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I come now to the last thing of which I spoke.  I promised to point out to you some probable causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained. I will do it very shortly.

This is a very serious question, and ought to raise in all great searchings of heart.  Few, certainly, of Christ’s people seem to reach up to this blessed spirit of assurance.  Many comparatively believe, but few are persuaded.  Many comparatively have saving faith, but few that glorious confidence which shines forth in the language of St. Paul.  That such is the case, I think we must all allow.

Now, why is this so? —Why is a thing which two Apostles have strongly enjoined us to seek after, a thing of which few believers have any experimental [knowledge by experience] knowledge?  Why is an assured hope so rare?

I desire to offer a few suggestions on this point, with all humility.  I know that many have never attained assurance, at whose feet I would gladly sit both in earth and heaven.  Perhaps the Lord sees something in the natural temperament of some of His children, which makes assurance not good for them.  Perhaps, in order to be kept in spiritual health, they need to be kept very low.  God only knows.  Still, after every allowance, I fear there are many believers without an assured hope, whose case may too often be explained by causes such as these.

1. One most common cause, I suspect, is a defective view of the doctrine of justification.

I am inclined to think that justification and sanctification are insensibly confused together in the minds of many believers.  They receive the Gospel truth, —that there must be something done IN US, as well as something done FOR US, if we are true members of Christ; and so far they are right.  But, then, without being aware of it, perhaps, they seem to imbibe the idea that their justification is, in some degree, affected by something within themselves.  They do not clearly see that Christ’s work, not their own work,—either in whole or in part, either directly or indirectly,—is the alone ground of our acceptance with God; that justification is a thing entirely without us, for which nothing whatever is needful on our part but simple faith,—and that the weakest believer is as fully and completely justified as the strongest.

Many appear to forget that we are saved and justified as sinners, and only sinners; and that we never can attain to anything higher, if we live to the age of Methuselah.  Redeemed sinners, justified sinners, and renewed sinners doubtless we must be, —but sinners, sinners, sinners, always to the very last.  They do not seem to comprehend that there is a wide difference between our justification and our sanctification.  Our justification is a perfect finished work, and admits of no degrees.  Our sanctification is imperfect and incomplete, and will be to the last hour of our life.  They appear to expect that a believer may at some period of his life be in a measure free from corruption, and attain to a kind of inward perfection.  And not finding this angelic state of things in their own hearts, they at once conclude there must be something very wrong in their state.  And so they go mourning all their days, —oppressed with fears that they have no part or lot in Christ, and refusing to be comforted.

Reader, consider this point well.  If any believing soul desires assurance, and has not got it, let him ask himself, first of all, if he is quite sure he is sound in the faith, if his loins are thoroughly “girt about with truth,” and his eyes thoroughly clear in the matter of justification.  He must know what it is simply to believe before he can expect to feel assured.

Believe me, the old Galatian heresy is the most fertile source of error, both in doctrine and in practice.  Seek clearer views of Christ, and what Christ has done for you.  Happy is the man who really understands justification by faith without the deeds of the law.

2. Another common cause of the absence of assurance is, slothfulness about growth in grace.

I suspect many true believers hold dangerous and unscriptural views on this point: I do not of course mean intentionally, but they do hold them.  Many appear to me to think that once converted, they have little more to attend to, and that a state of salvation is a kind of easy chair, in which they may just sit still, lie back, and be happy.  They seem to fancy that grace is given them that they may enjoy it, and they forget that it is given, like a talent, to be used, employed, and improved.  Such persons lose sight of the many direct injunctions “to increase, —to grow, —to abound more and more, —to add to our faith,” and the like; and in this little-doing condition, this sitting-still state of mind, I never marvel that they miss assurance.

I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward; and our watchword at the beginning of every year should be, “More and more” (1 Thess. 4:1): more knowledge, —more faith, —more obedience, —more love.  If we have brought forth thirty-fold, we should seek to bring forth sixty, and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred.  The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too.  (Matt. 13:23; 1 Thess. 4:3)

One thing, at all events, we may depend upon, —there is an inseparable connection between diligence and assurance.  “Give diligence,” says Peter, “to make your calling and election sure.”  (2 Peter 1:10)  “We desire,” says Paul, “that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” (Heb. 6:11)  “The soul of the diligent,” says Solomon, “shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4)   There is much truth in the old maxim of the Puritans: “Faith of adherence comes by hearing, but faith of assurance comes not without doing.”

