It is not the thrust of the doctrine of assurance to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs, nor to put a stumbling-block before God’s little ones, but to expose empty profession resting in carnal confidence on promises divine given only to those in Christ (II Cor. 1:20), and to so present the truth that the weak in faith will not conclude that they are unregenerate.
Assurance is not reached by a mere bare simple faith in Christ. That never did save. For from a true faith then issues the fruit of repentance. That, too, is as essential to salvation as faith. Another fruit of true faith is that of good works (James 2:20). Faith which remains alone, which neither purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), nor works by love (Cal. 5:6), nor overcomes the world (I John 5:4) will not save for time and eternity.
That we are saved by Christ means that we are saved from something, and more than from the punishment of hell. That which condemns to hell is wickedness and sin (Psalm 9:17). At the very beginning of the New Testament we read that the Son of God was called Jesus because He Himself shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). This fact which God puts to the front of the Gospel revelation, modern psychologists and psychiatrists shunt to the rear. But the Word of God first reveals from what we are saved, then for what!
From your upbringing on the Heidelberg Catechism, you have learned in the preaching that the Christian has been saved from sin. You have undoubtedly learned that this means to be saved from the love of sin. The heart of the natural man is in love with everything opposed to God. He may not confess this act, admit it or be conscious of it, but it is true nevertheless. With his whole nature in opposition to God (Rom. 8:7), and having been shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, he cannot help but be entranced with that which is part of his moral being. Therefore he is condemned in the judgment of God not only because of his unbelief (John 3:18), but also because he loves darkness rather than light (v. 19). Unless he is given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) from above (John 3:27) he will never remove from that natural condition of spiritual death to one of life. It will take the might of the risen Mediator to make him abhor himself (Job 42:6) and to hate sin sufficiently to forsake it. Then he will bear the mark of one saved. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Prov. 8:13).
To be saved from sin also means to he saved from the allowance of it. The natural tendency is to excuse all wrong-doing, to ignore it, or throw the onus onto someone else. In Paradise, Adam, to begin with, would not confess his guilt, but blamed his wife. Eve was no different; she would not admit her sin, but attempted to blame the serpent. But he that is spiritual has a different view of sin committed. “That which I do (amiss, RCH), I allow not” (Rom. 7:15). The Christian does commit sin, because in him there is still the flesh, and in the flesh is no good thing (v. 18), but he does not condone it, nor defend it. He confesses it to God, mourns on account of it, repents of it, and prays to he kept from temptation in the future.
To be saved from the dominion of sin, or the slavish mastery of sin is also meant. Always the Christian is plagued with indwelling sin, so that he is constantly tempted, annoyed, wounded and daily tripped up by sin. “In many things we all offend” (James 3:2). But the Christian is not a bondslave to sin, so that the difference between him and one who is lies in the fact that he puts up a line of resistance to sin, opposing it. He may be hardly more than a Mr. Little-faith or a Much-afraid in his fight, yet he is no vassal of Satan. Sin does not have dominion over the one whose life is characterized by repentance, prayer, desire for righteousness and holiness, and a pressing toward the mark of perfect obedience. Although there are no degrees of regeneration among God’s people, there are degrees of spiritual growth. Some have more knowledge than others. One has more wisdom than another. Where one escapes sins of commission, he is at fault with sins of omission. Yet no child of God has sin for his master.
Nevertheless, if your experience is anything like mine, there are times when you think that sin rules you completely. To be honest with yourself, there is little that you can see in yourself but sin and constantly repeated sin which seems to characterize your existence. When you would do good, evil is present with you. There is so much of unbelief in your faith. Your surrender to the Lord is not without a lurking element of rebellion. Your attainment to a degree of humility is not without a surging of pride. You cannot meditate a quarter of an hour on holy things without the intrusion of evil imaginations; or pray for five minutes without the mind wandering. The more mature effort you make to conquer these sins, the farther you seem to be from victory.
