HOLINESS - ASSURANCE
J.C. Ryle

HIS GLORY REIGNS
B. Childress
May 8 2009 08:00 AM

"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.
"

                                                                     II Timothy 4:6-8

In the words of Scripture which head this page, 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
    deathblow, 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 the 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 - nor lift us one hair's breadth toward heaven.  Yet a good conscience will be
    found a pleasant visitor at our bedside in a dying hour.  

    (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 Savior,
    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 he
    only saw 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 (J.C. Ryle) shall not speak, because I want to
confine myself to the special subject of this paper.  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 do this the more readily, because of the great importance which attaches to the subject of assurance, and the
great neglect with which, I humbly conceive, it is often treated in this day.

But I shall do it 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 unscripurally 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.

There are four things I wish to bring forward in speaking of the subject of assurance, and it may clear our way if I name
them at once.

    I.   First, then, I (J.C. Ryle) will try to show that an assured hope, such as Paul here expresses, is a true and
    scriptural thing.

    II.  Secondly, I will make this broad concession - that a man may never arrive at this assured hope, and yet be
    saved.

    III.  Thirdly, I will give some reasons why an assured hope is exceedingly to be desired.

    IV.  Lastly, I will try to point out some causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained.

There is a very close connection between true holiness and assurance: where there is the most holiness, there is
generally the most assurance.

I.  Assured hope is a true and scriptural thing.

Assurance, such as Paul expresses in the verses which head this paper, 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 Ghost, 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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 (J.C. Ryle) 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.

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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 the 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" (Psalm 23:47)?

Does Isaiah say, "Thou wilt keep him in
perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee"
(Isaiah 32:17).

And again, "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness, and
assurance
forever"  (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" (II Corinthians 5:1)?

And again, "We are always
confident, knowing that, wilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord" (II
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" (II 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" (II Peter 1:10)?

Does not John say, "We
know that we have passed from death unto life" (I 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" (I John 5:13).

And again, "We
know that we are of God" (I John 5:19).

What shall we say to these things?  I (J.C. Ryle) 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 (J.C. Ryle's) 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 (J.C. Ryle) answer, lastly, is  - it cannot be wrong to feel confidently in a matter where God speaks unconditionally -
to believe decidedly when God promises decidedly -  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 this 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" (I 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."

II.  A believer may never arrive at this assured hope, which Paul expresses and yet be
saved.

I (J.C. Ryle) 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, 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 possession.  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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 strait 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 unto 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.

Simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance; but I will not engage it shall bring him
to heaven with strong and abounding consolations.  I will engage it shall land him safe in harbor; but I will not engage 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 open his eyes in glory.

It is of great importance to keep in view this distinction between faith and assurance.  It explains things which an inquirer
in religion sometimes finds it 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 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, saying, "I know that my redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25); "Though he slay me, yet will I trust 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 aftertimes.  "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 my 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" (II 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"  (Ecclesiastes 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 paper 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" (Deuteronomy 11:21).

III.  I  will give some 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.

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 Solomon 5:1; John 16:24).

    (1)  Let us remember then, for one thing, 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, 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 in 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 forevermore.  
    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" (II Kings 4:26; Hebrews 13:8; Romans 6:9; II 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 to
    dwell in safety" (Psalm 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 that
    there is in heaven an exceeding weight of glory that shall make amends for all (II 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" (II 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 forever (Psalm 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 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 defense,
    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)  Let us remember, for another thing, that 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, 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 Savior, 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.  Undivided attention to the work of the Lord will always attain the greatest success.

    Nor should we be preoccupied 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 51:12-13).

    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" (I John 5:19).

    (3)  Let us remember, for another thing, that 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 in points of practice.  "Should we do such and such a thing?  Shall we give up this family
    custom?  Ought we 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 question 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 deadlock.  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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 (I Kings 18:39).

    (4)  Let us remember, finally, that assurance is to be desired, because it tends to make the holiest Christians.

    This, too, sounds wonderful 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
    this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (I 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
    trembling afraid of losing its blessed consolations, and jealously fearful of doing anything to grieve the Holy Ghost.

    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 is 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.  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
    Savior.  Begin with simple believing, and all other things shall soon be added to you.

IV.  I come now to the last thing of which I spoke.  I promised to point out 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.  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 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 alone the 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" (I 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; I 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" (II 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 paper one of those who desires assurance, but has 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 (J.C. Ryle) 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 flinching 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
    (Psalm 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 Holy 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" (Psalm 25:
    14).

    "To him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23).

    "Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them" (Psalm 119:165).

    "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (I 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" (I John 3:18-19).

    "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (I 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 paper.  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 Savior that will never be taken from him, a Savior 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!  

    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 pubic
    confidence melting like snow in the 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 hath 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, 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 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.  Be not discouraged: you shall be more than conquerors
    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, and 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.



Source:

Holiness, by J.C. Ryle, Copyright 2007, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.
2010 - HIS GLORY REIGNS
LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES