2 Timothy 4
2 Timothy 4:6-18 (NKJV)
6 For lI am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of mmy departure is at hand. 7 nI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me othe crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous pJudge, will give to me qon that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
The Abandoned Apostle
9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for rDemas has forsaken me, shaving loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get tMark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And uTychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.
14 vAlexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. wMay it not be charged against them.
The Lord is Faithful
17 xBut the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, yso that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered zout of the mouth of the lion. 18 aAnd the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. bTo Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!
2 Timothy 4:6-18
If you wander through an old graveyard, you'll notice that many tombstones have an epitaph, a saying which sums up the life of the deceased person. Most epitaphs are quite complimentary to the dead. Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters is a collection of epitaphs with a twist. On each tombstone the deceased person finally tells the truth, beautiful or ugly, about his or her own life.
Paul's second letter to Timothy is probably the last letter he wrote. In that sense it is something like an extended epitaph for Paul. The apostle's last written words give us deep insight into his life of faith.
1. If your epitaph summed up your life of faith, what would it say?
2. Read 2 Tim. 4:6-18. Facing death and called on to give a synopsis of our earthly lives, most of us wouldn't waste time on trivia. We would point to what we consider most important—accomplishments, family, turning points, even regrets. What does Paul's summary tell us about what he considered vital?
3. What powerful images does Paul use to describe his life in 2 Tim. 4:6-7?
4. From looking back on his life, Paul turned to looking forward. Of what was he confident (2 Tim. 4:8, 18)?
5. Notice who and what Paul asked Timothy to bring to him in prison (2 Tim. 4:11, 13). How do his requests show his hope for a continuing ministry?
6. What emotions come through in Paul's account of his various relationships, good and bad (2 Tim. 4:9-16)?
7. How had other people sometimes failed Paul (2 Tim. 4:10, 14-16)?
8. How had the Lord helped Paul when people failed him (2 Tim. 4:17)?
9. For what purpose was Paul's life preserved (2 Tim. 4:17-18)?
10. What was Paul's ultimate hope?
11. Based on everything you have learned and discussed in this study, how would you like to revise your definition of faith which you wrote in study one?
12. How would you like to revise your epitaph?
How can you work toward that goal?
—LifeGuide Topical Bible Studies
2 Timothy 4
This chapter records the final message from the inspired pen of Paul. Shortly after dictating these words, Paul was martyred for the cause of Christ. It is no surprise, then, that we find in this chapter an intense personal appeal for Timothy’s faithfulness to the Lord and to his beloved Paul. There are four “charges” or admonitions in this chapter that should be heeded by all believers.
I. Preach the Word! (4:1–4)
Paul closed the previous chapter by exhorting Timothy to continue in the Word in his own personal life; now he exhorts him to share that Word with others. We must first receive before we can transmit. So important was the preaching of the Word to Paul and to the ministry of the church that he gave Timothy a charge—a “military command”—to keep on preaching the Word. And Paul called upon Christ to witness his charge to Timothy, reminding Timothy that Christ would one day return and test his ministry.
“Preach the Word” (v. 2) implies knowing the Word, rightly dividing it and making it understandable and applicable to the lives of the people. The great Bible expositor G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Our first business is to impart knowledge, and then our purpose must be to lead those whom we teach to obedience.” He also said, “Preaching is not the proclamation of a theory, or the discussion of a doubt. . . . Preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the truth as the truth has been revealed.”
“Be instant” means “be ready, be urgent”; and this should be the minister’s attitude whether service is convenient or inconvenient. Compare v. 2 with 3:16–17 and you will see that the preacher’s duties parallel the purposes for which the Word was given. The minister of the Word does not reprove, rebuke (warn), and exhort with his own words, but with the inspired Word of God.
Why must we Christians proclaim the Word of God? “Because the time will come” (v. 3) when people will not want the Word of God—and that time is upon us! Many church attenders do not want “healthy” (sound) doctrine; instead, they want religious entertainment from Christian performers who will tickle their ears. We have a love for novelty in the churches today. Too often the person who simply opens the Bible and teaches it is ignored, while the shallow religious entertainer becomes a celebrity. Verse 4 indicates that “itching ears” soon become “deaf ears” as people turn away from the truth and believe man-made fables.
II. Fulfill Your Ministry! (4:5–8)
Paul was about to finish his course, but Timothy’s life and ministry still lay before him. “Make full proof” means “fulfill, accomplish the purpose.” How wonderful it is that God has a specific ministry for each of His children (Eph. 2:10). Our task is to find His will and do it as long as we live. This involves watching, enduring, and working.
Paul’s argument is clear: he is now about to leave the scene, and somebody must take his place. Young people in our churches need to be reminded that they are the future in the church. Paul declares, “I am ready to be poured out like a drink-offering, and the time is at hand for loosing the anchor and setting sail, for taking down the tent and moving on” (literal translation). Paul has no regrets as he faces eternity: he had been a good soldier, a faithful runner, a faithful steward of the treasure of the Gospel. He looked forward to receiving his reward from the Lord. What was it that kept Paul going during more than thirty years of toil and suffering? He loved Christ’s appearing! “The love of Christ constrains us!” (2 Cor. 5:14, NKJV) And all the saints who love His appearing will also be faithful, as Paul was, to serve Him now, and will, with Paul, receive their reward.
Next to losing one’s soul and going to hell, the greatest tragedy of life would be to come to the brink of eternity and discover we had missed God’s will and wasted our lives on fruitless, transient things.
III. Come Quickly to Rome! (4:9–18)
Why was Timothy to hurry? Demas had forsaken Paul (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24); Crescens and Titus were away ministering; Tychicus had been sent to Ephesus; and only Dr. Luke was with him. As he waited patiently for the Lord to call him home, Paul yearned for the Christian companionship of his son in the faith. In v. 21 Paul urged him to “come before winter” because the shipping season would soon end; it was likely that Paul would be dead if Timothy waited too long.
We first met Dr. Luke in Acts 16:10. It was at this point that Luke joined Paul’s party. He was a Gentile and was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Luke is mentioned with Demas in Col. 4:14 and Phile. 24, and the contrast is clear: Demas was unfaithful while Luke was faithful to Christ and Paul.
John Mark had been rejected by Paul in Acts 15:37ff but now was accepted. Mark had proved himself in his ministry with Barnabas. Paul was willing to forgive and forget, the mark of a great man. The word “profitable” in 4:11 is the same as “meet” in 2:21. Mark proved himself “suitable” for the Master’s use.
Paul asked for the cloak he had left at Troas; winter was coming, and he would need it in his Roman prison. The “books” were probably some of his own writings; the “parchments” would be his copies of the OT Scriptures. While awaiting trial, Paul would spend his time studying the Word. What an example to follow!
He warned Timothy about Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20; Acts 19:33), who withstood his words (see 3:8). At Paul’s first defense (answer), no believer stood with him; but the Lord was still with him, and that is all that mattered! This had always been his encouragement in difficult times (Acts 18:7–11; 23:11; 27:19–25).
Preach the Word! (2 Tim. 4:1–4)
“I charge thee” should read “I solemnly witness.” This was a serious moment, and Paul wanted Timothy to sense the importance of it. It was serious, not only because Paul was facing death, but even more because both Paul and Timothy would be judged one day when Jesus Christ appeared. It would do us all good to occasionally reflect on the fact that one day we will face God and our works will be judged.
For one thing, this realization would encourage us to do our work carefully and faithfully. It would also deliver us from the fear of man; for, after all, our final Judge is God. Finally, the realization that God will one day judge our works encourages us to keep going even when we face difficulties. We are serving Him, not ourselves.
“Preach the Word!” is the main responsibility that Paul shared in this section. Everything else he said is related to this. The word “preach” means “to preach like a herald.” In Paul’s day, a ruler had a special herald who made announcements to the people. He was commissioned by the ruler to make his announcements in a loud, clear voice so everyone could hear. He was not an ambassador with the privilege of negotiating; he was a messenger with a proclamation to be heard and heeded. Not to heed the ruler’s messenger was serious; to abuse the messenger was even worse.
Timothy was to herald God’s Word with the authority of heaven behind him. The Word of God is what both sinners and saints need. It is a pity that many churches have substituted other things for the preaching of the Word, things that may be good in their place, but that are bad when they replace the proclamation of the Word. In my own pastoral ministry, I have seen what the preaching of the Word can do in churches and in individual lives; and I affirm that nothing can take its place.
Timothy should be diligent and alert to use every opportunity to preach the Word, when it is favorable and even when it is not favorable. It is easy to make excuses when we ought to be making opportunities. Paul himself always found an opportunity to share the Word, whether it was in the temple courts, on a stormy sea, or even in prison. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc. 11:4). Stop making excuses and get to work!
Preaching must be marked by three elements: conviction, warning, and appeal (“reprove, rebuke, exhort”). To quote an old rule of preachers, “He should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” If there is conviction but no remedy, we add to people’s burdens. And if we encourage those who ought to be rebuked, we are assisting them to sin. Biblical preaching must be balanced.
God’s speaker must be patient as he preaches the Word. He will not always see immediate results. He must be patient with those who oppose his preaching. Above all else, he must preach doctrine. He must not simply tell Bible stories, relate interesting illustrations, or read a verse and then forget itt. True preaching is the explanation and application of Bible doctrine. Anything else is just religious speechmaking.
Paul gave the responsibility—“preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2)—and he also gave the reason (2 Tim. 4:3–4). The time would come (and it has been here for a long time!) when most people would not want the “healthy doctrine” of the Word of God. They would have carnal desires for religious novelties. Because of their “itching ears” they would accumulate teachers who would satisfy their cravings for things that disagree with God’s truths. The fact that a preacher has a large congregation is not always a sign that he is preaching the truth. In fact, it may be evidence that he is tickling people’s “itching ears” and giving them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
It is but a short step from “itching ears” to turning one’s ears away from the truth. Once people have rejected the truth, they turn to fables (myths). It is not likely that man-made fables will convict them of sin or make them want to repent! The result is a congregation of comfortable, professing Christians, listening to a comfortable, religious talk that contains no Bible doctrine. These people become the prey of every false cult because their lives lack a foundation in the Word of God. It is a recognized fact that most cultists were formerly members of churches.
Note the emphasis on Scripture: “Preach the Word... with... doctrine.... They will not endure sound doctrine... they shall turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:2–4). This emphasis on sound (healthy) doctrine runs through all three of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles, and this emphasis is surely needed today.
Fulfill Your Ministry (2 Tim. 4:5–8)
“Make full proof of thy ministry” means “fulfill whatever God wants you to do.” Timothy’s ministry would not be exactly like Paul’s, but it would be important to the cause of Christ. No God-directed ministry is small or unimportant. In this final chapter, Paul named some co-laborers about whom we know nothing; yet they too had a ministry to fulfill.
A young preacher once complained to Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher of the 1800s, that he did not have as big a church as he deserved.
“How many do you preach to?” Spurgeon asked.
“Oh, about 100,” the man replied.
Solemnly Spurgeon said, “That will be enough to give account for on the day of judgment.”
We do not measure the fulfillment of a ministry only on the basis of statistics or on what people see. We realize that faithfulness is important and that God sees the heart. This was why Timothy had to be “sober in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5, nasb) and carry on his ministry with seriousness of purpose. (We have met this word “sober” many times in these letters.)
