise partly from their natural temper and disposition; partly from other causes, such as the manner of their education, and the instructions under which they have lived; the habitual way of thinking, to which they have been led, by those with whom they associate; or the mistakes into which, one or the other has fallen, about the nature and operation of true holiness: The strong, habitual propensity of one, to look on the dark side, and view and attend most to the corruption and evil propensity of the heart, a id less to any contrary exercises; being inclined to conclude against, rather than in favour of himself: The other is of a contrary disposition, and looks more on the favourable side, and makes the best of what he sees in himself, and is not so much disposed to give way to doubts and fears, and suggestions against himself. These and other things, and circumstances, may take place and be the. cause of the difference mentioned, in two persons equally holy; yea, he who doubts the most of his being a real christian, may have more grace than the other, who doubts less, supposing they are both christians, as this difference does not arise always from their different degrees of holiness, but from other causes, some of which have been mentioned.
If he may be called an assured christian, who rises above all doubts or fear, with respect to his being a real christian, perhaps every believer has this assurance, at some seasons in his life, either at his first conversion, or at other times. At least, his mind is so attentive to the truths of the gospel, and he is so pleased and delighted with them, or with some particular truths; and he is so entertained with the divine character, and that of the Redeemer, that he has no doubts or fears about his own state; and perhaps, for a while, thinks little or nothing 134about himself; and when he does, and reflects on his own views and exercises, he is raised above all doubt, whether he be in a state of grace or not. But these views and exercises may soon vanish, in a great measure, out of sight, and cease to be so strong and sensible; and his doubts may arise in as great strength as ever, and greater; and he call all in question, and greatly fear he has been deluded, and never known what true holiness is.
And whatever be the degree of positive assurance, to which a christian may arise, above a being freed from all doubts and fears, respecting his present state, and future salvation; yet it must be imperfect, as has been observed, and he liable to change, and to lose it, at any moment. The mind of the best christian is not so fixed, but it may fluctuate like the waves of the sea. He is peculiarly favoured by God, indeed, who is enabled to maintain a constant assurance through a course of years, upon good evidence. He must be eminent in grace, and live in the constant, strong exercise of faith and love, and every branch of christian holiness. But we have abundant reason to conclude, this is not generally true of christians. In this imperfect state of temptation and trial, in which the best christians have so much sin cleaving to them; it they rise at times above all doubts, and have great assurance, it does not commonly continue, uninterrupted, a long time, but often subsides soon, and gives place to darkness and doubts. It being built on the sight and knowledge of their holy exercises, it must change and fail, as they alter, and become less visible and sensible, and the sensible and strong exercise of corruption takes place.
It must be observed, however, that the christian, through a long course of experience, in which, after many doubts respecting his state, he has had frequent revivals of his hope, and his doubts have often entirely subsided; and his exercises of grace have been so strong and evident, that he has had a great degree of assurance; may hence be led to maintain a more steady hope, and not admit doubts of his having true grace, when the exercises of it are not so visible and sensible, and much of the contrary appears in his heart. By long experience he has found, that though his faith and love 135have, at times, been out of sight, and contrary exercises of heart have taken place and appeared to an awful degree; yet he has, after this, frequently been revived, and his exercises of christian grace have been so strong and sensible, that all his doubts have vanished. Hence he is more acquainted with the life of a christian, and the nature of saving grace; and learns that he may have true grace, though it be not always sensibly discerned, and little or nothing but contrary exercises are perceived; and so does not give way to overbearing doubts, even at such times; but maintains his hope in a more steady manner, grounded on his past experience. But he cannot, at such seasons, when gracious exercises are not actually perceived, and in sight, be assured that he is a christian, and should he continue long in this situation, great doubts and fears must arise.
8. Every believer would always have assurance that he is a christian, and shall be saved, were it not for the imperfection and weakness of those exercises in which christianity consists, and, which is really the same, his small degree of spiritual discerning; and were there not so much sin, stupidity, and spiritual blindness in his heart.
