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XXXIX.


THE FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH.


[Preached at Old Orchard In August, 1883.]


The preacher of the evening has been greatly edified during this faith convention, by the Methodistic earnestness of a Quaker preaching Wesleyan doctrines with jubilant hallelujahs. The audience may be surprised this evening to hear a Methodist, in a very quiet style, enforce upon your hearts a prominent doctrine of the Friends, from a Quaker text found in Isa. 32:17, "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever." Also (Heb. 10:22), "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." The soul that is perfectly saved from doubt, standing on the sunlit mountain-top of full assurance, is in the enjoyment of God's full salvation. We know an evangelical minister who secured the revision of the creed of his church in order to cut out the doctrine of assurance, because he said that "it strongly squinted toward the offensive doctrines of the higher life." There are, in fact, four roads into the experience of full salvation. As there was a river that went out of Eden, parted into four, so that Eden would be found by following up any one of these streams; so there are four streams flowing from the paradise of God's complete salvation from sin. Trace any one of these to its source, and you will find yourself in that spiritual Eden —

"The land of corn, and wine, and oil,
Favored with God's peculiar smile,
With every blessing blest;
There dwells the Lord, our righteousness,
And keeps his own in perfect peace,
And everlasting rest."

The first of these we may call the Methodist river. They, among modern Christians, were providentially called to explore this river, and to enter the goodly land to which it leads. In other words, a sense of that "infection of nature that doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated" — See Article IX. of the XXXIX. Articles — and an earnest desire for its extinction, is the pathway which has led some, in all ages, into that soul-rest which follows the extinction of sin. Hence, the Methodists did not apply for a patent, as they were not the original discoverers. The second river received its name (Perfect Love) from the beloved disciple. Many a believer since John's day, distressed with a sense of partial and painfully divided love to Jesus, has sought the remedy, and has found that the Holy Spirit, who dropped from the skies the first spark of love divine in his heart, can raise it to a flame so intense as to make the whole affectional nature glow as a furnace with a sevenfold heat, in which nothing contrary to love can abide for a moment. A modern St. John (Wesley) has courageously buoyed out the channel of this river, and called it by its own name, Christian Perfection. See his "Plain Account," a tract full of the very marrow of the gospel. The third river may be called the Calvinian river, because many a disciple of the great theologian of Geneva has entered into the spiritual paradise by following up this stream to its source. A desire for the pentecostal gift, the incoming and abiding of the Comforter, the anointing or baptism of the Holy Ghost, the endowment of power for the most efficient service in the Lord's vineyard, has led many, who feared evangelical perfection or perfect love as rank fanaticism, to pray with an all-surrendering faith in Jesus, for the fullness of the Spirit; and, in answer to the prayer of faith, they have been filled with the unutterable fullness of God. Of course they were entirely cleansed, for the Holy Ghost cannot fill a soul without sanctifying it. (Read the experience of President Edwards and his wife, David Brainerd, Edward Payson, and D. L. Moody.)

The fourth river we may style the Quaker river — Full Assurance. Thousands of souls, worried by doubts and distressed by uncertainty, have sought for deliverance and have found salvation from doubt. But they have found that this is only one grape of the rich cluster of Eshcol put into their hands. Full assurance is inseparably united with entire sanctification and perfect love; and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the power and joy and soul-rest which flow therefrom.

By full assurance we mean a certainty, excluding all doubt, that I am now a child of God. The Spirit who imparts this wonderful knowledge of present salvation is called the spirit of adoption. "For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." This is not mediate through the inspired Word of God, but immediate and direct to our consciousness by a contact of the divine Spirit with the human. "The Spirit HIMSELF beareth witness with our spirit [two witnesses], that we are children of God."