Timothy was not only a preacher; he was also a soldier (2 Tim. 2:3–4) who would have to “endure afflictions” (2 Tim. 4:5). He had seen Paul go through sufferings on more than one occasion (2 Cor. 6:1–10; 2 Tim. 3:10–12). Most of Timothy’s sufferings would come from the “religious crowd” that did not want to hear the truth. It was the “religious crowd” that crucified Christ and that persecuted Paul and had him arrested.
“Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) would remind Timothy that all of his ministry must have soul-winning at its heart. This does not mean that every sermon should be a “sawdust trail, hellfire-and-brimstone” message, because the saints need feeding as well. But it does mean that a preacher, no matter what he is preaching, should keep the lost souls in mind. This burden for the lost should characterize a pastor’s private ministry as well. (See Acts 20:17–21 for a description of a balanced ministry.)
God has given special men to the church as evangelists (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11); but this does not absolve a pastor from his soul-winning responsibility. Not every preacher has the same gifts, but every preacher can share the same burden and proclaim the same saving message. A friend of mine went to hear a famous preacher, and I asked him how the message was. He replied, “There wasn’t enough Gospel in it to save a flea!”
Paul gave the reason behind the responsibility (2 Tim. 4:6–8): He was about to move off the scene and Timothy would have to take his place. In this beautiful paragraph of personal testimony, you find Paul looking in three different directions.
He looked around (v. 6). Paul realized that his time was short. He was on trial in Rome and had been through the first hearing (2 Tim. 4:17). But Paul knew that the end was near. However, he did not tremble at the prospect of death! The two words “offered” and “departure” (2 Tim. 4:6) tell us of his faith and confidence. “Offered” means “poured out on the altar as a drink-offering.” He used the same picture in Philippians 2:7–8. In effect Paul was saying, “Caesar is not going to kill me. I am going to give my life as a sacrifice to Jesus Christ. I have been a living sacrifice, serving Him since the day I was saved. Now I will complete that sacrifice by laying down my life for Him.”
The word departure (2 Tim. 4:6) is a beautiful word that has many meanings. It means “to hoist anchor and set sail.” Paul looked on death as a release from the world, an opportunity to “set sail” into eternity. The word also means “to take down a tent.” This parallels 2 Corinthians 5:1–8, where Paul compared the death of believers to the taking down of a tent (tabernacle), in order to receive a permanent, glorified body (“house not made with hands”—a glorified body, not a “mansion” in heaven).
Departure also has the meaning of “loosing a prisoner.” Paul was facing release, not execution! “The unyoking of an ox” is another meaning of this word. Paul had been in hard service for many years. Now his Master would unyoke him and promote him to higher service.
Paul looked back (v. 7). He summed up his life and ministry. Two of the images here are athletic: like a determined wrestler or boxer, he had fought a good fight; and, like a runner, he had finished his lifelong race victoriously. He had kept the rules and deserved a prize (see Acts 20:24; Phil. 3:13–14). The third image is that of a steward who had faithfully guarded his boss’ deposit: “I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul used this image often in his pastoral letters.
It is heartening to be able to look back and have no regrets. Paul was not always popular, nor was he usually comfortable; but he remained faithful. That is what really counted.
Paul looked ahead (v. 8). A Greek or Roman athlete who was a winner was rewarded by the crowds and usually got a laurel wreath or a garland of oak leaves. The word for “crown” is stephanos—the victor’s crown; we get our name Stephen from this word. (The kingly crown is diadema, from which we get “diadem.”) However, Paul would not be given a fading crown of leaves; his would be a crown of righteousness that would never fade.
Jesus Christ is the “righteous Judge” who always judges correctly. Paul’s judges in Rome were not righteous. If they were, they would have released him. How many times Paul had been tried in one court after another, yet now he faced his last Judge—his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. When you are ready to face the Lord, you need not fear the judgment of men.
The crown of righteousness is God’s reward for a faithful and righteous life; and our incentive for faithfulness and holiness is the promise of the Lord’s appearing. Because Paul loved His appearing and looked for it, he lived righteously and served faithfully. This is why Paul used the return of Jesus Christ as a basis for his admonitions in this chapter (see 2 Tim. 4:1).
We are not called to be apostles; yet we can win the same crown that Paul won. If we love Christ’s appearing, live in obedience to His will, and do the work He has called us to do, we will be crowned.
Be Diligent and Faithful (2 Tim. 4:9–22)
“Hurry and get here!” is the meaning of the admonition to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:9). Tychicus would take Timothy’s place in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:12). As Timothy hurried to Rome, he could stop in Troas and get the cloak, books, and parchments (2 Tim. 4:13). Paul probably left them there in his haste to depart. It is touching to see that, in his closing days on earth, Paul wanted his dear “son in the faith” at his side. But he was also practical: he needed his cloak for warmth, and he wanted his books for study. The “books” would be papyrus scrolls, perhaps of the Old Testament Scriptures; and the “parchments” would be books made from the skins of animals. We do not know what these “parchments” were, but we are not surprised that a scholar such as Paul wanted material for study and writing.
Before he ended the letter, Paul urged Timothy to “come before winter” (2 Tim. 4:21). Why? All the ships would be in port during the winter since it would be too dangerous for sailing. If Timothy waited too long, he would miss his opportunity to travel to Paul; and then it would be too late.
Why should Timothy be diligent and faithful? Look at 2 Timothy 4:10, which gives part of the answer: Some in Paul’s circle were not faithful, and he could not depend on them. Demas is named only three times in the New Testament; yet these three citations tell a sad story of failure. Paul listed Demas along with Mark and Luke as one of his “fellow laborers” (Phile. 24). Then he is simply called “Demas” (Col. 4:14). Here (2 Tim. 4:10) it is, “Demas hath forsaken me.”
Paul gave the reason: Demas “loved this present world.” He had, as a believer, “tasted... the powers of the world to come” (Heb. 6:5); but he preferred “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). In his Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan pictured Demas as the keeper of a silver mine at the Hill Lucre. Perhaps it was the love of money that enticed Demas back into the world. It must have broken Paul’s heart to see Demas fail so shamefully; yet it can happen to any believer. Perhaps this explains why Paul had so much to say about riches in his pastoral letters.
Another reason why Paul wanted Timothy in Rome was that his next hearing was coming up and only Luke was with him. The believers in Rome and Ephesus who could have stood with Paul had failed him (2 Tim. 4:16); but Paul knew that Timothy would not fail him. Of course, the Lord had not failed Paul either! (2 Tim. 4:17) The Lord had promised to stay with Paul, and He had kept His promise.
When Paul had been discouraged in Corinth, the Lord came to him and encouraged him (Acts 18:9–11). After he had been arrested in Jerusalem, Paul again was visited by the Lord and encouraged (Acts 23:11). During that terrible storm, when Paul was on board ship, the Lord had again given him strength and courage (Acts 27:22ff). Now, in that horrible Roman prison, Paul again experienced the strengthening presence of the Lord, who had promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
But note that Paul’s concern was not for his own safety or comfort. It was the preaching of the Word so that Gentiles might be saved. It was Paul’s special calling to minister to the Gentiles (see Eph. 3); and he was not ashamed of the Gospel, even in the great city of Rome (Rom. 1:16).
What a man! His friends forsake him, and he prays that God will forgive them. His enemies try him, and he looks for opportunities to tell them how to be saved! What a difference it makes when the Holy Spirit controls your life.
“I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17). Who or what is this “lion”? It cannot mean a literal lion because Paul was a Roman citizen and, if convicted, he could not be thrown to the lions. Instead, he would be executed by being beheaded. Was “the lion” the Emperor Nero? Probably not. If he had been delivered from Nero, then this meant he was acquitted; yet, he had only had a preliminary first hearing. The lion is a symbol of Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Perhaps Paul was referring to some scheme of the devil to defeat him and hinder the work of the Gospel. To be “saved from the lion’s mouth” was a proverbial saying which meant “to be delivered from great danger” (Ps. 22:21).
But for a Christian, there are things even more dangerous than suffering and death. Sin, for example. This is what Paul had in mind (2 Tim. 4:18). He was confident that the Lord would deliver him from “every evil work” and take him to the heavenly kingdom. Paul’s greatest fear was not of death; it was that he might deny his Lord or do something else that would disgrace God’s name. Paul was certain that the time had come for his permanent departure (2 Tim. 4:6). He wanted to end his life-race well and be free from any disobedience.
It is heartening to see how many people are named in the closing part of this last letter Paul wrote. I believe that there are at least 100 different men and women named in Acts and Paul’s letters, as a part of his circle of friends and fellow laborers. Paul could not do the job by himself. It is a great man who enlists others to help get the job done, and who lets them share in the greatness of the work.
Luke (2 Tim. 4:11) is the “beloved physician” who traveled with Paul (Col. 4:14). He is author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. (Notice the “we” sections in Acts, the eyewitness reports of Dr. Luke.) Paul probably dictated this letter (2 Tim.) to Luke. Being a doctor, Luke must have appreciated Paul’s reference to gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17, niv).
Crescens (2 Tim. 4:10) was sent by Paul to Galatia. We know nothing about him, nor do we really need to know. He was another faithful laborer who assisted Paul in an hour of great need.
Titus (2 Tim. 4:10) was Paul’s close associate and, along with Timothy, a trusted “troubleshooter.” Paul had left Titus in Crete to straighten out the problems in the churches there (Titus 1:5). As we study Paul’s letter to Titus, we get better acquainted with this choice servant of God. Titus had met Paul at Nicopolis during that period between Paul’s arrests (Titus 3:12). Now Paul had summoned him to Rome and sent him to Dalmatia (our modern Yugoslavia).
Mark (2 Tim. 4:11) was a cousin of Barnabas, Paul’s first partner in missionary service (Acts 13:1–3). His mother was a noted Christian in Jerusalem (Acts 12:5, 12). Unfortunately, John Mark failed on that first missionary journey (Acts 13:5, 13). Paul refused to take Mark on the second trip, and this led to a falling-out between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36–41). However, Paul now admitted that John Mark was a valuable worker; and he wanted Mark with him in Rome. How good it is to know that one failure in Christian service need not make one’s whole life a failure.
Tychicus (2 Tim. 4:12) was a believer from the province of Asia (Acts 20:4) who willingly accompanied Paul and probably ministered as a personal servant to the apostle. He was with Paul during his first imprisonment (Eph. 6:21–22; Col. 4:7–8). Paul sent Tychicus to Crete to relieve Titus (Titus 3:12). Now he was sending him to Ephesus to relieve Timothy. What a blessing it is to have people who can replace others! A relief pitcher may not get all the glory, but he may help win the game!
Carpus (2 Tim. 4:13) lived at Troas and gave Paul hospitality. Paul must have departed in a hurry (was he being sought for arrest?) because he left his cloak and books behind. However, Carpus was a faithful brother; he would guard them until somebody picked them up to take to Paul. Even such so-called menial tasks are ministries for the Lord.
Is Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14) the same Alexander mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20? Nobody knows, and there is no value in conjecturing. The name was common, but it is possible that this heretic went to Rome to make things difficult for Paul. Satan has his workers too. By the way, Paul’s words, “The Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Tim. 4:14), are not a prayer of judgment, for this would be contrary to Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:43–48). “The Lord will reward him” is a better translation.
Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila (2 Tim. 4:19) were a husband-and-wife team that assisted Paul in many ways (see Acts 18:1–3, 24–28; Rom. 16:3–4; 1 Cor. 16:19). Now they were in Ephesus helping Timothy with his ministry. It is wonderful when God’s people do their work regardless of who their leader is.
Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 4:19) and his household we met in 2 Timothy 1.
Erastus (2 Tim. 4:20) might be the treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23); and he might be the same man who ministered with Timothy in Macedonia (Acts 19:22).
Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20) from Ephesus was a friend of Tychicus (Acts 20:4), and the man whose presence with Paul helped to incite that riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:28–29). He had been serving at Miletus, but now he was ill. Why did Paul not heal him? Apparently not every sick person is supposed to be miraculously healed.
The other people mentioned (2 Tim. 4:21) are unknown to us, but certainly not to the Lord.
“Grace be with you” (2 Tim. 4:22) was Paul’s personal farewell, used at the end of his letters as a “trademark” that the letter was not a forgery.
The Bible does not record the final days of Paul. Tradition tells us that he was found guilty and sentenced to die. He was probably taken outside the city and beheaded.
But Timothy and the other devoted believers carried on the work! As John Wesley used to say, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” You and I must be faithful so that (if the Lord does not return soon) future generations may hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to be saved.
Chapter 7: Assurance
"I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6–8).
Here we see the apostle Paul looking three ways: downward, backward, forward—downward to the grave, backward to his own ministry, forward to that great day, the day of judgment!
It will do us good to stand by the apostle’s side a few minutes and mark the words he uses. Happy is that soul who can look where Paul looked and then speak as Paul spoke!
a. He looks downward to the grave, and he does it without fear. Hear what he says: "I am ready to be offered." I am like an animal brought to the place of sacrifice and bound with cords to the very horns of the altar. The drink offering, which generally accompanies the oblation, is already being poured out. The last ceremonies have been gone through. Every preparation has been made. It only remains to receive the death–blow, and then all is over.
"The time of my departure is at hand." I am like a ship about to unmoor and put to sea. All on board is ready. I only wait to have the moorings cast off that fasten me to the shore, and I shall then set sail and begin my voyage.
These are remarkable words to come from the lips of a child of Adam like ourselves! Death is a solemn thing, and never so much so as when we see it close at hand. The grave is a chilling, heart–sickening place, and it is vain to pretend it has no terrors. Yet here is a mortal man who can look calmly into the narrow "house appointed for all living," and say, while he stands upon the brink, "I see it all, and am not afraid."
b. Let us listen to him again. He looks backward to his ministerial life, and he does it without shame. Hear what he says: "I have fought a good fight." There he speaks as a soldier. I have fought that good fight with the world, the flesh and the devil, from which so many shrink and draw back.
"I have finished my course." There he speaks as one who has run for a prize. I have run the race marked out for me. I have gone over the ground appointed for me, however rough and steep. I have not turned aside because of difficulties, nor been discouraged by the length of the way. I am at last in sight of the goal.
"I have kept the faith." There he speaks as a steward. I have held fast that glorious gospel which was committed to my trust. I have not mingled it with man’s traditions, nor spoiled its simplicity by adding my own inventions, nor allowed others to adulterate it without withstanding them to the face. "As a soldier, a runner, a steward," he seems to say, "I am not ashamed."
That Christian is happy who, as he quits the world, can leave such testimony behind him. A good conscience will save no man, wash away no sin, not lift us one hair’s breadth towards heaven. Yet a good conscience will be found a pleasant visitor at our bedside in a dying hour. There is a fine passage in Pilgrim’s Progress which describes old Honest’s passage across the river of death. "The river," says Bunyan, "at that time overflowed its banks in some places; but Mr. Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good Conscience to meet him there; the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over." We may be sure, there is a mine of truth in that passage.
c. Let us hear the apostle once more. He looks forward to the great day of reckoning, and he does it without doubt. Mark his words: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." "A glorious reward," he seems to say, "is ready and laid up in store for me—even that crown which is only given to the righteous. In the great day of judgment the Lord shall give this crown to me, and to all beside me who have loved Him as an unseen Saviour, and longed to see Him face to face. My work on earth is over. This one thing now remains for me to look forward to, and nothing more."
Let us observe that the apostle speaks without any hesitation or distrust. He regards the crown as a sure thing, as his own already. He declares with unfaltering confidence his firm persuasion that the righteous Judge will give it to him. Paul was no stranger to all the circumstances and accompaniments of that solemn day to which he referred. The great white throne, the assembled world, the open books, the revealing of all secrets, the listening angels, the awful sentence, the eternal separation of the lost and saved—all these were things with which he was well acquainted. But none of these things moved him. His strong faith overleaped them all and saw only Jesus, his all–prevailing Advocate, and the blood of sprinkling, and sin washed away. "A crown," he says, "is laid up for me." "The Lord Himself shall give it to me." He speaks as if he saw it all with his own eyes.
Such are the main things which these verses contain. Of most of them I shall not speak because I want to confine myself to the special subject of this exposition. I shall only try to consider one point in the passage. That point is the strong "assurance of hope," with which the apostle looks forward to his own prospects in the day of judgment.
I shall consider it readily, and at the same time with fear and trembling. I feel that I am treading on very difficult ground and that it is easy to speak rashly and unscripturally in this matter. The road between truth and error is here especially a narrow pass; and if I shall be enabled to do good to some without doing harm to others, I shall be very thankful.
I shall lay out the Scriptural reality for an assured hope, as well as explain that some are saved who never attain it. Also, I will explain why assurance is desirable, and remark on why it is so seldom aquired.
If I am not greatly mistaken, there is a very close connection between true holiness and assurance. Before I close this message, I hope to show my readers the nature of that connection. At present, I content myself with saying, that where there is the most holiness, there is generally the most assurance.
1. An assured hope is a true and scriptural thing
Assurance, such as Paul expresses in the verses which head this message, is not a mere fancy or feeling. It is not the result of high animal spirits, or a sanguine temperament of body. It is a positive gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed without reference to men’s bodily frames or constitutions, and a gift which every believer in Christ ought to aim at and seek after.
In matters like these, the first question is this: "What saith the Scripture?" I answer that question without the least hesitation. The Word of God appears to me to teach distinctly that a believer may arrive at an assured confidence with regard to his own salvation.
I lay it down fully and broadly, as God’s truth, that a true Christian, a converted man, may reach such a comfortable degree of faith in Christ, that in general he shall feel entirely confident as to the pardon and safety of his soul, shall seldom be troubled with doubts, seldom be distracted with fears, seldom be distressed by anxious questionings and, in short, though vexed by many an inward conflict with sin, shall look forward to death without trembling, and to judgment without dismay. This, I say, is the doctrine of the Bible.
Such is my account of assurance. I will ask my readers to mark it well. I say neither less nor more than I have here laid down.
Now such a statement as this is often disputed and denied. Many cannot see the truth of it at all.
The Church of Rome denounces assurance in the most unmeasured terms. The Council of Trent declares roundly that a "believer’s assurance of the pardon of his sins is a vain and ungodly confidence"; and Cardinal Bellarmine, the well–known champion of Romanism, calls it "a prime error of heretics."
The vast majority of the worldly and thoughtless Christians among ourselves oppose the doctrine of assurance. It offends and annoys them to hear of it. They do not like others to feel comfortable and sure, because they never feel so themselves. Ask them whether their sins are forgiven, and they will probably tell you they do not know! That they cannot receive the doctrine of assurance is certainly no marvel.
But there are also some true believers who reject assurance or shrink from it as a doctrine fraught with danger. They consider it borders on presumption. They seem to think it a proper humility never to feel sure, never to be confident, and to live in a certain degree of doubt and suspense about their souls. This is to be regretted and does much harm.
I frankly allow there are some presumptuous persons who profess to feel a confidence for which they have no scriptural warrant. There are always some people who think well of themselves when God thinks ill, just as there are some who think ill of themselves when God thinks well. There always will be such. There never yet was a scriptural truth without abuses and counterfeits. God’s election, man’s impotence, salvation by grace—all are alike abused. There will be fanatics and enthusiasts as long as the world stands. But, for all this, assurance is a reality and a true thing; and God’s children must not let themselves be driven from the use of a truth merely because it is abused.
My answer to all who deny the existence of real, well–grounded assurance, is simply this: "What saith the Scripture?" If assurance be not there, I have not another word to say.
But does not Job say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God"? (Job 19:25, 26).
Does not David say, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me"? (Psalms 23:4).
Does not Isaiah say, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee"? (Isaiah 26:3).
And again, "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever"? (Isaiah 32:17).
Does not Paul say to the Romans, "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord"? (Romans 8:38, 39).
Does he not say to the Corinthians, "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens"? (2 Corinthians 5:1).
And again, "We are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord"? (2 Corinthians 5:6).
Does he not say to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him"? (2 Timothy 1:12).
And does he not speak to the Colossians of "the full assurance of understanding" (Colossians 2:2), and to the Hebrews of the "Full Assurance of Faith," and the " Full Assurance of Hope"? (Hebrews 10:22; 6:11).
Does not Peter say expressly, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure"? (2 Peter 1:10).
Does not John say, "We know that we have passed from death unto life"? (1 John 3:14).
And again, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life"? (1 John 5:13).
And again, "We know that we are of God"? (1 John 5:19).
What shall we say to these things? I desire to speak with all humility on any controverted point. I feel that I am only a poor fallible child of Adam myself. But I must say that in the passages I have just quoted I see something far higher than the mere "hopes" and "trusts" with which so many believers appear content in this day. I see the language of persuasion, confidence, knowledge—nay, I may almost say, of certainty. And I feel, for my own part, if I may take these Scriptures in their plain obvious meaning, the doctrine of assurance is true.
But my answer, furthermore, to all who dislike the doctrine of assurance as bordering on presumption, is this: it can hardly be presumption to tread in the steps of Peter and Paul, of Job and of John. They were all eminently humble and lowly–minded men, if ever any were; and yet they all speak of their own state with an assured hope. Surely this should teach us that deep humility and strong assurance are perfectly compatible and that there is not any necessary connection between spiritual confidence and pride.
My answer, furthermore, is that many have attained to such an assured hope as our text expresses, even in modern times. I will not concede for a moment that it was a peculiar privilege confined to the apostolic day. There have been in our own land many believers who have appeared to walk in almost uninterrupted fellowship with the Father and the Son, who have seemed to enjoy an almost unceasing sense of the light of God’s reconciled countenance shining down upon them, and have left their experience on record. I could mention well–known names, if space permitted. The thing has been, and is—and that is enough.
My answer, lastly, is: it cannot be wrong to feel confidently in a matter where God speaks unconditionally, to believe decidedly when God promises decidedly, to have a sure persuasion of pardon and peace when we rest on the word and oath of Him that never changes. It is an utter mistake to suppose that the believer who feels assurance is resting on anything he sees in himself. He simply leans on the Mediator of the New Covenant and the Scripture of truth. He believes the Lord Jesus means what He says and takes Him at His word. Assurance after all is no more than a full–grown faith, a masculine faith that grasps Christ’s promise with both hands, a faith that argues like the good centurion, "If the Lord ‘speak the word only,’ I am healed. Wherefore then should I doubt?" (Matthew 8:8).
We may be sure that Paul was the last man in the world to build his assurance on anything of his own. He who could write himself down "chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15) had a deep sense of his own guilt and corruption. But then he had a still deeper sense of the length and breadth of Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. He who could cry, "O wretched man that I am" (Romans 7:24), had a clear view of the fountain of evil within his heart. But then he had a still clearer view of that other Fountain which can remove "all sin and uncleanness." He who thought himself "less than the least of all saints" (Ephesians 3:8), had a lively and abiding feeling of his own weakness. But he had a still livelier feeling that Christ’s promise, "My sheep shall never perish" (John 10:28), could not be broken. Paul knew, if ever man did, that he was a poor, frail bark, floating on a stormy ocean. He saw, if any did, the rolling waves and roaring tempest by which he was surrounded. But then he looked away from self to Jesus and was not afraid. He remembered that anchor within the veil, which is both "sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19). He remembered the word and work and constant intercession of Him that loved him and gave Himself for him. And this it was, and nothing else, that enabled him to say so boldly, "A crown is laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it to me," and to conclude so surely, "The Lord will preserve me: I shall never be confounded."
