THOUGHTS ON FAITH, AND THE
ASSURANCE OF FAITH.
WE may easily conceive of a tree without fruit, but the idea of fruit is naturally connected with that of some tree or shrub which produces it. In this sense, assurance is of the essence of faith ; that is, it springs from true faith, and can grow upon no other root. Faith likewise is the measure of assurance. While faith is weak (our Lord compares it in.its first principle, to a grain of mustard seed), assurance cannot be strong.
Jesus Christ the Lord is a complete all sufficient Saviour. His invitation to the weary and heavy laden is general, without exception, condition, or limitation. He has said, Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out. God not only permits,but commands us to believe in the Son of his love. The apostle affirms that he is able to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him. When Moses raised the brazen serpent in the wilderness, the direction to the wounded Israelites was very short and simple ;—it was only, Look, and live. Thus the Gospel addresses the sinner, Only believe, and thou shalt be saved.
Why then does not every sinner who is awakened to a sense of his guilt, danger, and helplessness, and whose desires are drawn towards the Saviour, believe with full confidence, even upon his first application for mercy? Is not the remedy fully adequate to the malady ? Is not the blood of Jesus able to cleanse from all sin ? Is not the word of the God of truth worthy of entire credit ? Yet with such a Saviour exhibited before the eyes of his mind, and with such promises sounding in his ears, he continues to hesitate and fluctuate between hope and "fear. Could he rely as firmly on the word of God, as he can on the word of a man, who, he thinks, means what he says, and is able to make good his promises, he would immediately be filled with joy and peace in believing. But experience and observation may convince us, that, however rational and easy this assurance may seem in theory, it is ordinarily unat. tainable in practice, without passing through a train of previous exercises and conflicts. <
It is true, young converts are often favored with comfortable impressions, which lead them to hope that their doubts and difficulties are already ended, when perhaps they are but just entering upon their warfare. They are brought, as it were, into a new world; a strong and lively sense of divine things engrosses their attention ; the world sinks into nothing in their esteem; the evil propensities which discourage them are overpowered for a season, and they hope they are quite subdued, and will trouble them no more. Their love, gratitude, praise, and admiration, are in vigorous .exercise. An aged, experienced Christian may recollect, with a pleasing regret, many', sweet sensations of this kind, in the early stages of his profession, which he cannot recall. But he now knows that the strong confidence he felt in these golden hours was not the assurance of faith ;—it was temporary and transient ;—it was founded upon what we call a good frame. Though his comforts were strong, his faith was weak ; for when .the good frame subsided, his fears returned, -his hope declined, and he was at his wit's end. Then, perhaps, he wondered at his own presumption, for daring to hope that such a creature as himself could have any right to the privileges of a believer. And if, in the warmth of his heart, he he had spoken to others of what God had done for his soul, he afterwards charged himself with being a, hypocrite, aud a false witness both to God and inan.. Thus, when the Israelites saw the Egyptians (who had pursued and terrified them) cast up dead upon the shore' of the Red Sea, they praised the Lord, and believed. They were little aware of the wilderness they had to pass through, and the trials they were to meet with, before they could enter the promised land. Such is .the progress of divine light in the mind : the first streaks of the dawn are seldom perceived ; but, by degrees, objects, till then unthought of, are disclosed. The evil of sin, the danger of the soul, the reality and importance of eternal things, are apprehended, and a hope of mercy through a Saviour is discovered, which prevents the sinner from sinking into absolute despair But for a time all is indistinct and confused. In this state of mind, many things are anxiously sought for as pre-requisites to believing, but they are sought in vain, for it is only by believing that they can be obtained. But the light increases, the sun arises, the glory of God in the pt rson of Jesus Christ shines in upon the soul. As the sun can only be seen by its own light, and diffuses that light by which other objects are clearly perceived ; so Christ crucified is the sun in the2 system ot revealed truth ; and the right knowledge of the doctrine of his cross satisfies the inquiring mind, proves itself to be the one thing needful, and the only thing necessary to silence the objections of unbelief and pride, and to afford a sure ground for solid and abiding hope.
But strong faith, and the effect of it, an abiding persuasion of our acceptance in the Beloved, and of our final perseverance in grace, are not necessarily connected with sensible comfort.—A strong faith can trust God in the dark, and say with Job, 'J Though he slay ;ne, yet will I trust in him." Yet it is not to be maintained without a diligent use of the instituted means of grace, and a conscientious attention to the precepts of the Gospel. For notions of truth, destitute of power, will not keep the heart in peace. But this power depends upon the influence of the Holy Spirit; and if He is grieved by the wilful commission of sin, or the wilful neglect of the precepts, he hides his face, suspends his influence, and then confidence must proportionably decline, till he is pleased to return and revive it. There are likewise bodily disorders, which, by depressing the animal spirits, darken and discolour the medium of our perceptions. If the enemy is permitted to take advantage of these seasons, he can pour in a flood of temptations, sufficient to fill the most assured believer with terror and dismay. But, ordinarily, they who endeavor to walk closelv and conscientiously with God, attain, in due time, an assurance of hope to the end, which is not easily nor often shaken, though it is not absolutely perfect, nor can be, while so much sin and imperfection remain in us.
If it be inquired why we cannot attain to this state of composure at first, since the object of faith and the promises of God are always the same ?— several reasons may be assigned.