Many have explained the witness of the Spirit thus: the Spirit has secured in the Bible a record of the marks of the regenerate state. The believer in Jesus reads this record, and then looks into his own heart, and, if he finds these marks there, he infers that he is born of the Spirit. This is a perfectly proper thing to be done; but in order to be satisfactory, it must be preceded by an impression by the Spirit of these infallible marks. For instance, how can I be sure that love, the first fruit of the Spirit, exists in me, till I am divinely certified that I have been taken out of the class on whom God frowns — for he is angry with the wicked every day, and I have been wicked — and have been put into the class which God loves? I cannot love God till I am sure that he loves me and has pardoned my sins. This must be certified to me by the blessed carrier-dove of the skies — the Holy Spirit. Without this telegram from the throne of God to my personal consciousness, I can have no valid basis for my inference that I am a son of God by adoption. The Bible does not contain this important fact. The convict in the State prison cannot ascertain his pardon by studying the general statutes. He must have a document direct from the governor authenticating his pardon.

This corresponds to the direct witness of the Spirit, sent forth, not into the Holy Scriptures, but "into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6.) This is thus defined by Wesley: "It is an inward impression of the soul whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given himself for me, and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God." This affords a firm ground for the process of inference, called the indirect witness of the Spirit, because it is reasoning from the fruits of the Spirit to the regenerating work of the Spirit; from effect to cause. This distinction and this precedence of the direct witness are strictly philosophical. All reasoning must proceed from admitted truths. These, in the last analysis, are truths intuitively grasped by the mind. The soul has a set of spiritual intuitions which become active under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. These intuitions are the bases of all real spiritual knowledge. The truths of the Bible are not real to the soul till they have been made real by the spirit of truth, or the spirit of reality, as it might have been translated. Before this, the Bible contains hearsay knowledge to which the reader is incompetent to give testimony. But when the Spirit gives the believer real knowledge of God and of his Son, he is qualified to be a witness for Christ. The reason for the small number of witnesses in many of our churches is, because there are only a few who have an experimental knowledge of God. They have not found out that he is real. There is much second-hand spiritual knowledge and little first-hand.

The direct witness of the Spirit is usually intermittent in the early stages of Christian experience. Whether this is through variations in faith, or because of some hidden law of our spiritual nature, or of our bodily organism, is unknown. Young Christians are needlessly alarmed by these fluctuations. If, after careful self-examination, there is found no condemnation for any act of willful sin, the person should go forward, walking by faith, till the cloud withdraws and the sun pours his rays again directly into the soul. This is the time, not only for heart-searching, but for Bible-searching; to get a new fulcrum for the lever of faith. It has been thought by some Christian philosophers that these intervals in the direct and joyful assurance of salvation are needful for the most rapid and healthful spiritual growth. Then the soul searches out the promises and piles them up as a pyramid on which to stand and stretch out the hands and grasp the realization of still higher spiritual blessings.

In that advanced experience called full assurance, there are fluctuations in degrees of ecstatic joy, but never a descent into the region of doubt. The witness to adoption is not intermittent, but abiding in the heart of every one who claims his full heritage in Jesus Christ in the Pentecostal dispensation. Hence the strength of such a Christian. Doubt always weakens. The inefficiency of multitudes of Christians may be traced to their doubts. Until doubt is permanently allayed, no one can have

"A heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize"

with awakened sinners, or to enter vigorously and successfully upon the work of rescuing the perishing. Thus doubt prevents the highest usefulness. It also saddens the soul. Fog promotes melancholy; sunshine sows joy. The happiest company of people with whom I have ever mingled thus far in my earthly pilgrimage, I have found in this faith convention. I have thought that possibly the by-standers might falsely accuse us as they did the first Christian faith convention in the tipper room — "these men are filled with new wine." We plead guilty of the charge. We are filled with the new wine of the kingdom, the joy of the Holy Ghost.

