Thursday, September 02, 2021

Assurance(s)

 

Assurance(s) 

For any Christian it is no hardship to sing

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His spirit, washed in His blood

 The early Reformers confessed justification by faith, full sto. As for example, in ‘The Justification of Man’, Article 11 of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England;

We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works and desertings; Wherefore,  that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily A Short  Declaration ‘’Of the True, Lively and Christian Faith” The homily discusses ‘dead’ faith (James 2.17), and emphasises the fruit of faith.  ‘Assurance’ is not mentioned. This is dated 1547 

Move on a century, to the  time of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)’ the chapters on Justification, Chapter  11, and Chapter 18, ‘Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation.’ There are two elements,  justifying faith and its assurance. Ch.18 is among the most sophisticated chapters  in the Confession. Here are parts of that chapter.

Having distinguishing certainty from having a probable persuasion  the Confession  states -

 

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

This is the Puritan version of justification, the outcome of a century’s preaching on the consequences of true faith, while being careful not to make any of those grounds a case of  justification by works. An experimental (or experiential) approach to the matter of justification , and of the application of the doctrine at the centre of many a Puritan sermon on justifying faith. From  this development the evangelical stress on assurance, such as the hymn ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine’ is a  development.

 (For those who wish to study this seventeenth century development in justification of faith, there is no better book than Joel Beeke’ s dissertation, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (Peter Lang, 1991), and The Quest For Full Assurance, (Banner of Truth, 1999.)

II

 Apart from all this , and keeping to the importance of justification by faith, here I want to stress that in the New Testament ’assurance’ has a wider usage than an attachment of saving faith. (The fact that in the King James what for what is ‘assured’ sometimes  the ESV uses the words ‘conviction’ or ‘firmly believed’ or ‘reassured’,  is unfortunate.

 

Here is ‘assurance’  in order of its occurrence in the New Testament - 

 Paul

The resurrection, Acts 1.31 ‘given assurance to all’.

Coloss. 2.2 ‘full assurance’ 

I Thess. 1.5 ‘full conviction’ ESV/’much assurance’ KJV

2Tim 3.14 ‘assured’, ‘firmly believed’(ESV)

Hebrews

  6.11, ‘full assurance’

 10.22, ‘full assurance’,

11, I  ‘assurance’, ‘substance of’

 1 John

 1. Jn. 3.19, assure/reassure (ESV)

III 

Summing up,  ‘assurance’ has degrees, and it means  in the New Testament the making aware of the  evidence of spiritual realities, depending of the context 

2. degrees, ‘much’, ‘full’

 giving conviction, evidence

3) it is desirable for disciples to grow to possess it, and therefore it is the subject of the Apostles’ prayers, bringing this to a belief which is made so strong until it is ‘full’ or  the ‘form’ of it.

So, in the New Testament ‘assurance’ has not only a qualifier of faith but also of other spiritual realities. For example in Colossians 2.2 Paul prays to the church that their hearts to more and more love between them ‘the full assurance of understanding, and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ ‘in whom are hidden all the riches of full understanding’. (v.3), and this is continued in verse 4, and put negatively in v. 8 and continuing…

 So here ‘assurance’  refers to a Christian grace that is a rich pearl, having to do with the growth in the Christian’s understanding of Christ which the Colossians ought to benefit themselves, the nature of Christ, what it is and what it isn’t, which they ought to petition the Lord in their prayers for more assurance.

 This is a significant window into the apostolic view of prayer, a church praying for ‘God’s understanding in Christ’. This is another ‘blessed assurance’ about which we may sing, and in a disciplined way come to an increased understanding of who and what is Christ, freeing our minds of false and inadequate views of him, who was ‘raised with him [believers] through faith in the powerful working through faith in God,,,,. who raised him from the dead’ (v.14) triumphing over rulers and authorities in him. (v.15)

When did you last pray for such assurance? Are these matters important items in our daily prayer list?

 

 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Toplady the Revivalist

 

We live in a day when the people around us are  indifferent to the Gospel. I thought it might be an encouragement to some to have an account Of the experience of revival in England and Wales, and coupled with  a testimony from Augustus Toplady, a decidedly Calvinistic writer and preacher. These are taken from his Works.

