What minister has in his congregational work not had to deal with the question of the certainty of faith! He not only has had to treat this question in his public discourses on the pulpit, but also has met with it in his personal contact with the flock as a shepherd. He meets with it in sick visitation as well as in the annual family visitation.
This subject may therefore well be considered to be of vital importance in the life of God’s children. It touches the very heart-strings of Christian experience. It is up-to-date, actual, timely. With a great degree of satisfaction we undertake to write a short essay on this subject. We feel confident that the treatment of this weighty subject will meet with the general sympathy of the reading public of our magazine.
For the proper understanding of our subject it will first of all be necessary to define and limit our subject.
As the subject is formulated, there are two possible angles from which it can be discussed.
We might expect here a treatment of the concept “faith.” Attention would then be called to the element of the certainty whereby faith is characterized; or more pointedly it could be formulated: the certainty that faith gives. Attention would then be called to the intrinsic nature of faith. An attempt would then have to be made to answer question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is true faith?”
A vivid illustration of this angle of faith we have inwhere we read: “Faith is the substance (foundation) of the things hoped for, the evidence of the things not seen.”
A discussion of this nature would be too academic and abstract to deserve serious consideration at this time.
The second phase of this subject is the “certainty” of faith referring to our personal, subjective assurance of being in the faith! We would then write on the assurance of faith in the believer—the assurance spoken of so beautifully in the Heidelberg Catechism. We quote: “that to me also remission of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given of God, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
It is to this phase of the assurance of faith that we call your attention. We will therefore write on the personal assurance of participating in the salvation of Christ,
Treating the subject from this viewpoint we find ourselves touching the heart of a vital problem. We may add, that it is a problem upon which the Word of God sheds a great deal of light. The teaching of Scripture is clear and lucid on this point; in fact so clear that one can only attribute ignorance of it to our being “slow to believe all that the Scripture speaks” regarding this truth.
Let us turn to the Word of God.
For the sake of clarity I will attempt to prove three propositions from Holy Writ. They are: 1. That according to the Word of God to be assured of our personal salvation is our sacred privilege and inexorable duty. 2. The assurance of faith is the fruit of the testimony of the Word and Spirit in our hearts. 3. The consciousness of the testimony of the Spirit is only to be had in our walk of sanctification.
We begin with the first of three propositions.
In the unsearchable wisdom and love of God, His children need not wait until the final day of their life, nor to the close of history, to know whether their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. They need not sing, “Is my name written there?. . .Tell me Jesus my Savior, is my name written there?” without in this life gaining an answer to this question, so that they may “rejoice that their names are written in heaven.” God’s name be praised.
We lead in“in whom we have the boldness and access in confidence through faith in Him (Christ). And again in after the apostle stipulated the necessary natural and spiritual qualifications of a deacon, he says the following of such a Christian who serves well, “they gain to themselves a good standing (degree) and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” And in we read: “We know (are assured) that we have passed from death into life. . .” And idem 24 reads as follows: And in this we know that He (Christ) remaineth in us. . . .Again we read in “For we know (are assured) that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Finally attention should be called to “For I am persuaded that. . . .nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
From the passages quoted the outstanding element is that the believer has certainty of faith, and a good conscience toward God.
Scripture also clearly teaches us that it is our duty to make our election sure. We read in“Wherefore brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure.” And again the apostle charges us in as follows: “Try your own selves whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves that Christ Jesus is in you? Unless indeed ye be reprobate.”
We deem that our first proposition is sufficiently sustained.
Let us now pay attention to what Scripture says of our second proposition, namely, that assurance of the faith is due to the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts.
That such is indeed the case is very clearly taught in Holy Writ. We read inb. “But if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
Again we read in verse 14, “For as many as are led by His Spirit these are the sons of God.” Inb we read: “And no one can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.”
The indispensableness of the Spirit unto sonship and the assurance of the same is clearly taught in these passages. For the Spirit, that we have received from the Father in our hearts, is not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry: Abba, Father! This Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.
There are other passages in the Bible which stress the importance of the work of the Spirit in view of our certainty of the final victory in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Inwe read: “in whom (Christ) we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge (assurance) of our inheritance. . . unto the praise of His glory.” It is by this Spirit that we “are sealed unto the day of redemption.” . More clearly this is stated in where we read: “Now He that establishes us with you in Christ is God, who also gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” And finally Paul speaking of his certainty that mortality shall be swallowed up of life, says: “Now He that hath wrought us for this very thing is God, Who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit.” .
This testimony of the Spirit must not be divorced from the testimony of the Scriptures. The testimony of the Scriptures is the testimony of the Spirit. For holy men wrote this Word being moved by the Holy Spirit.. Does not Peter speak in of what “the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of David concerning Judas”? This is an extremely important point, which must not be overlooked. That the Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures is denied by false mysticism, by Quakers and Anabaptists and similar sects. And let it not be overlooked that it is exactly at this point that the extremes of rationalism and mysticism meet.
Christ teaches us inthat the Spirit has no content of Himself; that the testimony of the Spirit is connected with the work of the Son. We quote: “But when that one shall come, namely, the Spirit of Truth, He shall lead into all the Truth. For He shall not speak from Himself, but whatsoever He heareth that He shall speak, and declare to you the coming things. That One shall glorify Me, because He shall receive out of mine and declare it unto you. All things which the Father hath are mine. Therefore I said, that He shall take out of mine and declare it unto you.”
A very dear illustration of this relationship we have in the letters to the “Seven Churches” in Asia Minor, The Son of Man, the Christ standing in the midst of the “Seven Candlesticks” has John write as many letters; one to the Angel of each church. At the end of each of these letters we read the admonition: “He that hath ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” How intimate the testimony of the Scriptures and that of Christ and the Spirit are, is evidently set forth in the above, we feel certain!
All this brings us in our discussion to our third proposition, namely that the Spirit’s testimony of our sonship, and thus the consciousness of the assurance of faith is ours in the way of sanctification.
The truth of this proposition is evident first of all from the axiom: “From their fruits ye shall know them.” This is indeed applied by Jesus in to false prophets, but it must not therefore be limited to them. It is of wider application. Thus in we read: “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.” Notice the standard here is: The fruits of a living faith. Compare ff., . The same is true in “And hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. By way of contrast this same principle is seen in where we read: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.”
But why quote more? Does not scripture call the “pure in heart blessed”?
There is however one point yet to which we must return. We have stated that the Spirit testifies to our consciousness by means of the Scriptures. Now we state that He testifies that we are children only in the way of a godly walk. What is the inter-relationship between these two?
Let us notice the following:
This is also the stand of the fathers of Dordrecht.
In Chapter I, Art. 12, 13 they in substance confess the truth as we have attempted to formulate it in this article.
The Divine pedagogy of this is that we shall constantly gird up the loins of our mind and be spiritually sober. Sober in keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, and running the race with patience. And now in the battle, in our struggling have the assurance of faith! For he that thus endures to the end shall be saved!