Posts Tagged ‘assurance’
Having recently preached on the topic of assurance, I found this article from the Jollyblogger interesting. He concludes:
So, what do you think? Have I just completely misunderstood Edwards? Am I making excuses for myself? Or is there in truth, as I suspect, a better means of assurance and a better way of spirituality than we have been offered in the religious affections – the way of objectivity as embodied in the teachings of Luther and Calvin, as opposed to the subjectivity embodied in Edwardean religious affections?
For those wrestling – personally or pastorally – with issues of assurance, I think this article raises some excellent questions. As I see it, there is an objective foundation for assurance, and there are some objective indications for the existence of saving faith, but many of those objective indications have a subjective element, in the sense that they are part of our experience. To swerve toward the objective alone, stripped entirely of the subjective, leaves us with a religion that could consist only in mental assent rather than genuine faith; but to abandon the objective in order to rest on the subjective can leave us subject to every whim of soul, every assault of Satan, every tremor of feeling, every trouble of body.
The Jollyblogger is not suggesting that Edwards made the latter error, but I think some of those who follow Edwards might have gone further in that direction than he would have done.
Many thanks to those who prayed. I had a great time in Zambia.
Flying out Wednesday evening, I arrived early Thursday morning and then flew north to Ndola where Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church collected me. By the end of the day – having spent some time at one of the compound churches, Mapalo Reformed Baptist Church, here Pastor Marshall labours with a heart for his needy people – I had arrived at the Kaniki Bible College, a couple of miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (and therefore supplied with a helpful bevy of armed police officers), for the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference 2012 on the topic of Assurance of Salvation.
It was a slightly tricky start as schools had only just finished, and consequently people were still arriving on Thursday evening when Matthews Fikati, a local pastor, kicked things off with a sermon on 1 John 5.13. Matthews was energetic and direct, very much in earnest. A slight concern as I heard him was that I was also beginning my series with a sermon on 1Jn 5.13. However, as Matthews preached it became clear that he was setting out to accomplish something different while still setting the tone, and in doing so laid a foundation for all that would follow.
My ministry began on Friday morning. Each day began with a prayer meeting at 6am followed by a ‘rise and shine’ exercise session to get the blood flowing at 6.30am. The main days had two morning sessions (followed by discussion groups) and one evening session, and I closed with a single sermon on Monday morning. I therefore preached six sermons on the topic of assurance, beginning with 1Jn 5.13, on the fact that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable and possible. I went on to look at false foundations for assurance, before defining four key marks of true assurance of salvation: accepting God’s divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin; devotion to the glory of God; increasing, persevering holiness; and, love for the saints. The Sunday services were attended by the sponsoring churches, keeping their Lord’s day in company with the conference attendees. I finished the series on Monday morning with a brief send-off address from 2Tim 1:12, identifying the substance of true assurance of salvation.
In the three evening meetings I was preaching three evangelistic services, taking a variety of topics: I considered the putting away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice from Heb 9.26, the questions that we must ask concerning the judgement to come from Is 10.3, and the conference between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, which was conducted at Calvary from Ps 85.10.
During the afternoons there were three sessions: one on making and choosing friends, one of making Scriptures our daily companion, and one on young people and pornography (at least as much a problem in Zambia as here in the UK). These were taken by local pastors or conference leaders, and were more interactive sessions, with lots of solid, practical advice.
All told, it was an excellent conference. Toward the end it became apparent that the Lord was blessing the ministry, as some of the group leaders reported that there were a good number attending who had come under conviction of sin and were seeking – and some professing to find – the Lord Christ, and a similar blessing on several troubled and doubting saints, whose minds were made clear and whose hearts were made warm. In the kindness of God, the whole ministry sometimes fitted together in ways beyond human planning. For example, one report came concerning a young woman for whom the sermon revealing inconclusive grounds of assurance had made plain that she never was a child of God, and who therefore sought Christ as presented in all his saving fullness.
Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that these were the same kind of sermons (some of them the very same sermons, or at least the same in substance) I preach here in the UK, preached with no discernible difference in intent, tone, spirit and expectation by the preacher, and yet the sermons at which people shrug and shuffle here seemed to produce more rapid and discernible effects there. I hasten to add that the friends organising the conference are not inclined to judge too quickly, and would be the last to offer ‘numbers,’ as it were, but are competent and careful assessors of such things. For a preached accustomed to seeing little apparent effect from his ministry, such an experience is deeply humbling and a cause for great rejoicing and renewed prayer that the sovereign Lord who is willing to bless in one place would be pleased to bless in another.
