A sister in the Lord in Ireland, who did not see her acceptance before God, and who was habitually without the assurance that she is a child of God, that she is born again, that her sins are forgiven, and that she shall be saved, in her distress of mind wrote to me about this time. As her case is by no means a solitary one, but as there are so many children of God who do not know that they are children of God; as there are so many whose sins are forgiven who do not know that they are forgiven; and as there are so many who will be saved, who do not know that they will be saved, and who are continually afraid of what would become of them, were they to be taken out of the world:—I have thought it well to say something here on this most important subject.
I. Question. How may I obtain the knowledge that I am a child of God, or that I am born again, or that my sins are forgiven, or that I shall not perish but have everlasting life?
Answer. Not by my feelings, not by a dream, not by my experience being like this or that ones, or unlike this or that ones; but this matter is to be settled, as all other spiritual matters, entirely by the revealed will of God, the written word of God, which is the only rule, the only standard for believers.
II. Question. By what passages, then, for instance, may I make out that I am a child of God, or born again?
Answer. 1. In 1 John v. 1, it is written: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." The meaning of these words is evidently this, that every one (whether young or old, male or female, one who has lived an outwardly moral or immoral life,) who believes that the poor, despised Jesus of Nazareth, of whom we read in the New Testament, was the promised Christ or Messiah, such a one is no longer in his natural state, but is born again, is born of God, is a child of God. The question therefore is, Do you believe that Jesus, who was born at Bethlehem, and crucified under Pontius Pilate, is the promised Saviour, the Messiah, the one for whom the Jews were to look? If so, you are a child of God, else you would not believe it. It is given unto you to believe it. Millions may SAY that Jesus is the Saviour, the Messiah, but none BELIEVE it except the children of God. It proves me to be a child of God that I believe it; to none besides is it given to believe it, though millions might say so.
Perhaps you say, I do not feel that I am born again, born of God, and I have therefore no enjoyment.
Answer. In order that you may have the enjoyment, which is the result of the knowledge that you are a child of God, that you are born of God, or born again, you must receive Gods testimony. He is a faithful witness, He speaks nothing but the truth, and His declaration is, That every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. If you receive this testimony of God, you, to whom by grace it is given to believe that Jesus is the Christ, cannot but be happy, from the fact that God Himself says, that you are His child. But if you will wait till you feel that you are a child of God, you may have to wait long; and even if you felt it, yet your feelings would be worth nothing; for either it might be a false feeling, or, though it were real, it might be lost the next hour. Feelings change; but the word of God remains unalterably the same. You have, then, without having had a dream about it, without having had a portion of the word in a more than usual way impressed upon your mind concerning the subject, without having heard something like a voice from heaven about it, to say to yourself: If I believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, I am a child of God. And then, from a belief of what God declares in this passage concerning you who believe that Jesus is the Christ, even that you are His child, spring peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Answer 2. In Galatians iii. 26, it is written: "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." The question here again is: Do I believe in the Lord Jesus? Do I depend upon Him alone for the salvation of my soul? If so, I am a child of God, whether I feel it or not.
Answer 3. In John i. 1113, it is written of the Lord Jesus: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power (or the right or the privilege) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The question here again is simply this, Have I received the Lord Jesus, i.e., Do I believe in His name? If so, I am born of God, I am a child of God, else I should never have believed in the Lord Jesus; for none but the children of God do believe in Him.
III. Question. How may I know that my sins are forgiven? Have I to wait till I feel that they are forgiven, before I may take comfort concerning this matter? Or, must I wait till I have in some powerful way a portion of the word of God applied to my mind, to assure me of it?
Answer. This point is again only to be settled by the word of God. We have not to wait till we feel that our sins are forgiven.—I myself have now been a believer for more than nineteen years (i.e. in the year 1845). How long it is, since I have had no doubt whatever about the forgiveness of my sins, I cannot tell with certainty; but this I am quite sure of, that ever since I have been in England, which is now about sixteen years (in 1845), I have never once had a single moments doubt that my sins are all forgiven; and yet I do not remember that I even once have felt that they were forgiven. To know that they are forgiven, and to feel that they are forgiven, are two different things.—The way to settle, whether our sins are forgiven, is, to refer to the word of God alone with reference to it. In Acts x. 43, it is written concerning the Lord Jesus, "To him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins." All the prophets speaking under the immediate power of the Holy Spirit, bore testimony, that through the obedience and sufferings of the Lord Jesus, whereby He becomes our Saviour or is our Jesus, all who believe in Him for salvation, who depend upon Him and not upon themselves, who receive Him to be the one whom God declares Him to be, should receive the forgiveness of their sins. The questions therefore to be put to ourselves are simply these: Do I walk in utter carelessness? Do I trust in my own exertions for salvation? Do I expect forgiveness for my sins on account of living a better life in future? Or, do I depend only upon this, that Jesus died upon the cross to save sinners—and that Jesus fulfilled the law of God to make sinners righteous? If the latter is the case, my sins are forgiven, whether I feel it or not. I have already forgiveness. I shall not have it merely when I die, or when the Lord Jesus comes again; but I have it now, and that for all my sins. I must not wait to feel that my sins are forgiven, in order to be at peace, and in order to be happy; but I must take God at His word, I must believe that what He says in true, and He says, "That whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus should receive remission of sins;" and when I believe what God says, peace and joy will be the result.
