Having noticed what was the occasion for this article, and having given our attention to the general lines thereof, we may now give our attention to the details of its contents.
We may notice, first of all, that the article speaks of “various carnal doubts” and of “grievous temptations.” These terms refer to the same reality from two different viewpoints. The term doubt looks at the reality under discussion in this article from the viewpoint of the saint himself: he doubts. The term temptation looks at that same reality from the viewpoint of its cause and occasion: the tempter comes and sows the seeds of doubt in the soul of the believer. These doubts that are sown by the tempter and that arise in the soul of the child of God are sinful: the article characterizes them as carnal. We must always remember this: doubt is sin. It is principally unbelief. And because it is principally unbelief, doubt is uncertainty: it is the opposite of assurance. If we ask the question, “How is it possible that a believer doubts?” the answer must be found along the following lines. In the first place, we may bear in mind that we are not now speaking of the essence and power of faith, which is never done away, but of the consciousness and activity of faith, which may vary and which may temporarily be defeated and disappear. And, in the second place, we must remember that the saint is imperfect, that he is not yet delivered from the body of sin and the infirmities of the flesh. And the believer arrives at a state of doubt when in his consciousness the infirmities of the flesh gain temporarily the upper hand over the consciousness of faith. These doubts may, as the article indicates, assume various forms. Sometimes the child of God finds himself in a very painful and crucial struggle to believe the Scriptures themselves. The devil, using the philosophy of vain man and the learning of so-called science, attacks the very veracity of the Scriptures and tempts the child of God to reject the Word of God. Sometimes the temptation of the devil causes God’s child for a time to fail as far as the personal appropriation of the truth of Scripture is concerned. Then that saint may say, “I believe that God’s Word is true all right, but I doubt whether I myself am a child of God.” The tempter may accomplish this purpose in more than one way too. A frequent method of the tempter is to cause misunderstanding on the part of the saint as to his state and his condition. As to his state, the saint is perfectly righteous in Christ; as to his condition, that same saint is far from perfection in this present life. The devil will take advantage of this situation and emphasize that in the light of all his sin and imperfection that saint cannot possibly lay claim to justification before God. And if by means of these accusations the devil can cause that saint to look away from Christ and from the fact that he is righteous in Christ by faith only, he can cast that saint into terrible doubt. But it may also be that the devil takes advantage of the imperfect condition of the child of God and tempts him to walk in sin for a time. The only result of such a walk in sin can be the lack of assurance. The way of assurance is the way of sanctification; the way of sin is the way of doubt. But whatever may be the various forms of these carnal doubts, and whatever may be the method used by the tempter in planting the seeds of doubt, we may be certain that somehow the doubting child of God is not walking in the way of assurance described in Article 10. Whether the devil attacks directly, or whether he takes advantage of our carnal nature to lead us into temptation, or whether he arouses misunderstanding on our part as to our state and our condition, or whether he capitalizes on our laxity in watching and praying, somehow he succeeds for a time in luring us away from the God-ordained way of assurance. Then only do doubts arise.
Now what is the solution for this doubt?
The problem does not concern the objective certainty of perseverance. That remains. The fact that the saints shall surely be preserved, the fact that the Holy Spirit is never wholly withdrawn from God’s people, the fact that they never lose the grace of adoption nor forfeit the state of justification, the fact that the incorruptible seed of regeneration can never be lost,—these all remain. But the subjective assurance of faith that I am and ever shall remain a living member of the church of Christ, that no one can pluck me out of Christ’s hand,—this is lost when I am cast into a state of doubt. That is the problem. And it is not necessary at all to elaborate on the misery of one who is subject to such doubts. Any child of God can find his own doubts and fears back in the expressions of many of the psalms.
Nor is the ultimate solution of the problem to be found in the counsel to return to the God-ordained path of assurance. That this is necessary cannot be questioned. And that it is necessary to admonish one who is assailed with doubt to examine himself as to the spiritual reason for that doubt and to turn from that way of doubt also cannot be questioned.