We urge all Christians to seek full assurance, because doubt is full of peril. It tends to indecision in the presence of temptation. Doubt leans toward unholiness; for he who doubts his sonship to a king will not act with the dignity and purity of one who knows that he is a prince of the blood royal. There is philosophy in the reply of a Negro boy when told by a neighbor that he had experienced a change of heart because of his amended outward life. The young African replied: "I do not know that I have been born again! That is not the kind of religion I want; a religion that I may get and not know, I might lose and not miss." It is a great gain to have a clear, definite, and sharply defined beginning of the Christian course. This was one of the secrets of the power of early Methodism, and of early Quakerism as well. Wesley testifies that ninety-nine per cent of those converted under the preaching of the early Wesleyans had the direct witness to their pardon, and could tell the exact time of their translation out of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation. Says he: "The general rule is, they who are in the favor of God know they are so." Hence he urged the scriptural injunction as to testimony: "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so." To the question, "Will not this discourage mourners?" he answers: "Yes, it will discourage them from stopping where they are; from resting before they have Christ revealed in them. But it will encourage to seek in the gospel way; to ask till they receive pardon and peace. And we are to encourage them, not by telling them they are in favor of God, though they do not know it (such a word as this we would never utter in a congregation, at the peril of our souls); but by assuring them, every one that seeketh findeth."

Yet he did not teach that every doubter is lost. There is a difference between unbelief and doubt. Unbelief paralyzes the soul so that there is no movement Godward; doubts distract so that such movement is difficult and painful, yet possible. Unbelief damns, doubt damages, but does not destroy if we live on the right side of it. What is living on the right side of doubts? Live as if you had them not. Christian and Pliable fell into the Slough of Despond Christian wallowed till he got out on the right side, toward the Celestial City. Pliable got out on the wrong side, toward the City of Destruction. The one lived on the right and the other on the wrong side of doubt; the one was saved, the other lost. The serpent-bitten Israelite, though doubting the efficacy of the brazen serpent, had faith enough to turn his glazed and dying eyes toward it, and was healed. Naaman was brimful of doubts when he turned the head of his Syrian cavalcade toward the despised Jordan; but he had faith sufficient to reach the river and bathe seven times and wash away his leprosy. So a soul may he worried by doubts all through life, and enter heaven at last, because he has had faith enough to keep his feet moving toward its open gates. A ship may sail across the Atlantic in a dense fog, and enter Boston harbor in safety. Yet it is much more comfortable and safe sailing under a clear sky, taking the requisite daily observations. For this ugly fact cannot be kept out of the sailor's mind, that many a ship sailing in the fog has been wrecked by dashing against a rock or an iceberg.

Let us now proceed to answer the inquiry, why so many Christians are destitute of that secret of the Lord which Enoch had in Old Testament times, and which is promised in far larger measure under the dispensations of the Holy Spirit.

1. Superficial conversion: I felt badly, went to an altar or inquiry room, felt better, and was told that this was regeneration. So I joined the church; but I walk in darkness almost as dense as before. I was told to trust the written word of Christ, who says: "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Precious words these, but often misapplied. All the promises are designed to awaken faith in the penitent soul by showing that God is able and willing to save now; but no one of them contains the record of your personal pardon. You are to trust the written word of God till you have the spoken word of the Spirit in your heart. The only advice we dare give to a seeking soul is this: "Trust God for Jesus' sake to do the work, till the Spirit certifies that it is done." Saving faith is a new exercise to the seeking soul, springing out of real repentance of sin. I cannot in my advice to him, assume the infallibility of his mental judgment of his own inward states and spiritual exercises, and urge him to jump to the conclusion that he really does fulfil the conditions of salvation, and that Jesus does now save him. This is the prerogative of the Spirit of adoption. The Divine efficiency comes in at this point, assuring the soul that he has truly abandoned sin and accepted Christ, and may now grasp the assurance of pardon. Without the Spirit's testimony no one has in the writ-ten Word any ground for believing that God has saved or does now save the soul. Saving faith is not a leap in the dark, as some teach, but a firm stepping upon God's recorded willingness and ability to grant present deliverance from the guilt of sin, till we step upon the last stone which is the Spirit's testimony — "He doeth it."

Many have been advised to assume that their repentance and faith are evangelical, and to reckon that Jesus now pardons, when this was not the fact. They have reckoned without their host, and have been put into an exceedingly embarrassing attitude toward Christ before the world. Some of these, under the Spirit's guidance, despite the bad human advice, stumble into salvation. But many others, after groping in darkness a long time, give up the struggle, and drop back into sin. But another large class cling to their Christian profession and make us a mass of inert and lifeless members found in all our churches, who have stopped short of a satisfactory assurance of sins forgiven, and vainly imagine that they are saved.

