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Different degrees of faith. Evidence of the state of assurance of faith from the Scriptures. Evidence from other sources. Of appropriating faith in its relation to assurance of faith. Particular instances in illustration of this form of experience. No assurance of faith without antecedent consecration. Additional remarks.

WE have already had occasion, in a former chapter, to make the remark, that there are different degrees of faith. In some cases faith is feeble, so much so as scarcely to be a distinct subject of notice in our consciousness. In other cases, existing with increased strength in greater or less degrees, it develops itself as a distinctly marked and operative principle. And there are yet other cases, less frequent, it is true, than would be desirable, in which it exists in that high degree, which is denominated ASSURANCE. A state of Christian experience, which implies the highest degree of Christian devotedness, and brings the soul into the most intimate communion with God.

2.—The existence of the state of Assurance is generally admitted. There are many passages of Scripture, which imply its existence; and many statements, which cannot well be explained on any other grounds. “It is manifest,” says President Edwards in his Work on the religious affections, “that it was a common thing for the saints that we have a history or particular account of in the Scripture, to be
assured. God, in the plainest and most positive manner, revealed and testified his special favor to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, and others. Job often speaks of his sincerity and uprightness with the greatest imaginable confidence and assurance, often calling God to witness to it; and says plainly, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that I shall see him for myself, and not another,’ Job 19:25. David, throughout the book of Psalms, almost every where speaks without any hesitancy, and in the most positive manner, of God as his God; glorying in him as his portion and heritage, as his rock and confidence.”—“The Apostle Paul, through all his Epistles, speaks in an assured strain; ever speaking positively of his special relation to Christ, his Lord, and Master, and Redeemer; and his interest in, and expectation of the future reward.”

3.—Many of the formularies of belief or creeds of different religious sects, which may properly be regarded as expressing the deliberate and cherished sentiments of those who have adopted them, recognize the existence of the state of assurance. The Confession of Faith, adopted by the American Congregational Churches in 1680, has the following expressions in a short chapter especially devoted to this subject. “Such as believe in the Lord Jesus and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life
be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace; and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.” And in accordance with this view, Dr. Hopkins, the learned author of a system of theology and a member of the religious denomination whose belief on this subject has been given in the passage just quoted, says, “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.” [Hopkins’ System of Doctrines, Part. 2d. Ch. 4.] And he adds very correctly, that it is the duty of Christians “constantly to have and maintain this assurance.” And it may be proper to add here, that the doctrine of Assurance, generally expressed by the phrase Assurance of Faith, was formerly more familiar to the public mind in this country, as it seems to me, than it is at present. In the early periods of our country’s history, the subject of religion took the precedence of every other subject, and men were expected, under the thorough discipline of the Word and of Providence, not merely to believe faintly and doubtfully, but to believe with that higher degree of religious trust, which is expressed by assurance. A writer in the recently published work, entitled the Great Awakening, in giving an account of a meeting of Ministers in Boston, more than a hundred years ago, at which he himself was present, says, “Our conversation was upon Assurance; the grounds of it, the manner of obtaining it, and the special operation of the Holy Spirit therein. A very useful conversation.”

4.—The experience of assurance of faith involves the experience of appropriating faith. Appropriation may exist without assurance; but, such is the relation of ideas and doctrines in the two cases, that assurance cannot exist without appropriation. The person who exercises Appropriating faith, believes in Christ, not only as the sacrifice for men generally, and believes in the promises of God not merely as promises available to men generally, but unites the object of faith with the subject of faith; and believes in Christ as a Savior applicable and
savingly available in his own case, and in the promises, as belonging to himself. Assurance of faith, without being the same thing as appropriation of faith, includes all this; but it includes also or rather it implies something more. In other words, assurance of faith differs from appropriation of faith, which may be more or less decided and strong according to the circumstances of the case, chiefly in the particular of carrying the act of belief or faith to the highest degree. He, who is in the state of assurance of faith, does not believe in his acceptance with God feebly and inefficiently. The faith, which he exercises, is a strong faith; so much so, as the term assurance itself obviously indicates, as altogether to exclude the feeling of uncertainty.