If this somewhat accurately describes your condition, take comfort in this that such concern over sin is a sign that you are not one of those completely under the power of sin. The mark of the Christian is not that he is without sin, but that he grieves over sin. The spiritually dead neither feel nor care about sin. Perhaps father or mother (or grandparents) can tell you that in some respects they are not as happy in the Lord as in younger days. For “he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18). But do not let that discourage you. The more you learn of sin and self, the more you will be dissatisfied with self, and learn to find your joy in Christ alone. As we advance in years, we grow in grace, that is, we grow in the knowledge of our sinfulness. Spiritual sight is increasingly restored to us. We see in ourselves distressing miseries to which “worldlings” and “religionists” are blind.
Another fact which should comfort you as a child of the covenant is that although there is in you as a Christian inborn sin, there is also alongside it true grace. The principle of sin operates in your members. But so does the principle of grace. As a child of God, grace is also active within you. It is not true that with you it is nothing but sin. Of course, you will admit and confess that nothing good can come from ourselves, that is, from the old, natural self. But there is in you that miracle of the Holy Spirit which the Scripture calls regeneration, and that influences your life and conduct for good. Though it be but a new beginning of righteousness, it is an undeniable work of grace in you. For it is this wonder of grace which makes you desire to be conformed to the image of the Son, to trust Him with all your heart, to love him with a pure heart fervently and to serve Him with unstinted diligence. Such aspirations come not from the flesh. That being true, sin does not have ruling power over you; grace does! The natural man is under the dominion of sin. He proves it by banishing from his life a praying without ceasing and a constant seeking of fellowship with the Lord. The reading of Holy Writ is never his desire. He never reads this magazine. He never reads one article in The Standard Bearer unless nagged into it. In the natural man there is no resistance to sin. Spiritually, he is a dead fish who floats along with the current — the current fails, fashions, foibles and effeminate idols so widely and wildly adulated. That man has not been saved from the penalty of sin, is not being saved from the power of sin and has not the daily longing to be saved from the presence of sin.
Now, relative to this matter of assurance of salvation, the blessed possession of such cannot come by any pretense to it, nor by the boast of pardon, nor by assumed possession of eternal life. This avails nothing where there is no deep and godly sorrow for sin, no regret over and indignation against it, and no self-detestation because of frequent falls into sin. For where these spiritual qualifications are lacking there is no knowledge at all of what genuine assurance is.
As to the basis of Christian assurance, it has not only to do with the ground of one’s acceptance before God, but also with one’s own knowledge of that acceptance. In the sight of the highest court of appeal, that of God Almighty, I am accepted in the beloved One only because of the righteousness of Christ, which He earned and purchased by His perfect, spotless life and vicarious death. In that righteousness, I have a legal standing before God which is as acceptable and perfect as Christ’s at the right hand of God. What, however, will enable me to see and firmly believe that that righteousness has been put to my account? Nothing but that new regenerated life created in me by the Spirit of God! He who has such a perfect position before God will also come to know by experience that the Lord justifies, saves and sanctifies. He will not only believe the imputed righteousness of Christ, but he will know the imparted righteousness of Christ which makes him a new creature in Christ. Only as the latter can he know the former.
That ground goes deeper. The ground of assurance goes back to election. It stands on that basis. The matter of election is not one of the secret things that belongs exclusively to God. It is revealed, and belongs to us. It is intended for our knowledge. “Knowing, brethren, beloved, your election of God’’ (1 Thess. 1:4). How may we know and be assured of our election? Thus: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10). Why does Peter employ this order of calling before election? Because he intends not so much the fact of election as the knowledge of election. The fact of it is taken up in Rom. 8:29, 30. “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called.’’ In the reference, “your calling and election,” the experience of it is in view. In Romans, Paul writes of the elect’s position as viewed in the eternal counsel of God. Peter writes of the elect’s knowledge of this in Christian experience.
The Christian is directed along Assurance Road with evidence that he is effectually called and elect of God. To make this sure to himself, something more than resting upon John 3:16 or John 5:24 or Acts 16:31 is needed. He professes to be a child of God, but he also has the mark and character of such which he will learn to detect. That character is identified to us in II Peter 1:5-7. Possessing, cultivating and practicing those virtues is the way in which we make our calling and election sure, through His divine power granted unto us (v. 3).