2. Others are destitute of assurance because they have insensibly lost the evangelical spirit and slipped back into legalism — a trust in the merit of good works instead of a constant trust in Jesus Christ. He who trusts in his works is always afraid that he has not done enough to merit salvation. Hence, he never quite reaches the point of an absolute assurance. This is the sad condition of those trained in Romanism — that stupendous system of legalism. But many Protestants have unconsciously sunken down into the same error. Christianity is viewed as a series of duties to be done. But as no one can do them perfectly, no one can be joyfully confident that he is saved. On the other hand, if salvation is a free gift to the believer in Jesus, there is a definite point of time when this gift is consciously received. Hence, the evangelical spirit is promotive of assurance, and the legal spirit fosters interminable doubt.

3. Many are now destitute of assurance who once enjoyed its blessedness. The cares of this world have choked the spiritual life. "While thy servant was busy here and there, he [the Holy Spirit] was gone." Distant following of Jesus stifles the voice of the Comforter. "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness." Here our adorable Savior compares himself to the glorious orb of day. The planet Mercury, which keeps close to him, is always moving in the most intense light; while Neptune, on the outermost verge of the solar system, gropes along his chilly orbit in almost rayless night. Cloudless assurance is the heritage of complete consecration and the most intimate communion with Christ, accompanied by a careful and close following in his footsteps. Thus Enoch walked with God, and he had this testimony, that his ways pleased him. This precious testimony is more easily lost than regained. It has been said that "spiritual darkness comes on horseback and goes away on foot."

4. Since assurance is the work of the Holy Spirit, this blessing is rarely enjoyed where the personality and offices of the third person of the Trinity are not magnified. There is darkness in the pews because there is no lamp shining in the pulpit. The lamp is not lighted in many a pulpit because the scanty supply of oil has already been consumed. The oil has failed in the "candlestick all of gold," because the two olive-trees — a clear justification from past sins, and entire sanctification from inbred sin — are not growing, one "on the right side of the bowl, and the other on the left thereof." — Zech. 4:3.

5. Others, who are favored with the light of full Christian instruction, fail of the precious grace of full assurance because of a lack of appropriating faith. This has been aptly defined as an underscoring of the "me" and "my" in the divine promises. St. Paul exercised this kind of faith. "I have been crucified with Christ; alive no longer am I, but alive is Christ in me; and that life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith on the Son of God, who loved ME and gave himself up for ME." — Gal. 2:20, literally translated. Mary Magdalene exercised appropriating faith, when, at the open tomb of Jesus, she said, "They have taken away MY Lord." "Tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." She talks as if she was the sole owner of Jesus Christ; and she was, for her grateful heart had appropriated him entirely to herself. He has the ability to give himself undivided to every fully believing soul which claims its complete heritage in him.

6. Not a few Christians walk amid shadows when they might walk in the noontide of assurance, because they have seen the narrow gate of entire sanctification open before them and heard a voice saying, "Enter in at the strait gate," and, seeing the sacrifices to be made, and the idols to be unclasped. They have refused to obey. An eclipse of faith has ensued. The sun of assurance shines not upon the path of conscious disobedience. The converse is true also. "Light is sown for the righteous." Joseph Cook challenges skeptics to apply the scientific method of experiment to Christianity. "On the condition that you make an affectionate, immediate, total, and irreversible self-surrender to Christ as both Savior and Lord, the light of God will stream through and through your soul." Try it, ye who desire full assurance.

If you would know the strength of the scriptural proofs of this doctrine, take your Concordance and see how often the words "know" and "knowledge" occur after the day of Pentecost. Study St. John's frequently occurring "we know," in his first epistle. Study Dean Alford's version of the Greek term,
epignosis — full knowledge — "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in full knowledge of him." — Eph. 1:17, "Until we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the perfect knowledge of the Son of God." — Eph. 4.: 13. Here faith is declared to be the path to "perfect knowledge"; for there are not two unities, but one — faith mounting up till it is merged in perfect knowledge. In all spiritual realizations we are to believe before we can know. "That ye may be filled with the thorough knowledge of his will." — Col. 1:9. Alford's Notes. "Unto all the riches of the full assurance of the understanding, unto the thorough knowledge of the mystery of God, even Christ." — Col. 2:2. "Being renewed into perfect knowledge after the image of him that created him." — Col. 3:10. "Who willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the certain knowledge of the truth." — 1 Tim. 2:4. "And never yet able to come to the full knowledge of the truth." — 2 Tim. 3:7.