Unbelief 'is the primary cause of all our inquietude, from the moment that our hearts are drawn to seek salvation by Jesus. This inability to take God at his word, should not be merely lamented as an infirmity, but watched, and prayed, and fought against as a great sin. A great sin indeed it is ; the very root of our apostacy, from- which every other sin proceeds. It often deceives us under the guise of humility, as though it would be presumption, in such sinners as we are, to believe the declarations of the God of truth. Many serious people, who are burdened with a sense of other sins, leave this radical evil out of the list. They rather indulge it, and think they ought not to believe, till they can find a warrant from marks and evidences within themselves. But this is an affront to the wisdom and goodness of God, who points put to us the Son of his love, as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, without any regard to what we have been, or to what we are, excepting that broken and contrite spirit which only himself can create in us. And this broken spirit, though unbelief perverts it to our discouragement, is the very temper in which the Lord delights, and a surer evidence of true grace than those which we are apt to contrive for ourselves. It is written, He that believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son, maketh him a liar. Why do we not start with horror at the workings of unbelief, as we should do at a suggestion to commit murder, or the grossest outward enormity i
Again, our natural pride is a great hindrance to believing. If we acknowledge ourselves to be signers, and are sensible of our need of mercy, we are
not easily brought to see that we are so totally de-
praved, so exceedingly vile, so utterly destitute of
all good, as the word of God describes us to be. A
secret dependence upon prayers, tears, resolutions, „
repentance and endeavours, prevents us from looking
solely and simply to the Saviour, so as to ground
our whole hope for acceptance upon his obedience
unto death, and his whole mediation. A true be-
liever wilj doubtless repent and pray, and forsake
his former evil ways, but he is not accepted upon
the account of what he does or feels, but because
Jesus lived and died, and rose and reigns on the be-
half of sinners, and because he is enabled by grace
to trust in him for salvation. Further, pride leads
us into that spirit of vain reasoning, which is con-
trary to the simplicity of faith. Till this is renoun-
ced, till we become in 'some measure like little
children, and receive the doctrines of Scripture
implicitly, because they are from God, requiring no
farther proof of any point than a Thus saith the Lord;
we cannot be established in our hope. Naamanwas
very desirous to be healed of his leprosv ; but if the
Lord had not mercifully over-ruled his prejudices,
he would have returned a leper as he came. Before
he went to Elisha, he had considered in his own
mind, how the prophet ought to treat him ; and not
having the immediate attention paid to him that he
expected, he was upon the point of going away ; for
his reason told him, that, if washing could effect his
cure, the waters of Syria were as good as those of
Jordan. " It seems," to use the words of a late in-,
genious writer, " that the Gospel is too good to be y
" believed, and too plain to be understood, till our
"pride is abased." '
It is difficult to determine, by the eye, the precise moment of day-break : hut the light advances from early dawn, and the sun arises at the appointed hour.
Once more: we cannot be safely trusted with assurance till we have that knowledge of the evil and deceitfulncss of our hearts, which can be acquired only by painful, repeated experience. The young convert, in his brighter hours, when his heart is full of joys, and he thinks his mountain stands too strong to be removed, may be compared to a ship with much sail spread, and but little ballast. She goes on well while the weather is fair, but is not prepared for a storm. When Peter said, " Thou hast the " words of eternal life, we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ," and when he protested, " Though all men should forsake thee, yet will not " I," he undoubtedly spoke honestly; but the event showed that he did not know himself". His resolution was soon and sorely shaken in the hall of the high-priest, so that he denied his Lord with oaths and imprecations. He was left to fall, that he might l«arn he did not stand by his own strength. The parable of the prodigal maybe accommodated for an illustration of this point. The Scripture says, " Then shall ye known, if ye follow on to know the "Lord." But we often want to know at first, and at once ; and suppose,—If 1 was but sure that I am. right, and accepted in the Beloved, I could go on with more spirit and success. Many rejoice greatly when they seem to obtain this desire, but their joy is short-lived. They soon resemble the prodigal ; they become vain, rash, and careless ; they forsake their father's house ; their attention to the means of grace is slackened ; they venture upon smaller deviations from the prescribed rule, which, in time, lead them to greater. Thus their stock of grace and comfort is quickly exhausted. They begin to be in want; and, after having been feasted with the bread of life, are reduced to feed upon such husks as the world can afford them. Happy, if at length they are brought to their right minds! But, oh ! with what pungent shame and humiliation do thev come back to their Father! He, indeed, is always ready to receive and forgive backsliders ; but surely they cannot easily forgive themselves for their ingratitude and folly. When he has healed their broken bones, and restored peace to their souls, it may be expected that they will walk softly and humbly to the end of their days, and not open their mouths any more, either to boast, or to censure, or to complain.
For, a man who possesses a Scriptural arid wellgrounded assurance in himself, will evidence it to others by suitable fruits. He will be meek, vmaa
suitiing, and gentle in his conduct before men, because he is humbled and abased before God, because he lives upon much forgiveness, he will be ready to forgive. The prospect of that blessed hope assuredly laid up for him in heaven, will make him patient under all his appointed trials in the present ljfe, wean him from 'an attachment to the world, and preserve him from being much affected either by the smiles or the frowns of mortals. To hear persons talk much of their assurance, and that they are freed from all doubts and fears, while they habitually indulge proud, angry, resentful, discontented tempers, or while they are eagerly grasping after the world, like those who seek their whole portion in it, is painful and disgusting to a serious mind. Let us pity them, and pray for them ; for we have great reason to fear that they do not understand what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
July 11, 1795.