The holiness in which christianity consists, is, in the nature of it, distinguishable from every thing else, and tends to discover itself, in acting according to its own nature. And nothing can prevent a sight of it, and knowing that it is true holiness, but want of attention and discerning, together with a small degree of it, and that, in a great measure, hid and buried in the remaining sinful disorders of the heart, which render it, in a great degree, stupid and blind to the things of the Spirit of God. The rules and directions in the scripture are plain and abundant, by which true christian holiness is described in the exercises of it, and distinguished from every thing, which is not holiness: And the Spirit of God, in producing and maintaining grace hi the heart of a christian, bears witness and produces evidence, that he is a child of God; and if it be not discerned by his Spirit, it must be for the reasons just mentioned. It therefore follows, that were it not for those things mentioned, which are in the way of it, every christian would 136have constant assurance, that he is a believer, and shall be saved. Were his graces in high and constant exercise, and acted out in all proper ways; and were his moral corruptions consequently in a great measure subdued and mortified, he could not have a doubt, he must be sure that he is a friend to Christ, and does most cordially embrace the gospel; and is interested in that everlasting covenant, that is ordered in all things and sure.
9. It is the duty of every christian to have and maintain a constant assurance that he is a christian, and shall be saved; and it is, therefore, wholly his fault, for which he can have no excuse, if he be at a loss, and doubts whether he be a believer in Christ, or not.
This follows from what has been observed under the last head.
For if it be the duty of christians to live in the constant vigorous exercise of every grace, and clear discerning of spiritual things, and mortify all their lusts; with which assurance is connected; then it is their duty constantly to have and maintain this assurance, and they cannot fail of it, unless they come vastly short of their duty. It is indeed their duty to be perfectly holy, and every thing short of this is so far sinful; but the exercise of holiness, which is greatly short of perfection, is sufficient to assure the christian, that he is really holy, and shall be saved.
It has been observed above, that the believer is entirely dependent on God, for every degree of holiness, and especially for that degree which is necessary in order to a well grounded assurance. But it cannot be inferred from this, that it is not the duty of christians to be holy to such a degree, as to render them sure they shall be saved; unless such dependence on God be inconsistent with any possible duty, or sin, which cannot be asserted consistent with reason, or the Bible. There is no truth asserted more clearly and constantly in the holy scripture, than these two, viz. Man’s entire dependence on God for all moral good or holiness: and his obligation to be holy, as God is holy; that this is his duty, and all neglect, and every thing in him, contrary to this, is his crime. He who denies either of those, does so far renounce the Bible.137
I. From what has been observed on this subject, we learn, that they embrace a great and dangerous delusion, who think they are assured of salvation, without the least evidence that they are sanctified, in any degree, or looking inwards to find any holy exercise; and that to build such assurance upon our good frames, and holy exercises of heart, is a low, legal way of getting assurance, and is not the proper assurance of a christian. That true christian assurance is built upon a more firm foundation, upon Christ, and the word and promise of God, and not upon the uncertain and changeable feelings and impressions of the heart.
If the assurance, for which they plead, and which they think they have, be examined, it will appear to be built on a sandy foundation, or rather upon nothing. To whom is Christ a Saviour, and to what are the promises of the gospel made? Christ saves them who believe in him, and them only; and the promises are made to a certain character, to that faith in Christ, which implies all the branches of christian holiness; and to no person who has not this character. And no man can have the least evidence, or reason to believe, that he has an interest in any of the promises of the gospel, or shall be saved by Christ; who has not that holiness which is implied in saving faith, and unless he has evidence of this, in his own mind, by seeing what passes in his own heart, and what are the exercises of that. If assurance of salvation be not founded upon the knowledge of our own character, it is built upon nothing, and is mere delusion.
II. We learn that no person can have assurance of salvation from any thing, any circumstance or attainment, which is merely external. Real holiness, or sanctification, is the only evidence that any one can have, that he shall be saved: But this consists in the exercises of the heart, and not in any thing external, any farther than it comes from the heart, and is an expression of what takes place there. Men may make a profession of religion; attend on all the ordinances and institutions of Christ; and their whole external behaviour may 138be regular and blameless in the sight of man; they may be just and beneficent in their conduct to others; yet if all this do not proceed from a holy disposition and exercises of heart, it is no evidence that a man shall be saved; and considered as separate from the heart, there is no real christianity in it. This is decided by the Apostle Paul: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels; and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor; and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing, and I am nothing.”219219 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 2, 3. Men must be acquainted with their own hearts, and know of what nature their internal exercises are, in order to know whether they be christians or not. Indeed, if men think their hearts are right and holy, when their external conduct is not good, regulated by the commands of Christ, they deceive themselves; for though a regular, and good external behaviour be not any certain evidence of holiness of heart, yet the want of this, and an irregular external conduct is a good evidence that the heart is not right.
Too many seem to take all the evidence, hope and confidence they have, that they shall be saved, from something merely external, and foreign from any thing in their hearts; either because God smiles upon them, and prospers them in his providence, or from their attending upon the external duties of religion; their regular external conduct, and the practice of justice and beneficence towards their fellow men; and not living in those vices, which many others practise. Such are strangers to true religion, and are wholly deceived in their hopes and expectations of the favour of God. Their character is given by Christ, in the Pharisee, who went up to the temple to pray, and said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in a week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”220220 Luke xviii. 11, 12.
A christian may, indeed, have his hope and assurance that he does love Christ, strengthened by adhering to his duty, and steadily obeying him in his external conduct, when called to that which is difficult, and in which he must greatly deny himself. When his grace is thus 139tried, and does not fail, it is a farther and confirming evidence, that he is indeed a true friend to Christ; but in this, the motives and exercises of his heart are not out of the question, or out of view; but are by such trials brought into view, and his holiness of heart shines out more bright, and becomes more evident and visible, not only to others, but to his own conscience; as gold shines more, and proves itself to be true gold, by being tried in the fire. Thus Abraham’s ready obedience to the divine command, to offer his son Isaac, for a burnt offering, was a confirming evidence that his heart was truly pious. “And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.”221221 Gen. xxii. 11, 12.
III. From what has been observed on this subject, we learn, that they have no true assurance of their salvation, but are deluded, who say they have great and constant assurance of this, while they live carelessly, and in many respects unbecoming christians. There are such, who do not appear to be conscientious, humble, meek, watchful and prayerful christians, but the contrary; who often express, with the greatest confidence, their absolute assurance of their own salvation. This is an evidence against them, in the view of the judicious, that they do not know what true religion is; and they may reasonably be considered as “proud boasters, speaking great swelling words of vanity.” And some speak of their not having a doubt of their being real christians, for a great number of years; but have enjoyed full assurance of their salvation all that time, in such a manner, and who have appeared to live such lives as to give reason to conclude they know not what true assurance is. If a person who has lived a life eminently devoted to God, and in the constant practice of all the duties of christianity, shining externally in good works, and all the graces of our holy religion, should, on proper occasions, humbly and modestly declare to his christian friends, that he was raised above all doubts about his state, and had, for a long time, enjoyed full assurance of his salvation, no one would have reason to call it in question. But when 140they make high pretensions to this, whose lives are in no measure answerable; and make no proper appearance of living in the constant and lively exercise of true religion, in a strict, conscientious, holy walk, they are to be considered as poor, mistaken, deluded creatures.
