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TEXT: I John 5:13
SUBJECT: Watson on Redemption Applied #6: Assurance
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll carry on in our study of Thomas Watson on the Application of Redemption. The term sounds complicated, but isn't really. It simply means the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The salvation God planned for us, Jesus Christ paid for on the cross. But the blessing is not ours until the Holy Spirit applies it.
Thus far, we've looked at five parts of our salvation. They are faith, effectual calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification. In the Gospel, God's Spirit calls us to salvation, and gives us the faith to accept it. Through this faith our sins are pardoned, we enter the family of God, and grow in holiness.
Now, we move on to another fruit of saving faith and that is assurance.
I don't need to labor the importance of this one, do I? Almost every Christian I know has wondered if he is saved or not. Some feel that way, but rarely; others struggle with it all their lives. If you've always felt secure in Christ-thank God for it! But if you haven't-or don't now-then listen up and learn what Thomas Watson has to say about the assurance of salvation.
He's not infallible, of course. I think he should add some things he left out, but still, the chapter is a fine treatment of a difficult subject.
WHAT IS ASSURANCE?
Anyone who has ever lacked assurance knows what it is. Watson says,
"The assurance of God's love".
If you read the Bible, you know that-in one sense-God loves everyone. He proves that love by postponing and reducing the punishments we deserve and by giving us many precious things we have no right to enjoy. The Psalm says,
"The LORD is good to all; His tender
mercies are over all His works".
This love is real, but it's not what we're looking for in assurance. Here, we mean the saving love of God. I don't wonder if God has given me sunshine or rain, but has He given me eternal life? That's the question answered by assurance.
Assurance, therefore, is knowing God loves me with His saving love.
WHERE DOES ASSURANCE COME FROM?
The short answer: From the Holy Spirit.
But though that's true, it's not very helpful. More to the point is this: How does the Holy Spirit make us know that we are saved?
"It is not any vocal or audible voice, or brought
to us by the help of an angel or a revelation".
Most Christians I know don't believe in continuing revelation. They say the Bible is all we have-and all we need.
But when it comes to assurance, they think just like the nuttiest Pentecostal! They want God to tap them on the shoulder and say,
"Don't worry, you're saved".
He's not going to do that. And to ask Him to is to tempt the Lord your God.
"Consists of a practical syllogism, in which the
Word of God makes the major premise,
Conscience makes the minor premise, and
The Spirit of God draws the conclusion".
If you've ever studied logic, you know what he means. The first day of class, you'll learn something like this:
This is called a "syllogism"-and that is how the Spirit gives assurance. Let me illustrate:
"This is what the Apostle calls `The witnessing
of the Spirit with our spirits that we are
the children of God'".
So far, I think, Watson has done a splendid job of explaining the doctrine, but I believe he left something out, which I think is important enough to put in myself. Believers always worry about it, so let me try to answer it:
HOW GOOD HAVE WE GOT TO BE IN ORDER TO HAVE SOLID ASSURANCE?
A couple of minutes ago, I said if "I believe in Christ, love God, keep His commandments, confess my sins, and so on", then I can be assured that God loves me and I will go to heaven when I die.
But how do I know that my faith in Christ, or my love for God or my obedience or my confessions of sin are good enough?
What do you do if you feel this way? You read the Bible honestly and you pray for understanding of it.
The Bible plainly teaches that no one is perfect but the Lord Jesus Christ. To have assurance, therefore, your love and obedience, don't have to be perfect.
The Bible also teaches that immature, stubborn, and foolish believers are saved. Think of the Apostles! Peter's big mouth or James and John's bad temper or Thomas' doubts or Philip's stupidity. Think of their cowardice and their pride! How the Lord bawled them out!
"O fools, and slow of heart to believe
all the prophets have spoken!"
"O you of little faith!"
"Where is your faith?"
It is possible to be shallow and inconsistent and wavering but still belong to God (good news for me!).
But what about big sins? Can a saved person do something atrocious? Noah got drunk, David committed adultery and Peter denied the Lord with an oath. But, here, note carefully: Although Noah, David and Peter committed big sins, they didn't live in them! No one who lives in adultery or drunkenness or other gross sin has any right to feel secure.
Mature faith and eager obedience to all known commandments are good, but they are not necessary for assurance. Babes in Christ are as much in Christ as fathers in the faith!
But don't take this as a free pass to sin and feel secure. For, despite his weak faith and his stumbling obedience, the true Christian wants to be holy and feels bad when he isn't.
IS ASSURANCE NECESSARY?
It all depends on what you mean by "necessary". It is not necessary for salvation. Watson says,
"Have all sanctified persons assurance? They have
a right to it, but their comfort may be so feeble and
their vital spirits so weak that they cannot express
what they feel.There may be faith in the heart
where there is no fruit of assurance".
You can be a truly saved person and doubt your salvation. But if it's not necessary for salvation, it is necessary for your maximum happiness and growth in grace.
How can one be happy if he's unsure of God's love? How miserable he must be if sees the Lord as his Great Enemy! Assurance, though, takes the fear away and replaces it with the greatest relief and comfort. Watson says,
"How sweet it is. It is the manna in
the golden pot and the wine that
cheers the heart! How comforting
is God's smile! It puts a man in heaven
before his time. None can know how
delicious and ravishing it is, but such
as have felt it; as none can know how
sweet honey is, but they who have
If you want to be happy, you must have assurance. Paul did without much and suffered even more, yet he was a remarkably cheerful man. In prison he rejoiced. Even death-he said-was "far better". The key to Paul's happiness was assurance,
"For we know that if our earthly house,
this tent, is destroyed, we have a building
from God, not made with hands, eternal
in the heavens".
