Master Sermon List
Faith and Assurance
by J. C. Ryle
"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 Tim 4:7-8)
An assured hope, such as Paul expresses in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, is a true and Scriptural thing. I would lay it down fully and broadly, that a true Christian, a converted man, may reach that 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 hesitation, 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.
The vast majority of the worldly oppose the doctrine of assurance. That they cannot receive it 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 think it borders on presumption. They seem to think it a proper humility never to be confident, and to live in a certain degree of doubt. This is to be regretted, and does much harm.
"Presumption", says Adams, "is joined with looseness of life; persuasion with a tender conscience: that dares sin because it is sure; this dares not for fear of losing assurance. Persuasion will not sin, because it cost her Savior so dear; presumption will sin, because grace does abound. Humility is the way to heaven. They that are proudly secure of their going to heaven, do not so often come thither as they that are afraid of going to hell."
I frankly allow there are some presumptuous persons who profess to feel a confidence for which they have no Scriptural warrant. There always are 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 real, sober, and true thing; and God's children must not let themselves be driven from the use of a truth, merely because it is abused.
Reader, you may be sure that Paul was the last man in the world to build his assurance on anything of his own. He could write himself down "chief of sinners" (1 Tim 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 would cry, "O wretched man that I am!" (Rom 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 removes all sin and uncleanness. He, who thought himself "less than the least of all saints" (Eph 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 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; 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."
I may not dwell longer on this part of the subject. I pass on to the second thing, viz., that a believer may never arrive at this assured hope, which Paul expresses, and yet be saved.
I grant this most freely. I do not dispute it for a moment. 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, like the Apostle Paul. 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. I think this ought never to be forgotten. 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 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.
Reader, do not mistake my meaning, while you hear me dwell strongly on assurance. Do not do me the injustice to say, I told you none were saved except such as could say with Paul, "I know and am persuaded ... there is a crown laid up for me." I do not say so. I tell you 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 strait and the way more narrow than pride and 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 unto Me," He says, "I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
Yes, reader, 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, but, "Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed" (Rom 10:11).
But all this time, I would have you take notice, the poor 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 a question, and many an anxiety, many a struggle, and many a misgiving, clouds and darkness, storm and tempest to the very end.
I will affirm, I repeat, that bare simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance; but I will not affirm it shall bring him to heaven with strong and abounding consolations. I will affirm it shall land him safely in harbor; but I will not affirm that he shall enter that harbor in full sail, confident and rejoicing. I shall 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.
Reader, I believe it is of great importance to keep in view the distinction between faith and assurance. It explains things which an inquirer in religion sometimes finds hard to understand.
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 5:27). Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saving, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!"
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" (Matt 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?" (Rom 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 Tim 1:12, 4:8).
Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end.
Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigor, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.
Reader, 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 article 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 11:21, even "as the days of heaven upon the earth".