Also instructive was the arrangement and constitution of the conference. Some of the attendees were very young, others well into their twenties. The conference is organised and managed by an older group of responsible young men and women who pretty much run everything during the conference itself. The conference draws from a wide number of churches, and some of those attending are just recently off the streets, have never heard the gospel before, or have other particular needs, while some come from mature Christian homes and churches. Whereas I can imagine some trying to exclude the former for the sake of the latter (or just to make life easier), here the organisers embraced all the workload associated with such a ministry (I think the preaching might have been the easy bit!), working tirelessly to marshal the attendees, to keep things moving at a reasonable pace, to entertain and feed the hordes, coping with everything from sickness to theft with a boldness and tenderness that was genuinely commendable. Oh, for a few of these to serve in our churches! I was grateful to be serving with such gracious and determined and hard-working hosts. One young couple, the Tholes, were even appointed as my guardians for the conference, and a greater care I could not have received as I navigated through all my duties.
We parted with many expressions of mutual affection, and I headed back south for Lusaka by road, graciously chauffeured by none other than Conrad Mbewe, who – with his wife, Felistas – had also been in the area preaching at a conference for another church. I had a delightful four hours or so with Conrad and Felistas, exchanging news of mutual acquaintances, and – for me – an opportunity to pick their brains about a variety of issues of interest.
Monday evening saw me arrive safely at the home of James & Megan Williamson (LION of Zambia), serving in Zambia and sent out by the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. It was through James that I first came to Zambia, when I taught last year at the Copperbelt Ministerial College. That night was punctuated by the rather unfortunate children of the Williamson clan who – with one exception – all fell victim to an attack of vomiting between the hours of 10pm and 8am the following morning. Quarantined for my own safety in a nearby lodge, I spent some of my time reading and writing while the Williamson succumbed, cleaned, and recovered in some kind of sequence. Mercifully, James and I were spared, and spent some time running errands and meeting friends. It was very useful to see the kind of challenges and opportunities that James & Megan have.
While James oversees various efforts, including a newer ministerial college in Lusaka itself, Megan has particular responsibility for the Hope for the Afflicted orphan ministry, and I spent three hours on Wednesday morning touring Kabanana, the compound where most of the sponsored children are found. Some of the needs are grievous. Two scenes stick out: the room barely six feet square which is the entire living space (including cooking, eating, sleeping – everything) for a family of five, and the skeletal father of the mother of some of the children, who sat weakly on the floor in a fly-infested room eating fly-ridden food, occasionally hanging on to a chair as he was wracked by coughing. I walked out thinking that perhaps I had come across my first ever case of tuberculosis.
A few hours in such a place does wonders for one’s sense of priority and thankfulness for material blessings, without forgetting that the crying need is for the gospel to be taken. A few handfuls of healthy food look like a feast when you have seen a pack of kids scavenging on a rubbish dump. The orphan ministry is taking on more children.
Another observation: just because we do not have such abject poverty on our doorsteps does not mean that we do not have the poor with us. I remember that, after reporting on my previous visit, and issuing a challenge as to our response to need in our own area, someone retorted that the people near us are not really poor, are they? Such an attitude is the very one that cuts the nerve of merciful endeavour. There are homes of squalor, misery, loneliness, crime and abuse all around this and many towns in the UK, and the gospel, prompting and ministered with loving care to the whole man, is just as much the need here as there, and might bear just as much fruit.
Wednesday afternoon ended with my collection by Pastor Kasango Kayombo of Ibex Hill. Kasango had been one of the students at the Copperbelt Ministerial College when I was in Zambia before, and is now pastor of a church meeting at Old MacDonald’s Farm, the home of Don & Christine MacDonald who have made it their business to rescue some of the needy boys from the streets of Lusaka and give them homes and care for them, teach them and train them and preach the gospel to them. Several of the members and a few other friends had gathered and I preached at the midweek meeting, accompanied by some beautiful singing, on John 11, finding at least as many lessons for myself as for others as we took our faith to the school of Lazarus’ tomb.
Heading home, I had a surprise visit from Pastor Kabwe, who was himself in Lusaka for a day or two, just as I was packing, and then I headed to the airport at 6.15am the next morning, waved goodbye to James, who returned to his full house and full hands, and stepped into a plane which kindly deposited me about 10 hours and 5000 swift miles later in London, where I was shortly reunited with my family.