But assurance affects more than your happiness. It also affects your holiness. It promotes praise, contentment, good works, and standing up to temptation. Watson says,
"Assurance will make us love God and praise Him.
Love is the soul of religion, the fat of the sacrifice;
And who can love God as he who has assurance?
Who can bless God and give Him the glory for
What He has done but he who has the assurance
That he is justified? Can a man in a swoon praise
God that he is alive? Can a Christian, staggering
With fears about his spiritual state praise God
That he is elected and justified? No! It is the
Living who praise God! And those enlivened
With assurance are the fittest persons to sound
Forth God's praise".
"Assurance will make us content though we have
little in the world. He who has enough is content.
He who has assurance has enough. He has the
Riches of Christ's merits, a pledge of His love,
An earnest of His glory; here is enough, and
Having enough, he is content.The LORD is
The portion of my inheritance!"
"Assurance will make us active and lively in
God's service. It will excite prayer and
Quicken obedience. Faith will make us walk,
But assurance will make us run. We shall
Never think that we can do enough for God-
The joy of the Lord is your strength".
"Assurance will be a golden shield to beat back
temptation. When Satan tempts us to sin, we
will answer, `What, Satan, shall I sin against
Him who loved me and washed me in His
Blood? Shall I return to war after God has
Spoken peace? Back, Satan! I will hear you
No more. If faith resists the devil, assurance
Will make him flee".
A person can be saved without feeling assured. But until he has assurance, he can never enjoy what Christ has done for him or serve the Lord as he ought to. In this sense, assurance is necessary.
HOW DO WE INCREASE OUR ASSURANCE?
Assurance-like everything else-is a gift of God. But He has told us there are things we can do to obtain it or to make it grow stronger. Watson names three of them,
Keep a pure conscience,
"Let no guilt lie upon the conscience unrepented
of. God confirms no pardon before repentance.
He who is conscious of secret sins, cannot draw
Near to God in full assurance.Keep conscience
As clear as your eye, that no dust of sin fall into it".
The metaphor is very helpful. Conscience is like an eyeball. Sin is like a particle of dust. Maybe you can't keep the dust from blowing into your eye, but you can wash it out once it's there. And you've got to! If you don't, you won't be able to see, either the visible world--or God's love for you! If you want assurance, keep your conscience clear of every known sin. Don't commit it, or if you do, confess them honestly to the Lord and resolve to not do it again.
Cherish the Holy Spirit,
"When David would have assurance, he prayed,
`Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me'. He knew it
was the Spirit only Who could make him hear
the voice of joy. The Spirit is the Comforter Who
seals our assurance, therefore, make much of
the Spirit and do not grieve Him".
When did you last think of the Holy Spirit as anything other than a Doctrine? He is not a doctrine, He is a Person. And like other persons, He wants to be wanted. And knows when we don't want Him. Would you insult a friend? Ignore a loved one? Would you willfully do things you know would hurt me? If not, then why would you insult, ignore, or willfully grieve the Holy Spirit?
Since you cannot have assurance without His Presence and favor, you cannot have it unless you're aware of and prizing the Holy Spirit.
Go to Church,
"Let us lie at the pool of the ordinances, and frequent
the Word and Sacrament. The ordinances are the
banqueting house where God displays the banner
of His love. Christ made Himself known to His
disciples in the breaking of bread; so in the Holy
Supper, in the breaking of bread, God makes Himself
Known to us, to be our God and portion".
IF YOU HAVE ASSURANCE, HOW SHOULD YOU THANK GOD FOR IT?
Watson has a lot to say here, but our time is short, and so, let me summarize as briefly as I can.
"If you have assurance of your justification,
do not abuse it. It is abusing assurance
when we grow more remiss in duty. What?
Shall a son become wasteful because his
Father has promised him a rich inheritance?"
God has not assured you of your salvation so you can kick back and sin. Would you leave money to a child so he could waste it? Would you want the money you worked hard for to make him a lazy bum or a playboy or a drug addict? Of course you wouldn't! Neither does God! He assures us of His love so that we'll do more for Him.
"If you have assurance, admire His stupendous
mercy. Oh, fall down and adore His goodness!
Why should He give you assurance and withhold
It from others?"
Many good people-better than you are-struggle all their lives with a lack of assurance. William Cowper-the great poet and hymn writer-lived in despair over God's love, and died that way, it seems. Yet the Lord hasn't left you in agony. He has assured you of His love. Why don't you love Him for it?
"If you have assurance, encourage such as
are not yet converted. Tell them how sweet
it is and what a good Master you serve!"
What sort of image do you present to the world. Does your life suggest that serving God is a miserable or boring or negative thing to do? Show the joy that Infinite Love has given you, and who knows? Maybe others will want what you have.
"If you have assurance, comfort those
who lack it".
Tell you fellow Christians that assurance isn't for super-saints only, that even you have it! Tell them how sweet it is and how much you wish they had it. Pray for them and counsel them and, most of all, sympathize with them.
"If you have assurance, let it make you long
What is assurance? It is a hint of glory. What more can we have? Glory itself. If you have assurance, long for heaven.
"If you have assurance, don't lose it".
You cannot lose your salvation, but you can lose its joy. You do that by not reading the Bible, not praying, not going to church, not keeping your conscience clear, and by not thinking much about the Lord Jesus Christ.
If the Lord can give assurance, He can also take it away. And then what will you have? Unhappiness, fear, coldness of heart. Keep your assurance.
And the love of God be with you. For Christ's sake. Amen.
Private Bible reading and prayer are good, of course. But often God confirms His love in the public reading of the Word, or the preaching or the Lord's Supper. And I can't tell you how often a hymn has spoken peace to my soul. Or a man's prayer. If you're not sure if God loves you or not, go to church. Maybe He'll tell you there.
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