Reader, mark my words.  Are you one of those who desires assurance, but have not got it?  You will never get it without diligence, however much you may desire it.  There are no gains without pains in spiritual things, any more than in temporal.  “The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing.”  (Prov. 13:4)

3. Another common cause of a want of assurance is, an inconsistent walk in life.

With grief and sorrow, I feel constrained to say, I fear nothing in this day more frequently prevents men attaining an assured hope than this.  The stream of professing Christianity is far wider than it formerly was, and I am afraid we must admit, at the same time, it is much less deep.

Inconsistency of life is utterly destructive of peace of conscience.  The two things are incompatible.  They cannot and they will not go together.  If you will have your besetting sins, and cannot make up your minds to give them up; if you will shrink from cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye, when occasion requires it, I will engage you will have no assurance.

A vacillating walk, —a backwardness to take a bold and decided line, —a readiness to conform to the world, a hesitating witness for Christ, —a lingering tone of religion,—all these make up a sure receipt for bringing a blight upon the garden of your soul.

It is vain to suppose you will feel assured and persuaded of your own pardon and acceptance with God, unless you count all God’s commandments concerning all things to be right, and hate every sin, whether great or small.  (Psalm 119:128)  One Achan allowed in the camp of your heart will weaken your hands, and lay your consolations low in the dust.  You must be daily sowing to the Spirit, if you are to reap the witness of the Spirit.  You will not find and feel that all the Lord’s ways are ways of pleasantness, unless you labour in all your ways to please the Lord.

I bless God our salvation in no wise depends on our own works.  By grace we are saved, —not by works of righteousness, —through faith, —without the deeds of the law.  But I never would have any believer for a moment forget that our SENSE of salvation depends much on the manner of our living.  Inconsistency will dim your eyes, and bring clouds between you and the sun. The sun is the same behind the clouds, but you will not be able to see its brightness or enjoy its warmth, and your soul will be gloomy and cold.  It is in the path of well doing that the day-spring of assurance will visit you, and shine down upon your heart.

“The secret of the Lord,” says David, “is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” (Psalm 25:4)

“To him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)

“Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165)

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” (1 John 1:7)

“Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” (1 John 3:18, 19.)

“Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John ii. 3.)

Paul was a man who exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. (Acts 24:16)  He could say with boldness, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.”  I do not wonder that the Lord enabled him to add with confidence, “Henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it me at that day.”

Reader, if any believer in the Lord Jesus desires assurance, and has not got it, let him think over this point also.  Let him look at his own heart, look at his own conscience, look at his own life, look at his own ways, look at his own home.  And perhaps when he has done that, he will be able to say, “There is a cause why I have no assured hope.”

I leave the three matters I have just mentioned to your own private consideration.  I am sure they are worth examining.  May you examine them honestly.   And may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

1.  And now, in closing this important inquiry, let me speak first to those readers who have not given themselves to the Lord, who have not yet come out from the world, chosen the good part, and followed Christ.

I ask you, then, to learn from this subject the privileges and comforts of a true Christian.

I would not have you judge of the Lord Jesus Christ by His people.  The best of servants can give you but a faint idea of that glorious Master.  Neither would I have you judge of the privileges of His kingdom by the measure of comfort to which many of His people attain.  Alas, we are most of us poor creatures!  We come short, very short, of the blessedness we might enjoy.  But, depend upon it, there are glorious things in the city of our God, which they who have an assured hope taste, even in their life-time.  There are lengths and breadths of peace and consolation there, which it has not entered into your heart to conceive.  There is bread enough and to spare in our Father’s house, though many of us certainly eat but little of it, and continue weak.  But the fault must not be laid to our Master’s charge: it is all our own.

