Heading for Heaven
But all this time, I would have you take notice, the poor soul may have no assurance of his acceptance with God. He may have fear upon fear, and doubt upon doubt, many a question, and many an anxiety, many a struggle and many a misgiving, clouds and darkness, storm and tempest to the very end.
I will engage, I repeat, that bare, simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he never attain to assurance; but I will not engage it shall bring him to heaven with strong and abounding consolations. I will engage it shall land him safe in harbor, but I will not engage he does not reach the shore weather-beaten and tempest-tossed, scarce knowing himself that he is safe.
Brethren, I believe it is of great importance to keep in view this distinction between faith and assurance. It explains things which an inquirer in religion sometimes finds it hard to understand. Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and never have the flower. Faith is that poor trembling woman, who came behind Jesus in the press, and touched the hem of His garment; assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saying, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Faith is the penitent thief crying, "Lord, remember me"; assurance is Job, sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Faith is Peter's drowning cry, as he began to sink, "Lord, save me"; assurance is that same Peter declaring before the council in after time, "There is none other name given under heaven whereby we can be saved; we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard." Faith is the still small voice, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief"; assurance is the confident challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? who is he that condemneth?" Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind, and alone; assurance is Paul the aged prisoner looking calmly into the grave, and saying, "I know whom I have believed; there is a crown laid up for me."
Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? Yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, smileless, to the last. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigor, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.
Brethren, it is not a question of saved or not saved, but of privilege or no privilege; it is not a question of peace or no peace, but of great peace or little peace; it is not a question between the wanderers of this world and the school of Christ, it is one that belongs only to the school, it is between the first form and the last. He that has faith does well. Happy should I feel, if I thought you all had it. Blessed, thrice blessed, are they that believe: they are safe; they are washed; they are justified; they are beyond the power of hell. But he that has assurance does far better, sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more, has more days like those spoken of in Deuteronomy, the days of heaven upon earth.
3. I pass on to the third thing of which I spoke. I will give you some reasons why an assured hope is exceedingly to be desired.
I ask your attention to this point especially. I heartily wish that assurance was more sough after than it is. Too many among us begin doubting and go on doubting, live doubting, die doubting, and go to heaven in a kind of mist. It would ill become me to speak slightingly of "hopes" and "trusts," but I fear many of us sit down content with them and go no further. I would like to see fewer "peradventures" in the Lord's family, and more who could say "I know, and am persuaded." Oh! that you would all covert the best gifts, and not be content with less. You miss the full tide of blessedness the gospel was meant to convey. You keep yourselves in a low and starved condition of soul, while your Lord is saying, "Eat and drink, O beloved, that your joy may be full."
I know then, for one thing, that assurance is a thing to be desired, because of the present joy and peace it affords. Doubts and fears have great power to mar the comfort of a true believer. Uncertainty and suspense are bad enough in any condition - in the matter of our health, our property, our families, our affections, our earthly callings - but never so bad as in the affairs of our souls. Now so long as a believer cannot get beyond "I hope and I trust," he manifestly feels a certain degree of uncertainty about his spiritual state. The very words imply as much: he says "I hope" because he dare not say "I know."
Assurance, my brethren, goes far to set a child of God free from this painful kind of bondage, and mightily ministers to comfort. It gives him joy and peace in believing. It makes him patient in tribulation, contented in trial, calm in affliction, unmoved in sorrow, not afraid of evil tidings. It sweetens his bitter cups, it lessens the burden of his crosses, it smooths the rough places on which he travels, it lightens the valley of the shadow of death. It makes him feel as if he had something solid beneath his feet and something firm under his hand, a sure Friend by the way and a sure home in the end. He feels that the great business of life is a settled business - debt, disaster, work, and all other business is by comparison small. Assurance will help a man bear poverty and loss, it will teach him to say, "I know that I have in heaven a better and more enduring substance. Silver and gold have I none, but grace and glory are mine and can never be taken away." Assurance will support a man in sickness, make all his bed, smooth his pillow. It will enable him to say, "If my earthly house of this tabernacle fail, I have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heaven ... I desire to depart and be with Christ. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever."
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 27)