18 Oct 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
People, more than ever today, are hungry for knowledge of the true God. Vast numbers of men and women in this post-modern world feel adrift on an alien sea and lost in a mindless universe. They need to hear that there is a God and that this God does not leave us alone in our quest for meaning. They need to know that this God, in a supreme act of love and condescension, became one of us to bring salvation to a dying world.
1 John 3: 1 says: 'How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God.'
It is believed by many Bible writers today that Christendom, if ever it existed, collapsed with the onset of World War I. It has been suggested that we were to enter a new Dark Age for the Christian Church, with enormous threats to a truly Christian way of life in this world. The world's temptations are subtle and its allurements beguiling, resulting in a high dropout rate among the so-called faithful that should not surprise us even if we are distressed by it. We see this happening close to home in our own families and in our local church communities. Worship for many would seem to have become a mere form, with prayer becoming a lifeless ritual (Johnsson, 1979: 30).
It would seem that the need of Christians today is no different from that of the early Church who needed to be reminded of the reality of their religion and of its surpassing worth. The problem of growing weary and discouraged is nothing new and the need to find the way to vibrant Christian living - to have full assurance - is greater than it has ever been.
I am sure that there would be many here today who have been through the experience of the new birth, but who still wonder whether they can be sure of salvation.
This question of assurance always seems to arise when we realize that our self-centred natures still seem to be present and our character flaws have not all disappeared. It is therefore easy for the joy of salvation to evaporate while asking whether it is still possible to be accepted by God.
It is important to note that these concerns will continue as long as we live in this natural body and in this broken world. It will usually arise suddenly when adversity strikes or a serious illness crushes our plans for the future or when we plainly succumb to temptation and fall into sin.
This situation not only affects our relationship to God and to others, but it can also affect our Christian witness.
How effective can we be in our testimony about Jesus when we are unsure of our own salvation?
When Martin Luther was a monk within the German Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt prior to the Reformation in the early 1500s he was to wrestle with many doubts over the assurance of his salvation. It wasn't until he knew with great certainty that he had been saved by Christ's death on Calvary and that God had justified him that we see the launch of the Protestant Reformation. The Just shall live by faith.
A faulty understanding of the doctrine of justification often results in uncertainty about one's Christian experience. If we are to cherish a deep and abiding assurance in our hearts, then we must see clearly that Christ's work, and His alone, is the ground of our acceptance with God. Here, human effort can contribute nothing, either directly or indirectly. Our part in justification, through which we become the children of God, is the exercise of faith. Justification is a perfect, finished work and admits of no degrees.
The Bible uses four expressions in speaking of justification so that we will all know that this experience does not depend upon us, but upon the infinite God who has promised and knows how to deliver.
The first of these expressions is found in Romans 3: 24 where it makes clear that we are 'Being justified freely by His grace.
This is the source of our justification. If God was not graciously disposed towards us there could be no reconciliation.
The second statement is found in Romans 5: 9 where we are told that we are now justified by His blood.
The blood is the means by which we are justified. The blood was the purchase price of our redemption.
The third expression is found in Romans 5: 1 where it tells us that we are 'Therefore being justified by faith'
Faith is the method of receiving justification, which has been graciously provided through the blood of the Son of God.
And finally the fourth expression is found in James 2: 24 where we are told that 'Ye see then how that by works a man is justified.
This makes very clear that our works, our manner of living, constitute the evidence of our justification that has been freely and solely wrought by God. This is a faith that works.
Understanding the fact that Gal 3: 26 says that we are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ should bring us all to a deep and abiding assurance.
No one ever needs to doubt his relationship to Christ and his position as a child of God. We can be absolutely sure. It is here that the Bible provides an experience of fullest assurance for those who accept it by faith. It becomes the foundation of all we believe and should result in a deep and abiding confidence in God's promises.
Paul in Romans 4: 16 (Clear Word Paraphrase) says: 'God's promise to Abraham continues to rest on grace and not on works. That's the only way salvation can be guaranteed to all of Abraham's descendants, not only the Jews but to all who have the same faith in God that Abraham had.'
Had man's salvation been based on his good works, he never could know full assurance, for he would never know when his works were equal to God's requirements. Assurance comes from accepting the promises in the Scriptures, complying with the conditions, and believing that God will fulfil what He has promised.
A sincere study of the Bible gained through the aid of the Holy Spirit becomes absolutely foundational in providing the necessary assurance of Salvation.
The question is often asked 'Is the Word of God sufficient to bring someone to salvation?' You can bet your life it is. We see this evident in the changed lives of those around us.
The great Protestant principle that recognised the Bible as its own interpreter and expositor can be seen in the life and work of the man called Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli was one of the early Swiss Reformers who lived in the sixteenth century. We are told that 'He submitted himself to the Bible as the word of God, the only sufficient, infallible rule. He saw that it must be its own interpreter...He sought to avail himself of every help to obtain a full and correct understanding of its meaning, and he invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit, which would, he declared, reveal it to all who sought it in sincerity and with prayer' (White, 1950: 173).
He further goes on to say that 'It illumines the soul with all salvation and grace' (Wylie, ND: 430).
This thought is further confirmed by other early Reformers in the Belgic Confession of Faith of 1561 which stated that the '…Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein…' (Cochrane, 1966: 192).
Anyone who claims that our salvation depends partly on something else other than Jesus as revealed in the Holy Scriptures immediately takes away the assurance of salvation. We need to be reminded again that the Bible constitutes the solid and secure foundation of our redemption. Our hope of life eternal is grounded exclusively in the Word of God and in its central message of Christ Jesus. Thus salvation is in Christ alone, who is the heart and centre of the Holy Scriptures. This is the primary function of the Bible.
We see this wonderful assurance in the life of the apostle Paul who, while writing from his prison cell in Rome, says in 2 Tim 1: 12 that while he was suffering 'Yet I am not ashamed, because I know in whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.' He also says in Rom 8: 38, 39 'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
It is not enough to believe about Christ, but we must believe in Him if we are to bring healing to the soul.
Paul did not merely hope, desire or guess. He knew. He was persuaded. He took no chances where eternal interests were involved. He did not 'neglect so great a salvation.'
What Jesus promised, Paul claimed.
What Christ required, Paul complied with.
To be among those who were 'heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ' was to him an intriguing reality.
In pursuit of this high calling Paul counted 'all things but loss' that he 'might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.' He staked out his claim in a better land, and nothing could move him from this settled purpose. His assurance was not based on feeling. It rested solidly on the promises of God. These were promises that were made a reality by his invincible faith.
What must we do to enjoy this continuing assurance?
Colossians 2: 6 gives us some idea as Paul instructs his brothers in Christ in the city of Colosse. He says to them: 'So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.'
Our assurance lasts as long as we abide in Christ. Faith in Him is not a one-day occurrence, but a daily exercise and commitment. It is our duty and privilege to walk daily with Him, to abide in Him and to persevere in our faith.
Nothing will destroy peace of conscience and assurance more effectively than an inconsistent life. A child of God must make that clean break with everything that he knows will be out of harmony with God's will. Failure to do this is to court a troubled heart and risk ultimate loss of the Kingdom of God.
In the little book 'Steps to Christ page 52, author Ellen White makes clear that 'Now you have given yourself to Jesus, do not draw back, do not take yourself away from Him, but day by day say, 'I am Christs; I have given myself to Him; and ask Him to give you His Spirit and keep you by His grace. As it is by giving yourself to God, and believing Him, that you become His child, so you are to live in Him.'
The apostle John 1: 12 tells us again that '…to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.'
This privilege is not something we gain of ourselves. Only those who receive Jesus as their Saviour are given the power to become the sons and daughters of God. While Christ alone has the power to cleanse the heart, the promise of sonship is made to all who believe on His name.
John the Beloved was the most receptive of all the disciples and it was his appreciation of the divine attributes of his Lord and his daily communion with Him that he was able to increasingly reflect His character. His certainty of faith was based on a correct understanding of Jesus' life and work and this was to be anchored in God's truthful testimony about His Son.
