Assurance and Perseverance
by Augustus TopladySOME would fain persuade us that it is impossible for us to receive knowledge of salvation by the remission of sin. Such a denial is very opposite to the usual tenor of God’s proceeding with His people in all ages. The best believers, and the strongest, may indeed have their occasional fainting fits of doubt and diffidence, as to their own particular interest in Christ; nor should I have any great opinion of that man’s faith who was to tell me that he never had any doubts at all. But still there are golden seasons when the soul is on the mount of communion with God; when the Spirit of His Son shines into our hearts, giving us boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him. Moreover, a person who is at all conversant with the spiritual life, knows as certainly whether he indeed enjoys the light of God’s countenance, or whether he walks in darkness, as a traveler knows whether he travels in sunshine or in rain. And as a good man observes, “It is no presumption to read what was God’s gracious purpose toward us of old, when He, as it were, prints His secret thoughts, and makes them legible in our effectual calling. In this case we do not go up to heaven, and pry into God’s secrets, but heaven comes down to us and reveals them.”
It may indeed be objected that the Scripture doctrine of assurance when realized into an actual possession of the privilege, “may tend to foster pride, and promote carelessness.” It cannot lead to pride; for all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious know by indubitable experience (and one fact speaks louder than a hundred speculations), that believers are then lowest, at God’s footstool, when they are highest on the mount of assurance. Much indulgence from earthly parents may indeed be productive of real injury to their children; but not so are the smiles of God, for the sense of His favor sanctifies while it comforts.—Nor can the knowledge of interest in His love tend to make us heedless how we behave ourselves in His sight. During those exalted moments, when grace is in lively exercise, when the disciple of Christ experiences “The soul’s calm sunshine, and the heartfelt joy,”—corrupt nature, (that man of sin within), and every vile affection, are stricken as it were with a temporary apoplexy; and the believer can no more, for the time being, commit willful sin than an angel of light would dip his wings in mud. No, it is when we come down from the mount, and mix again with the world, that we are in danger of breaking the law.
“But is it not enthusiasm to talk of holding intercourse with God, and of knowing ourselves to be objects of His special love?” No more enthusiastical (so we keep within Scripture-bounds) than it is for a favorite child to converse with his parents, and to know that they have a particular affection for him. Neither, in the strictest reason and nature of things, is it at all absurd to believe and expect that God can and does and will communicate His favor to His people, and manifest Himself to them as He does not to the world at large (John 14:21).
Yet, though God is thus graciously indulgent to many of His people (I believe to all of them at some time or other between their conversion and death); still, if they trespass against Him, He will not let their offences pass unnoticed nor uncorrected. Though grace itself is not liable to be lost, the comfort of it may be sinned away. Salvation is sure to all the redeemed; but the joy of it may be lost (Psa 51:12). Great peace have they that love Thy law; and they only. Holiness and consolation are wisely and intimately connected. In proportion as we are enabled to live near to God, to walk humbly and closely with Him, and to keep our moral garments clean, we may hope for freedom of intercourse with Him, and to assure our hearts before him (1 John 3:19); like the happy believers of old, concerning whom it is said that they walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:31).
