OBS. XIV. Saving faith contains in its nature an assurance of the truth of its object. This assurance is essential unto the nature of faith. There is no medium betwixt this and unbelief. This assurance has been called the assurance of faith, and objective assurance; in opposition unto another kind of assurance, which has been denominated the assurance of sense, and subjective assurance. The assurance of faith, or objective assurance, is a firm persuasion of the truth of the things believed, and is now under our consideration; but the assurance of sense, or subjective assurance, is the persuasion which the Christian has of his personal interest in the object of faith, which may afterwards be considered. The nature of that assurance which the Christian has of the truth of the object of faith, may be illustrated in the following instances:—”Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[John 6:68, 69.] “Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.”[John 16:20.] “And the Eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”[Acts 8:36, 37.] From the moment in which the Holy Spirit enters into the soul, and implants the grace of saving faith, the person firmly believes that there is a glorious reality and certain truth in the things which are made known to him in Divine revelation, as the articles which he credits. Some of those articles are the following:—That he is born into the world in a state of sin, guilt, pollution, and misery, in the sight of an holy God; and that he deserves the full and eternal execution of his wrath and curse, which are revealed from heaven against the transgressors of his law. That he has exceedingly dishonored God, and laid himself obnoxious unto his displeasure, by a continued course of rebellion against his authority, in his actual transgressions. That he is utterly unable to deliver himself out of this condition, but must, for any thing that he can do, or all creatures accomplish for him, perish eternally, under the guilt of sin, and the righteous anger of God. That the Great Jehovah, from his infinite love, mercy, and grace, and in the exercise of his infinite sovereignty and wisdom, did contrive, from all eternity, a scheme of salvation for sinners of Adam’s family, through the substitution, incarnation, and mediation of his eternal Son. That he from all everlasting, set up his Son to be the Mediator between God and man; gave unto him the objects of his love to be redeemed, and entered into a covenant with him for their salvation. That the Son of God, having from all eternity engaged to be the Savior of sinners, did in the fulness of time actually assume their nature, obey the precept of the law in their room, suffer the wrath of God in their stead, and completely finished both his obeying and suffering work, which the Father gave him to do, in his death upon the cross. That the incarnation, obedience, sufferings and death of Christ, or his complete righteousness, contain both infinite satisfaction by which the demands of the law and justice of God are completely satisfied, and deliverance from the curse is secured to his people, and infinite merit, by which a title to life is procured for all those who are interested in him. That Christ having fulfilled all righteousness, the Father has lodged in him all the fulness of the new covenant, which he communicates to the souls of his people in grace and in glory. That the Holy Spirit of God takes up his dwelling in the souls of Christians, and implants faith in their hearts, in consequence of which they are united to the person of Christ, and renewed in the spirit of their minds, and are enabled to believe unto the saving of their souls. That the Lord Jesus Christ, his righteousness, fulness and salvation, are brought near unto the children of men in the Gospel; and that all the hearers of it are called, invited, commanded, and fully warranted by God, and by Christ, to exercise faith in him, and to receive this salvation from him. That it is the indispensable duty of all the hearers of the word, whatever be their moral state before God, to believe in, come unto, receive and rest upon Christ by faith, for their salvation; and that all who are enabled to believe in Christ shall have everlasting life; arid that those who do not believe in Christ shall not see life, but the wrath of God shall abide on them. These, and such like things, are surely believed among all those who are privileged with saving faith. Whatever their views may be of their personal interest in the object of faith, or in that salvation which is revealed in the Gospel, yet they will, when faith is in exercise, firmly believe the truth of these things, which respect the object o£ faith. If the Christian's mind is in a staggering state as to the truth of these and the like particulars, the exercise of faith is for the time suspended, and unbelief gains an ascendency in the soul; but no sooner does faith return to its exercise, than the Christian has a certain assurance of their truth. As a doubting or questioning the truth of these things is essential to unbelief, so a conviction or persuasion of their being true, is essential to saving faith. This assurance is supported in the soul by the never-failing faithfulness of the God of truth, which the Christian sees to be interposed, for the ratification of the things he believes concerning the object of faith. The solemn oath of the Great Jehovah, which the believer discerns to be employed to confirm the same thing, stands as an immoveable pillar of his assurance. The beauty and glory of the truths relating to the object of faith, and their intrinsic propriety and evidence, so strike the enlightened minds of believers, as convinces them of their truth. The manner in which the Spirit of God represents and applies these articles of faith to the soul, has such a commanding power on the mind, as renders it is impossible for him not to believe, that they are the true sayings of God. The apostle seems to have this assurance, of which we are now speaking, in his view, when he says, “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.”[Hebrews 10:22.] Let us come into the presence of God, and worship him in the ordinances of his grace, with a full persuasion and certain assurance of the truth of the glorious things which are declared to us concerning the object of our faith.
OBS. XV. In the acts of faith there is a peculiar application of its object unto the person himself who believes. Whatever it is that the person believes in the exercise of saving faith, is not credited in the way of mere speculation; but he discerns his particular concern in it, and believes it with application to himself. There is no faith that is saving in its nature, but it leads the person in whom it is, to this particular exercise concerning the things believed. A saving faith, both of the law and of the Gospel, may be considered, from the scriptural accounts, as a confirmation of this. If the Christian considers the operations of his mind, when he acts faith upon the law, he will find that this is the case with him. When the precept and the threatening are truly believed, the person is convinced that he himself is a sinner; is a criminal transgressor of the holy commandment, and that he deserves the execution of the threatening upon himself, in time and through eternity. The law is never believed by a true faith, if this conviction of personal guilt and danger is not produced in the soul. This is the tremendous and particular language of the law: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”[Galatians 3:10.] And whosoever believes it, is convinced that he, having transgressed the law in instances innumerable, is undoubtedly exposed to its curse. He is fully persuaded in his own mind, that whatsoever the law saith, it saith to them who are under it, and brings home both its charge of guilt and threatening of condemnation to him in a way as particular and personal as Nathan did unto David, when the prophet said to the king, “Thou art the man.” As convinced sinners apply to themselves the language of the law, which declares their ruin; so they make particular use of the Gospel, which reveals their relief. The latter, as well as the former, is a revelation of the will of God unto men, and every one of them is warranted to apply it to his own particular case. The gospel of the grace of God will ever be considered, by its Author, as despised and rejected of men, till they apply to themselves the merciful discoveries of Divine grace which it contains, by believing that to them is the word of this salvation sent.