The life of the apostle Peter also continues to be a source of inspiration and encouragement because it shows how Christ can change the impulsive, ambitious and self-confident heart and teach us to grow to be more like Him. Peter was always willing to learn and grow whenever God showed him the way be it through humiliation and suffering.
It was because Peter was to establish his faith in Jesus on the Word of God in Scripture that he was able to confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt 16: 16).
However, we need to remember that Peter was still a weak human being, but in spite of his shortcomings God still assures him of his salvation.
Peter's life story provides a telling proof of how an uneducated, narrow-minded and self-confident fisherman can become a mature thinker and effective leader of God's people. His errors and sins are recorded in the Scriptures for our sake, so that we may not despair or become so discouraged by our own limitations and shortcomings.
It is also important to recognise that there are many today who see their assurance of salvation as incompatible with a last judgement of the saints according to works as outlined in Matt 16: 27 and Matt 25: 31-40.
However, this paradox tends to disappear when we realize that the purpose of the judgement is not to reveal something to God that is hidden from Him. God knows everything. Instead the judgement allows God to reveal to the universe the reality of our faith. According to Ephesians 2: 8-10, this reality manifests itself through good works.
The comforting assurance of the judgement portrayal outlined in the Book of Daniel 7: 22 is that the 'Ancient of Days' will pronounce 'judgement in favour of the saints of the Most High.' This is the ultimate assurance of salvation. Rom 8: 31 makes clear that 'If God is for us, who can be against us.'
We know that our names are written in heaven just as Christ told His disciples in Luke 10: 20. We know that they are there just as Paul in Philippians 4: 3 wrote that the names of his fellow workers were written in the Book of Life.
Because the names of all believers are written in God's Holy book (Heb 12: 23) they all have the citizenship of heaven. Revelation 21: 27 makes abundantly clear that believers in Jesus already have their names written in the Lamb's book of life.'
It is absolutely essential then that we discover the biblical connection between the Cross and the judgement of God in the entire history of salvation and not for them to be seen as isolated doctrines of truth. In this larger picture God's judgement is not seen to threaten the believer's assurance of eternal salvation. Rather it acknowledges publicly their living faith in Christ, ratifies their justification by faith, and rewards them for their witness for Him.
On March 24, 1820, a little baby girl was born into a poor family of strong Puritan ancestry in Putnam County, New York in the United States of America. They named her Francis Jane.
Six weeks after she was born she became extremely ill causing her eyes to become very inflamed. Being a small town there was no resident Doctor and the family was desperate for help. A stranger, claiming a medical background offered his services by placing a poultice on her eyes in the belief that it would draw the infection out. Instead as her eyes cleared, white scar tissue began to form causing her complete blindness. Apart from detecting some light, she was to remain this way for the rest of her life. At the age of twelve months tragedy struck again with the death of her father forcing her mother, at the young age of 21, to become the main breadwinner for the family.
Consequently, Francis or Fanny as she was now being called, was left in the care of her Grandmother and the two became inseparable. Eunice Crosby took the education of her precious granddaughter under her wing and literally became the girl's eyes during this important part of her life. She was determined that fanny wouldn't grow up to be helpless and that she would be independent and capable of supporting herself.
Eunice verbally taught Fanny all about the world around her, describing her physical surroundings in great and vivid detail. This was not only to develop her descriptive abilities, but it was to lead this little girl to develop a great love of nature.
However, her Grandmother was also to nurture her spirit. She read and carefully explained the Bible to her, emphasising the importance of prayer and a relationship with God. Whenever Fanny became depressed because she couldn't learn as other children did, she prayed to God for knowledge.
Along with her Grandmother, their landlady by the name of Mrs Hawley played an important part in her development. It was she who helped Fanny to memorize the Bible and often she was able to commit five chapters a week to her memory. She knew the five books of Moses, the Gospels, Proverbs, and many of the Psalms by heart. She developed a phenomenal memory that often amazed her friends, but she didn't see anything remarkable about these achievements. Her blindness had simply forced her to develop her memory and fine tune her powers of concentration. She also became more sensitive and aware of the world around her with her other senses becoming extra alert as they made up for her lack of sight.
Even at the age of eight, she did not consider her blindness to be a hindrance and this attitude is summed up in a little verse she composed at that time.
'Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be!
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don't
So do not weep or sigh because I am blind
I cannot - nor I won't.
In 1834, at the age of fourteen, she entered the New York Institute for the Blind and went on to teach there for twenty-three years. She became quite a celebrity and was well known for her poetry that she was asked to write for almost every conceivable occasion. This was to see her become the friend and personal confidante of every sitting American President during her lifetime.
On March 5, 1858 she married Alexander van Alstyne, a former blind pupil at the Institute and who was later recognised as one of the finest organists in the New York area. Fanny herself was an excellent harpist, played the piano and had developed a lovely Soprano voice.
As the result of a life changing spiritual encounter at age 30 in November 1850, which she said flooded her very soul with celestial light, the seeds were sown for her later life's work. However, this did not come to fruition until she had left the institute and it was then that she found her true vocation in the writing of hymns. Every hymn she wrote, she prayed God would use it to lead many souls to him.
Over the next 51 years, this young women who stood not more than five feet in height, wrote over 8,500 songs, often producing six or seven songs a day. She became so prolific that publishing companies would only sell more of her songs if she wrote under a pseudonym. Using over 100 different names she literally glutted the market with her incredibly popular music. This became even more so after teaming up with evangelist D.L. Moody and vocalist Ira Sankey causing one writer to comment that she had set more hearts and voices to praising God than any other women who ever lived.
She once said about her blindness that 'The first face ever to gladden my sight will be when I get to heaven and behold the face of the One who died for me . . .I verily believe that God intended that I should live my days in physical darkness so that I might be better prepared to sing His praise and lead others from spiritual darkness into eternal light…It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it.
She was never to lose her faith in her Lord no matter what was to happen in her life and her strong beliefs are captured in the words of every hymn. Behind each of these we find there is a very special story. You know them so well.
Jesus is tenderly calling thee home,
Calling today, Calling today
Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,
to the cross where thou hast died.
Praise Him, Praise Him,
Jesus our Blessed Redeemer
Jesus Keep me near the Cross
Redeemed, How I love to proclaim it
Rescue the Perishing, Care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save
Take the World but give me Jesus
To God be the Glory
Tell me the story of Jesus
When the silver cord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; But O the joy when I shall wake within the palace of the King! And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story - Saved by grace.
Fanny Crosby, like each of us was saved by grace through faith and her works were to be the evidence of a life that was to impact countless millions of people. Fanny loved the Lord and she was not only to devote her life to Him in song, but also to reach out to others with His unconditional love.
One day her friend Mrs. Joseph Fairchild Knapp, wife of the organizer of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, went to visit with her and get an opinion of a tune she had written.
After playing the tune to her she said, 'What does it say to you, Fanny?' Fanny's answer was 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.' Within a few minutes she handed to Mrs. Knapp the completed words of this well-known hymn (Osbeck, 1982: 43).
Francis J. Crosby had that wonderful assurance of her salvation and we see it in the words of this beautiful old hymn
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above;
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest;~
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
When Fanny died, her original tombstone carried the words, 'Aunt Fanny' and 'She hath done all she could'.
In a later memorial erected in her name the words of the old hymn were added.
'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine'
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of Salvation, purchase of God
Born of the Spirit
Washed in His blood.
May those words be your experience and mine this morning is my prayer for each and everyone here today.
Cochrane, A. C. (1966) Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press.
Hall J. H. (1914) Miss Fanny J. Crosby. Hymn Writer and Poetess in 'Gospel Song and Hymn Writers' New York: Flemming H. Revell Company. http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bcrosby6.html
Johnsson, W. G. (1979) In Absolute Confidence. Nashville: Southern Publishing Association.
Osbeck, K. W. (1982) 101 Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregal Publications
White, E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
Wylie, J. A. (ND) The History of Protestantism. Vol.1 (London, Paris & New York: Cassell Petter & Galpin
Wells, A. R. (1914) 'Speed Away!' Fanny Crosby in 'A Treasure of Hymns' United Society of Christian Endeavour. http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bcrosby6.html
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