2. A believer may never arrive at this assured hope, and yet be saved
I would not desire to make one contrite heart sad that God has not made sad, or to discourage one fainting child of God, or to leave the impression that men have no part or lot in Christ, except they feel assurance.
A person may have saving faith in Christ and yet never enjoy an assured hope, such as the apostle Paul enjoyed. To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing; to have "joy and peace" in our believing, and abound in hope, is quite another. All God’s children have faith; not all have assurance. I think this ought never to be forgotten.
I know some great and good men have held a different opinion. I believe that many excellent ministers of the gospel, at whose feet I would gladly sit, do not allow the distinction I have stated. But I desire to call no man master. I dread as much as anyone the idea of healing the wounds of conscience slightly; but I should think any other view than that I have given a most uncomfortable gospel to preach, and one very likely to keep souls back a long time from the gate of life.
I do not shrink from saying that by grace a man may have sufficient faith to flee to Christ—sufficient faith really to lay hold on Him, really to trust in Him, really to be a child of God, really to be saved and yet to his last day be never free from much anxiety, doubt and fear.
"A letter," says an old writer, "may be written, which is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, yet the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it."
A child may be born heir to a great fortune and yet never be aware of his riches, may live childish, die childish, and never know the greatness of his possessions. And so also a man may be a babe in Christ’s family, think as a babe, speak as a babe and, though saved, never enjoy a lively hope or know the real privileges of his inheritance.
Let no man mistake my meaning when I dwell strongly on the reality, privilege and importance of assurance. Do not do me the injustice to say, I teach that none are saved except such as can say with Paul, "I know and am persuaded . . . there is a crown laid up for me." I do not say so. I teach nothing of the kind.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a man must have, beyond all question, if he is to be saved. I know no other way of access to the Father. I see no intimation of mercy, excepting through Christ. A man must feel his sins and lost estate, must come to Jesus for pardon and salvation, must rest his hope on Him, and on Him alone. But if he only has faith to do this, however weak and feeble that faith may be, I will engage, from Scripture warrants, he shall not miss heaven.
Never, never let us curtail the freeness of the glorious gospel or clip its fair proportions. Never let us make the gate more straight and the way more narrow than pride and the love of sin have made it already. The Lord Jesus is very pitiful and of tender mercy. He does not regard the quantity of faith, but the quality: He does not measure its degree, but its truth. He will not break any bruised reed, nor quench any smoking flax. He will never let it be said that any perished at the foot of the cross. "Him that cometh to Me," He says, "I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
Yes! Though a man’s faith be no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, if it only brings him to Christ, and enables him to touch the hem of His garment, he shall be saved—saved as surely as the oldest saint in paradise, saved as completely and eternally as Peter or John or Paul. There are degrees in our sanctification. In our justification there are none. What is written is written and shall never fail: "Whosoever believeth on Him," not whosoever has a strong and mighty faith, "Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed" (Romans 10:11).
But all this time, be it remembered, the poor believing soul may have no full assurance of his pardon and acceptance with God. He may be troubled with fear upon fear and doubt upon doubt. He may have many an inward question and many an anxiety, many a struggle and many a misgiving, clouds and darkness, storm and tempest to the very end.
Bare simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance; but will it bring him to heaven with strong and abounding consolations? I will concede that it shall land him safe in harbor; but I will not concede that he will enter that harbor in full sail, confident and rejoicing. I would not be surprised if he reaches his desired haven weather–beaten and tempest–tossed, scarcely realizing his own safety, till he opens his eyes in glory.
An inquirer into religion would find more understanding if he made these simple distinctions between faith and assurance. It is all too easy to confuse the two. Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.
Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press and touched the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25). Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers and saying, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).
Faith is the penitent thief, crying, "Lord, remember me" (Luke 23:42). Assurance is Job, sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, "I know that my Redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25). "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15).
Faith is Peter’s drowning cry, as he began to sink: "Lord, save me!" (Matthew 14:30.) Assurance is that same Peter declaring before the council in after times, "This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:11, 12).
Faith is the anxious, trembling voice: "Lord, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24). Assurance is the confident challenge: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?" (Romans 8:33, 34). Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind and alone (Acts 9:11). Assurance is Paul, the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave, and saying, "I know whom I have believed. There is a crown laid up for me" (2 Timothy 1:12; 4:8).
Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can describe or realize the gulf between life and death? "A living dog is better than a dead lion" (Ecclestaties 9:4). And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, weary, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigor, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.
It is not a question of "saved or not saved" that lies before us, but of "privilege or no privilege." It is not a question of peace or no peace, but of great peace or little peace. It is not a question between the wanderers of this world and the school of Christ: it is one that belongs only to the school: it is between the first form and the last.
He that has faith does well. Happy should I be if I thought all readers of this message had it. Blessed, thrice blessed, are they that believe! They are safe. They are washed. They are justified. They are beyond the power of hell. Satan, with all his malice, shall never pluck them out of Christ’s hand. But he that has assurance does far better—sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more, has more days like those spoken of in Deuteronomy, even "the days of heaven upon the earth" (Deuteronomy11:21).
3. Reasons why an assured hope is exceedingly to be desired
I ask special attention to this point. I heartily wish that assurance was more sought after than it is. Too many among those who believe begin doubting and go on doubting, live doubting and die doubting, and go to heaven in a kind of mist.
It would ill become me to speak in a slighting way of "hopes" and "trusts." But I fear many of us sit down content with them and go no further. I should like to see fewer "peradventurers" in the Lord’s family and more who could say, "I know and am persuaded." Oh, that all believers would covet the best gifts and not be content with less! Many miss the full tide of blessedness the gospel was meant to convey. Many keep themselves in a low and starved condition of soul, while their Lord is saying, "Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved." "Ask and receive, that your joy may be full" (Song of Soloman 5:1; John 16:24).
1. Let us remember that assurance is to be desired because of the present comfort and peace it affords.
Doubts and fears have power to spoil much of the happiness of a true believer in Christ. Uncertainty and suspense are bad enough in any condition—in the matter of our health, our property, our families, our affections, our earthly callings—but never so bad as in the affairs of our souls. And so long as a believer cannot get beyond, "I hope," and "I trust," he manifestly feels a degree of uncertainty about his spiritual state. The very words imply as much. He says, "I hope," because he dares not say, "I know."
Now assurance goes far to set a child of God free from this painful kind of bondage and thus ministers mightily to his comfort. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt a paid debt, the great disease a healed disease, and the great work a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small. In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm under bereavements, unmoved in sorrow, not afraid of evil tidings, in every condition content; for it gives him a fixedness of heart. It sweetens his bitter cups; it lessens the burden of his crosses; it smooths the rough places over which he travels; it lightens the valley of the shadow of death. It makes him always feel that he has something solid beneath his feet and something firm under his hands—a sure friend by the way, and a sure home at the end.
Assurance will help a man to bear poverty and loss. It will teach him to say, "I know that I have in heaven a better and more enduring substance. Silver and gold have I none, but grace and glory are mine, and these can never make themselves wings and flee away. Though the fig tree shall not blossom, yet I will rejoice in the Lord" (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).
Assurance will support a child of God under the heaviest bereavements and assist him to feel "It is well." An assured soul will say, "Though beloved ones are taken from me, yet Jesus is the same, and is alive for evermore. Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more. Though my house be not as flesh and blood could wish, yet I have an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure" (2 Kings 4:26; Hebrews 13:8; Romans 6:9; 2 Samuel 23:5).
Assurance will enable a man to praise God and be thankful, even in prison, like Paul and Silas at Philippi. It can give a believer songs even in the darkest night and joy when all things seem going against him (Job 35:10; Psalms 42:8).
Assurance will enable a man to sleep with the full prospect of death on the morrow, like Peter in Herod’s dungeon. It will teach him to say, "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Psalms 4:8).
Assurance can make a man rejoice to suffer shame for Christ’s sake, as the apostles did when put in prison at Jerusalem (Acts 5:41). It will remind him that he may "rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:12), and there is in heaven an exceeding weight of glory that shall make amends for all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Assurance will enable a believer to meet a violent and painful death without fear, as Stephen did in the beginning of Christ’s church, and as Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper, Latimer, Rogers and Taylor did in our own land. It will bring to his heart the texts: "Be not afraid of them which kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4). "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).
Assurance will support a man in pain and sickness, make all his bed, and smooth down his dying pillow. It will enable him to say, "If my earthly house fail, I have a building of God" (2 Corinthians 5:1). "I desire to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (Psalms 73:26).
The strong consolation which assurance can give in the hour of death is a point of great importance. We may depend on it, we shall never think assurance so precious as when our turn comes to die. In that awful hour there are few believers who do not find out the value and privilege of an "assured hope," whatever they may have thought about it during their lives. General "hopes" and "trusts" are all very well to live upon while the sun shines and the body is strong; but when we come to die, we shall want to be able to say, "I know" and "I feel." The river of death is a cold stream, and we have to cross it alone. No earthly friend can help us. The last enemy, the king of terrors, is a strong foe. When our souls are departing, there is no cordial like the strong wine of assurance.
There is a beautiful expression in the Prayer Book service for the visitation of the sick: "The almighty Lord, who is a most strong tower to all them that put their trust in Him, be now and evermore thy defence, and make thee know and feel that there is none other name under heaven, through whom thou mayest receive health and salvation, but only the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." The compilers of that service showed great wisdom there. They saw that when the eyes grow dim, and the heart grows faint, and the spirit is on the eve of departing, there must then be knowing and feeling what Christ has done for us, or else there cannot be perfect peace.
2. Assurance is to be desired because it tends to make a Christian an active working Christian. None, generally speaking, do so much for Christ on earth as those who enjoy the fullest confidence of a free entrance into heaven and trust not in their own works, but in the finished work of Christ. That sounds wonderful, I dare say, but it is true.
A believer who lacks an assured hope will spend much of his time in inward searchings of heart about his own state. Like a nervous, hypochondriacal person, he will be full of his own ailments, his own doubtings and questionings, his own conflicts and corruptions. In short, you will often find he is so taken up with his internal warfare that he has little leisure for other things and little time to work for God.
But a believer who has, like Paul, an assured hope is free from these harassing distractions. He does not vex his soul with doubts about his own pardon and acceptance. He looks at the everlasting covenant sealed with blood, at the finished work and never–broken word of his Lord and Saviour, and therefore counts his salvation a settled thing. And thus he is able to give an undivided attention to the work of the Lord and so in the long run to do more.
Take, for an illustration of this, two English emigrants, and suppose them set down side by side in New Zealand or Australia. Give each of them a piece of land to clear and cultivate. Let the portions allotted to them be the same, both in quantity and quality. Secure that land to them by every needful legal instrument; let it be conveyed as freehold to them and theirs forever; let the conveyance be publicly registered and the property made sure to them by every deed and security that man’s ingenuity can devise.
Suppose then that one of them shall set to work to clear his land and bring it into cultivation and labor at it day after day without intermission or cessation.
Suppose in the meanwhile that the other shall be continually leaving his work and going repeatedly to the public registry to ask whether the land really is his own, whether there is not some mistake, whether after all there is not some flaw in the legal instruments which conveyed it to him.