This personal application which belongs to the nature of faith, is evident from the scriptural representations of the exercise of that grace. It is compared to a person’s eating food for his bodily nourishment. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.”[John 6:51.] When men partake of provision for their bodies, they make use of it for their own particular good: in thee same manner, when Christians exercise faith on Jesus, they do improve him for their own personal salvation. The actings of this grace are compared to drinking; for when Jesus stood and cried, he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”[John 7:37.]As there is in the act of drinking, an application of the liquor which is drunk by the person to himself, so there is in the exercise of faith in Christ, an appropriation of him in his person, righteousness and benefits, unto the soul that believes on him, for its own salvation. By the act of putting on a garment is the exercise of faith represented in the scriptures; for says the apostle, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”[Rom. 13:14.] Since these who put on their garments, appropriate the robes to their own use; those who believe in Christ, must apply the Redeemer’s righteousness unto themselves. The exercise of flying to a place of defence from impending danger, is one of the scriptural representations of the exercise of faith, which both confirms the truth and illustrates the nature of this appropriation. Paul has this in his view, when he describes the exercise of Christians in these words: “Who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”[Heb. 4:18.] When people betake themselves to a refuge, they improve it for their own personal safety; and when believers fly to Christ by faith, they make use of him for all the important purposes of their own protection from the wrath of God and the curse of the law.
The way in which the people of God express the actings of their faith on its object, includes an application of it unto themselves. Many instances of this from the sacred oracles, might easily be given; but the few following only shall be mentioned:—“This God is our God forever and ever; and he will be our guide even unto death.”[Psalm 48:14.] “This is the name whereby he shall be called, “The Lord our Righteousness.”[Jer. 23:6.] “Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”[Isaiah 45:24.] “My Lord and my God.”[John 20:28.] “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”[Gal. 2:20.] No idea can be formed of the meaning of these texts of Scripture, in which the actings of the Christian’s faith upon its object is so beautifully set before us, if the personal appropriation, which is in the nature of that grace, is set aside. Therein believers claim an interest in God, as their God and their guide.—Therein they apply Christ unto themselves as the Lord their righteousness, and confidently say, that in him they have both righteousness and strength.—Therein one very eminent saint appropriates to himself the Divine Savior, as his Lord and his God; and another triumphs in the believing views of his interest in the Redeemer’s love and satisfaction. Several of the particulars which were mentioned, when speaking of the acts of faith, include this application of the object of faith unto the believer. What else can be the meaning of the exercise of coming unto, receiving, or resting upon Christ? Can we come unto an object, without being personally near it? Can we receive any thing, without taking it to ourselves? Can we rest upon any object, without making it the ground of our dependence? And do not all these clearly comprehend the idea of personal appropriation?
The very nature of the Gospel also confirms this truth. The Gospel of the grace of God does not reveal a system of truths to be believed in speculation only, in which the children of men have little or no concern; but it makes known to them a glorious remedy for their deliverance from guilt and misery, which must be actually applied by the believer, in order to his receiving the benefit of it in his eternal salvation. Seeing this is the case, the Gospel cannot, in the nature of things, be properly improved; and never will be to us, in reality, a word of salvation, till the object of faith, which is therein revealed and offered to sinners, is personally appropriated by them unto themselves in the exercise of believing.
OBS. XVI. The exercise of saving faith is sometimes accompanied with a sensible assurance of the person’s actual interest in Christ, and salvation thro’ him. This sensible assurance differs from the assurance of faith formerly considered, as it arises from the believer’s spiritual experience of the goodness of God in Christ, who has begun, and is carrying on, the work of grace in his soul. It flows from the evidence that the person has, in himself, of his actual interest in Christ. It differs from objective assurance; because it is not an assurance of the truth of the object of faith, but it is an assurance of the person’s particular interest in that object, unto his eternal salvation. The assurance of faith, or objective assurance, seems principally to be intended in the words of the apostle: “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”[Heb. 10:22.] The assurance of sense, or subjective assurance, appears to be chiefly in the apostle’s view, when he says, “And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope, unto the end.”[Heb. 6:11.] And perhaps both the assurance of faith and of sense, are included in the words of the apostle’s prayer for the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and as many as had not seen his face in the flesh: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.”[Col. 2:2.] By this sensible assurance, the Christian is persuaded that he has an interest in the love of God through Christ; that he is united to the glorious Redeemer; is clothed with his righteousness, and interested in his purchase; and that the Spirit of God dwells in him, and will be in him as a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life. He is persuaded that his sins are pardoned; that his person is accepted before God; that he is adopted into the Divine family; that he is renewed in the spirit of his mind; that he has an actual interest in the covenant and promise; and that he shall persevere in grace and in holiness, until he come to the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. These, and such like things, which all relate unto the person’s interest in the object of faith, being the things of which the Christian is persuaded by the assurance of sense, or subjective assurance, the difference betwixt it and the assurance of faith, or objective assurance, which persuades the Christian of those things which belong to the truth of the object of faith only, may be very clearly and easily discerned.