5.—We think it cannot well be doubted, that there have been individuals, both anciently and in modern times, who have been the subjects of this high religious state. And we see no reason, why, instead of being so unfrequent as it is, it should not be the common experience, the common state of Christians. There are some persons, it is true, of minds of so little capacity, that they seem almost incapable of fully understanding the grounds of a perfected Christian life. Others appear to combine, with an adequate understanding, a want of decision, a weakness of purpose, which vitiates and annuls what their reason approves and instigates. And others, again, in consequence of a disordered state of the nervous system, or for some other cause, may be described as constitutionally subject to a sort of conceptive and apparitional experience, or what is hardly more favorable, are under the influence of strong and variable emotional impulses, which throw them off from the true track. But with some exceptions of this kind, in which charity, prompted by the acknowledged existence of unusual human infirmity, is disposed, without making any unwarrantable allowances, to diminish, nevertheless, its favorable anticipations, every Christian is very reasonably and justly expected, not only to have faith, but to become
assured in faith; to be not only the servant, but the child of God; and to walk with God, and to live with God in the most intimate, affectionate, and sacred communion.

6.—It is a matter of gratitude, that some persons have recognized the responsibility, which rests upon them; and have been enabled, under the divine influence and blessing, to become what they felt that they ought to be. It would not be difficult to enumerate individuals, in all the various denominations of Christians, who have lived for a considerable length of time, in entire union with God, and in full assurance. A few years since an elder of a Presbyterian church in Ohio died at a very advanced age. He informed his Pastor on his dying bed, that his attention to religious things had been awakened, and that he had become a subject of religious experience and hope under the ministry of Whitefield, at the age of fifteen. His long life had been distinguished for its blameless innocence, its strong faith, its meek and humble devotedness to God. And he was enabled, with thankfulness to the divine grace which he had experienced, to assure his Pastor, in the course of this conversation, that, during the seventy years which had intervened since his conversion,
“he had never had a dark hour.” A certain person once wrote to Mrs. Hester Ann Rogers, a woman of intelligence and of remarkable piety, for the purpose of ascertaining from her explicitly and decisively, whether she could speak with confidence of being in that state of assured or perfected faith and love, which she had long aimed to realize. She answered, not, so far as we can perceive, in the spirit of unreflecting and hasty presumption, but because she could not do otherwise under the facts of her inward experience, in the following words: “Blessed be God, I have not the shadow of a doubt. Even Satan himself finds these suggestions vain, and has left them off. He would rather lead me to doubt, or care for to-morrow; saying such and such a thing is at hand, and will overcome thee. Thou wilt fall in some of thy trials; or, when death comes, thou wilt be under a cloud. But through divine grace I am enabled to discern whence these suggestions come, and they never distress me for a moment; for, by constantly looking to Jesus, I receive fresh strength in every time of need.” [Experience and Spiritual Letters of Mrs. Hester Ann Rogers, Letter VIII.] “I suppose that the learned and pious Hermann Francke, whose name is permanently associated with the erection of the celebrated Orphan House at Halle in Germany, must have known something of this state, when near the close of a long life devoted with almost unexampled fidelity to holy objects, he exclaimed, “I praise thee, dear Savior, that thou hast purified me from sin, and made me a king and a priest unto God.”

7.—Such instances, though less numerous than they should be, are still to be found, from time to time, in the history of the church. But it seems to be hardly necessary to enumerate them, when we find in the Scriptures, as we have already had occasion to notice, such clear announcements of the doctrine under consideration, and such striking illustrations of it. The Apostle Paul, for instance, could have had no doubt, either as to his love of God or his acceptance with God, when he exclaimed,
“I am now ready to be offered, and, the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at the last day.”

8.—Assuming, in connection with what has been said, the great desirableness of this state, and the obligation resting upon every Christian to aim at the possession of it, we proceed to make a few additional remarks. And one remark is this. Whatever may be true in regard to the lower degrees of religious faith, we may regard it as a fixed principle, that there can be no such thing as assurance of faith,
without the antecedent existence of personal and entire consecration. Assurance of faith, as the phrase appears to be understood by those, who have written upon the subject, is not merely an assured faith, that God has an existence, or that he is good and just; but it is an assurance or assured belief that God is the God, the Father, and Friend of the subject of this faith. In other words, it is a state of mind, existing on the part of the subject of it, which excludes doubt in relation to his own personal and religious acceptance. The Christian, who possesses it, is enabled to speak in the first person. With a calm, unwavering, rejoicing confidence, and still without presumption, he can say of Christ, that he is MY Savior; and can say of God, that he is MY God, MY Father, MY Friend.