He wrote:

On the Anniversary Day in Wales, the congregation was so large that the chapel would not have contained a fourth part of the people, who were supposed to three thousand . No fewer than one thousand three hundred horses were turned into the large fold adjoining the College, besides what were  stationed in the neighboring villages.   The carriages also, were unusually numerous. A scaffold was erected at one end of the College – court, on which a bookstand was placed, by way of pulpit; and them six or seven of us preached, successively,  to one of the most attentive and most lively congregations I ever beheld. When it came to my turn to preach. ``I attend to the front, ; and had not gone more than half through my prayer before sermon when the was done. scaffold suddenly fell in  fell in.  As I stood very near the highermost step  (and the steps  did not fall with the rest), Providence enabled me to keep on my feet, through the assistance of Mr Winkworth, who laid fast on my ar,  About forty ministers were on the scaffold and and the steps when the former broke down. Dear Mr Shirley fell undermost of all, but received no other hurt than a very slight bruise on one of his thighs. A good woman, who, for the conveniency of hearing , had placed herself under the scaffold, received a slight contusion to her  face. No other mischief was done. The congregation, though greatly alarmed, had the prudence not to throw themselves into outward disorder: which, I believe  was chiefly owing to he powerful sense of God’s presence, which was eminently felt by most of the assembly.

 Such was the wonderful goodness of the Lord to me, that I was not in the least disconcerted on this dangerous occasion: which I mention to the praise of that grace and providence, without which a much smaller incident would inevitably  have shocked  every nerve I  have. About half  a minute after the interruption had commenced, I had the satisfaction to inform the people that no damage had ensued; and removing for security to a lower step, I thanked the Lord, with the rejoicing multitude, for having so undeniably  given his angels charge concerning us. Prayer ended,  I was enabled to preach .and great grace seemed to be upon us all.

 

Part of a letter of A.M. Toplady to friends, Sept. 9, 1775, The Works of the Rev Augustus Toplady, 875-6

He has this extract of an account of the character of George Whitefield, after his death in Newburyport, Mass., in 1770. Perhaps it was an article in the newly-published Evangelical Magazine.

 

I deem myself happy in having an opportunity of thus  publicly avowing the inexpressible esteem in which I held this  wonderful man; and the affectionate veneration  which I must ever refrain, for the memory of one  whose acquaintance and ministry were attended with the most important spiritual benefit to me, and of tens of thousands beside.

It will not be saying too much, if I term him The apostle of the English empire; in point of zeal for God, a long course of  indefatigable and incessant labours, unparalleled disinterestedness, and astonishingly extensive usefulness.

 He was a true and faithful son of the Church of England, and invincibly asserted her doctrines to the last; and that in a merely doctrinal way. though he was a most systematic divine, but with an unction of power from God, unequalled in the present day.

 He would never have quitted even the walls of the Church, had not either the ignorance, or the malevolence, of some who ought who known better, compelled him in the present day.

 If the most absolute command over the passions of immense auditories be the mark of a consummate orator, he was the greatest of the age. If the strongest good sense, the most generous expansions of heart, the most artless but captivating affability, the brightest cheerfulness , the  most liberal exemption from bigotry, and the purest and most purest cheerfulness, and the promptest wit, enter into the composition of social excellence, he was one of the best companions in the world. 

If to be stedfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the works of the Lord; if an union of the most brilliant with the most solid ministerial gifts, ballasted by a deep and humbling, experience of grace, and crowned with the most  extended success  in the conversion of sinners and the edification  of saints, be signatures of a special commission from heaven;  Mr. Whitefield cannot but  stand highest on the modern list of Christian ministers.

On the whole, he was the most imperfect character I ever knew; and yet, no person was ever more shockingly traduced and vilified, by those  who either were unacquainted with him, or who hated him for his virtues, and for his attachment to the gospel of Christ…..

 The Works of the Rev Augustus Toplady, p.494

People think of Toplady as a hyper-Calvinist,  because of his admiration of John Gill I suppose. But these extracts are those of a regular revivalist. He was the author of great hymns. Here is one centred in Christ:

Object of my first desire,
Jesus, crucified for me;
All to happiness aspire,
Only to be found in Thee.


Thee to praise, and Thee to know,
Constitute my bliss below;
Thee to see, and Thee to love,
Constitute my bliss above.


Lord, it is not life to live,
If Thy presence Thou deny:
Lord, if Thou Thy presence give,
‘Tis no longer death to die.


Source and giver of repose,
Only from Thy smile it flows,
Peace and happiness are Thine;
Mine they are, if Thou art mine.


Let me but Thyself possess—
Total sum of happiness—
Real bliss I then shall prove,
heaven below and heaven above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                            

 

Friday, July 09, 2021

Reading Scripture


How are we to read the Bible or parts of it?  This is certainly a big question, and a basic one. The canonical scriptures are , it is often said, a library, and the books it is comprised of have  a varied, interesting  character. At one level sometimes hear of people who set out recipes drawn from the Bible, or develop an interest in its archaeology, or in its flora and fauna; some of its place in ancient history and culture, and especially perhaps, its setting in the culture of the middle east, Roman and Greek and so on, Babylonian and Phoenician and Egyptian, and so on.  How do all these fit into it?

Some, coming nearer, spend their talents and skills in efforts to prove or display its reliability, in an effort to provide an apology for its trustworthiness. Churches arrange evening in which they commend the Christian faith by explaining it, ‘Christianity Explained’. And coming even nearer, the Bible is read, or parts of it are, and sources of the ancient religious concepts  that are found within the covers of a Bible. Maybe some familiarities are found what the Bible contains and modern religious ideas, or perhaps its difference and uniqueness.

 All these enterprises, and others that we have not included in our list, are  to one degree or another, fascinating and learned as they are or can be. Part of the contribution to the religious quest of humanity.

 But all these ‘approaches’ to Scripture, and more we could add, neglects the basic fact that Scripture invites us to understand it as the word of God. Not only to understand it but to be engaged as that word. In fact  to engage and be engaged to its own estimate of itself. This is a way of saying that the Bible has a spiritual engagement of men and women, who have sprits that can engage with it, if our spirits are imbued by the work of God the Holy Spirit within them. And Scripture offers its content  to the deepest part of humankind. 

Early on in his Institutes, Calvin says

 

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture, that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive  it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe wither on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image impressed on it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.  We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which we rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate….we  find  a divine energy living and breathing in it -  an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly than could  be done by human will or knowledge…..(Institutes  Bk I.  ch.7. S.5.)

 

JohJohn. Owen -

 

The The Reason of Faith; or, an Answer unto that Inquiry, ‘Wherefore we Believe the Scripture  to be the Word of God?’ (1677) Works,  ed. Goold, IV

 

Hereby we re taught of God, so as, finding, the glory and majesty of God  in the word, our hearts do , by an ineffable power, assent under the truth without any hesitation. And this work of the Spirit carrieth its own evidence in itself, producing an assurance  above all human judgment, and such as stands in no need of no farther arguments or testimonies. This faith rests on and is resolved into, (p.43)

 

J.I. J.I. Packer-

 

The evangelical certainty of the trustworthiness and authority is of exactly the same word , and rests on exactly the same basis, as the Church’s certainty of the Trinity, or the incarnation, or any other catholic doctrine. God has declared it; Scripture embodies it; the Spirit exhibits it to believers; and they humbly receive it, as they are bound to do .(‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God p.124)

 

Two or three words sum this up – certainty, immediacy, and energy. For Calvin it is as if the reader takes in the air of Scripture, of prophets and apostles, and especially  of the incarnate Son of God, by the energy of the Holy Spirit, by which the truth of scripture is known with certainty. This engagement involves not only our intellects, our minds, but out affections, our spirits. 

‘No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ ‘(John 6.65) we have we seen his glory, glory as of as only of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’; (Jn. 1.14  see also 16--18);  ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father (Jn 6. 65): Lord ‘to whom shall we go? Thou have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy  One of God  (Jn. 6.66-9)’

 This passage in John is rich in detail.  The disciples have certainty, assurance, that Christ is the Word of God. They  did not have this because they have had information about Jesus’s circumstances, but as recognising that he their leader was the Holy One of God. They ‘have come to him’ (Jesus reminds them that one of them is a devil, Judas Iscariot. (6.70-1) And so their  coming to Jesus as the Messiah  was granted him by the Father, disclosed by the Father. Judas fell short because he was not given by this grace, even though he was one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus Judas, blind,  a devil.

 What is needed to be a Christian is to  be hearers of Jesus (in the case of this we have looked at in John 6). He is unique, the very Saviour of men and women the world over, and in every era in accordance with his Great Commission given to the eleven after the death and resurrection of Christ remove any doubts the may have.

 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. `Go, therefore and make disciples  of all nations,  baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them  to observe al that  I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always , to the end of the age’ (Matt 28.19) 

Let us give John Owen the last word,

 The principal divine effect of the word of God is in the conversion of the souls of sinners unto God.  The greatness and glory  of  it…all those who are acquainted with it, as It is declared in ‘The Scripture, and have any experience of it and have any experience of it in their own hearts, do constantly give as an instance of the exceeding greatness of the power of  God(…..Now of this great and glorious effect of the word is only the instrumental cause, whereby the  divine power operates and is expressive of itself : for we are ‘born again’, born of God, not of corruptible seed  but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever 9I Pet .1.23), for of his own will doth God beget us  with the  word of truth’, (James 1.18))…..Therein, in an especial manner, is the divine authority of the word evidenced, by the divine power and efficacy  given unto it by the Holy Ghost. The work which  is effected by it,  in the regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of the souls of believers, doth evidence infallibly unto their  consciences, that it is not the word of man, but of God. (Owen, Works, IV.94-5)