This subjective assurance is attainable by believers. The command of God, which requires them to endeavor to obtain it, is a confirmation of this truth. The apostle Peter exhorts Christians, “To give diligence to make their calling and election sure.”[1 Peter 1:10.] When the believer is assured of his calling and election, he is persuaded of his interest in the object of faith, and enjoys the assurance of sense, of which we are now speaking. The command binds it upon them as their duty, to use diligence to reach an assurance both of their calling and election. Where would be the propriety of such a precept, were this assurance unattainable by Christians in their present state? The words of Paul, lately mentioned, are a precept which requires the same thing: “We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” A full assured expectation of enjoying all the good contained in the promise, in grace and glory, may be obtained; and Christians are divinely required to show a concern, and exercise diligence, that it may be their comfortable privilege.
As the word of God enjoins it upon Christians to give diligence for the obtaining of this assurance, so it farther informs us, that this blessed enjoyment has been the happiness of many of the saints. It was the support of Job under his affliction; for he could say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”[Job 19:25.] I know Jesus as a Redeemer—a living Redeemer—and mine own particular interest in him as my Redeemer. This privilege filled David’s soul with joy, in views of death, and made him say, “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; and this is all my salvation and all my desire.”[2 Sam. 23:5.] A comfortable persuasion of his personal interest in the everlasting, ordered, and sure covenant, which secured all salvation unto him, and which was earnestly desired by him, filled his soul with joy and solace when he was about to go the way of all the earth. From the scriptural account of the primitive Christians, it appears that this sensible assurance was generally enjoyed by them. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”[Acts 9:31.] “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”[1 Thess. l:4.] Such were the measures of the Spirit’s influence, which, in these early times of the Gospel, were poured on their souls, that they walked in the fear of the Lord; were filled with the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and knew their election of God. Paul, no doubt, enjoyed this sensible assurance to a great degree, when he so strongly expresses his interest in his Savior’s love and death, saying, “I obtained mercy.”[1 Timothy 1:13.] From all these instances, it is evident, that this subjective assurance has been attained, and may, therefore, be yet reached unto by the saints of God. The very nature of grace, as an inward active principle in the soul, farther establishes this truth. All inward active principles discover, by their operations and effects, their existence in the mind of man. This is true of the principles of reason, of instinct, and of sin; and undoubtedly it must be true also of the principles of grace. This gracious principle, in the human soul, puts forth operations, and produces effects, which, if duly attended to, and religiously improved by the believer, will evidence its own existence in him; and will, by the blessing of God, grow up to a sensible assurance of the person’s interest in the object of faith. This subjective assurance accompanies the exercise of faith. It is not of the nature or essence of faith, otherwise the believer could never be without it; but it accompanies the exercise of that grace, and flows from it as its effect. It follows the acting of faith. There cannot be any sensible assurance in the mind, without the grace of saving faith has been implanted there. All the persuasion which men may have of their interest in salvation, who are not possessed of saving faith, must be groundless presumption, which will utterly disappoint and deceive them. This assurance accompanies saving faith, because it both springs from it, and is supported by it. All the evidences by which the mind is sensibly assured, are the acts and effects of faith. This assurance, we also said, sometimes accompanies the exercise of faith. It is not always the believer’s comfortable attainment, when he is in the exercise of that grace. A person may be a true believer, and may not have, as yet, reached unto this privilege. It is a stage, in the Christian journey, which lies beyond the place from whence the believer sets out, when he begins his religious course. The command of the apostle, directed to Christians, requiring diligence to make their calling and election sure, plainly supposes that they may be both called and chosen of God, and yet not be sensibly assured of it. This assurance, also, accompanies the exercise of faith only at times, because the person who has been privileged with it, may be deprived of the happy enjoyment. This sometimes arises from Divine desertion. David appears to have lost his comfort in this manner, when he says, “Lord, by thy favor thou madest my mountain to stand strong; thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.”[Psalm 30:7.] The loss of this assurance is more frequently occasioned by the believer’s transgressing the Divine law. With the loss of this comfortable enjoyment, the Lord frequently punishes his people for their iniquity. This made the same holy man complain: “There is no soundness in my flesh, because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones, because of my sin.”[Psalm 38:3.] While these words represent the fatherly anger of God, as the efficient cause of the Christian’s trouble, they set before our view their sin, as that which procures it to them. As Christians may spend a part of their religious life before they enjoy sensible assurance, and even after they have obtained it, may lose it for a time, it must be evident that this blessing does only sometimes accompany the exercise of faith.
We shall now conclude with some inferences.
1. Hence we may be informed of the difference betwixt faith and sense, or betwixt that assurance that is in the nature of faith, and that sensible assurance that sometimes accompanies it. The assurance of faith persuades the Christian of the truth of its object; but the assurance of sense convinces him of his actual interest in that object. The assurance of faith is built upon the infinite faithfulness of God in his word and promise; but the assurance of sense is supported by the consideration of the work of God in the soul. The assurance of faith respects the promise, as it exhibits the glorious inheritance which flows from the grace of God, through the merits of Christ, to them that believe; but this sensible assurance is taken up with the present and begun enjoyment of the good, which is contained in the promise. The assurance of faith is in the act of faith, and the assurance of sense respects the evidence of faith: by the former, the person really believes on God through Christ for eternal salvation; and by the latter he is persuaded that he has actually believed unto the saving of his soul. By the assurance of faith, the Christian is persuaded that Christ and all the blessings of salvation are his, in the offer and call of the Gospel, and that he is divinely warranted, as a lost sinner of Adam’s family, to receive Christ and salvation by him; but by the assurance of sense he is convinced that Christ and salvation are his, in the real possession and enjoyment. By the assurance of faith, Christians heartily consent unto and approve the method of salvation through Christ, and clearly see it to be every way glorifying to God and suitable for them; but by the assurance of sense they feel the begun execution of this glorious scheme upon themselves, in their begun sanctification and spiritual comfort. The assurance of faith is necessary unto the spiritual being of a Christian; but the assurance of sense is needful unto his spiritual well-being, prosperity, and consolation. The assurance of faith may be in the soul, without sensible assurance; but the assurance of sense cannot remain without the actings of saving faith. This assurance, which is in faith, secures the believer’s safety in Christ; and the sensible assurance which sometimes accompanies the exercise of that grace, greatly promotes his joy.