Let not, however, what has been observed concerning the blessing of assurance, stumble or discourage the feeble of God’s flock, on whom, for reasons wise and good, it may not hitherto have been His pleasure to bestow this unspeakable gift. The Scripture plainly and repeatedly distinguishes between faith, the assurance of faith, and the full assurance of faith; and the first may exist where the other two are not. I know some who have, for years together, been distressed with doubts and fears, without a single ray of spiritual comfort all the while. And yet I can no more doubt of their being true believers than I can question my own existence as a man. I am sure they are possessed not only of faith in its lowest degree, but of that which Christ Himself calls great faith (Matt 8:10); for they can at least say, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and Thy servant shall be healed. Faith is the eye of the soul, and the eye is said to see almost every object but itself; so that you may have real faith without being able to discern it. Nor will God despise the day of small things.—Little faith goes to heaven no less than great faith, though not so comfortably, yet altogether as surely. If you come merely as a sinner to Jesus, and throw yourself, at all events, for salvation on His blood and righteousness alone, and the grace and promise of God in Him, you are as truly a believer as the most triumphant saint that ever lived. And amidst all your weakness, distresses and temptations, remember that God will not cast out nor cast off the meanest and unworthiest soul that seeks salvation only in the name of Jesus Christ the righteous. When you cannot follow the rock, the rock shall follow you; nor ever leave you for so much as a single moment, on this side the heavenly Canaan. And if you feel your absolute want of Christ, you may, on all occasions, and in every exigence, betake yourself to the covenant love and faithfulness of God, for pardon, sanctification and safety, with the same fullness of right and title as a traveler leans upon his own staff, or as a weary laborer throws himself on his own bed, or as an opulent nobleman draws upon his own banker for whatever sum he needs.
Next I shall warn you against another limb of Arminianism totally contrary to sound doctrine; I mean that tenet which asserts the possibility of falling finally from a state of real grace. God does not give, and then take away. He does indeed frequently take away what He only lent; such as health, riches, friends, and other temporal comforts: but what He gives, He gives forever. In a way of grace, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom 11:29). He will never repent of bestowing them, and every attribute He has forbids Him to revoke them (Luke 10:42). In Hebrews 13:5, He says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” And in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand.” ‘True,’ said an Arminian schismatic, ‘Christ’s sheep cannot be plucked forcibly out of His hand by others; but they themselves may slip through His hands, and so fall into hell and be eternally lost.’ They may slip, may they? As if the Mediator in preserving His people, held only a parcel of eels by the tail! Is not this a shameless way of slipping through a plain text of Scripture? I would fain ask the slippery sophister how we are to understand that part of the passage that expressly declares concerning Christ’s people, that they shall never perish, since perish they necessarily must and certainly would, if eventually separated from Christ; whether they were to be plucked out of His hands, or whether they were only to slip thru them. I conclude then that the promise made to the saints, that they shall never perish, secures them equally against the possibility of being either wrested from Christ’s hand or of their falling from it: since, could one or the other be the case, perish they must, and Christ’s promise would fall to the ground.
In a word, if any of God’s people can be finally lost, it must be occasioned either by their departing from God, or by God’s departure from them. But they are certainly and effectually secured against these two and these only possible sources of apostacy. For thus runs the covenant of grace: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer 32:40). Now if God will neither leave them, nor suffer them to leave Him, their final perseverance in grace to glory must be certain and infallible.
I must not however conclude without observing that irreversible justification on God’s part, and subjective assurance of perseverance on ours, do by no means invest an offending Christian with immunity from sufferings and chastisement. Thus Nathan said to David, “The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die”; yet he was severely chastised, though not disinherited for his transgressions. The tenor of God’s immutable covenant with the Messiah, and with His people in Him, is this:
“His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and His throne as the days of heaven. If His children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments, then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips.” I have sworn once for all, by My holiness, that I will not lie unto Jesus the Anti-typical David, by suffering any of His redeemed people to perish. Hence, as it is presently added, they shall be established for ever, as the moon; and as a faithful witness in heaven; nay, they shall stand forth and shine when the sun is turned into darkness, and the moon into blood; when the stars shall drop from their orbits, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
As an excellent person somewhere observes, “Our own unbelief may occasionally tear the copies of the covenant given us by Christ, but unbelief cannot come at the covenant itself, Christ keeps the original deed in heaven with Himself, where it can never be lost.”
How blessed are the eyes that see, how happy are the hearts that feel, the propriety and energy of these inestimable truths! How ought such to demonstrate their gratitude by a practical glorification of God, in their bodies and in their spirits, which are His!
Remember who it is that has made you to differ from others; and that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven (John 3:27). Not unto us, therefore O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name alone be the praise of every gift, and of every grace ascribed; for Thy loving mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.