The Assurance of Faith
The following is a chapter taken from the writings of particular Baptist minister John Brine (1705-1765) pastor of coventry and later cripplegate. In his day, next to John gill, brine was considered one of the major leaders in the baptist faith. in this particular work brine highlights of one the theological distinctives which separates baptist faith from others in the same theological vein. in idea of salvation being an objective reality for all of Gods elect, while the assurance of that reality being subject to conditions met by the elect.
Assurance may be considered objectively and subjectively. The former relates to the objects on which faith is supposed to act. This is a firm persuasion of the truth and existence of those objects. For instance, that the Son of God came into our world, and that by his obedience and sacrifice, he secured the salvation of some men, or obtained eternal redemption for them. And this is necessarily supposed in all acts of recumbency and dependence on him for deliverance from sin, and the penal consequences of it. By the latter is intended a persuasion in the mind of a poor sinner of his particular interest in Christ, and in his salvation.
II. This latter is not essential to that faith, which is of the operation of God, as I apprehend. Several reasons induce me to think that true faith may be, and is sometimes acted, where this assurance is wanting. 1. Faith is sometimes expressed by such phrases as do not necessarily include it, viz. seeing of Christ coming unto him, hoping in the Lord, and “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” An assurance of the object is plainly supposed in all these; but not the assurance of an interest in him to whom application is made for help and relief. 2. There is little or small faith, which is attended with fears jealousies, and doubting. “O! thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” 3. There is a strong and a weak faith; the latter cannot be well thought to include this assurance in it; for if it does, it will be difficult to shew wherein the difference lies between the strong and feeble acting’s of this grace. 4. In Christ's family there are different classes of Christians. All are subjects of the same grace in kind, but not in degree. Some are babes, not grown up to any considerable pitch of knowledge, experience, and spiritual strength. And in his fold, there are some lambs, who are to be dealt very tenderly with; it does not seem very likely that these, at present, enjoy that strong consolation, which carries the mind above all discouragements and fears. Yet,
III. This favor may be enjoyed. 1. This may be argued with very strong evidence, from the nature of Divine promises, relating to salvation. A conditional promise of benefits neither ascertains the enjoyment of them, in fact, nor is a proper foundation for an assured persuasion of receiving them; but absolute promises ascertain the possession of that good they express, if the promiser is faithful to his word, and in promising exceeds not his power; and are a firm bottom for an assurance of the reception of it. All divine promises relating to salvation are absolute; I will, and they shall, is the form wherein they run; and therefore, they ascertain salvation in fact, and are a solid basis of a steady assurance of it. Since their nature is suited to ingenerate and support such a persuasion; God doubtless had this gracious end in expressing them. And if he had such an intention, that must respect either the world, or the church. Not the world certainly, and, therefore, the church. Again, the church is triumphant and militant. These promises are intended then, either to confirm and establish the faith of the church triumphant or militant. Not the church triumphant, and consequently, this must respect the church militant. And as all generals consist of particulars , every particular is included in the general ; hence it follows , that all the saints have right to that strong consolation which the promises of God are fitted in their nature to produce ; and it is possible , in the nature of the thing , that they all may , and not to be doubted but some do , at least at some seasons , enjoy it .
2. God, in confirming his promises with his oath, had this gracious end in view, that “those who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them,” might have that strong consolation, which attends or arises from an assurance of his favor to them, and their security in consequence thereof. Two things are clearly expressed in those words. (1.) An act of faith on Christ, fleeing for refuge to him; and this is supposed to be done antecedent to the enjoyment of that strong consolation. True faith, therefore, may be without it. (2.) That they should enjoy strong consolation, who thus flee to Christ for safety and salvation from sin
3. The witnessing and sealing of the Holy Spirit evidently prove, that an assurance of an interest in the love of God may be enjoyed by the Saints, Rom. viii. 17, Eph. i. 13. The latter text evinces the precedency of faith to sealing, as well as expresses this holy persuasion, through the influence of the Spirit upon the mind, as a witness after believing. And the very same point of doctrine is deducible from his operations, as the Spirit of adoption. He enables believers to address God, as their father, with boldness, liberty, and confidence, through Jesus Christ: and this he doth at some seasons, wherein they have the greatest sense of their guilt, pollution, and unworthiness.