2. That Christians should particularly apply the object of faith unto their own souls, is evident from what has been said. This particular application of faith is required by the authority of God; by it we obtain an interest in the object of faith; and without it we cannot be saved. This exercise, therefore, is warranted, useful and necessary. It is warranted. The Lord, by his gospel, brings near the righteousness of Christ to every hearer of the word, and calls them to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The best robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness is brought forth to us in the Gospel for this very end, that, in order to our justification, we may, by the appropriating exercise of faith, put it upon ourselves. The blood of Christ is presented to the faith of the church in the laver of the gospel, not that it may remain there to be contemplated by mere speculative notions concerning it; but that it may be actually sprinkled upon the soul; and how can that be done, till sinners, in the exercise of an applying faith, really come to the blood of sprinkling? The sacrifice of Christ is presented to the children of men as making atonement for them; but this can never be rightly improved, till we, by the exercise of faith, appropriate it to ourselves, lay our hand on the head of the sacrifice, and actually receive the atonement. The Lord is, in the gospel, giving us eternal life, and bringing near to us his salvation; and what exercise of soul do these acts of God warrant in us? Surely they are faith’s laying hold on eternal life, and receiving God’s salvation. O how pleasant and profitable is this exercise of faith! It is just the person complying with the will of God’s grace revealed in the Gospel, and particularly applying to himself that glorious and everlasting good, which the Lord warrants him to take and use, for all the purposes of his eternal salvation. Necessary this exercise of faith is, unto our salvation. What benefit can the children of men receive from food unless it is eaten; from liquor unless it is drunk; from raiment, if it is not put on; or from a place of shelter, if we do not enter into it? Neither can we reap any saving advantage from Jesus Christ, unless we particularly improve and apply him to ourselves, in the exercise of an appropriating faith. Concerning the nature of saving faith, the hearers of the word are ready to fall into the following mistake: They think that a general belief of the truths of the Gospel concerning Christ and salvation by him, is all that is included in the nature of faith. But alas! this, without the appropriation of Christ to the soul, is not saving faith at all. Let us, therefore, in our crediting the truths of the word relative to the Redeemer and his salvation, connect with it the exercise of receiving and resting upon him by faith, for our own everlasting salvation.
3. From this part of the subject, we may see the error of those who deny that appropriation belongs to the nature of faith. If what has been said upon the doctrinal part of the subject, relative to this, has been attended to, the nature and necessity of this appropriation will be, in some measure, evident. The opinion, by which it is denied, must certainly be a mistake. Were this opinion followed out by the children of men, it would forever separate the object of faith from all Christians. No belief of the truths of the Gospel concerning Christ, will ever interest any in him, unless it is accompanied with a personal application of the Redeemer unto the person’s self. As neither meat, nor drink, nor raiment, can nourish our bodies unless they are applied and used, neither will Christ be the spiritual nourishment of our souls, if he is not embraced and improved by faith’s appropriating acts. By this opinion, the saving faith of God’s elect is reduced unto a level with the historical faith of nominal Christians, which acts only in the way of speculation. Those who deny this appropriation, endeavor to destroy the principal thing which distinguishes the faith of the saints from the faith of devils. Betwixt the faith of unconverted sinners, which is without this personal application and trust, and the faith of devils, there is not so much difference, as people, who possess nothing more, generally imagine; but surely there is the greatest difference betwixt it and the faith of true believers. This will appear from the following statement:—The apostle informs us that “the devils believe and tremble.”[James 2:19.] They themselves say of him, “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.”[Mark 1:24.]From these texts of Scripture, it is evident that fallen angels know and believe that the Lord Jesus is the Savior of human sinners; but as he did not assume their nature, nor undertake their salvation, they have no warrant to improve him for their deliverance from sin and misery, and, therefore, they cannot appropriate him by faith as their Savior. Now, what is the historical faith of nominal Christians? They also believe the truths of the Word in relation to Christ as a Savior; but they never apply to him in the exercise of faith, nor receive and rest upon him for their own salvation. Betwixt this and the other I can see no difference, if it is not that the unbelief of the latter is infinitely more aggravated than that of the former. In opposition unto both these, this is the faith of true believers:—They have the glorious truths of the Gospel respecting him, and salvation by him, powerfully revealed unto their souls, and they are enabled savingly to believe them, and are brought to the exercise of a particular appropriation of Christ, and personal trust in him for their own salvation. Betwixt this and the other kinds of faith, there is the greatest difference; which difference, those who deny the appropriation of faith, seem to destroy. But it must also be observed, that even those who are of this opinion, do not altogether deny appropriation; and it is well for them, that though they deny the name, they do not wholly reject the thing; for they are obliged to describe faith to be a coming unto Christ, flying to him, receiving and resting upon him, which necessarily include this appropriation of the object of faith to the person’s self.