The one shall never doubt his title but just work diligently on. The other shall hardly ever feel sure of his title and spend half his time in going to Sydney or Melbourne or Auckland with needless inquiries about it.
Which now of these two men will have made most progress in a year’s time? Who will have done the most for his land, got the greatest breadth of soil under tillage, have the best crops to show, be altogether the most prosperous?
Anyone of common sense can answer that question. I need not supply an answer. There can be only one reply. Undivided attention will always attain the greatest success.
It is much the same in the matter of our title to "mansions in the skies." None will do so much for the Lord who bought him as the believer who sees his title clear and is not distracted by unbelieving doubts, questionings and hesitations. The joy of the Lord will be that man’s strength. "Restore unto me," says David, "the joy of Thy salvation, then will I teach transgressors Thy ways" (Psalms 51:12).
Never were there such working Christians as the apostles. They seemed to live to labor. Christ’s work was truly their meat and drink. They counted not their lives dear to themselves. They spent and were spent. They laid down ease, health, worldly comfort, at the foot of the cross. And one grand cause of this, I believe, was their assured hope. They were men who could say, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19).
3. Assurance is to be desired because it tends to make a Christian a decided Christian. Indecision and doubt about our own state in God’s sight is a grievous evil, and the mother of many evils. It often produces a wavering and unstable walk in following the Lord. Assurance helps to cut many a knot and to make the path of Christian duty clear and plain.
Many, of whom we feel hopes that they are God’s children, and have true grace, however weak, are continually perplexed with doubts on points of practice. "Should we do such and such a thing? Shall we give up this family custom? Ought we to go into that company? How shall we draw the line about visiting? What is to be the measure of our dressing and our entertainments? Are we never, under any circumstances, to dance, never to touch a card, never to attend parties of pleasure?" These are a kind of questions which seem to give them constant trouble. And often, very often, the simple root of their perplexity is that they do not feel assured they are themselves children of God. They have not yet settled the point which side of the gate they are on. They do not know whether they are inside the ark or not.
That a child of God ought to act in a certain decided way, they quite feel; but the grand question is, "Are they children of God themselves?" If they only felt they were so, they would go straightforward and take a decided line. But not feeling sure about it, their conscience is forever hesitating and coming to a dead lock. The devil whispers, "Perhaps after all you are only a hypocrite: what right have you to take a decided course? Wait till you are really a Christian." And this whisper too often turns the scale and leads on to some miserable compromise or wretched conformity to the world!
I believe we have here one chief reason why so many in this day are inconsistent, trimming, unsatisfactory, and half–hearted in their conduct about the world. Their faith fails. They feel no assurance that they are Christ’s, and so feel a hesitancy about breaking with the world. They shrink from laying aside all the ways of the old man because they are not quite confident they have put on the new. In short, I have little doubt that one secret cause of "halting between two opinions" is want of assurance. When people can say decidedly, "The Lord, He is the God," their course becomes very clear (1 Kings 18:39).
4. Assurance is to be desired because it tends to make the holiest Christians. This, too, sounds incredible and strange, and yet it is true. It is one of the paradoxes of the gospel, contrary at first sight to reason and common sense, and yet it is a fact. Cardinal Bellarmine was seldom more wide of the truth than when he said, "Assurance tends to carelessness and sloth." He that is freely forgiven by Christ will always do much for Christ’s glory, and he that enjoys the fullest assurance of this forgiveness will ordinarily keep up the closest walk with God. It is a faithful saying and worthy to be remembered by all believers: "He that hath hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). A hope that does not purify is a mockery, a delusion, and a snare.
None are so likely to maintain a watchful guard over their own hearts and lives as those who know the comfort of living in close communion with God. They feel their privilege and will fear losing it. They will dread falling from the high estate, and marring their own comforts, by bringing clouds between themselves and Christ. He that goes on a journey with little money about him takes little thought of danger and cares little how late he travels. He, on the contrary, that carries gold and jewels will be a cautious traveler. He will look well to his roads, his lodgings and his company and run no risks. It is an old saying, however unscientific it may be, that the fixed stars are those which tremble most. The man that most fully enjoys the light of God’s reconciled countenance will be a man tremblingly afraid of losing its blessed consolations and jealously fearful of doing anything to grieve the Holy Spirit.
I commend these four points to the serious consideration of all professing Christians. Would you like to feel the everlasting arms around you and to hear the voice of Jesus daily drawing nigh to your soul and saying, "I am thy salvation"? Would you like to be a useful laborer in the vineyard in your day and generation? Would you be known of all men as a bold, firm, decided, single–eyed, uncompromising follower of Christ? Would you be eminently spiritually–minded and holy? I doubt not some readers will say, "These are the very things our hearts desire. We long for them. We pant after them, but they seem far from us."
Now, has it never struck you that your neglect of assurance may possibly be the main secret of all your failures, that the low measure of faith which satisfies you may be the cause of your low degree of peace? Can you think it a strange thing that your graces are faint and languishing, when faith, the root and mother of them all, is allowed to remain feeble and weak?
Take my advice this day. Seek an increase of faith. Seek an assured hope of salvation like the apostle Paul’s. Seek to obtain a simple, childlike confidence in God’s promises. Seek to be able to say with Paul, "I know whom I have believed: I am persuaded that He is mine, and I am His."
You have very likely tried other ways and methods and completely failed. Change your plan. Go upon another tack. Lay aside your doubts. Lean more entirely on the Lord’s arm. Begin with implicit trusting. Cast aside your faithless backwardness to take the Lord at His word. Come and roll yourself, your soul and your sins, upon your gracious Saviour. Begin with simple believing, and all other things shall soon be added to you.
4. Some probable causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained
This is a very serious question and ought to raise in all of us great searchings of heart. Few, certainly, of Christ’s people seem to reach up to this blessed spirit of assurance. Many comparatively believe, but few are persuaded. Many comparatively have saving faith, but few that glorious confidence which shines forth in the language of St. Paul. That such is the case, I think we must all allow.
Now, why is this so? Why is a thing, which two apostles have strongly enjoined us to seek after, a thing of which few believers have any experimental knowledge in these latter days? Why is an assured hope so rare?
I desire to offer a few suggestions on this point, with all humility. I know that many have never attained assurance, at whose feet I would gladly sit both in earth and heaven. Perhaps the Lord sees something in the natural temperament of some of His children which makes assurance not good for them. Perhaps, in order to be kept in spiritual health, they need to be kept very low. God only knows. Still, after every allowance, I fear there are many believers without an assured hope, whose case may too often be explained by causes such as these.
1. One most common cause, I suspect, is a defective view of the doctrine of justification.
I am inclined to think that justification and sanctification are insensibly confused together in the minds of many believers. They receive the gospel truth, that there must be something done in us as well as something done for us, if we are true members of Christ: and so far they are right. But then, without being aware of it, perhaps, they seem to imbibe the idea that their justification is, in some degree, affected by something within themselves. They do not clearly see that Christ’s work, not their own work—either in whole or in part, either directly or indirectly—is the only ground of our acceptance with God: that justification is a thing entirely without us, for which nothing whatever is needful on our part but simple faith and that the weakest believer is as fully and completely justified as the strongest.
Many appear to forget that we are saved and justified as sinners, and only sinners, and that we never can attain to anything higher, if we live to the age of Methuselah. Redeemed sinners, justified sinners and renewed sinners doubtless we must be—but sinners, sinners, sinners, we shall be always to the very last. They do not seem to comprehend that there is a wide difference between our justification and our sanctification. Our justification is a perfect finished work and admits of no degrees. Our sanctification is imperfect and incomplete and will be so to the last hour of our life. They appear to expect that a believer may at some period of his life be in a measure free from corruption, and attain to a kind of inward perfection. And not finding this angelic state of things in their own hearts, they at once conclude there must be something very wrong in their state. And so they go mourning all their days, oppressed with fears that they have no part or lot in Christ, and refusing to be comforted.
Let us weigh this point well. If any believing soul desires assurance and has not got it, let him ask himself, first of all, if he is quite sure he is sound in the faith, if he knows how to distinguish things that differ and if his eyes are thoroughly clear in the matter of justification. He must know what it is simply to believe and to be justified by faith before he can expect to feel assured.
In this matter, as well as in many others, the old Galatian heresy is the most fertile source of error, both in doctrine and in practice. People ought to seek clearer views of Christ and what Christ has done for them. Happy is the man who really understands "justification by faith without the deeds of the law."
2. Another common cause of the absence of assurance is slothfulness about growth in grace.
I suspect many true believers hold dangerous and unscriptural views on this point; I do not, of course, mean intentionally, but they do hold them. Many appear to think that, once converted, they have little more to attend to, and that a state of salvation is a kind of easy chair in which they may just sit still, lie back and be happy. They seem to fancy that grace is given them that they may enjoy it; and they forget that it is given, like a talent, to be used, employed and improved. Such persons lose sight of the many direct injunctions to increase, to grow, to abound more and more, to add to our faith, and the like; and in this little–doing condition, this sitting–still state of mind, I never marvel that they miss assurance.
I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward, and our watchword on every returning birthday and at the beginning of every year should be "more and more" (1 Thessalonians 4:1): more knowledge, more faith, more obedience, more love. If we have brought forth thirtyfold, we should seek to bring forth sixty; and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred. The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too (Matthew 13:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
One thing, at all events, we may depend upon—there is an inseparable connection between diligence and assurance. "Give diligence," says Peter, "to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). "We desire," says Paul, "that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11). "The soul of the diligent," says Solomon, "shall be made fat" (Proverbs 13:4). There is much truth in the old maxim of the Puritans: "Faith of adherence comes by hearing, but faith of assurance comes not without doing."
Is any reader of this message one of those who desire assurance, but have not got it? Mark my words. You will never get it without diligence, however much you may desire it. There are no gains without pains in spiritual things, any more than in temporal. "The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing" (Proverbs 13:4).
3. Another common cause of a want of assurance is an inconsistent walk in life.
With grief and sorrow I feel constrained to say that I fear nothing more frequently prevents men attaining an assured hope than this. The stream of professing Christianity in this day is far wider than it formerly was, and I am afraid we must admit at the same time it is much less deep.
Inconsistency of life is utterly destructive of peace of conscience. The two things are incompatible. They cannot and they will not go together. If you will have your besetting sins and cannot make up your minds to give them up, if you will shrink from cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye when occasion requires it, I will engage you will have no assurance.
A vacillating walk, a backwardness to take a bold and decided line, a readiness to conform to the world, a hesitating witness for Christ, a lingering tone of religion, a clinching from a high standard of holiness and spiritual life, all these make up a sure receipt for bringing a blight upon the garden of your soul.
It is vain to suppose you will feel assured and persuaded of your own pardon and acceptance with God, unless you count all God’s commandments concerning all things to be right, and hate every sin, whether great or small (Psalms 119:128). One Achan allowed in the camp of your heart will weaken your hands and lay your consolations low in the dust. You must be daily sowing to the Spirit, if you are to reap the witness of the Spirit. You will not find and feel that all the Lord’s ways are ways of pleasantness unless you labor in all your ways to please the Lord.
I bless God that our salvation in no wise depends on our own works. By grace we are saved—not by works of righteousness—through faith, without the deeds of the law. But I never would have any believer for a moment forget that our sense of salvation depends much on the manner of our living. Inconsistency will dim our eyes and bring clouds between us and the sun. The sun is the same behind the clouds, but you will not be able to see its brightness or enjoy its warmth; and your soul will be gloomy and cold. It is in the path of well–doing that the dayspring of assurance will visit you and shine down upon your heart.
"The secret of the Lord," says David, "is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant" (Psalms 25:14).
"To him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God" (Psalms 50:23).
"Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them" (Psalms 119:165).
"If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1 John 1:7).
"Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth; and hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him" (1 John 3:18, 19).
"Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3).
Paul was a man who exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man (Acts 24:16). He could say with boldness, "I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith." I do not therefore wonder that the Lord enabled him to add with confidence, "Henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it me at that day."
If any believer in the Lord Jesus desires assurance and has not got it, let him think over this point also. Let him look at his own heart, look at his own conscience, look at his own life, look at his own ways, look at his own home. And perhaps when he has done that, he will be able to say, "There is a cause why I have no assured hope."
I leave the three matters I have just mentioned to the private consideration of every reader of this message. I am sure they are worth examining. May we examine them honestly. And may the Lord give us understanding in all things.
1. And now in closing this important inquiry, let me speak first to those readers who have not yet given themselves to the Lord, who have not yet come out from the world, chosen the good part and followed Christ.
I ask you then to learn from this subject the privileges and comforts of a true Christian.
I would not have you judge of the Lord Jesus Christ by His people. The best of servants can give you but a faint idea of that glorious Master. Neither would I have you judge of the privileges of His kingdom by the measure of comfort to which many of His people attain. Alas, we are most of us poor creatures! We come short, very short, of the blessedness we might enjoy. But, depend upon it, there are glorious things in the city of our God, which they who have an assured hope taste, even in their lifetime. There are lengths and breadths of peace and consolation there, which it has not entered into your heart to conceive. There is bread enough and to spare in our Father’s house, though many of us certainly eat but little of it, and continue weak. But the fault must not be laid to our Master’s charge: it is all our own.
And, after all, the weakest child of God has a mine of comforts within him, of which you know nothing. You see the conflicts and tossings of the surface of his heart, but you see not the pearls of great price which are hidden in the depths below. The feeblest member of Christ would not change conditions with you. The believer who possesses the least assurance is far better off than you are. He has a hope, however faint, but you have none at all. He has a portion that will never be taken from him, a Saviour that will never forsake him, a treasure that fades not away, however little he may realize it all at present. But, as for you, if you die as you are, your expectations will all perish. Oh, that you were wise! Oh, that you understood these things! Oh, that you would consider your latter end!
I feel deeply for you in these latter days of the world, if I ever did. I feel deeply for those whose treasure is all on earth and whose hopes are all on this side of the grave. Yes! When I see old kingdoms and dynasties shaking to the very foundation; when I see, as we all saw a few years ago, kings and princes and rich men and great men fleeing for their lives and scarce knowing where to hide their heads; when I see property dependent on public confidence melting like snow in spring, and public stocks and funds losing their value—when I see these things, I feel deeply for those who have no better portion than this world can give them and no place in that kingdom which cannot be removed.
Take advice of a minister of Christ this very day. Seek durable riches, a treasure that cannot be taken from you, a city which has lasting foundations. Do as the apostle Paul did. Give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek that incorruptible crown He is ready to bestow. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him. Come away from a world which will never really satisfy you and from sin which will bite like a serpent, if you cleave to it, at last. Come to the Lord Jesus as lowly sinners; and He will receive you, pardon you, give you His renewing Spirit, fill you with peace. This shall give you more real comfort than the world has ever done. There is a gulf in your heart which nothing but the peace of Christ can fill. Enter in and share our privileges. Come with us, and sit down by our side.
2. Lastly, let me turn to all believers who read these pages and speak to them a few words of brotherly counsel.
The main thing that I urge upon you is this: if you have not got an assured hope of your own acceptance in Christ, resolve this day to seek it. Labor for it. Strive after it. Pray for it. Give the Lord no rest till you "know whom you have believed."
I feel, indeed, that the small amount of assurance in this day, among those who are reckoned God’s children, is a shame and a reproach. "It is a thing to be heavily bewailed," says old Traill, "that many Christians have lived twenty or forty years since Christ called them by His grace, yet doubting in their life." Let us call to mind the earnest "desire" Paul expresses, that "every one" of the Hebrews should seek after full assurance; and let us endeavor, by God’s blessing, to roll this reproach away (Hebrews 6:11).
Believing reader, do you really mean to say that you have no desire to exchange hope for confidence, trust for persuasion, uncertainty for knowledge? Because weak faith will save you, will you therefore rest content with it? Because assurance is not essential to your entrance into heaven, will you therefore be satisfied without it upon earth? Alas, this is not a healthy state of soul to be in; this is not the mind of the apostolic day! Arise at once and go forward. Stick not at the foundations of religion: go on to perfection. Be not content with a day of small things. Never despise it in others, but never be content with it yourself.
Believe me, believe me, assurance is worth the seeking. You forsake your own mercies when you rest content without it. The things I speak are for your peace. If it is good to be sure in earthly things, how much better is it to be sure in heavenly things! Your salvation is a fixed and certain thing. God knows it. Why should not you seek to know it too? There is nothing unscriptural in this. Paul never saw the book of life, and yet Paul says, "I know and am persuaded."
Make it then your daily prayer that you may have an increase of faith. According to your faith will be your peace. Cultivate that blessed root more, and sooner or later, by God’s blessing, you may hope to have the flower. You may not perhaps attain to full assurance all at once. It is good sometimes to be kept waiting: we do not value things which we get without trouble. But though it tarry, wait for it. Seek on, and expect to find.
There is one thing, however, of which I would not have you ignorant: you must not be surprised if you have occasional doubts after you have got assurance. You must not forget you are on earth, and not yet in heaven. You are still in the body and have indwelling sin; the flesh will lust against the spirit to the very end. The leprosy will never be out of the walls of the old house till death takes it down. And there is a devil, too, and a strong devil—a devil who tempted the Lord Jesus, and gave Peter a fall, and he will take care you know it. Some doubts there always will be. He that never doubts has nothing to lose. He that never fears possesses nothing truly valuable. He that is never jealous knows little of deep love. But be not discouraged: you shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved you.
Finally, do not forget that assurance is a thing which may be lost for a season, even by the brightest Christians, unless they take care.
Assurance is a most delicate plant. It needs daily, hourly watching, watering, tending, cherishing. So watch and pray the more when you have got it. As Rutherford says, "Make much of assurance." Be always upon your guard. When Christian slept in the arbor, in Pilgrim’s Progress, he lost his certificate. Keep that in mind.
David lost assurance for many months by falling into transgression. Peter lost it when he denied his Lord. Each found it again undoubtedly, but not till after bitter tears. Spiritual darkness comes on horseback and goes away on foot. It is upon us before we know that it is coming. It leaves us slowly, gradually, and not till after many days. It is easy to run downhill. It is hard work to climb up. So remember my caution—when you have the joy of the Lord, watch and pray.
Above all, grieve not the Spirit. Quench not the Spirit. Vex not the Spirit. Drive Him not to a distance by tampering with small bad habits and little sins. Little jarrings between husbands and wives make unhappy homes; and petty inconsistencies, known and allowed, will bring in a strangeness between you and the Spirit.
Hear the conclusion of the whole matter.
The man who walks with God in Christ most closely will generally be kept in the greatest peace.
The believer who follows the Lord most fully and aims at the highest degree of holiness will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation.
Note: Referred to in Footnote 23
Extracts from English divines, showing that there is a difference between faith and assurance; that a believer may be justified and accepted with God, and yet not enjoy a comfortable knowledge and persuasion of his own safety, and that the weakest faith in Christ, if it be true, will save a man as surely as the strongest.
1. "The mercy of God is greater than all the sins in the world. But we sometimes are in such a case that we think we have no faith at all; or if we have any, it is very feeble and weak. And therefore these are two things: to have faith, and to have the feeling of faith. For some men would fain have the feeling of faith, but they cannot attain unto it; and yet they must not despair, but go forward in calling upon God, and it will come at the length. God will open their hearts, and let them feel His goodness." (Bishop Latimer: Sermons, 1552).
2. "Weak faith may fail in the applying, or in the apprehension and appropriating of Christ’s benefits to a man’s own self. This is to be seen in ordinary experience. For many a man there is of humble and contrite heart, that serveth God in spirit and truth, yet is not able to say, without great doubtings and waverings, ‘I know and am fully assured that my sins are pardoned. ’ Now shall we say that all such are without faith? God forbid."
"This weak faith will as truly apprehend God’s merciful promises for the pardon of sin as strong faith, though not so soundly, even as a man with a palsied hand can stretch it out as well to receive a gift at the hand of a king as he that is more sound, though it may be not so firmly and steadfastly." (Exposition of the Creed by William Perkins, minister of Christ in the University of Cambridge, 1612).
3. "This certainty of our salvation, spoken of by Paul, rehearsed by Peter, and mentioned by David (Psalms 4:7), is that special fruit of faith, which breedeth spiritual joy and inward peace, which passeth all understanding. True it is, all God’s children have it not. One thing is the tree, and another thing is the fruit of the tree; one thing is faith, and another thing is the fruit of faith. And that remnant of God’s elect which feel the want of this faith, have notwithstanding faith." (Sermons by Richard Greenham, minister and preacher of the Word of God, 1612).
4. "Some think they have no faith at all, because they have no full assurance. Yet the fairest fire that can be will have some smoke." (The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes, Master of Catherine Hall, Cambridge, and preacher of Gray’s Inn, London, 1630, Banner of Truth Trust, 1973).
5. "The act of faith is to apply Christ to the soul; and this the weakest faith can do as well as the strongest, if it be true. A child can hold a staff as well though not so strongly, as a man. The prisoner through a hole sees the sun, though not so perfectly as they in the open air. They that saw the brazen serpent, though a great way off, yet were healed."
"The least faith is as precious to the believer’s soul as Peter’s or Paul’s faith was to themselves; for it lays hold upon Christ and brings eternal salvation." (An Exposition of the Second Epistle General of Peter, by the Revelation Thomas Adams, Rector of St. Gregory’s, London, 1633).
6. "Weak faith is true faith, as precious, though not so great, as strong faith: the same Holy Spirit the Author, the same gospel the instrument."
"If it never proves great, yet weak faith shall save; for it interests us in Christ, and makes Him and all His benefits ours. For it is not the strength of our faith that saves, but truth of our faith, nor weakness of our faith that condemns, but the want of faith; for the least faith layeth hold on Christ and so will save us. Neither are we saved by the worth or quantity of our faith, but by Christ, who is laid hold on by a weak faith as well as a strong—just as a weak hand that can put meat into the mouth shall feed and nourish the body as well as if it were a strong hand, seeing the body is not nourished by the strength of the hand, but by the goodness of the meat." (The Doctrine of Faith, by John Rogers, preacher of God’s Word, at Dedham, in Essex, 1634).
7. "It is one thing to have a thing surely, another thing to know I have it surely. We seek many things that we have in our hands, and we have many things that we think we have lost. So a believer, who hath a sure belief, yet doth not always know that he so believeth. Faith is necessary to salvation; but full assurance that I do believe is not of like necessity." (Ball on "Faith," 1637).
8. "There is a weak faith, which yet is true and, although it be weak, yet, because it is true, it shall not be rejected of Christ."
"Faith is not created perfect at the first, as Adam was, but is like a man in the ordinary course of nature, who is first an infant, then a child, then a youth, then a man."
"Some utterly reject all weak ones, and tax all weakness in faith with hypocrisy. Certainly these are either proud or cruel men."
"Some comfort and establish those who are weak, saying, ‘Be quiet. Thou hast faith and grace enough, and art good enough; thou needest no more, neither must thou be too righteous’ (Ecclesiastes 7:16). These are soft, but not safe, cushions; these are fawning flatterers, and not faithful friends."
"Some comfort and exhort, saying, ‘Be of good cheer, He who hath begun a good work will also finish it in you; therefore pray that His grace may abound in you; yea, do not sit still, but go forward, and march on in the way of the Lord’ (Hebrews 6:1). Now this is the safest and best course." (Questions, Observations, etc., upon the Gospel according to St. Matthew, by Richard Ward, sometime student at Cambridge, and preacher of the gospel in London, 1640).
9. "A man may be in the favour of God, in the state of grace, a justified man before God, and yet want the sensible assurance of His salvation, and of the favour of God in Christ."
"A man may have saving grace in him, and not perceive it himself; a man may have true justifying faith in him, and not have the use and operation of it, so far as to work in him a comfortable assurance of his reconciliation with God. Nay, I will say more: a man may be in the state of grace, and have true justifying faith in him, and yet be so far from sensible assurance of it in himself, as in his own sense and feeling he may seem to be assured of the contrary. Job was certainly in this case when he cried unto God, ‘Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face and holdest me for thine enemy?’" (Job 13:24).
"The weakest faith will justify. If thou canst receive Christ and rest upon Him, even with the weakest faith, it will serve thy turn. Take heed thou think not it is the strength of thy faith that justifieth thee. No, no. It is Christ and His perfect righteousness which thy faith receiveth and resteth upon, that doth it. He that hath the feeblest and weakest hand may receive an alms and apply a sovereign plaster to his wound, as well as he that hath the strongest, and receive as much good by it too." (Lectures upon the 51st Psalm, preached at Ashby–de–la–Zouch, by Arthur Hildersam, minister of Jesus Christ, 1642).
10. "Though your grace be never so weak, yet, if ye have truth of grace, you have as great a share in the righteousness of Christ for your justification as the strong Christian hath. You have as much of Christ imputed to you as any other." (Sermons, by William Bridge, formerly Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and pastor of the church of Christ in Great Yarmouth, 1648).
11. "There are some who are true believers, and yet weak in faith. They do indeed receive Christ and free grace, but it is with a shaking hand; they have, as divines say, the faith of adherence) they will stick to Christ, as theirs. But they want the faith of evidence; they cannot see themselves as His. They are believers, but of little faith; they hope that Christ will not cast them off, but are not sure that He will take them up." (Sips of Sweetness, or Consolation for Weak Believers, by John Durant, preacher in Canterbury Cathedral, 1649).
12. "‘I know,’ thou sayest, ‘that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and that ‘whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:15). ‘Neither can I know but that, in a sense of my own sinful condition, I do cast myself in some measure upon my Saviour, and lay some hold upon His all–sufficient redemption, but, alas, my apprehensions of Him are so feeble as that they can afford no sound comfort to my soul!’"
"Courage, my son. Were it that thou lookedst to be justified, and saved by the power of the very act of thy faith, thou hadst reason to be disheartened with the conscience of the weakness thereof; but now that the virtue and efficacy of this happy work is in the object apprehended by thee, which is the infinite merits and mercy of thy God and Saviour, which cannot be abated by thine infirmities, thou hast cause to take heart to thyself, and cheerfully to expect His salvation."
"Understand thy case aright. Here is a double hand, that helps us up toward heaven. Our hand of faith lays hold upon our Saviour; our Saviour’s hand of mercy and plenteous redemption lays hold on us. Our hold of Him is feeble and easily loosed; His hold of us is strong and irresistible."
"If work were stood upon, a strength of hand were necessary; but now that only taking and receiving of a precious gift is required, why may not a weak hand do that as well as a strong? As well, though not as forcibly." (Bishop Hall: Balm of Gilead, 1650).
13. "I find not salvation put upon the strength of faith, but the truth of faith; not upon the brightest degree, but upon any degree of faith. It is not said, ‘If you have such a degree of faith you shall be justified and saved’; but simply believing is required. The lowest degree of true faith will do it, as Romans 10:9: ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ The thief upon the cross had not attained to such high degrees of faith; he by one act, and that of a weak faith, was justified and saved." (Luke 23:42). (Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel, by William Greenhill, rector of Stepney, London, and chaplain to the Dukes of York and Gloucester, 1650).
14. "A man may have true grace that hath not the assurance of the love and favour of God, or the remission of his sins, and salvation of his soul. A man may be God’s, and yet he not know it; his estate may be good, and yet he not see it; he may be in a safe condition, when he is not in a comfortable position. All may be well with him in the court of glory, when he would give a thousand worlds that all were but well in the court of conscience."
"Assurance is requisite to the well–being of a Christian, but not to the being; it is requisite to the consolation of a Christian, but not to the salvation of a Christian; it is requisite to the well–being of grace, but not to the mere being of grace. Though a man cannot be saved without faith, yet he may be saved without assurance. God hath in many places of the Scripture declared that without faith there is no salvation; but God hath not in any one place of Scripture declared that without assurance there is no salvation." (Heaven on Earth, by Thomas Brooks, preacher of the gospel at St. Margaret’s, Fish Street Hill, London, 1654).
15. "You that can clear this to your own hearts that you have faith, though it be weak, be not discouraged, be not troubled. Consider that the smallest degree of faith is true, is saving faith as well as the greatest. A spark of fire is as true fire as any is in the element of fire. A drop of water is as true water as any is in the ocean. So the least grain of faith is as true faith, and as saving as the greatest faith in the world."
"The least bud draws sap from the root as well as the greatest bough. So the weakest measure of faith doth as truly ingraft thee into Christ, and by that draw life from Christ, as well as the strongest. The weakest faith hath communion with the merits and blood of Christ as well as the strongest."
"The least faith marries the soul to Christ. The weakest faith hath as equal a share in God’s love as the strongest. We are beloved in Christ, and the least measure of faith makes us members of Christ. The least faith hath equal right to the promises as the strongest. And therefore let not our souls be discouraged for weakness." (Nature and Royalties of Faith, by Samuel Bolton, D.D., of Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1657).
16. "Some are afraid they have no faith at all, because they have not the highest degree of faith, which is full assurance, or because they want the comfort which others attain to, even joy unspeakable and full of glory. But for the rolling of this stone out of the way, we must remember there are several degrees of faith. It is possible thou mayest have faith, though not the highest degree of faith, and so joy in the Spirit. That is rather a point of faith than faith itself. It is indeed rather a living by sense than a living by faith, when we are cheered up with continual cordials. A stronger faith is required to live upon God without comfort, than when God shines in on our spirit with abundance of joy." (Matthew Lawrence, preacher at Ipswich, on "Faith," 1657).
17. "If any person abroad have thought that a special and full persuasion of the pardon of their sin was of the essence of faith, let them answer for it. Our divines at home generally are of another judgement. Bishop Davenant and Bishop Prideaux, and others, have shown the great difference between recumbence and assurance, and they all do account and call assurance a daughter, fruit and consequent of faith. And the late learned Arrowsmith tells us, that God seldom bestows assurance upon believers till they are grown in grace: for, says he, there is the same difference between faith of recumbence and faith of assurance, as is between reason and learning. Reason is the foundation of learning, so, as there can be no learning if reason be wanting (as in beasts), in like manner there can be no assurance where there is no faith of adherence. Again, as reason well exercised in the study of arts and sciences arises to learning, so faith being well exercised on its proper object, and by its proper fruits, arises to assurance. Further, as by negligence, non–attendance, or some violent disease, learning may be lost, while reason doth abide, so, by temptation, or by spiritual sloth, assurance may be lost, while saving faith may abide. Lastly, as all men have reason, but all men are not learned, so all regenerate persons have faith to comply savingly with the gospel method of salvation, but all true believers have not assurance." (Sermon by R. Fairclough, Fellow of Immanuel College, Cambridge, in the Morning Exercises, preached at Southwark, 1660).
18. "We must distinguish between weakness of faith and nullity. A weak faith is true. The bruised reed is but weak, yet it is such as Christ will not break. Though thy faith be but weak, yet be not discouraged. A weak faith may receive a strong Christ; a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong; a weak eye might have seen the brazen serpent. The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise doth not say, ‘Whosoever hath a giant faith that can remove mountains, that can stop the mouth of lions, shall be saved,’ but ‘Whosoever believes,’ be his faith never so small."
"You may have the water of the Spirit poured on you in sanctification, though not the oil of gladness in assurance: there may be faith of adherence, and not of evidence; there may be life in the root where there is no fruit in the branches, and faith in the heart where no fruit of assurance." (A Body of Divinity, by Thomas Watson, formerly minister of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, London. 1660, Banner of Truth Trust, 1974).
19. "Many of God’s dear children for a long time may remain very doubtful as to their present and eternal condition, and know not what to conclude, whether they shall be damned or whether they shall be saved. There are believers of several growths in the church of God—fathers, young men, children and babes; and as in most families there are more babes and children than grown men, so in the church of God there are more weak, doubting Christians than strong ones, grown up to a full assurance. A babe may be born, and yet not know it; so a man may be born again, and yet not be sure of it."
"We make a difference betwixt saving faith, as such, and a full persuasion of the heart. Some of those that shall be saved may not be certain that they shall be saved; for the promise is made to the grace of faith, and not to the evidence of it—to faith as true, and not to faith as strong. They may be sure of heaven, and yet in their own sense not assured of heaven." (Sermon by Revelation Thomas Doolittle, of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and sometime rector of St. Alphege, London, in the Morning Exercises, at Cripplegate, 1661).
20. "Is it not necessary to justification to be assured that my sins are pardoned, and that I am justified? No, that is no act of faith as it justifieth, but an effect and fruit that followeth after justification."
"It is one thing for a man to have his salvation certain, another thing to be certain that it is certain."
"Even as a man fallen into a river, and like to be drowned, as he is carried down with the flood, espies the bough of a tree hanging over the river, which he catcheth at, and clings unto with all his might to save him, and seeing no other way of succour but that, ventures his life upon it. This man, so soon as he has fastened on this bough, is in a safe condition, though all troubles, fears and terrors are not presently out of his mind, until he comes to himself, and sees himself quite out of danger. Then he is sure he is safe; but he was safe before he was sure. Even so it is with a believer. Faith is but the espying of Christ as the only means to save, and the reaching out of the heart to lay hold upon Him. God hath spoke the word, and made the promise to His Son; I believe Him to be the only Saviour, and remit my soul to Him to be saved by His mediation. So soon as the soul can do this, God imputeth the righteousness of His Son unto it, and it is actually justified in the court of heaven, though it is not presently quieted and pacified in the court of conscience. That is done afterwards: in some sooner, in some later, by the fruits and effects of justification." (Archbishop Usher: Body of Divinity, 1670).
21. "There are those who doubt, because they doubt, and multiply distrust upon itself, concluding that they have no faith, because they find so much and so frequent doubting within them. But this is a great mistake. Some doubtings there may be, where there is even much faith; and a little faith there may be, where there is much doubting."
"Our Saviour requires and delights in a strong, firm believing on Him, though the least and weakest He rejects not." (Archbishop Leighton’s Lectures on the first nine chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 1670).
22. "Many formerly, and those of the highest remark and eminency, have placed true faith in no lower degree than assurance, or the secure persuasion of the pardon of their sins, the acceptation of their persons and their future salvation."
"But this, as it is very sad and uncomfortable for thousands of doubting and deserted souls, concluding all those to fall short of grace who fall short of certainty, so hath it given the papists too great advantage."
"Faith is not assurance. But this doth sometimes crown and reward a strong, vigorous and heroic faith, the Spirit of God breaking in upon the soul with an evidencing light, and scattering all that darkness and those fears and doubts which before beclouded it." (Bishop Hopkins on "The Covenants," 1680).
23. "A want of assurance is not unbelief. Drooping spirits may be believers. There is a manifest distinction made between faith in Christ and the comfort of that faith, between believing to eternal life and knowing we have eternal life. There is a difference between a child’s having a right to an estate and his full knowledge of the title."
"The character of faith may be written in the heart, as letters engraven upon a seal, yet filled with so much dust as not to be distinguished. The dust hinders the reading of the letters, yet doth not raze them out." (Discourses by Stephen Charnock, of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1680).
24. "Some rob themselves of their own comfort by placing saving faith in full assurance. Faith, and sense of faith, are two distinct and separable mercies; you may have truly received Christ, and not receive the knowledge or assurance of it. Some there be that say, ‘Thou art our God,’ of whom God never said, ‘You are my people’; these have no authority to be called the sons of God. Others there are, of whom God saith, ‘These are my people,’ yet they dare not call God ‘their God’; these have authority to be called the sons of God, yet know it not. They have received Christ, that is their safety; but they have not yet received the knowledge and assurance of it, that is their trouble. . . . The father owns his child in the cradle, who yet knows him not to be his father." (The Method of Grace, by John Flavel, minister of the gospel at Dartmouth, Devon, 1680, Baker Book House, 1977).
25. "It is confessed weak faith hath as much peace with God, through Christ, as another hath by strong faith, but not so much bosom peace."
"Weak faith will as surely land the Christian in heaven as strong faith, for it is impossible the least dram of true grace should perish, being all incorruptible seed; but the weak, doubting Christian is not like to have so pleasant a voyage thither as another with strong faith. Though all in the ship come safe to shore, yet he that is all the way seasick hath not so comfortable a voyage as he that is strong and healthful." (The Christian in Complete Armour, by William Gurnall, sometime rector of Lavenham, Suffolk, 1680, Banner of Truth Trust, 1979).
26. "Be not discouraged if it doth not yet appear to you that you were given by the Father to the Son. It may be, though you do not see it. Many of the given do not for a long time know it; yea, I see no great danger in saying that not a few of the given to the Son may be in darkness and doubts and fears about it, till the last and brightest day declare it, and till the last sentence proclaims it."
"If, therefore, any of you be in the dark about your own election, be not discouraged: it may be, though do not know it." (Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, by Robert Traill, minister of the gospel, in London, and sometime at Cranbrook, Kent, 1690, Works, Banner of Truth Trust, 1979).
27. "Assurance is not essential to the being of faith. It is a strong faith; but we read likewise of a weak faith, little faith, faith like a grain of mustard seed. True saving faith in Jesus Christ is only distinguishable by its different degrees; but in every degree and in every subject, it is universally of the same kind." (Sermons, by the Revelation John Newton, sometime vicar of Olney, and rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, 1767).
28. "There is no reason why weak believers should conclude against themselves. Weak faith unites as really with Christ as strong faith, as the least bud in the vine is drawing sap and life from the root, no less than the strongest branch. Weak believers, therefore, have abundant cause to be thankful; and while they reach after growth in grace, ought not to overlook what they have already received." (Letter of Revelation Henry Venn, 1784).
29. "The faith necessary and sufficient for our salvation is not assurance. Its tendency doubtless is to produce that lively expectation of the divine favour which will issue in a full confidence. But the confidence is not itself the faith of which we speak, nor is it necessarily included in it; nay, it is a totally distinct thing."
"Assurance will generally accompany a high degree of faith. But there are sincere persons who are endued with only small measures of grace, or in whom the exercise of that grace may be greatly obstructed. When such defects or hindrances prevail, many fears and distresses may be expected to arise." (The Christian System, by the Revelation Thomas Robinson, vicar of St. Mary’s, Leicester, 1795).
30. "Salvation, and the joy of salvation, are not always contemporaneous; the latter does not always accompany the former in present experience."
"A sick man may be under a process of recovery, and yet be in doubt concerning the restoration of his health. Pain and weakness may cause him to hesitate. A child may be heir to his estate or kingdom, and yet unable to trace his genealogy, or to read his title–deeds, and the testament of his father; or with a capacity of reading them he may be unable to understand their import, and his guardian may for a time deem it right to suffer him to remain in ignorance. But his ignorance does not affect the validity of his title."
"Personal Assurance of salvation’ is not necessarily connected with faith. They are not essentially the same. Every believer might indeed infer, from the effect produced in his own heart, his own safety and privileges; but many who truly believe are unskillful in the Word of righteousness, and fail of drawing the conclusion from scriptural premises which they would be justified in drawing." (Lectures on the 51st Psalm, by the Revelation Thomas Biddulph, minister of St. James’s, Bristol, 1890).
28. The Conflict Of The Christian
'Strive to enter in by the narrow door.' -- Luke 13:24
'Fight the good fight of the faith.' -- 1 Tim. 6:12
'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.' -- 2 Tim. 4:7
These texts speak of a twofold conflict. The first is addressed to the unconverted: 'Strive to enter in by the narrow door.' Entrance by a door is the work of a moment: the sinner is not to strive to enter during his whole lifetime: he is to strive and do it immediately. He is not to suffer anything to hold him back; he must enter in. (Genesis 19:22; John 10:9; 2 Cor. 6:2; Hebrews 4:6, 7)
Then comes the second, the life-long conflict: by the narrow door I come upon the new way. On the new way there are still always enemies. Of this life-long conflict Paul says: 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.' With respect to the continuous conflict, he gives the charge: 'Fight the good fight of faith.'
There is much misunderstanding about this twofold conflict. Many strive all their life against the Lord and His summons, and, because they are not at rest, but feel an inner conflict, they think that this is the conflict of a Christian. Assuredly not: this is the struggle against God of one who is not willing to abandon everything and surrender himself to the Lord. (Acts 5:39; 1 Cor. 10:22) This is not the conflict that the Lord would have. What He says is that the conflict is concerned with entering in: but not a conflict for long years. No: He desires that you should break through the enemies that would hold you back, and immediately enter in.
Then follows the second conflict, which endures for life. Paul twice calls this the fight of faith. The chief characteristic of it is faith. He who understands well that the principal element in the battle is to believe, and acts accordingly, does certainly carry off the palm: just as in another passage Paul says to the Christian combatant: 'Withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.' (Ephes. 6:16; 1 John 3:4, 5)
And what then does it mean, this 'fight of faith'? That, while I strive, I am to believe that the Lord will help me? No: it is not so, although it often is so understood.
In a conflict it is of supreme importance that I should be in a stronghold or fortress which cannot be taken. With such a stronghold a weak garrison can offer resistance to a powerful enemy. Our conflict as Christians is now no longer concerned with going into the fortress. No: we have gone in, and are now in; and so long as we remain in it, we are invincible. The stronghold, this stable fort, is Christ. (Psalm 18:3; Psalm 46:2; Psalm 62:2, 3, 6, 7, 8; Psalm 144:2; Ephes. 6:10) By faith we are in Him: by faith we know that the enemy can make no progress against our fortress. The wiles of Satan all go forth on the line of enticing us out of our fortress, of engaging us in conflict with him on the open plain. There he always overcomes. But if we only strive in faith, abiding in Christ by faith, then we overcome, because Satan then has to deal with Him, and because He then fights and overcomes. (Exodus 14:14; Josh 5:14; 2 Chron. 23:15; see John; Romans 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:14) 'This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.' Our first and greatest work is thus to believe. As Paul said before he mentions the warlike equipment of the Christian: 'From henceforth be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.'
The reason why the victory is only by faith, and why the fight of faith is the good fight, is this: it is the Lord Jesus who purchased the victory, and who therefore alone gives power and dominion over the enemy. If we are, and abide, in Him, and surrender ourselves to live in Him, and by faith appropriate what He is, then the victory is in itself our own. We then understand: 'The battle is not yours, but God's. The Lord your God shall fight for you, and ye shall be still.' Just as we in opposition to God can achieve nothing good of ourselves, but in Christ please Him, so also is it in opposition to Satan: in ourselves we achieve nothing, but in Christ we are more than conquerors. By faith we stand in Him righteous before God, and just so in Him are we strong against our enemies. (Psalm 44:4, 9; Isaiah 45:24)
In this light we can read and take home to ourselves all the noble passages in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, where the glorious conflict of God in behalf of his people is spoken of. Fear, or spiritlessness, or uncertainty, makes weak, and cannot overcome: faith in the living God is equal to everything. (Deut. 20:3, 8; Joshua 6:20; Judges 7:3 Psalm 18:32-40; Hebrews 11:23) In Christ this truth is now still more real. God has come near. His power works in us who believe; it is really He that fights for us.
O Lord Jesus, who art the Prince of the army of the Lord, the Hero, the Victor, teach me to be strong in Thee my stronghold, and in the power of Thy might. Teach me to understand what the good fight of faith is, and how the one thing that I have need of is, always to look to Thee, to Thee, the supreme Guide of faith. And, consequently, in me, too, let this be the victory that overcometh the world, namely, my faith. Amen.
1. The conflict of faith is no civil war, in which one half of the kingdom is divided against the other. This would be insurrection. This is the one conflict that many Christians know: the unrest of the conscience, and the powerless wrestling of a will which consents to that which is good, but does not perform it. The Christian has not to overcome himself. This his Lord does when he surrenders himself. Then he is free and strong to combat and overcome the enemies of his Lord and of the kingdom. No sooner, however, are we willing that God should have His way with us than we are found striving against God. This also is truly conflict, but it is not the good fight of faith.
2. In Galatians 5 reference is made to the inner conflict; for the Galatians had not yet entirely surrendered themselves to the Spirit, to walk after the Spirit. 'The connection,' says Lange, 'shows that this conflict betwixt the flesh and the Spirit of God is not endless, but that there is expected of the Christian a complete surrender of himself, in order to be led only by the one principle -- the Spirit; and then, further, a refusal to obey the flesh.' The believer must not strive against the flesh, to overcome it: this he cannot do. What he is to do is to choose to whom he will subject himself: by the surrender of faith to Christ, to strive in Him through the Spirit, He has a divine power for overcoming.
3. Hence, as we have seen in connection with the beginning of the new life, our one work every day and the whole day is to believe. Out of faith come all blessings and powers, also the victory for overcoming.
—New Life, The
l Phil. 2:17
m [Phil. 1:23]; 2 Pet. 1:14
n 1 Cor. 9:24–27; Phil. 3:13, 14
o [1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 2:5]; James 1:12
p John 5:22
q 2 Tim. 1:12
r Col. 4:14; Philem. 24
s 1 John 2:15
t Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37–39; Col. 4:10
u Acts 20:4; Eph. 6:21, 22; Col. 4:7; Titus 3:12
v Acts 19:33; 1 Tim. 1:20
w Acts 7:60; [1 Cor. 13:5]
x Deut. 31:6; Acts 23:11
y Acts 9:15; Phil. 1:12
z 1 Sam. 17:37; Ps. 22:21
a Ps. 121:7; [2 Pet. 2:9]
b Rom. 11:36; Gal. 1:5; Heb. 13:21; 2 Pet. 3:18
 The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (650). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (2 Ti 4:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.