And, after all, the weakest child of God has a mine of comforts within him, of which you know nothing.  You see the conflicts and tossings of the surface of his heart, but you see not the pearls of great price which are hidden in the depths below.  The feeblest member of Christ would not change conditions with you.  The believer who possesses the least assurance is far better off than you are.  He has a hope, however faint, but you have none at all.  He has a portion that will never be taken from him, a Saviour that will never forsake him, a treasure that fadeth not away, however little he may realize it all at present.  But, as for you, if you die as you are, your expectations will all perish.  Oh, that you were wise!  Oh, that you understood these things!  Oh, that you would consider your latter end!

I feel deeply for you in these latter days of the world, if I ever did.  I feel deeply for those whose treasure is all on earth, and whose hopes are all on this side the grave.  Yes: when I see old kingdoms and dynasties shaking to the very foundation, —when I see, as we all saw a few years ago, kings, and princes, and rich men, and great men fleeing for their lives, and scarce knowing where to hide their heads, —when I see property dependent on public confidence melting like snow in spring, and public stocks and funds losing their value, —when I see these things I feel deeply for those who have no better portion than this world can give them, and no place in that kingdom that cannot be removed.

Take advice of a minister of Christ this very day.  Seek durable riches, —a treasure that cannot be taken from you, —a city which hath lasting foundations.  Do as the Apostle Paul did.  Give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek that incorruptible crown He is ready to bestow.  Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him.  Come away from a world which will never really satisfy you, and from sin which will bite like a serpent if you cling to it, at last.  Come to the Lord Jesus as lowly sinners, and He will receive you, pardon you, give you His renewing Spirit, fill you with peace.  This shall give you more real comfort than the world has ever done.  There is a gulf in your heart which nothing but the peace of Christ can fill.  Enter in and share our privileges.  Come with us, and sit down by our side.

2. Lastly, let me turn to all believers who read these pages, and speak to them a few words of brotherly counsel.

The main thing that I urge upon you is this, —if you have not got an assured hope of your own acceptance in Christ, resolve this day to seek it. Labour for it.  Strive after it.  Pray for it.  Give the Lord no rest till you “know whom you have believed.”

I feel, indeed, that the small amount of assurance in this day, among those who are reckoned God’s children, is a shame and a reproach.  “It is a thing to be heavily bewailed,” says old Traill, “that many Christians have lived twenty or forty years since Christ called them by His grace, yet doubting in their life.”  Let us call to mind the earnest “desire” Paul expresses, that “every one” of the Hebrews should seek after full assurance and let us endeavour, by God’s blessing, to roll this reproach away.  (Heb. 6:11)

Believing reader, do you really mean to say that you have no desire to exchange hope for confidence, trust for persuasion, uncertainty for knowledge?  Because weak faith will save you, will you therefore rest content with it?  Because assurance is not essential to your entrance into heaven, will you therefore be satisfied without it upon earth?  Alas, this is not a healthy state of soul to be in; this is not the mind of the Apostolic day!  Arise at once, and go forward.  Stick not at the foundations of religion: go on to perfection.  Be not content with a day of small things.  Never despise it in others, but never be content with it yourselves.

Believe me, believe me, assurance is worth the seeking.  You forsake your own mercies when you rest content without it.  The things I speak are for your peace.  If it is good to be sure in earthly things, how much better is it to be sure in heavenly things.  Your salvation is a fixed and certain thing.  God knows it.  Why should not you seek to know it too?  There is nothing unscriptural in this.  Paul never saw the book of life, and yet Paul says, “I know, and am persuaded.”

Make it, then, your daily prayer that you may have an increase of faith.  According to your faith will be your peace.  Cultivate that blessed root more, and sooner or later, by God’s blessing, you may hope to have the flower, You may not, perhaps, attain to full assurance all at once.  It is good sometimes to be kept waiting.  We do not value things which we get without trouble.  But though it tarry, wait for it.  Seek on, and expect to find.

There is one thing, however, of which I would not have you ignorant: —You must not be surprised if you have occasional doubts after you have got assurance.  You must not forget you are on earth, and not yet in heaven.  You are still in the body, and have indwelling sin: the flesh will lust against the spirit to the very end.  The leprosy will never be out of the walls of the old house till death takes it down.  And there is a devil, too, and a strong devil: a devil who tempted the Lord Jesus, and gave Peter a fall; and he will take care you know it.  Some doubts there always will be.  He that never doubts has nothing to lose.  He that never fears possesses nothing truly valuable.  He that is never jealous knows little of deep love.  But be not discouraged: you shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved you.