4. That objective assurance is, and subjective assurance is not, of the nature and essence of faith, is clearly evident from what has been said. I will not charge any man with denying either of the branches of this inference, or maintaining the contrary; but I must be allowed to say, that such modes of expression have been adopted by different writers, as lead one to imagine, that some of them meant to exclude objective assurance from the nature of saving faith, and that others of them designed to maintain, that subjective assurance belonged to its essence. The zeal of some against that error, that sensible or subjective assurance is in the nature of faith, has led them to speak, as if they denied the assurance of the truth of the object of faith to belong to the essence of that grace. The zeal of others for that truth, that objective assurance is in the nature of faith, has made them give such definitions of that grace, as appear to include in its nature even the assurance of sense. These men, perhaps, have been too much influenced in this matter by their high personal attainments in the exercise of faith; and have not duly considered the word of God, the nature of faith, the inferior attainments of others; nor have accurately distinguished between the exercise of faith and its effects, which it sometimes produces instantaneously in the mind. There is some difficulty in speaking upon this subject, lest we raise the notion of faith above the attainments of real believers, or be found pleading the cause of unbelief in their souls. To do either of these, is of much more importance, than either to contradict or affirm the notional opinions and prejudices of men upon the subject. In order to give some view of this matter, the following things may be observed:—There can be no faith at all without a persuasion of the truth of the things believed; and this is objective assurance. Take away this from the exercise of a Christian, and you make him an unbeliever, and leave nothing with him but unbelief. As it is a part of the things to be believed, that Jesus Christ and all his salvation are freely offered to sinners in the Gospel, and that they are warranted by the Divine command, to receive and rest upon him for their own salvation, a firm persuasion of the truth of this, in application to the person’s self, as well as other things revealed concerning the Redeemer, must be in the nature of true faith. The Christian, in the exercise of faith, actually embraces and takes home to himself the Lord Jesus Christ, in his person, righteousness, fulness, and salvation; and this is the assurance of faith, or a fiducial application of the object of faith unto the person himself. Without this there is no faith in Christ; and wherever this is, the person is a believer. If any say, since this fiducial appropriation is, in the nature of faith, a persuasion of a person’s own interest in the object of faith must be in the essence of that grace. To this it may be answered, that there is a difference betwixt the giving a person an interest in Christ, and the manifestation of this interest, to his comfort and satisfaction. The applying exercise of faith gives ever believer an interest in Christ; but something more than the act of faith is necessary to discover this interest, and that is a persuasion of the truth of our faith and of its exercise. This persuasion must necessarily intervene betwixt the person’s obtaining an interest in the object of faith, and his having his personal interest in that object manifested unto him. Sometimes a persuasion of the truth of faith is granted to the believer, and obtained by him in, or immediately after, the acting of faith, so that he has this sensible assurance at the time he believes; but, be it ever so instantaneous, it arises from something of reflection upon our act of faith, and does not belong unto its nature. From this it is evident, that an appropriation of the object of faith may be affirmed to belong unto the nature of that grace; and yet, a persuasion of our interest in this object, which must have for its foundation a conviction of the truth of the appropriating act, maybe denied to be in the essence of faith. Before a person can be persuaded, in the way of sensible assurance, that he has an interest in the object of faith, another point must be settled to his satisfaction, which is this, that he hath really believed with a true and saving faith; and hence appears the necessity of the Christian’s considering the evidence of the truth of his faith, before he can be persuaded of his actual interest in salvation.
For the further illustration of this inference, the following distinctions may be made:—There is a difference betwixt a person’s believing that he is Divinely warranted to come to the blood of sprinkling, and so acting faith upon it for the pardon of his sin; and his being persuaded that Christ has shed his blood for him in particular: the former, but not the latter, is in the nature of faith. There is a difference betwixt a person’s believing that Christ’s righteousness is brought near to him in the Gospel; that he is allowed to receive it, together with the soul’s resting upon it for eternal life; and the person’s being fully assured that Christ, for the accomplishment of his personal salvation, wrought out this righteousness in his stead: the latter is a conclusion which belongs to the assurance of sense; the former to the assurance of faith.—There is a difference betwixt a person’s being persuaded that there is life and salvation in Christ for sinners, with a trusting in him for the enjoyment thereof; and the person’s being fully persuaded that he shall have life and salvation by Christ: the former belongs to the assurance of faith; the latter is an inference drawn from sense and reflection. It indeed belongs to the assurance of faith, to believe that all shall have life and salvation who receive Christ, and that the person himself, if he is enabled to believe in Christ, shall have life and salvation by him; but he must be assured of the truth of his faith, before he can be comfortably persuaded that he shall have life and salvation by Christ.—There is a difference between a person’s believing in Christ for the enjoyment of any blessing, and his being assured that this blessing is his in the actual possession: the former is what we do when we act faith; but we conclude the latter from reflecting upon our faith.—There is likewise a great difference betwixt a person’s saying that Christ is his, pardon is his, grace and glory are his, as they are revealed to him in the Gospel; and his saying that they are his in the actual title and enjoyment. The mere revelation and offer of them can give no man an actual interest in them; nor can he be comfortably assured of this interest, until he is in some measure satisfied about the truth of his faith. As we are indeed bound to believe that pardon, grace and glory, are revealed unto us in Christ by the Gospel, so a persuasion of this leads us to the actual exercise of faith in Christ for the enjoyment of pardon, grace and glory; but it is only after we have found the evidences of a true faith in ourselves, that we can say, in the language of sensible assurance, pardon is ours, grace is ours, and glory is ours, in the real title and enjoyment. Thus an assurance of the truth of the object of faith is, and an assurance of our personal interest in the object of faith is not, of the nature and essence of that grace.