The problem is in the deepest sense: how is it possible to escape the clutches of the evil one and the despair of doubt and to regain the blessed peace of assurance? How is it possible that the believer in his “struggle with various carnal doubts” gains the victory over those doubts? Is the outcome of that struggle against doubt always a question, so that it might just as well be that carnal doubts are victorious as that faith is victorious?
The basic answer to this question is given by our fathers in this article. And whatever may be said about the spiritual cure for doubt, it must always be viewed against the background of the truth that is here laid down. That truth is, positively speaking, that God is the author of all assurance, not only initially but also in its continuation. And therefore, all our temptations take place absolutely within the limits of His will and in such a way that they can never be victorious ultimately in the life of the saints. Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith.” The outcome, the final issue, of the believer’s struggle with various carnal doubts is always assurance. He may struggle against doubt. He may even lose his assurance altogether for a time. He may fall deeply into temptation. But God Himself takes care that His child returns to the state of assurance ultimately. He is theFather of all consolation! All consolation must and does come from Him, in Christ Jesus, through the Spirit. In your deepest temptations and doubts, therefore, turn to Him!
The fathers quote here a very fitting word of Scripture from I Corinthians 10:13. The entire text reads: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Over against our temptations, which are “common to man,” or, literally, “human,” stands God. The contrast is not between the power of temptation and our merely human strength. Then the situation would be hopeless. For we succumb to the temptations. We are faithless. But God is faithful! And it is the power of His divine grace that is the solution to our temptations and their resultant doubts.
And the text teaches us, in the first place, therefore, that God Himself determines and limits the measure of our temptations: “he will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” The devil in all his assaults upon the faith of the saints is strictly limited. He cannot do what he wants. He would like to destroy the faith of the saints, but he can never succeed. He would like to deprive them permanently of their assurance, but this he can never do. God says to him: “Thus far, and no farther.” When He does so, the devil’s temptation must cease. God says: “This long, and no longer.” When He does so, the devil has no more leave to tempt. And the absolute limit of all temptation of the saints, beyond which the devil can never go, you have defined here: not above that they are able. This does not mean that the devil can never tempt successfully for a time; he surely can. We have already seen this in another connection. But he can never cause the saints to reach spiritually the “point of no return.” He can never tempt them in such a way that their faith as to its being, its power, is destroyed. He can cause them to fall very deeply, but never so deeply that the principle of the new life is totally lost. And this means, in turn, that the devil can never tempt in such a way that ultimately the believer loses the spiritual power to overcome the temptation. The power of the new life may retreat for a time and seem to be defeated. In the final analysis it triumphs, and the child of God returns into the right way of earnest repentance and conversion.
In the second place, however, the text from Corinthians teaches us that God also “with the temptations will make a way to escape.” The situation, therefore, is not thus merely, that God provides the saints with a certain amount of spiritual ability and power and that He does not allow them to be tempted beyond their power, but that it is entirely up to them to use that power and to escape the snare of temptation. Nor does the text in referring to a way to escape refer in general and objectively to the Scripturally designated way of repentance and prayer etc. God does not simply point out the way to escape temptation. He does not merely provide a possible way to escape. He provides an actual way of escape. Otherwise we would never escape. How is it that a child of God, who has in him the indestructible seed of regeneration, but who falls deeply into temptation and continues in sin for a time, how is it that suddenly such a child of God forsakes his sin and returns to God? You say: “The principle of the new life gained the victory.” Yes, but that seed of regeneration was there all the time. You say: “He was admonished and heeded the admonition.” Yes, but he was admonished all along, and he also had essentially the power to heed the admonition. You say: “The devil finally stopped tempting him.” Yes, he did; but what caused that man to rise up out of the depths into which he had been tempted and where the devil had left him at the end of that temptation? The answer is: God provides the way of escape. God by His Word and Spirit certainly and effectually renews that saint unto repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for his sins. God Himself causes His child to return to the God-ordained way of assurance. And the end can only be that by His Holy Spirit God again inspires him with the comfortable assurance of persevering.