I had been reading a gift from my wife in my spare moments, Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, and could not help but marvel with gratitude at the ease, speed, safety and comfort with which I accomplished my journey to the heart of Africa, compared with his. With barely a bite and few discernible health issues, I arrived home with a heart full of thankfulness to God, with the hopes of further trips to serve my Zambian brothers and sisters, and with prayers not just for continued fruit there, but for a grant of God’s Spirit and evidence of blessing in the work that we have to do here.
Thank you for your prayers. Do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work that has been, is being and will be done.
John Angell James’ wrote The Christian Professor to describe the true profession of faith with its peculiar qualities and particular challenges. In a chapter on “The Dangers of Self-Deception,” he is speaking not only of how easy it is to be self-deceived, but of how dangerous it is to the one who is so deceived, and the difficulty of the one so deceived realising his self-deception. Therefore he speaks, almost as an aside, of the pastor’s role in this regard, of helping men to know their own hearts and their state before God:
. . . some ministers feel it to be the greatest perplexity of all their pastoral avocations, to give answers to people, who come to advise with them on the subject of making a profession. If from suspicion that their hearts are not yet right with God they dissuade them, they may be discouraging those whom they ought to receive and encourage — sending away a babe that ought to be laid in the bosom of the church — breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax. While on the other hand, if they encourage the inquirer to come forward, they may be strengthening the delusion of a self-deceived soul, and become accessory to the ruin of an immortal spirit. Some conscientious men have found and felt this to be the very burden of their lives, and from which there is no way of gaining relief or ease—but by laying down the marks of true conversion, begging the questioner to bring forward his heart to this test, stating what is implied in a Christian profession, and making him, as has been already said, responsible for the judgment of his own case, and all its consequences too.
There is little that so burdens a pastor as the need to be a right and true counsellor at this point.
Here is a further snippet from Wise Counsel (Banner of Truth, 2010, p380-381: do buy it). This is one of Newton’s last letters to his long-time friend. His eyes failing but his faith growing, Newton writes with humble honesty about his failings and his faith in Jesus Christ. We may not be able to speak of crowded and attentive congregations, but who can deny the continued blackness of a heart struggling against sin, and the comfort of a Christ who will by no means cast out those who come to him?
I am still favoured with a crowded, attentive, affectionate and peaceful auditory and we are not without tokens of the Lord’s gracious presence in the midst of us. And though I am a poor creature still, though my best is defective and defiled, and my imagination, which I call my thorn in the flesh, is sadly wild and ungovernable, though I live upon daily and hourly forgiveness, yet perhaps it was never better with me upon the whole, than at present. My trials are few. My temporal mercies are many; I hope my sense of them is heightened by contrast, when I look around me, or when I look back to my state of wickedness and misery in Africa, which has seldom been two hours together out of my waking thoughts, since I last left that dreary coast in the year 54. Indeed, I need not look so far back as Africa, for alas! the proofs I have had of the depravity and deceitfulness of my heart, have been much stronger since I knew the Lord, than before! How often have I sinned against light and love, and a sense of multiplied obligations! I have been remarkably a child of Providence, but my experiences have not been so much diversified. I have not suffered much from the fiery darts, and black temptations of Satan. On the other hand, I have no raptures or high consolations to speak of. I never was for an hour like the apostle at a loss to know whether I was in or out of the body. The sin of my nature cleaves close to me as my skin, and infects all I say or do. But it is given to me to believe that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin, and that when He said, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’, he meant as He spoke, and will make his word good. Upon this rock I build. Other refuge have I none. If He was strict to mark what is amiss, He might justly cast me off now in my old age, and forsake me, when my strength faileth; be He has said, ‘In no wise.’ Thus Noah when in the ark had the comfort of knowing that he was safe, but I suppose he did not derive much comfort from the circumstances of his voyage.