5. This part of the subject informs us also, how Christians may come to be assured of their interest in Christ. The way by which the Christian comes to be convinced of the truth of the object of faith, is not the matter of our present consideration; but, it is the way of his obtaining a persuasion of his actual interest in that object, after which we are now to inquire. This assurance may be reached by his consciousness of the acts of his faith,—by the consideration of the immediate effects of his faith,—by his sanctification,—and by his enjoyment of spiritual comfort. Christians may know their interest in Christ, and salvation through him, by their consciousness of the acts of faith in their own souls. We may, by serious consideration and self-examination, come to know if we halve put forth acts of faith for salvation upon the Lord Jesus. If we know what we do in other cases, surely, in this most important matter, we may reach some satisfaction as to what has been the exercise or, our minds. Let us ask ourselves, if we have believed on the name of the Son of God? If we have been enabled, under a conviction of our sin and misery, from a sense of the ability and willingness of Christ to save us, and from a sight of the warrant we have to apply unto him, to fly by faith and trust in the mercy of God, through the righteousness of Christ, for eternal life? If we are sensible of actings of this kind in our minds, we may be assured of our interest in the object of faith. We may demand of our own souls, where we have rested our eternal salvation. About this matter some are entirely careless, and have placed their hope of salvation on no object. Others depend for salvation, upon their own righteousness, either in whole or in part. But the saints of God have intrusted their salvation in the hand of Him who, is come to seek and to save them that are lost. This precious trust, this good thing they have committed unto him. If our minds are assured that we have done this, we have reason to conclude upon our interest in the object of faith.—The consideration of the immediate effects of faith, will discover both the truth of that grace, and our personal interest in Christ by its instrumentality. By the immediate effects of faith, we mean these exercises of the mind which accompany and proceed from the acting of this grace and they are such as the following:—Affecting views of the nature and guilt of sin, and the curse of the law, which is the desert of it; a discovery of the glory of the Divine perfections, which is manifested to us both by the law and by the Gospel, in the holiness, equity and justice of the law’s precept, and in the awfulness, degree and duration of its penalty; as also in the wisdom, beauty and glory of the method of grace in Christ the Redeemer; a degree of rest, peace and satisfaction of mind in Christ; some discoveries of God, as he is our reconciled God and portion through the Lord Jesus; some hopes of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised to us, in Christ Jesus, before the world began; and some humble and sincere resolutions, in the strength of Divine grace, to glorify God and Christ, in all our conversation in the world. If these have attended our acts of faith, they are considerable evidences of the truth of that grace in our souls, and so of our interest in the object of faith; but if that which we judge to be faith in us, produces, or is attended with, no such exercises of mind, we are strangers to saving faith. Not that these things distinctly pass through the mind on every occasion, when the Christian actually believes; but they have all been found in the exercise of the Christian’s heart, when different actings of faith are joined together, and the effects thereof are inquired into. Such a complex and spiritual frame of mind, as may be viewed to include all these, and things of a similar nature, generally attends the exercise of this grace; from which frame, the truth of our faith, and of our interest in the object of faith, may be manifested. Christians may also come to the knowledge of this matter, from their sanctification. By the privilege of sanctification, we are to understand the Christian’s dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness; his putting off the old man with his deeds, and his putting on the new man in all holiness; his denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously and godly in the world; and his forsaking the sinful courses of the world, and going in the way of understanding. If this is the real attainment and concern of Christians, it will certainly discover that they have obtained precious faith.—Wherever persons are heartily engaged in the exercise of crucifying the flesh, with the affections and lusts, and endeavoring through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body, which issues in his keeping himself from his iniquity, and his eschewing evil from principles of love to the glory of God, the honor of Christ, and the credit of religion, which is attended with a believing improvement of the righteousness, grace, fulness, spirit and promise of Christ for this end: in that soul saving faith has its seat. When it is the constant study, and in some measure, is the attainment of Christians to perfect holiness in the fear of God; to be more conformed in heart and life to the Divine law; to abound in the inward exercise of all grace; to persevere in the outward performance of all duty; and to groan under, and mourn before God, because of their manifold imperfections, such persons are believers in Christ, by a faith which really justifies and saves. This life of holiness and sanctification manifests the truth of the believer’s faith, not to himself only, but it discovers the reality of this grace in him also unto others. Hereby they make their light, in such a manner, shine before men, that they seeing their good works, glorify their Father who is in heaven. By their fruits, they are known to be the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. And they show, in the view of all spiritual beholders in particular, as also before the world in general, the truth of their faith by their works. While it is the property of some of the marks of faith, to manifest the truth of that grace to the believer’s own mind only, this evidence of sanctification discovers it to others also.—The Christian may be satisfied as to his interest in Christ through a saving faith, by that spiritual comfort and consolation wherewith his heart is sometimes filled. The prayer of the apostle confirms the reality of this mark of grace: “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”[Romans 15:13.] Some appear to despise and deny this mark of true faith, by saying, Let any man believe, in the way of presumption, that he has an interest in Christ, and, from principles common to human nature, his soul will be filled with joy. This assertion has been made under a very culpable inattention. Is there no difference betwixt the joy of the hypocrite, which is but for a moment, and the spiritual consolation of the saints of God, by which they may be clearly distinguished from one another, and the latter found to be a mark of true faith, while the former is discovered to be an evidence of no such thine? Yes, they differ in many things, particularly in their causes and effects. The causes of the spiritual joy, which is a certain evidence of true faith, are the following:—The real Christian finds spiritual consolation spring up in his soul, from a believing and spiritual consideration of the glory of God; the excellency of Jesus Christ; the exercise of the Divine attributes in Christ for his salvation; the everlasting covenant of peace into the bond of which he has been brought; the great and precious promises which are given unto Him; and the foundation which is laid, in the scheme of grace, by the operation of the Spirit, for subduing his iniquity, perfecting his holiness and fruits. It strengthens, in the soul, faith in Christ; love to God; and a veneration for the Spirit and his influence. It increases the Christian’s hatred of sin, his love to holiness, and his resolution and endeavor to run the way of God’s commandments. It removes his affections from worldly objects; fixes them on things above, and increases his heavenly and spiritual-mindedness. In a word, it constrains the believer to the duty of prayer; makes him humble; excites him to praise, and makes him desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. However strong that joy may be in the hearts of men, which neither springs from these causes, nor produces any of these effects, is the joy of the hypocrite; and whatever it may evidence in them, it no way discovers their interest in the object of saving faith. But the joy and comfort which are thus founded and thus fruitful, whether they be low or high in their degree, assuredly manifest to Christians that they are interested in Christ, and that they shall obtain eternal salvation through him. Examine yourselves by these things; prove your ownselves, that you may know that Jesus Christ is in you, and that you are not reprobates.