4. Many of the people of God have expressed their persuasion of an interest in his love, and the glorious benefits springing from that fountain. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall, I fear? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Who loved me, and gave himself for me?” It would be too tedious to multiply testimonies of this kind, which might be done, for they are very numerous in the scripture. Nor is it to be apprehended, that this was peculiar to persons inspired; for the apostle John expresses this matter in the name of Christians in general. " We have known and believed the love that God hath unto us. " If it is not one main design of that epistle to prove this point, it must be allowed, that many things are therein delivered, which abundantly confirm it. And this cannot be peculiar to prophets, apostles, or inspired persons, nor arise from inspiration; because some have been inspired who had no faith at all, as Balaam, for instance, and holy persons have not always enjoyed it when under inspiration. Inspiration, and this holy persuasion, therefore, are distinct things, and the latter does not necessarily attend, or arise from the former.
5. I am humbly of opinion that this great and glorious privilege might be more commonly enjoyed than it is, if professors were wisely cautious in behaving themselves. It is by no means to be thought, that this jewel is to be attained, without the diligent use of those means, which God hath appointed for our increase and growth in grace: greater self-denial, watchfulness against sin, and carnal pleasures, mortification to our worldly interests; with the assiduous practice of religious duties, viz. prayer, reading the word of God, instead of vain plays, idle romances, and empty novels, the fashionable books of our times; meditation, and a frequent review of our spiritual experience, and a conscientious attendance on the worship of God, are the appointed means of our advancement in heavenly knowledge. These are things to which many professors discover but little inclination. Let not such, who doubtless must be destitute of this assurance whereof we speak, dream of attaining it in their present frame of mind, and course of behavior, for if they do, their imaginations of this sort will certainly prove deceiving dreams indeed.
6. All believers have a proper and certain evidence within them, of their interest in divine favor. Grace in the hearts of the saints, is an effect of God's love to them, and his gracious purposes concerning them. And, therefore, from the grace in their souls, they may safely infer, that they are objects of Divine love, and interested in all those blessings which take rise therefrom. ··
7. Some through causeless fears and jealousies are prevented enjoying this assurance. They are afraid , because sin is in them as an active and restless principle , that they have no contrary principle of holiness ; and because , in part , they are still carnal , that they are not spiritual persons ; because grace is but feebly acted in their minds , that they are void of it ; and because , for a season , they enjoy not strong consolation , that they have no title to it , or any spiritual blessings . These jealousies and fears, at least, evidence a desire of grace, which certainly springs from a gracious principle, for the desire of grace is proper to grace. The want of skill in these persons, to distinguish between the motions of the flesh, and those of the Spirit, or of attention to both, within themselves, and of a consideration of the new covenant, according to whose nature, God will always proceed towards them, are the occasions of their distressing fears.
IV. When this holy assurance is maintained in the souls of believers, it influences them unto a humble and close walk with God. Pride, carnality, and neglect of duty are not attendants of the assurance of faith. If lusts, either of the flesh or of the mind is indulged, and a man is careless and negligent in his conversation, let him not imagine that this favor is vouchsafed to him by the blessed Spirit; for when the Spirit of God operates as a comforter, he also does as a sanctifier. This strong consolation is never enjoyed without a heavenly constraint upon the mind to love God, and cheer fully obey him. It is probable, that some may mistake in this matter, and take a merely rational conclusion for this assurance, wherein the Holy Spirit has no concern, viz. thus, a man reflects upon his past experience of Divine goodness, as he thinks, in former seasons, and says, within himself , this must have been the work of God upon me ; I , therefore , am the subject of his grace , and interested in his love . But if he thus reflects , and thus reasons , when his condition , and the general frame of his mind call loudly upon him to the duties of humiliation and sorrow for sin , spiritual sloth , and criminal indulgences , he may assure himself , that in this the Divine Sanctifier has no concern , and that the conclusion he has drawn contains nothing of that holy assurance in it , whereof ' we now speak . There is , I think , such a difference between the merely rational acting’s of our own minds in this business , and the blessed guidance of the Holy Spirit , in our reflecting upon his work on our souls , as is easily discernible to the saints : and they are greatly wanting to themselves , with regard to their spiritual peace and solid comfort , if they neglect to attend to that difference , in this review of their past acts . In the former, only ease and quiet are sought after, in which consists carnal security. In the latter, strength against sin, and a renewal of the vigor of grace which has fallen under a decay. And present direct acts of faith are put forth in this latter, which are not in the former.