Finally, do not forget that assurance is a thing that may be lost for a season, even by the brightest Christians, unless they take care.

Assurance is a most delicate plant.  It needs daily, hourly watching, watering, tending, cherishing.  So watch and pray the more when you have got it.  As Rutherford says, “Make much of assurance.”  Be always upon your guard.  When Christian slept, in Pilgrim’s Progress, he lost his certificate.  Keep that in mind.

David lost assurance for many months by falling into transgression.  Peter lost it when he denied his Lord.  Each found it again, undoubtedly, but not till after bitter tears.  Spiritual darkness comes on horseback, and goes away on foot.  It is upon us before we know that it is coming.  It leaves us slowly, gradually, and not till after many days.  It is easy to run down hill.  It is hard work to climb up.  So remember my caution, —when you have the joy of the Lord, watch and pray.

Above all, grieve not the Spirit.  Quench not the Spirit.  Vex not the Spirit.  Drive Him not to a distance, by tampering with small bad habits and little sins.  Little jarrings between husbands and wives make unhappy homes, and petty inconsistencies, known and allowed, will bring in a strangeness between you and the Spirit.

Hear the conclusion of the whole matter.

The man who walks with God in Christ most closely will generally be kept in the greatest peace.

The believer who follows the Lord most fully will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope, and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation.

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Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy you had not been holy on earth?

Now perhaps you love the company of the light and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reviler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.

Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.

Now perhaps you think praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy work, a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshiping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty,” and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

Think you that such an one would delight to meet David and Paul and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them and find that he and they had much in common? Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence and join in the cry, “This is our God. . . we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in salvation” (Isaiah 25:9)? Don’t you think that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out? He would feel like a stranger in a land he would not know. The voice of cherubim and seraphim, the song of angels and archangels, and all company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.

I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, they “hope to go to heaven,” but they do not consider what they say. . . . We must be heavenly-minded and have heavenly tastes in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven in the life to come.

And now, before I go any further, let me say a few words, by of application. For one thing, let me ask everyone who may read these pages, are you holy? Listen, I pray you, to the question I put to you day. Do you know anything of the holiness of which I have speaking?

I do not ask whether you attend your church regularly, whether have been baptized, and received the Lord’s Supper, whether you the name of Christian. I ask something more than all this: are you holy or are you not?

I do not ask whether you approve of holiness in others, whether like to read the lives of holy people and to talk of holy things, and have on your table holy books, whether you mean to be holy, and you will be holy some day. I ask something further: are you yourself holy this very day, or are you not? And why do I ask so straightly, and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, “Without holiness no man shall the Lord.” It is written, it is not my fancy; it is the Bible, not my private opinion; it is the word of God, not of man- “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! What thoughts come across my mind, as I write them down! I look at the world and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I turn to the Bible and I hear the Spirit saying, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Surely it is a text that ought to make us consider our ways and search our hearts. Surely it should raise within us solemn thoughts and send us to prayer. You may try to put me off by saying you feel much, and think much about these things, far more than many suppose: I answer, “This not the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great question is not what you think, and what you feel, but what you do.”

You may say, it was never meant that all Christians should be holy and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints. I answer, “I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath this hope in Christ purifieth himself” (John 3:3). “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

You may say, it is impossible to be so holy and to live in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done. I answer, “You a are mistaken.” It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David and Obadiah and Daniel and the servants of Nero’s household are all examples that go to prove it. You may say, if you were so holy you would be unlike other people. I answer, “I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Chnst’s true servants were always unlike the world around them—a separate nation, peculiar people, and you must be so too, if you are His!”

You may say, at this rate very few will be saved. I answer, “I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the sermon on the mount.” The Lord Jesus said so eighteen hundred years ago. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14). Few will be saved because few will take the trouble seek salvation. You may say, these are hard sayings; the way is very narrow. The Lord said that men must take up the cross daily. It is in religion as it is in other things, there no gains without pains. That which costs nothing is worth nothing.

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