The Need for Assurance
For many years we have been deeply concerned that there are so many people in our congregations who clearly possess the fear of the Lord, and yet who have never found any real assurance of their interest in Christ, and so have never openly professed the Saviour’s name. The sad thing is that so many seem satisfied with their position.
When we first came to the south of England nearly fifty years ago, our old deacon Mr. A. J. Watts (not a man given to levity!) told us he had just read of a little boy who fell out of bed, and when asked why, he replied that he ‘had stayed too long where he got in.’ Mr. Watts quaintly said, ‘You will find a lot of chapel people like that here. They are happy to stay too long where they got in!’ – in other words, no going forward, no following on.
What is the reason for this? Of course, we must always remember the mystery of divine sovereignty, and not only the vital necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work at first, but in every exercise of grace that follows. Most certainly pressing people to make an open profession has never done any good, nor has a slipping into ‘easy believism.’
But is there not a cause? Are there not many who rest in being ‘seekers,’ the logic being that if the Lord has begun, all will be right in the end? We have noticed that in holy Scripture the words ‘seek’ or ‘seeking’ occur over four hundred times, but the word ‘seeker’ never appears! There is no distinct class of people the Lord designates as ‘seekers.’ Every sinner saved by grace must and will be seeking the Lord all the days of their life, even to their journey’s end. But true seeking can only be satisfied in finding (as the Lord has graciously promised).
Mr. F. L. Gosden, speaking on the word, ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate,’ commented, ‘You will not get in because you strive, but you will never get in unless you strive.’ His brother Mr. J. H. Gosden used to say that many make the beautiful text, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ the excuse for their spiritual slothfulness.
There is much in the Word of God about zeal. ‘It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing’ (Gal. 4:l8). Only the Holy Spirit can give us this true, godly zeal, but we need to beware if we know nothing of it.
We have also wondered if many are doing what Huntington warned against, ‘chalking out lines, and bidding the Lord to walk between.’ He never will. How easy it is for us to have some standard of experience, and some way into the kingdom, and expect the Lord to follow our bidding. There is a gracious experience, as set forth in Scripture, which all must have; but how beautifully does J. C. Philpot warn against expecting a ‘rigid’ experience which we have devised. He compares it to a person taking an oak leaf and maintaining that nothing can be a leaf if it does not fit the exact shape and pattern of that oak leaf. Rather, he says, the point is union to the branch, the sap that flows into it, etc.
In our early days we ourselves said,
Though God’s election is a truth,
Small comfort there I see,
Till I am told, by God’s own mouth;
That He has chosen me.
Someone wiser than ourselves quietly said,
God may ‘tell you with His own mouth,’ but that is not His usual way. In most cases, the Holy Spirit, having taught a sinner his need, leads him to the Saviour and causes him to find peace there in resting on the Saviour’s precious blood.’
There is also a fatalistic spirit about. ‘What has to be will be.’ We most firmly believe in divine predestination; but as Grey Hazlerigg said, ‘A truth, wrongly used or out of context, can be error!’
We wonder, also, if a fault has crept into the ministry. Such men as J. K. Popham, J. H. Gosden, Jesse Delves, etc., were Christ-exalting ministers. The atonement was the glory of their preaching. Their delight was to
Point out the place where grace abounds,
Direct us to the bleeding wounds
Of our incarnate God.
Nor were they backward in emphasising the loving welcome awaiting the venturing sinner who comes on mercy’s ground with the blood of Jesus for his only plea.
May the Lord return to Jerusalem with mercies (Zech. 1:16) .The vital thing is, ‘Till the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness become a fruitful field.’ We are sure that if the Spirit returns in mercy to our congregations, there will be a fleeing (urgency) for refuge to Jesus, and again it will be said, ‘Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?’
In conclusion, thinking especially of the vital need for true and living faith in the Lord Jesus, we have thought of Leviticus chapter l, and what a picture of faith there is there. Here is a sinner, conscious of his guilt. He brings a lamb to the altar, and it is slain. He lays his hand (the original word signifies ‘leans’) on the head of the dying lamb. In effect he says: Here is my hope, my plea. I have no other. I deserve to die, but the innocent lamb dies in my place (or, in the place of sinners). I would lay my sins on that lamb in humble confession. ‘And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.’
May the Lord in mercy abundantly bless us with much of this religion in our congregations; sinners by faith leaning all the weight of their never-dying souls on the Lamb of God.
My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.
Ben Ramsbottom is Pastor of Bethel, Luton, and Editor of The Gospel Standard, from the May 2014 editorial of which the above is reprinted with kind pemission.
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