The revision has uncovered to English readers a wonderful text, which has been obscured for nearly three centuries by a faulty translation. "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine, and mine own know me; even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father." — John 10:14. Our knowledge of Christ may be as certain and exclusive of doubt as the Son's intuition of the Father. This certitude is the glorious privilege of every persevering believer in Jesus Christ. This is that spiritual manifestation of himself which he promised to every believer whose love to him is evinced by keeping his commandments. (John 14:21.) This manifestation of Christ is no vision or phantom addressed to the natural eye, but an awakening of the soul's spiritual perception to an undoubted and joyful realization that Jesus lives and loves even me. The heart of your preacher is a witness to this manifestation almost uninterruptedly during the past thirteen years. It is blessed indeed. Language fails to describe it.

Before bringing this sermon to a close we will state, but not fully discuss, another view of full assurance. Some define this to include not only the certainty of present sonship, but the certainty of eternal salvation. Some excellent people, whose testimony it would be difficult to impeach, have witnessed to the possession of such an assurance, covering not only the present but the endless future, and hence called the full assurance of hope. This testimony your preacher cordially receives; but he hesitates to preach it as the privilege of all God's children. It is possible that we are not all to be trusted with so rich a treasure. It might turn our heads; it might be greatly abused and perverted into a motive to a loose and unwatchful life in the case of many believers. Hence the possibility of losing the treasure of assurance of present salvation is a healthful safeguard. The Arminian training of your preacher probably has much to do with his difficulty in preaching assurance of eternal salvation as the privilege of all believers. This doctrine, it seems to him, must stand or fall with that of personal unconditional election. Hence our Calvinistic brethren have less difficulty in receiving this doctrine; though some of them, if we read them aright, limit this kind of assurance to the
"electi electorumthe elect of the elect" — and thus agree with your preacher in limiting it to a few favored souls. We cannot better state our views than to adopt those of that great reformer and Christian philosopher, John Wesley —

  • 1. "I believe a few, but very few, Christians have an assurance from God of everlasting salvation; and that is the thing which the apostle terms full assurance of hope.
  • 2. "I believe more have such an assurance of being now in the favor of God, as excludes all doubt and fear; and this, if I do not mistake, the apostle means by the full assurance of faith.
  • 3. "I believe a consciousness of being in the favor of God (which I do not term full assurance, since it is frequently weakened, nay, perhaps interrupted, by returns of doubt or fear) is the common privilege of Christians fearing God and working righteousness. Yet I do not affirm there are not exceptions to this general rule; but, I believe, this is usually owing either to disorder of body or to ignorance of the gospel promises. Therefore, I have not, for many years, thought a consciousness of acceptance to be essential to justifying faith."

(Fletcher endorses No. 1. See his "Checks" II. 659.)

In endorsing these words of Wesley, we greatly prefer to say, in No. 3, ordinary state, instead of "common privilege"; for Christians are generally living far below their privilege. Hence all in the third class might, by a proper exercise of faith, move up into the second, with the exception, perhaps, of those incapacitated by some "disorder of body."

A broader discussion of this topic, from which we were shut out by lack of time, would have included the deeper question of the truth of Christianity itself. For all religious doubts resolve themselves into two fundamental questions —

1. Is the Christian true?

2. Am I savingly included in the system?

This may be illustrated by two similar questions respecting a bank-note —

1. Is this bank sound?

2. Is this note a genuine issue therefrom?

The first question, purposely omitted in our discussion, can be successfully answered, as well as the second, on one's knees in self-surrendering faith in Jesus Christ. Obedient faith is the short road out of all doubt. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself."