The gift and grace of assurance is received, nurtured and maintained through a holy, godly and righteous life, and not otherwise. It is an outright gift and blessing of God’s unconditional covenant. And, “whereas in all covenants, there are contained two parts,” God’s part in this case being the settling of assurance in the heart by the gift of true faith, and man’s part being the obligation “to new obedience, namely that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life” (Form of Baptism). This shows that assurance is the effect of righteousness. The meaning is that assurance is maintained in the way of righteousness. “The effect of righteousness (shall be) quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17). Righteousness requires the keeping of the “heart with all diligence” (Pros’. 4:23), watching and praying, “lest ye enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38), taking “heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
All this is easy to put down in writing. The practice of it is another thing, a very strenuous task. To illustrate: a man who had calmed his nerves and greatly improved his general health with proper progressive weight exercise wished to attain according to his capacity to massive muscular size. Physically incapable of doing “squats,” the next best exercise was prescribed-parallel bar dips. To do these properly, every ounce of will and vigor would have to be mustered, and that would have to be the outlook and practice, or abandon the whole idea. The plan called for working up to fifteen sets of dips, using heavy weights tied around the waist, advancing to one hundred pounds, and trying for two hundred. “Begin with a moderate weight for five repetitions. Add weight and do five more reps. Then proceed to your best weight for three sets of five repetitions. Keep forcing the poundage; add weight every workout. Grit your teeth and make it at the moment the most important thing in your life.” Now perhaps you may appreciate more what is involved in the practice of man’s part in the covenant, viz., the cutting oil of the right hand, and the plucking out of the right eye (Matt. 5:29). Abstinence from every form of evil is required (I Th. 5:22). “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Prov. 4:14f). “Fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12) is literally, Agonize the good agony of the faith.
The Christian ought to be living above doubts and slavish fears. You say, the one lacking assurance does not fear death, but only that after death one will not be received into Glory. What does such a one fear? that God will make him to err from His ways, and harden his heart from His fear? (Isa. 63:17). Then let him forget such foolishness. Does he not already fear the Lord with loving, godly fear? (Phil. 2:12). Then is not the secret of the Lord shared with him (Ps. 25:14)? Will the Lord sovereignly harden one who fears Him? Banish the thought! Will He not rather fulfil His Word, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way thou shalt go. I will guide thee with Mine eye” (32:8)! Does He not guide thee now? Or think you that He allows those who fear Him to grope their own way through life? Can you pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, lead us!” and then go on to pray “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory’” (Ps. 73:24)? Can you pray, truly pray, the former and not the latter? Impossible! Furthermore, why should all sorts of fears rob you of the joy of assurance? “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). Does not the Spirit dwell with you? Shall He not be in you (John 14:17)? Then can you not rejoice in the Lord? Can you not earnestly determine? “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation” (Isa. 61:10). Can you say “my soul” and be so self-centered as never to say “my God”’? Saying it, and that in truth, you really know the heart of the covenant relation. Isn’t that something you know in yourself? And the thought, does it not enable you to be patient in tribulation? What enables you to exert that endurance but the contemplation of a better and more enduring substance? The persecuted Christians took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves that they have exactly that in heaven (Heb. 10:34).
This writer, upon becoming Protestant Reformed, came out of circles where the doctrine of assurance was such an utterly simple matter that that which has been written so far in this series would there be regarded as a case of complicating simplicity. There it is assumed that no pains need be taken to discover whether a person is saved; one, merely on believing God’s Word, may be sure in a moment. But this is to assume too much as to what it is to believe. For the Jews of Jesus’ day believed the prophets, and the divine inspiration and authorship of the scriptures. Simon Magus believed. The Russellites claim to believe the Bible, yet they reject the triune God. The devil and his apostate host also believe.
Still it is often insisted that I have believed and therefore I am saved! In proof of this claim, any one of a number of texts are quoted, such as John 3:16, John 5:24 or Acts 16:31. Let us turn to John 5:24. There, the one who hath eternal life, who hath passed out of death into life, is first of all identified to us as, “he that heareth My Word.” That is often thought to be simple enough; nothing more than to hear with the external ear is meant. “Hear” means “hear,” just as “Jew” means “Jew” and “Israel” means “Israel.” But Jesus did not agree with this opinion. He said to the Jews, “He that is of God heareth God’s Words. Ye therefore hear them not (despite the fact that they were hearing him with the physical ear at the moment), because ye are not of God! Why do ye not understand My speech? because ye cannot hear My Word!” (John 8:47, 43). Notice, they did not hear, nor were they able to hear His Word. They “hearing” hear not. So with many today who hear the word of Christ. They are frequently talking of it. They say to one another, “Come and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they come unto thee . . . and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness . . . thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not!” (Ezekiel 33:30ff). Hearing is the spiritual act of one who “has (already) passed out of death into life.”
When John 3:16 is appealed to, the “whosoever believeth” is first underscored, then it is confidently affirmed, I have believed in Him; therefore I have the assurance of eternal life. However, it should be understood that in this same Gospel, a half dozen times it is stated that “many believed on Him,” yet were not saved by Him, as a comparison of 12:36-40 with vv. 42, 43 will show! There is a believing in Christ which saves (Heb. 10:39), and a believing in Him which does not save. For “many were trusting in His name . . . but Jesus was not trusting Himself to them” (John 2:23f, Gk.). The latter is the faith of Judas, of Magus, of many! Therefore take nothing for granted, but be sure you have the faith of God’s elect.
To this end we may again insist, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (II Cor. 13:5). The Christian is exhorted, know your own self, that, Jesus Christ is in you, not, “believe that Christ died for you.” The Christian can know that he has faith of God’s elect by discerning God’s law written upon his heart (Heb. 10:16) and by his delight in that law (Rom. 7:22). So he can know that Christ died for him only in ascertaining whether “Christ liveth in me,” whether He has made me a new creature in Him, whether I come to Him, bow In His sceptre (one of righteousness), take His yoke, and forsake all to follow Him.
But let us go back to the one who wants to be able to say “my God.” yet feels it would be lying to do so. It is plain to him that “your Father” and “your brethren” in Matt. 5:45, 47 do not mean that God is the Father of all alike, the evil and the good, of both the just and the unjust; and that all men are brethren, He wants to say, “my Father,” but he can hardly see beyond the fact that by nature he is a child of wrath. He wants the good and the honest heart of the good ground hearer, but he has learned that his heart is deceitful above all things. He prayed for a holy life, but immediately after, his conduct revealed that he did not mean what he said. He has thanked God for mercies and blessings, yet has complained when the providence of God was not to his liking. When it is said of the new creature that old things have passed away, he finds a mass of corruption in himself. He can truly say, “For that which I do I understand not (Gk.); for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I!” (Rom. 7:15). Here is one who believes that “the work of (Christ’s) righteousness is peace” (Isa. 32:17), yet has no peace, for although he would heed the command “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (II Pet. 1:10), he has not yet found the comfort of the Spirit’s bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). Yet although these many inadequacies are not to be condoned, they are not incompatible with the regenerate slate. Abraham knew he was but dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27), Solomon the “plague of his own heart” (1 Kings 8:38), Isaiah that he was a man of unclean lips (6:5), Daniel lamented that his comeliness was turned into corruption (10:8) and Paul the chief of sinners confessed, “O wretched man that I am!” Still Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23), Solomon was beloved of his God (Neh. 13:26), Isaiah was purified (6:7), Daniel was a man greatly beloved (10:19) and Paid “labored more abundantly than they all” and in nothing was he behind the very chiefest of apostles (I Cor. 15:10; 12:11; 11:5). Some speak of having attained “the victorious life,” having gotten out of Romans 7 into Romans 8! But not only does the Christian in Romans 7 groan, the Christian in Romans 8 groans, too. For ourselves also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves (v. 23). Read the same in II Cor. 5:4, 5. This is the Spirit’s evidence that we are the children of God.