IV. We learn that the believer’s assurance of salvation has no tendency to lead him to live a careless, ungodly life, but the contrary. It is not consistent with such a life. It necessarily supposes strong, lively exercises of holiness, and zeal to live a holy life; and can continue no longer than these continue: Whenever his zeal for good works abates, and is not perceived, and carelessness and sloth take place, the christian will lose his assurance, in a great degree at least, if he were before assured that he was a christian; and doubts will of course arise. The assured christian, therefore, is the most lively, holy christian, and most engaged to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts. And he sees more clearly than others, or than he did before, the necessity of persevering in this way, not only in order to maintain his assurance, but in order to be saved; and feels the great and peculiar obligations he is under, to this, and to love Christ and keep his commandments, who has loved him, and given himself for him; “That he should not hence forward live unto himself, but unto him who died for him, and rose again.”222222 Gal. ii. 20. 2 Cor. v. 15. Every assured christian can espouse the language of an eminent ancient christian, who, when he had full assurance of salvation, said: “I run, not as uncertainly: So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.”223223 1 Cor. ix. 26, 27.
V. The doctrine of assurance, as it has been now stated and explained, may assist persons to determine whether they be believers, or not, and point out the way to obtain assurance that they are such.
1. The true believer desires no assurance of his salvation, but that which has its foundation in holy exercises, and consists in them, so that the former cannot be obtained without the latter. Assurance of salvation would be worth nothing to him, if he could have it, without 141holiness, or while he had no stronger and more sensible exercises of love to Christ, &c. than he now has. He therefore does not ask for such assurance, nor desire it. It pleases him, that assurance cannot be obtained in any other way, than in the lively and sensible exercise of holy affection.
There are some, who earnestly desire and long for assurance that they shall be saved, and feel that if they could obtain this, they should be happy, while holiness is not so much the object of their desire and pursuit. These are not seeking the assurance which the christian desires, nor can it be true assurance, or of any real worth, were it obtained, without holiness. Such assurance will satisfy a selfish person; because, if he can be assured that he shall be happy, he cares for no more; and in his idea of happiness, holiness is not included. But not so the true believer.
2. From the preceding particular, it follows, that the true believer prizes holiness more than assurance, and is more concerned to obtain the former, than the latter.—To be conformed to Christ, and obedient to him in all things, earnestly and constantly devoted to his service and honour, and filled with strong, benevolent love to God, and to man, is a thousand times more the object of his desire and prayer, than to be assured, that he shall be saved. Therefore, he desires no other assurance of salvation, than that which is implied in such holiness, as has been observed. Indeed, the true christian, in the exercise of holy affection, or disinterested benevolence to God and man, is seeking more important objects and events, than his own salvation, and they have the first place in his heart. He seeks first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.
On the contrary, the selfish person desires and seeks his own personal interest, his own happiness, as the most important and supreme good; and if he can be assured of his own happiness, he has all he wants. Therefore, when persons prize and desire assurance of their own salvation, more than holiness, it is a sign that they are not true believers.
3. The true christian can have joy and peace in believing, or the joy of faith, without assurance of salvation. 142The reason of this has just now been given, viz. that he desires and seeks, and consequently places his happiness in better, greater and more important objects, than his own salvation. He rejoices in the truth. In the truths contained in divine revelation, in the divine character, in infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness; in the felicity and glory of God; in the character of Christ, and the way of salvation for man, by him, &c.
The selfish person, seeking nothing but his own interest and happiness, can have no religious comfort and joy, any farther than he thinks himself sure, or hopes that he shall be saved. Therefore, his religious light and darkness, his trouble or comfort, arise wholly from or consist in his fears, that he is no christian, and shall not be saved; and in his hope and confidence that God loves him, and he shall be saved. When this appears to be true of any person, it is a sign he is no real christian.
4. The hope and confidence of the true believer, that he is a christian, and shall be saved, rises and sinks according to the degree of holy exercise, in love to God, &c. This has been illustrated in this section. The hypocrite can enjoy his assurance without any holiness, or concern about it.
Therefore, the only right way to obtain assurance of salvation, is to press forward in the exercise of holiness, in every branch of it, so as to be sensibly a friend to Christ, and devoted to his honour and interest.
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