Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland
The present assurance that he is truly a child of God is of paramount importance to the believer. To make a mistake about such a matter is too awful to contemplate. Eternity would be too late for a man to learn that; though he had tasted the good Word of God, he had never really believed in Christ to the saving of his soul. Many genuine believers have at times been beset by doubts as to their salvation. Not that they doubt God's promises, nor Christ's ability to save, but their great concern is to know if they have really trusted Christ, if they have truly believed. Such a condition of mind, often observed when the general health is impaired, causes great anxiety of soul. Satan's onslaught today takes the same form as his temptation of Eve in the beginning, to cast doubt in the mind of man. Happily we can know how to be sure we have eternal life. To give the believer confidence in his salvation is the concern of all three Persons of the Godhead. The Word of God to him settles it; the Work of Christ for him secures it; the Witness of the Holy Spirit within him seals it. Let us look, then, at some of the proofs of regeneration as set forth in these three propositions.
The Word of God
In the Word of God we find much to give us the assurance of salvation. John explicitly states that this was why he wrote his first epistle, I John 5. 13. Note his recurring use of the words 'we know'. In a sevenfold use of these words he tells us how we can know.
1. If we keep God's commandments - desiring to do His will, 2. 3.
2. If we keep His Word - having respect for the truth of God, 2. 5.
3. If we do righteousness - because God is righteous, and those begotten of Him do likewise, 2. 29.
4. If we do not continually practice sin - this is foreign to the new nature of a child of God, 3. 9.
5. If we love our brethren - if we do not love our brethren we have not yet passed from death unto life, 3. 14.
6. If we heed the messengers of God - if we arc born again we know God's true servants, and we desire to hear them, 4. 6.
7. If we overcome the world - the ability to say 'no' to the blandish-ments of the world, 5. 4.
The believer often receives assurance through doing tilings God has enjoined upon him; for example, confessing Jesus as Lord, being baptized, and separating himself from the world. Thus growth in grace assures him that his calling and election are sure, 2 Pet. 1. 10. Let us then rejoice in the assurance that God gives us from His Word. We can know, even now, that we have eternal life. We should examine ourselves to see if we be in the faith, 2. Cor. 13. 5. Take the advice of Samuel Rutherford: 'Search yourself with the candle of God, and try if the life of God be in you'. It is a healthy exercise.
The Work of Christ
The Lord Jesus Christ defined eternal life as knowing God, John 17. 3. He who is knowing more of God is assured that he possesses eternal life. The true believer has peace with God, having no fear of punishment, Rom. 5. 1; he has access to God in prayer, Rom. 5. 2; he rejoices in the hope of the glory of God, Rom. 5. 2; he is conscious of the unfailing love of God, Rom. 8. 39; he is comforted by God in affliction, 2 Cor. 1.4; he accepts chastening as God's way of dealing with His true-born sons, Heb. 12. 7, 8.
Our salvation depends, however, not on what we are, nor on what we do, but on Christ. He gives His sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, John 10. 28. We do not depend on our ability to believe, nor on our capacity to hold on, but on His strength to keep us. He is able to save to the uttermost, Heb. 7. 25. Through His death He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified, Heb. 10. 14. Thus Chris-tian assurance is based on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Witness of the Holy Spirit
The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the new birth. When Peter was reporting the conversion of Cornelius and his household, he informed his brethren at Jerusalem that God had given to them the Holy Spirit. Note the apostles' conclusions: 'Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life'. Acts 11. 18.
How can I know that the Holy Spirit dwells within me? By appreciating His activity. He makes me think well of Christ, for the Spirit glorifies the Son. Through the Spirit 1 desire to speak to God, and call Him Father, Gal. 4. 6. He causes me to love as God loves, even to loving my enemies, Rom. 5. 5. He produces fruit, the ninefold cluster of graces described in Galatians 5. 22. If these are present in my life I am assured that the Holy Spirit lives within me, for these, like the fruit of a tree, are the outward manifestations of an inliving power.
The presence of a conflict in my mind assures me of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, Gal. 5. 17. If I have an urge to keep separate from the world, it is the Holy Spirit working within me. The flesh delights in the things of the world, but the Spirit lusts against them. If I have a longing to go to a prayer meeting it is from the Spirit, for the flesh has no love for prayer meetings. The unregenerate have none of these conflicts, for they have no indwelling Holy Spirit. Such evidence of the Holy Spirit's activity in my life gives me the grand assurance of eternal life. The Christian's assurance, therefore, rests on the Word of God to him, the Work of Christ for him, and the Witness of the Holy Spirit in him. Thus, assurance glorifies God. Redemption is based on God's ability. We ought, like Abraham, to be fully persuaded that what God has promised He is able also to perform, Rom. 4. 21. Assurance is a part of the Gospel message, 1 Thess. 1. 5. God intended that joy, not doubt, should accompany salvation. The true believer can say with the apostle Paul: 'I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day', 2 Tim. 1. 12.
What from Christ the soul can sever,
Bound by everlasting bonds? Once in Him, in Him for ever,
Thus the eternal covenant stands. None shall pluck thee From the strength of Israel's hands.