In his immortal allegory, “Pilgrim’s Progress”, John Bunyan describes an experience which has befallen many believers. He tells how Christian and Hopeful, after their return from By-Path Meadow, slept the night near the grounds of Doubting Castle. They were caught, whilst sleeping, by Giant Despair who imprisoned them, beat them several times and advised them to make an end of themselves. Very many Christians at some time or another have been in “Doubting Castle”, lacking assurance of their salvation, attacked by doubts and sometimes even despair. Indeed, it is not only young Christians who are exposed to such things. Bunyan recognizes this by making this in-cident occur when Christian and Hopeful were well advanced on their journey.
Young Christians can profit enor-mously from the advice and experience of others. Let us see, therefore, what we can learn from this incident in the life of these two pilgrims. How did they get out of their predicament? First of all, they began to pray. It seems that they had been forgetting to do so. It is important that we keep the communication lines between ourselves and the Lord open at all times. If we fail to exercise our privil-eges in the Father’s family, we may begin to doubt whether we belong to the family at all! Do not neglect your prayer times.
Secondly, Christian and Hopeful found a key which would open all the doors of Doubting Castle; the key was called Promise. By this Bunyan was referring to the promises of God found in His Word. By means of the key the pilgrims escaped from Doubting Castle, and it is by pinning our faith on the promises of God found in His Word that we escape from any doubts and unbelief which threaten to overthrow us. We can think, for instance, of the words of the Lord Jesus, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall, never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand”, John 10. 27-29. We also have the confidence of the apostle Paul that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”, Rom. 8. 39.
We cannot exaggerate the part played by the Word of God in the believer’s assurance of salvation. It is the privilege of every true believer to say, not “I hope”, or “I like to think that”, but “I know”. The apostle John wrote a letter that his readers might “know" that they had eternal life. 1 John 5. 13. To be rejoicing in the knowledge of salvation should be the normal experience of everyone who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. This assurance does not de-pend on the state of one’s feelings; feelings vary. It rests on God’s un-changing Word.
How did I become a Christian? By faith in the work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary where He died for my sins, and in His resurrection from the dead to make me right with God. The finished work of Christ, then, is the only ground of my salvation. But how do I know I am saved ? God’s Word tells me, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life”, John 3. 36. My assurance of being saved depends on God’s Word.
On the Passover night in Egypt, the eldest son in each Israelite family was delivered on the basis of the shed blood of a Passover lamb. But how did the people of Israel know that their firstborn were safe? How did they know that they were secure from the judgment of the Destroying Angel? They had God’s promise, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you”, Exod. 12. 13. For the Christian, similarly, the perfectness of the Lord’s work at the cross and the absolute certainty of God’s Word are the two great pillars on which sal-vation and its assurance rest.
It may be that one question which comes to your mind is, “Should I not feel happy now that I am saved?” Yes, of course you should, but you must know that you are saved before you can feel happy about it. Assurance comes first; feelings follow. We must believe God without any other evidence than that found in His Word. I know that I am saved because God’s Word tells me so, and I feel happy because I know that I am saved.
As I have become better acquainted with my Bible, I have discovered that there are many verses of Scripture which deal with the ground of a Christian’s assurance. For ex-ample, one sure evidence of salvation is that of loving one’s fellow Christ-ians, 1 John 3. 13-14. Again, by keeping the Lord’s word and commandments we show that we know Him, and, of course to know Him is life eternal, 1 John 2. 3, 5; John 17. 3. The Holy Spirit also plays a part in our assurance. The moment I trusted the Lord Jesus as my Saviour, the Holy Spirit entered my life. He indwells me and gives me an inner confidence that I am a Christian. This is the wit-ness of the Spirit, Rom. 8. 16; 1 John 3. 24.
I also gain assurance from the fact that I have come to view sin differently since I became a Christian. I now discover a deep inner conflict when I do things which I know are wrong. Doing such things never used to concern me, but now I have a new nature born of God, and this makes me uncomfortable and unhappy when I sin. You might like to read of Paul’s experience in Romans 7. 1 3-25.
If, as a result of straying into “By-Path Meadow”, I find myself in “Doubting Castle”, do I have to stay there? Most definitely not! The Lord intends me to enjoy the full assurance that I am in the present possession of eternal salvation. In the strength of this assurance, He wants me to serve Him without falter or hesitation.