V. It is our duty to endeavor to obtain it. We ought to be thankful for the lowest measure of faith; but not content ourselves with a low degree of grace, because the being of grace in our hearts, though small, is evidence of our safety. As far as anything of this nature is found in us, so far, we have just cause well to examine ourselves, lest at last we prove mistaken, in cherishing hopes of a real conversion. This can be no sign of it. For it is in the nature of the new creature, to desire both its preservation and improvement. The neglect hereof can only arise from the flesh, its opposite and combatant. Nothing is more inculcated upon us, than this endeavor after an advancement in holiness and spirituality: " give diligence to make your calling and election sure; and add to your faith virtue, & c. and let us go on to perfection; " with various other exhortations of the same kind, which plainly prove that this is a duty indispensably incumbent on us. But, alas! we are very defective herein, which is the cause of that slow progress we make in the knowledge of heavenly things; and to this is owing very much, that want of the savior and relish of them, which too visibly appears in most professors at this day
VI. Great advantages attend it. Spiritual peace, which greatly differs from that carnal security, that usually is the concomitant of a back - sliding frame. Joy in God, which causes us to despise those low and évanid pleasures, wherewith our corrupt minds are too apt to be delighted. Freedom and boldness in our addresses at the throne of Grace. Thankfulness and gratitude to our heavenly Father for all the good and inestimable blessings he is pleased to confer upon us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us,” & c. This strength of faith will enable us to give glory to God, even under such dispensations as are most trying to it. What difficulties will it not surmount, what afflictions will it not bear, with calmness, submission, patience, yea with triumph! Since such advantages arise to ourselves, and such glory to God from this faith, shall we think anything too hard a labour to attain it, or anything too dear and valuable to part with for its enjoyment? We are fools if we do.
There is no inconsistency at all between a persuasion of the necessity of a strict and regular attendance to duty, on our part, in order to the enjoyment of a sense of Divine favor, and a belief that our growth in grace entirely depends on the efficiency of the Holy Spirit. As to the acknowledgment of the latter, and a steady regard to it, as a precious and indubitable truth, I will not give place to any man in the world. But then, on the other hand, I am equally satisfied that it is only in the ways of holiness any have reason to hope for the benign influences of the Spirit of God, in order to the strengthening and increase of grace in their hearts. A careless, negligent, and loose walk will always be followed with dreadful effects. The bitter weeds, the briers, and thorns of corruption of one kind or other, will grow, and grace will decline. Sad instances of the truth of this our times abound with. All pretensions unto the present enjoyment of the assurance of faith in those whose conversation is unbecoming the gospel, are groundless, if they ever enjoyed that favor. In some, it is to be feared, that at last it will appear that they never were by the Holy Spirit sealed unto the day of redemption, notwithstanding all that confidence with which they have expressed themselves.
This is an observation not intended for any who are mourning under a sense of their sins and sinfulness, whatever their revolts may have been through the violence of temptation, and the strength of lust stirred up by it. Far be it from me to offer anything which hath the least tendency “to break the bruised reed and quench the smoking flax.” But the condition of some, “who are at ease in Zion,” calls for awakening reproof, that, at least, they may not have it to say, that they were suffered go down into the chambers of death,” without any warning given to them of their danger.
Object. Some perhaps will say, this doctrine of assurance of safety and security, or a firm persuasion of an interest in Christ and in his salvation, is not a likely method to promote holiness: for if a man enjoys a certain hope of being happy hereafter, what need he concern himself about the manner of his behavior? His sins are pardoned, he is justified, he is an heir of heaven, and his title to eternal life is unalienable; can it, therefore, be expected of him that he should watch, pray, and fight, since his future welfare is a thing certain in itself, and he knows it to be so?
