Heading for Heaven
Now, there are just four things which I wish to bring before you, and it may perhaps clear our way if I name them to you at once:
1. First,c then, I will try to show you that an assured hope, such as Paul here expresses, is a true and Scriptural thing.
2. Secondly, I will make this broad concession, that a man may never arrive at this assured hope, and yet be saved.
3. Thirdly, I will give you some reasons why an assured hope is exceedingly to be desired.
4. Lastly, I will try to point out some causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained.
1. First, then, I said, an assured hope is a true and Scriptural thing.
Assurance, such as Paul here expresses, is not a mere fancy or feeling. It is not the result of high animal spirits or a lively temperament of body. It is a positive gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed without reference to men's bodily frames or constitutions, and a gift which every believer in Christ should aim at and seek after.
The word of God appears to me to teach, that a believer may arrive at an assured confidence with regard to his own salvation.
I lay it down deliberately that a true Christian or converted man may reach that comfortable degree of faith, that in general he shall feel confident as to the safety and forgiveness of his own soul, shall seldom be troubled with doubts, seldom be distracted with hesitations, seldom be distressed with anxious questionings, seldom be alarmed about his own state; he may have many an inward conflict with sin, but he shall look forward to death, like Paul, without trembling, and to judgment without dismay.
Such is my account of assurance. Mark it well. I say neither less nor more.
Now such a statement as this is often disputed and denied. Many cannot see it at all.
The Church of Rome denounces assurance in the most unmeasured tones. The Council of Trent declares roundly that "a believer's assurance of the pardon of his sin is a vain and ungodly confidence"; and Cardinal Bellarmine, their well-known champion, calls it a "prime error of heretics."
The great majority of the worldly among ourselves oppose the doctrine of assurance. It offends and annoys them. They do not like others to feel comfortable and sure, because they never feel so themselves. That they cannot receive it is certainly no marvel!
But there are also some true believers who reject assurance. They shrink from it as a notion fraught with danger. They consider it borders on presumption. They seem to think it a proper humility to live in a certain degree of doubt. This is to be regretted, and does much harm.
I frankly allow there are some presumptuous fools who profess to feel a confidence for which they have no Scripture warrant. There always are some who think well of themselves when God thinks ill, just as there are some who thing ill of their own case when God thinks well. There always will be such. There never yet was a Scriptural truth without abuses, impositions and counterfeits. Weeds will grow as well as wheat in rich ground. There will be fanatics as long as the world stands. But for all this, an assured hope is a real and true thing. My answer to all who deny the existence of real well-grounded assurance is simply this, "Look at Scripture." If assurance be not there I have not another word to say.
But does not Job say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" Job 14:25, 26)?
Does not David say, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4)?
Does not Isaiah say, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3)? and again, "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (32:17)?
Does not Paul say to the Romans, "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16)? and to the Corinthians, "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God" (2 Corinthians 5:1)? and to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him" (2 Timothy 1:12)? And does He not speak to the Colossians of the "full assurance of understanding" (Colossians 2:2), and to the Hebrews of the "full assurance of faith and of hope" (Hebrews 6:2)?
Does not Peter expressly say, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10)?
Does not John say, "We know that we have passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14)? and "These thing have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God: that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13), "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19)?
Brethren, I desire to speak with all humility on every controverted point. I feel that I am only a poor fallible child of Adam myself. But I must say that in the passages I have quoted I see something far higher than the mere "hopes," and "trusts", where so many appear content to stop. I see the language of persuasion, confidence, knowledge, nay, I might almost say of certainty - and I feel for my own part, if I may take the Scriptures in their plain obvious meaning, assurance is true.
But my answer furthermore to all who dislike the doctrine of assurance, as bordering on presumption, is this. It cannot be presumption to tread in the steps of Peter and Paul, of John and of Job. They were all eminently humble and lowly-minded men, if ever any were, and yet they all speak of their own state with an assured hope. Surely this should teach us that deep humility and strong assurance are by no means incompatible, and for this simple reason, if for no other, the charge of presumption falls to the ground.
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 25)