Now we do not hesitate to say, that this can never be done by a person, who has not seriously and fully consecrated himself to God. Not to consecrate ourselves to God, with a fixed purpose to do his will, is the same thing, as it seems to us, or at least is essentially the same thing, as deliberately to sin against God. Certain it is, that he, who is not willing to consecrate himself to God with a full purpose to conform to his designs, is willing to sin against him, when a favorable opportunity presents. It is not too much to say, that he is conscious, and must be conscious, at the present moment, of sinning against God in his heart. It is obviously impossible, that a person in this state of mind, if he has any proper conceptions of God’s law and of God’s character, should have a full assurance of being the subject of his acceptance and favor. No person, therefore, whatever other degrees of faith he may have, can enjoy full assurance of faith, who is not conscious, that he has in all things, and for all time to come, and with all the powers of perception and volition which he possesses, consecrated himself to God without reserve.

9.—A belief of our acceptance with God, founded on the fact of our entire consecration to him,
taken in connection with the declarations and promises of God’s Word, is such a belief, as “no one,” in the language of Dr. Hopkins, “would have reason to call in question.” The evidence in the case is not what might be called by a term, which numerous facts in ecclesiastical history render almost an indispensable one, “apparitional” evidence; that is to say, the evidence of outward appearances and manifestations, the evidence of sights and sounds, of dreams and visions, upon which so many rely; but upon which the Bible no where authorizes us to place reliance. Nor is it what may be called “emotional evidence,” the evidence of mere joy and sorrow, upon which so many others rely; but which we obviously cannot rely upon with entire confidence, because our joys and sorrows are very variable, and may arise from causes, which are not religious, although they are frequently mistaken for such. It is the evidence, the divine and infallible evidence, of God’s Spirit testifying through the principle of faith; and that faith, which exists distinctly and quietly in our consciousness, just as any other analogous state of mind does, resting upon God’s immutable Word. If we have given ourselves to God to be wholly and forever his, then we have no reason for doubting, (and the testimony of the Holy Spirit revealed in the act of faith is in accordance with the fact,) that we are the children of God, since we have God’s immutable word, that we are such. “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18.

10.—Another remark, which we have to make, is this. Those, who are in assurance of faith, or who are aiming at and approximating that state, should
guard against the influence of former habits of unbelief. The fact, that they have given themselves wholly to God, and that he has promised to accept them, and that he does now accept them, while it furnishes ample basis of the assured belief of their acceptance with God, is not inconsistent with strong temptations to unbelief. Against the influence of these temptations they would do well carefully to guard. They should resist them, not only by prayers to God, but by fixed resolutions, by strong purposes; remembering that the doubts, which are thus suggested, and which they are thus called upon to resist, do not spring from real evidence adverse to their acceptance with God, but chiefly from the influence of a species of infirmity and vacillation of mind resulting from former habits of unbelief.

11.—The state of assurance, exalted as it obviously is, is not an unchangeable state. Persons, who are in this state, are not only subject to strong temptations, but they sometimes fall into sin. And Satan will be likely to suggest to them under such circumstances, not only that the transgression of those, who have been so highly favored, is peculiarly aggravated, as it certainly is; but particularly that
there no longer remains any hope for them, or but very little hope, in the divine mercy. We remark again, therefore, that no place should be given to such an unworthy suggestion as this. There is the same fountain of redemption opened for souls in the most advanced state of grace, when they fall into sin, as for the errors and sins of those, who have made the least progress. If, therefore, in any moment of imperfect inward recollection, or of sudden temptation, the soul is removed from its Centre, and is led into any form of transgression, it should at once look to God with confidence, however deeply unworthy it may be; and repenting in the very moment of the perception of its wrong-doing, should believe, and be forgiven.

12.—Persons, who are in the state of assurance of faith, possess, as a natural result of their assurance, all other Christian graces in a high degree; perhaps we may say, in the highest degree, especially love. Faith, if it exists in the degree in which it ought to exist, is the root, the fountain, from which all other Christian graces will certainly flow, both on their appropriate occasions and in their appropriate strength.