Ans. 1. Such, who thus object, are of a different opinion from our Savior, who plainly told some that their sins were pardoned. “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.” And “her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Besides, as he predicted to Peter his denial of him, he acquainted him with that interest he had in his prevalent intercession: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,” and expressly mentions his recovery: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” This objection, therefore, is levelled against the wisdom of our blessed Savior; and if its force is admitted, it must be at the expense of his want of care about the suitable behavior of his followers. This is a consideration sufficient entirely to sink the objection, and to cause its authors to blush, if they had the least degree of modesty left. But,
2. Who are the persons, that from an assurance of an interest in Christ, and in his saving benefits, can be supposed, upon that assurance, will grow remiss and careless about the practice of their duty? They must be either unregenerate, or regenerate persons. The unregenerate cannot have this assurance, and, therefore, they cannot abuse it in the manner the objection supposes. And, consequently, if it is thus abused, it must be by regenerate sanctified men. From what principle in them can this abuse of so precious a favor spring? It must be either from the flesh, or from the Spirit. That it cannot arise from the latter is, I suppose, a truth evident to all. And what if the flesh is inclined to abuse this, or any other Divine truth, is that a sufficient reason for the rejection of it? Surely it is not. He who is insensible that there is that in him, which is - inclined to take occasion to sin from the commandment in the law, as well as from the promises of the Gospel, is a stranger to the plague of his heart. But is it proper, for that reason, to part with either the law or the gospel? Certainly, it is not. This is an undoubted truth, that, that man, which abuses the gospel, will also pervert and abuse the law: and therefore, if we admit this shameful objection, we can retain neither the law. nor the gospel.
3. Since it is only the flesh which can be guilty of thus abusing the doctrine treated of, how absurd is it to imagine that a man can enjoy this assurance, while he is pampering and gratifying the flesh? That man deceives himself who is confident of enjoying future happiness, which consists very much in a perfect freedom from all sin, who allows himself in the present practice of it. I utterly deny that that man desires to be free from sin hereafter, who does not desire to forsake it now. This assurance, therefore, cannot, in fact, give the least encouragement to sin. It is an act of the spiritual part in a believer, which never gives any advantage to the fleshly part in him.
4. It is a sacred truth, and as such it is passionately believed by us, that faith without works is dead. This grace purifies the heart, and it produces good works in the life of him who is the subject of it. How then can this excellent grace be, where the genuine fruits of it are not found? This objection is no better than mere calumny, designed to traduce and reproach a precious evangelical truth; but this is nothing new, nor strange. If some sort of men did not despise, reject, and slander Divine truths, it would be a strong temptation to me to think myself mistaken in esteeming them such: for the things of the Spirit of God will always be foolishness to some men.
5. Those, who thus object, either express the part which they themselves would act upon such a persuasion, or they do not. If they do not, why is it that they object after this manner? If they do, and are in earnest, I am not afraid, nor ashamed to tell them, that they are strangers to grace and holiness; and if they have no other principle than what at present influences and determines them, nothing is more certain, than that they will descend into the bottomless pit, from whence there is no redemption. That man, to whom it would be a satisfaction to continue in sin, upon having an assurance of impunity, most certainly is in the broad road to destruction. He who desires not to be holy now, is dreadfully mistaken if he imagines that he desires holiness hereafter. The eternal ruin of such sort of persons, whose real principle this objection expresses, is inevitable, without sovereign grace and mercy work a change in their hearts; and their everlasting damnation will be just. If any pretend unto an assurance of the pardon of their sin, and of the salvation of their souls, by the blood and righteousness of Christ, who have no experience of hearty sorrow for sin, indignation against it, and against themselves, because of their transgressions, they know nothing at all what that holy assurance is. They undoubtedly are, “In the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity.” Some such bold pretenders, and impious boasters, it may be, there are but their condition is most dreadful, for death, eternal death in fact, can only be expected by them. I am sure that heaven is not their choice, and that they have nothing to look for, but the fiery vengeance of an incensed God. This I know is true, that assurance of pardon through the blood of the Son of God, never fails to produce in the mind the greatest abhorrence of sin, and the most earnest desires of its utter Destruction.