Under the pseudonym John Ploughman, Charles Spurgeon published earthy articles in his magazine, The Sword & Trowel, which were later collected into two volumes, John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures. These two volumes are themselves now collected to form Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom: Or, Plain Advice for Plain People (Banner of Truth, 2009). They were intended to be humorous (but not light), simple, colourful and blunt. Read today, the stance may seem a little condescending and the humour lacking subtlety, but the points are still made very effectively. Spurgeon takes broad swipes at all manner of vice, and stands up without apology for virtue. It is practical religion, with the emphasis on practical, although the Christian underpinnings of the proposed morality float readily and naturally to the surface. There seems to be something distinctively Victorian about the relentless nature of his genius, and it can be a little overwhelming at times (paragraph after paragraph of the same point made using waves of different illustrations and analogies) but it is also the reason for its effectiveness. As a study in how to communicate truth to a chosen audience, it is brilliant. Spurgeon seeks to enter the world of those to whom he is writing – adopting the appropriate frame of reference, vocabulary, tone, humour – and use it as a means to do good men’s souls and bodies. It should be read, then, in two minds: with one, we ought to take the plain advice; with the other, we should learn how to give it. In both regards, Spurgeon serves us well.
Not a new book, this, but a reset volume: John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 2009). This work has been available for a long time, but the previous edition had somewhat poor paper quality and binding which was quite quickly chewed up (I replaced mine at least once). For those who do not know it, it is divided into two parts. For some, the second part is the easier introduction, being a little more popular in style, and consisting of ten short chapters taking readers through the ordo salutis (order of salvation, the sequence of events in God’s saving sinners). The first part – on the necessity, nature, perfection and extent of the atonement – is not more or less profound but is denser and perhaps a little less accessible to those not accustomed to Murray’s style. The author never wastes a word: there is no flab in his writing, which makes it brief and clear and crisp (a tonic for the mind) but also means that concentration and acuity are required for reading. Some will appreciate this, others will find it more difficult. For all willing and able to penetrate to the substance, this volume will prove a rich treat, a draught of pure, cold water when there is so much brackish fluid swilling around. Murray reaches the heart by way of the mind: here we see that the truth makes us free indeed, free not least to honour and adore the God of our so great salvation. This ought to be required reading for all who desire to know the how and why of God’s gracious dealings with sinners, and this newly reset edition will make it all the more accessible and attractive. If you already have it, consider investing afresh in this clear and readable edition. If you do not have it, you have no choice: go and get one.
Fire from Heaven: Times of Extraordinary Revival (Evangelical Press, 2009) by Paul E. G. Cook is a curious combination of topical and historical material, in which instruction and application is interwoven with and arises from historical detail. Mr Cook focuses on the period 1791-1840 and the unusual works of God that occurred in England during this time. Assuming much of the vocabulary of revival, he contends that revival does not differ from the essence of normal religious experience, but in its degree, both intensively and extensively (he insists that revival is a Christian experience, but does tend to focus on its impact outside the church). Mr Cook rightly emphasises a ‘supernaturalistic’ view of salvation, bemoaning the impact of Finneyism, and calling saints not to seek revivals, but to seek God himself. The historical material is enlightening and moving, carefully researched and clearly laid out. The didactic material is earnest, even passionate, but some readers would doubtless wish to nuance or disagree with Mr Cook. What none will deny is the vibrant and vigorous godliness, tinged with a sense of eternity, which clearly characterises the subjects of this stimulating book, and which ought to stir up a sense of holy desire for more of the same in every true saint.
Kevin DeYoung gives us a title that I suspect no one else ever will: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Or, How to Make A Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (Moody Publishers, 2009). This is a straightforward, popular treatment concerning the knowledge of God’s will for our lives. DeYoung attempts to make plain what we can know and how we can know it, and what we can’t know and how to get on with life anyway. He exposes some of the nonsense (however well-meaning) identified in his elaborate sub-sub-title, and urges God’s children to get on with doing the known will of their heavenly Father, not looking for guidance where God has never given it, but using sanctified common-sense to work hard and plan well and trust fully. Some will feel that he is not quite ‘spiritual’ or mystical enough, while others will fear that he has left open a door for continuing revelation (he has, incidentally, after a fashion). Probably a book to read yourself before you put it into the hands of others, to ensure that it meets the particular needs in question, but a helpful, short, straightforward, straight-talking volume.
James Fraser of Brea was born in the north of Scotland in 1639 and converted shortly before his twentieth birthday, though not without much agony of soul. From his longer autobiographical memoir is extracted this Pocket Puritan volume, Am I A Christian? (Banner of Truth, 2009). Here he identifies twenty “objective grounds” for doubting whether he is genuinely converted, with his Scripture-soaked answers to each. Those who suffer similar trials and wrestle with similar doubts and fears may find here either specific answers to their own particular questions, or at least a sound method to follow in examining their own standing. There is some sweet balm here for wounded souls, for Fraser pulls no punches in dealing with the stark realities both of sin and of grace. (Fraser’s use of the word ‘conversion’ is interesting, and also treated here, and there is a brief biographical note.)