6. From what has been said, we may also see that Christians should labor to obtain an assurance of their interest in Christ. The command of God requires this endeavor: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things ye shall never fall.”[2 Peter 1:10.] Indolence about this matter, is a transgression of the law of God. And an earnest and humble attempt, in the use of appointed means, to reach this assurance, is a compliance with his authority. The example of the saints who attained this assurance, should excite us to the same exercise. If they could say, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.”[Isa 12:2.] “Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.”[Psalm73:24.] “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul: therefore will I hope in him.”[Lam. 3:24.] “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”[Rev. 1:5, 6.] Is not, their exercise and attainments a loud call to us to be followers of them, in that diligence by which they reached that assurance, and to go and do likewise? The conduct of the children of men, about matters of an infinitely inferior nature, discovers the reasonableness and necessity of this exercise. If men, when they buy fields for money, subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take faithful witnesses to record,—shall Christians live in careless indifference about the security of their title to the inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, which is reserved in heaven for them? The various advantages which arise to Christians, from an assurance of their interest in Christ, and the unspeakable losses which they sustain in the want of it, should influence them to show much diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
7. The means by which Christians obtain this persuasion of their interest in Christ, may be discovered from this part of the subject. The frequent renewed exercise of faith upon its object, is one special mean of attaining this assurance. The more we abound in that exercise, of which we desire to have the evidence, the sooner will we reach unto satisfaction about it, and the clearer will be our persuasion of its truth. Sensible assurance can neither be obtained nor preserved for any time, without the actings of faith. Let us therefore study to exercise this grace by believing on Christ, coming unto him, receiving and resting upon him as he is revealed and offered to us in the word, that we may come to be sensibly assured that this is our real attainment. Much self-examination is another mean of our attaining this heavenly privilege. This duty is both commanded in the word, and exemplified in the exercise of the saints. We must sincerely try our faith by taking the marks of it, which are contained in the word, and apply them to our own souls, to see if they are really found in us. We need never expect to have certainty as to the troth of our faith, if we do not, by self-examination, search after its evidence. Enlarged meditation upon the object of faith, is also a mean of getting this assurance. The person who meditates on God’s word day and night; who considers the High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, and frequently thinks upon God as the God of his salvation, may expect to have a certain assurance of his interest in the object of faith. Much spirituality in the performance of religious duties, with a reaching forward in them to the enjoyment of communion with God, are means for the same end. While those who are formal in the duties of religion, and do not aspire after fellowship with God therein, shall go mourning without the sun, it shall be the privilege of souls who are otherwise exercised, to hear God saying unto them, I am thy salvation. An humble walking with God; the universal study of holiness; and an endeavor to promote the glory of God, by our public profession of his name before the world, lead to the enjoyment of this privilege. Those who endeavor thus to honor God, he will honor, by giving them a sensible assurance of their interest in his salvation. Without some degree of spiritual diligence in these and the like exercises, an assurance of the love of God in Christ to our souls cannot, in an ordinary way, be obtained. Is it any wonder that Christians living in the neglect or careless use of these means, should be found, as to their interest in the object of faith, walking in darkness and having no light? Would it not rather be a wonder, were it otherwise with them? You may remain in darkness about this matter, and complain of it till the day of your death; but you have no reason to expect, if you are not enabled to exercise yourselves in these and the like things, that ever light in relation to it will shine into your souls. Bestir yourselves then, O Christians: shake off sloth; up and be doing; exercise yourselves unto godliness; so shall you be brought, under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, to know that God hath loved you with an everlasting love; and, therefore, with loving-kindness hath he drawn you.
8. From this subject we may see that those who have obtained a sensible assurance of their interest in the object of faith, should be careful that they do not lose it. The reasons of the Christian’s holy concern about maintaining to himself the enjoyment of this privilege, may be such as the following. This sensible assurance is a tender and delicate blessing, which is easily lost: holy persons who have reached it, have often lost the enjoyment of it, and have gone mourning without the sun. It is not one of those covenant-blessings which are essential to the being of grace in the soul, and which believers at all times enjoy; but it is one of those which belong unto the well-being of grace, and which Christians possess when their souls are in a prosperous condition. And therefore, O how carefully should it be preserved! It is of great advantage to the saints of God, to enjoy this sensible assurance. It is an excellent blessing, and therefore should be watchfully kept. Great are the disadvantages which, by the loss of this privilege, the Christian brings upon himself. Every one of those should be considered as a very powerful argument for exciting believers to the exercise of an holy concern, that the enjoyment of this privilege may be preserved. When this sensible assurance is once lost, it is not easily regained. When the Lord, for his people’s correction, withdraws the light of his countenance from their souls, they may find reason sorrowfully to say,—“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him; and he hideth himself on the right-hand, that I cannot see him.”[Job 23:8, 9.] This sensible assurance should be carefully preserved; because it cannot ordinarily be lost without sin. Guilt is contracted, not only in the losing of this assurance, as it is the giving up of that which the Lord hath wrought for their souls; but sin is generally the cause why Christians are deprived of this enjoyment. Since assurance is lost in such a dishonorable way, a way of which Christians may justly be ashamed, even by turning back from God either in heart or life, it certainly is both for the honor and interest of believers, to keep it with all diligence. The retaining in the soul a sensible assurance of the person’s interest in the object of faith, is a continued victory and triumph over Satan. And, Christians, how concerned should you be, that this may be continued till your dying day! This assurance should be preserved with vigilance; because the loss of it, is the effect of a victory gained by Satan over the believer. If Christians are deprived of this privilege, they may know for certain that their adversary the devil has obtained an advantage over them. Would the saints of God desire to prevent this enemy from triumphing over them, in the temporary and partial destruction of their spiritual comfort, the exercise of their grace, and their sensible fellowship with God, let them vigorously exert themselves, in order to preserve on their minds a sensible assurance of their saving relation to Christ, and interest in salvation through him.
9. Some of the ways in which this sensible assurance is usually lost, may be evident from this part of the subject. The indulgence of secret sins, seldom fails to occasion it. When this is the case, the sin is written in the punishment. A secret and pleasant privilege is removed, to chastise us for the commission of a secret and beloved sin. If Christians sin, when none but God is witness, he may deprive them of an attainment, the loss of which, none but themselves shall feet. Formality and deadness in the duties of religion, procure this grief to the soul: sensible assurance will not long remain where these criminal habits are indulged. By the formal and lifeless performance of duty, Christians deal with a slack hand. And is there any reason at all to wonder that they, by the loss of this blessed privilege, become spiritually poor? The prevalence of a worldly spirit with the believer, produces the same effect. An Apostle has told us, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”[1 John 2:15.] As these words exclude from all saving knowledge and interest in the love of God, those who are under the power of worldly lusts, and who make the things of time their portion and their god; so they clearly hint unto us, that those Christians who are giving way to an inordinate concern about worldly enjoyments, can neither retain a sensible persuasion of their interest in Divine love. Nor possess the sensible manifestations of it to their own souls. Public falls into sin, occasion the loss of their sensible assurance. Because the children of God, by these falls, provoke the Lord; dishonor Christ; grieve the Holy Spirit; transgress his law; bring a reproach upon religion; offend the saints, and harden a careless age; he generally punishes them, for these evils, with the loss of the comfortable sense of their interest in Christ. This appears to have been the case with David, when, by his evil deeds, he had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme—as is evident from the following words of his prayer: “Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me: restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit.”[Psalm 51:11,12.] This privilege may also be lost by a failure in the exercise of grace. If Christians do not endeavor to grow in grace, and abound in the actings of it, they will not long retain upon their spirits a sense of their interest in Divine love. The streams of spiritual comfort will soon dry up, if the means of receiving them into the soul, which are the graces of the Spirit, are not kept in their proper exercise. When christians misimprove the sensible manifestations of Divine love, it sometimes causes the loss of them. If spiritual pride, despising of others,—or severity in judging them,—prevail in the mind, the happy privilege is abused, and will speedily be lost. If the believer’s mind is more fixed upon the gift than upon the Giver,—upon the effects of faith, than upon its object, upon grace received, than upon that which is in the fountain—the privilege is misimproved, and is likely to issue either in a dark night of desertion, or in a storm of spiritual trouble. Indifference about, or an opposition unto the public interests of the kingdom of Christ, brings upon believers the loss of this comfortable blessing. Twice did the Lord send a message to good king Jehoshaphat, which christians, by this evil, bring upon themselves. The words of these messages were,—“Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.”[2 Chron. 19:2.] “Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works.”[2 Chron. 20:37.] In the same manner does the Lord act towards his people when they are unfaithful to the interests of his glory. They are deprived of the light of his countenance; go mourning without consolation, and are under the effects of his fatherly anger. Of all these things let Christians beware, lest, as to their spiritual comfort and prosperity, their root go up as rottenness, and their blossoms like the dust.
10. From what has been said, we may be informed of the course which Christians, who have lost this sensible assurance, are called to take, that they may recover the enjoyment of it. A deep sensibility and conviction of their present condition, and of the evils by which they have brought themselves into it, ought to be obtained. If the person, in this situation, has not this sensibility and conviction produced in his mind, he is not in the way of recovery. Such a conviction is as necessary to believers, that their spiritual comfort may be restored, as a discovery of their sin and misery is unto sinners, in order unto their conversion. The exercise of humiliation, mourning and confession in the presence of God, belong also to the duty of Christians, in such a case as this. When they are enabled to enter into the spirit of these duties, the season of their deliverance is at hand. Lamenting over their condition before God; bewailing their loss, and pouring out their complaint unto him, are suitable unto the deserted soul. Earnest prayer to God, for the restoration of the privilege, is another part of their duty. The recovery the believer needs, will not be obtained, if he is not helped to continue instant in prayer; for, it may be said, this kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting. Importunate pleadings, in the exercise of faith on the promise, must be carried on at the throne of grace, for the renewed intimations of pardoning mercy, the manifestations of Divine love, the communications of his grace, and the influence of his Holy Spirit, that the soul’s captivity may be turned like streams in the South. The renewed actings of faith on the Lord Jesus, as he is presented unto them in the Gospel, must be studied and attained unto by the saints, before this deliverance is wrought for them. This is a most necessary part of that duty to which believers are called, in order that their darkness may be turned into light. As the exercise of this grace was necessary for bringing them out of their natural state,—so it is also needful for raising them to the enjoyment of lost comfort. A careful study of holiness in heart and life, with an endeavor to keep himself from all iniquity, are part of the Christian’s duty, while he is in this condition. If these things are not conscientiously attempted, a recovery from this situation will be expected in vain. And an examination of the frame of the soul, is also a part of that duty, which Christians should perform with care, that the joy of God’s salvation may be restored to them. When this trial of ourselves is duly made, it sometimes issues in the obtaining a sensible assurance of an interest in Christ. By the Christian’s laboring in these exercises, under the blessing of God, he is often brought into a recovered state, and is enabled to say, “O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.”[Isaiah 12:1.]