Again, in Acts xv. 8, 9, it is written with reference to us Gentile sinners: "And God which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." Here we see how the guilt is to be removed from the heart, how we can get a clean heart, obtain the forgiveness of our sins,—even by faith in the Lord Jesus. Depending upon the sufferings of the Lord Jesus in the room of sinners, and depending upon His obedience in fulfilling the law of God, His sufferings are considered as endured by us, His obedience as if found in ourselves: in Him (if we believe on Him) we are considered to have hung on the cross, and therefore were punished in Him, on account of which God, though perfectly holy and just, can forgive us our sins for Jesus sake, as well as reckon us righteous, through faith in the Lord Jesus, who in the room of those who believe on Him fulfilled the law of God.
I would here by the way especially warn against one error, which is, that persons say, I can believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour, that through Him alone the forgiveness of sins is to be obtained, and I do depend on Him alone for forgiveness, but I desire to know that He is my Christ, my Saviour, and because I am not sure about that, I can have no peace. Now, the Gospel which is preached in the New Testament is not, you must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is your Christ, your Saviour, but that He is the Christ, the Saviour; and if you believe that, you have a right to look upon Him as your Saviour.
IV. Question. How may I know that I shall be saved?
Answer. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Rom. x. 9. The point is simply this: Do I confess with my mouth the Lord Jesus? Do I own Him by the confession of my mouth before men, and do I believe in my heart that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified was not left in the grave, but was raised again by God on the third day? If so, I shall be saved. For while there may be the confession of the Lord Jesus with the month, without the person being finally saved, there does not go along with this the believing in the heart that God has raised Him from the dead, without the person, in whom both are found, being finally saved; for in none but the children of God are these two points found united together. We have here particularly to observe, that it is not written: If thou shalt say that God has raised Him from the dead; but if thou shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. I have, then, to take God at His word. If I do confess the Lord Jesus with my mouth, and do believe in my heart that God has raised Him from the dead, I shall be saved, though I do not feel it, though I am utterly unworthy of salvation, yea, though I am altogether deserving condemnation. I must not wait till I feel that I shall be saved before I take comfort; but I must believe what God says in this verse, and, out of that, peace and comfort will flow into my soul. Should, however, one or the other of the children of God, believe in his heart the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, if at the same time he has never made confession of the Lord Jesus with his mouth, he cannot be surprised that the assurance about his salvation is wanting to him; yet if both be found in you, my dear reader, God has been gracious to you, you are His child, you shall be saved.
Further, in John iii. 16, it is written: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Notice here in particular: 1. It matters not how great a sinner I am. 2. The promise is positive concerning my salvation, if I believe in the Lord Jesus. 3. I have only to believe in the Lord Jesus. No matter how it may have been with me hitherto; if only now I trust in and depend upon the Lord Jesus for salvation, I shall have everlasting life.
Further, in Acts xvi. 30, 31, it is written: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
Further, in John iii. 36, it is written: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." As assuredly as I depend upon and trust in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of my soul, I shall be saved, I have already everlasting life; for He died, to deliver those who believe on Him from the wrath of God, under which all men are in their natural state; but if I do not believe in the Lord Jesus, the wrath of God, which rests upon all men in their natural state, will finally destroy me, if I remain without faith in the Lord Jesus; for then I reject the one only remedy, in refusing to take Jesus as my substitute, who bore the punishment that He might deliver the sinner from it, and who fulfilled the law of God that He might make the sinner who believes on Him a just one before God.
V. Question. How may I know that I am one of the elect? I often read in the Scriptures about election, and I often hear about election, how may I know that I am a chosen one, that I am predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son of God?
Answer. It is written: "As many as were ordained, (i.e. appointed) to eternal life believed." Acts xiii. 48. The question therefore simply is this: Do I believe in the Lord Jesus? Do I take Him to be the one whom God declares Him to be, i. e. His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased? If so, I am a believer, and I should never have believed, except I had been appointed by God to eternal life—except I had been made by God to be a vessel of mercy. Therefore the matter is a very simple one: if I believe in the Lord Jesus, I am a chosen one,—I have been appointed to eternal life.
Again, in Rom. viii. 29, 30, it is written: "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom he called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified." How are we justified, or constituted just ones, before God? By faith in the Lord Jesus. Rom. iii. 2026. Therefore if I believe in the Lord Jesus, it follows (on account of the inseparable connection of all the precious things spoken of in these two verses), that I have been foreknown by God, that I have been predestinated by Him to be conformed to the image of His Son, that I have been called, that I have been justified, and that, in the sight of God, I am already as good as glorified, though I am not as yet in the actual possession and enjoyment of the glory.
The reason why persons who renounce confidence in their own goodness for salvation, and who only trust in the merits and sufferings of the Lord Jesus, do not know that they are the children of God, that their sins are forgiven, and that they shall be saved, generally arises from one of these things: 1. They do not know the simplicity of the Gospel; or, 2. They seek to settle it by their feeling; or, 3. They wait for some powerful impulse, or a dream, or something like a voice from Heaven to assure them of it, or for some passage being in a powerful way applied to their mind to assure them of it; or, 4. Because they are living in sin. Should the last be the case, then, however correctly we may understand the Gospel; however much we may desire by the Holy Scriptures alone to settle these questions; yea, however much in former times we may have enjoyed the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, or of our being the children of God, or that we shall be saved: in such a state of heart all peace would be gone, and would not return as long as we live in sin. There may be found much weakness and many infirmities even in the believer who has assurance about these points; but the Holy Ghost does not comfort us, and will not comfort us, if we habitually indulge in those things which we know to be contrary to the mind of God. An upright, honest heart, is of the utmost importance in all divine things; and especially with reference to the assurance about our standing before God.