I recommend unstintingly Psalm 119 For Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word by Hywel R. Jones (Evangelical Press, 2010). Having its genesis in a series of expository studies in the Chapel of Westminster Seminary (California), our author walks us through each stanza of Psalm 119. Each chapter is brief, with a veiled but evident deep understanding of the text supporting the clear and pointed explanation and application. Dr Jones brings out the full-orbed relationship of a saved man and his saving Lord, not least in the matter of faith and obedience. Excellent as a daily devotional, a pattern for Bible study, or just as a refresher for the soul, this is a volume of rich poetry and rich piety. Take it up and read it.
The One True God (3rd edition, revised and expanded, Granted Ministries Press, 2009) is a spiral-bound but solid workbook by Paul David Washer intended to bring readers face-to-face with the God of the Bible: the student effectively undertakes his own exegesis. The questions demand Scriptural answers, the concern being to hear what God says about himself. At the same time – and it is plain from the very structure of this work – there is an evident appreciation of the stream of historic Biblical Christianity, within which this volume stands. Fourteen lessons deal with specific attributes of the Godhead, asking questions, giving space for answers, and providing a brief summary. More technical vocabulary is explained where necessary. The section on the names of God is a little gem. Perhaps best for group study under a competent guide, this also function well as an individual workbook, and well serves the intended aim of promoting an encounter with God through his Word.
One of many Calvin biographies that was produced in the quincentennial year, Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009) is an outstanding contribution to the field. Thoroughly-researched and broad of scope, situating Calvin in the theological, cultural and political currents of his time, this stands very well alongside older and other more current biographies. It is a modern treatment in the sense that hero-worship is very far from the agenda. Indeed, one sometimes gets the sense that – so keen is our author to avoid hagiography – there is something that borders on relish when the feet of clay are uncovered. Determined to be fair and frank, Dr Gordon provides a corrective to more defensive biographies but sometimes falls short in the empathy/sympathy department. There is more evident interest in the man than in his God. Again, this may be because, to write what certainly deserves to be one of the academic standards, one is obliged to bow to the standards of the academy. Still, Calvin the man and the minister are here before us, warts and all. We see Calvin as he saw himself and as others saw him, and should be left delighted in and grateful for the enduring kingdom which Christ himself rules.
It has long been a settled point with me, that the Scriptures make a wide distinction between faith, the assurance of faith and the full assurance of faith.
1. Faith is the hand by which we embrace or touch, or reach toward, the garment of Christ’s righteousness, for our own justification.-Such a soul is undoubtedly safe.
2. Assurance I consider as the ring which God puts, upon faith’s finger.-Such a soul is not only safe, but also comfortable and happy.
Nevertheless, as a finger may exist without wearing a ring, so faith may be real without the superadded gift of assurance. We must either admit this, or set down the late excellent Mr. Hervey (among a multitude of others) for an unbeliever. No man, perhaps, ever contended more earnestly for the doctrine of assurance than he, and yet I find him expressly declaring as follows: “What I wrote, concerning a firm faith in God’s most precious promises, and a humble trust that we are the objects of his tender love, is what I desire to feel, rather than what I actually experience.” The truth is, as another good man expresses it, “A weak hand may tie the marriage knot; and a feeble faith may lay bold on a strong Christ.”
Read the whole thing at Heavenly Worldliness.
When earthly passions wax and wane,
When earthly pleasures rise and fall,
To God above I still can call,
To where my hope and love remain.
When in the stormy seas of life
I stand beset on every side,
I – naked, cold, and stripped of pride –
Come to my God who calms my strife.
When winds of doctrine toss me round
And understanding’s eye is dim,
In humble prayer I fly to him,
To him in whom my hopes abound.
When in confusion I despair,
When human hopes and plans have failed,
In Christ’s bright glory, even veiled,
I find my joy and solace there.
When things against me all conspire,
I know that I need have no fear,
For in such times my God is near,
He will refine me in his fire.
So praise the Lord, rest in his hand,
The fear, the pain, the hurt shall pass,
And he shall guide you safe at last,
For in all things your good is planned.
See all hymns and psalms.