Page images
PDF
EPUB

Full Assurance of faith. Do these words fitly represent an attainable experience ? Is it practicable for a man here on earth to have the habitual knowledge that he is in the favour of God and in the way to heaven? Is religion an experience or a chimera ?—a matter of solid certainty, or only of more or less doubtful conjecture? In the light of the title of this article, which we borrow from St. Paul, the answer to these questions is easy. Either the most logical of the apostles, here and often elsewhere, when he seems to be speaking most plainly, uses language with the wildest poetic license, or else religion is an experience—a conscious, transforming, unutterably glorious experience.

And yet the battle for this primary position in religious thinking must ever be fought anew. There are, and always have been in Christendom, persons enough who admit that religion is a belief and a code of ceremonies, and a line of conduct; but who are by no means so sure that it is also a mighty inward life and power. Their faith in all the unseen realities is weak. God is invisible; heaven seems to them a brilliant dream ; angels are myths ; “the powers of the world to come"

l are ideas only, and not powers. And, if they see a man so under the dominion of those “powers” that he acts as though the world, with all its treasures, was only a glittering bauble compared with the prize held out to his eager spirit, they are quick to smile at his fanaticism, and reckon him among Quakers, with their “inner light,” or Spiritualists

, with their pretended visits from the departed. They do not deny that it was proper for Moses to “endure as seeing Him who is invisible,” and to "esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt;" but that was a long time ago, and the circumstances were very peculiar. Let a man do so now, and they will brand him as a fanatic-in their unspoken thoughts, at least, if not also with curling lip.

The ideas of many in the Church even are totally inadequate. They fear God. They feel their guilt and demerit. They pray, read the Scriptures, join the Church, and resist sin with variable success; but never come to have the Spirit of adoption. They are trembling servants, but not rejoicing song. They gravely doubt whether it is safe to venture much beyond this condition in this life. The proportion of this class in the Church is much smaller than it was a century ago. Then, if & young convert, all aglow with the new-found joy of pardon, went to an old deacon with his glad story, he was very likely to be met with— “My child, the heart is deceitful above all things. Be careful. I fear you are still in the gall of bitterness. It is a very serious thing to in

a

[ocr errors]

dulge a hope.” Better times have come ; but some devout disciples are still withheld by the shackles of their theology from the delights of sonship.

The chief cause, however, of the prevalent scepticism concerning the higher forms of experimental religion is unquestionably the low experience of the Church. Her experience comes far short of her theories. Many a professing Christian never realises and makes no strenuous and persistent efforts to realise the state of personal experience which he believes attainable and even obligatory. He thinks a Christian may walk in the light of God's countenance, but himself walks in frequent darkness, interspersed with streaks of twilight. He sings :

“Lord, I believe a rest remains

To all Thy people known :
A rest where pure enjoyment reigns,

And Thou art lored alone.” That is mere sentiment with him ; and then, as his experience, he sings :

“Look, how we grovel here below,

Fond of these earthly toys;
Our souls, how heavily they go

To reach eternal joys." In all calmness and charity we are compelled to say that the habitual experience of many professors is scarcely better than a caricature of the Divine standard, and that the prevailing type—that is, the religious experience of the majority of church members-confessedly comes far short of that promised in the valedictory address of the Saviour, and illustrated in the glowing letters of the apostles.

We believe, as Jonathan Edwards says, that “the nature of the covenant of grace, and God's declared ends in the appointment and constitution of things in that covenant, do plainly show it to be God's design to make ample provision for the saints having an assured hope of eternal life while living here upon earth.” The inimitably tender consolations in Jesus's farewell address were directed to this end—"That in Me ye might have peace ;” “That your joy may be full ;” “ Let not your heart be troubled"-and they accomplished their purpose. The apostles did not content themselves with the mere ghost of an uncertain hope; they trod the solid ground of knowledge. Paul says: “Christ

“ liveth in me;

“To die is gain ;” “I know whom I have believed.” John: “We do know that we know Him ;” “Now are we the sons of God.” Peter : “Whom having not seen we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

"

a

It is carelessly taken for granted by some when the need of such experiences is earnestly insisted on, and the realisation of them is joyfully professed, nowadays, that the advocates of them are running into raptures and rhapsodies. We fear St. Paul would find himself quite out of place in many a modern prayer-meeting. Imagine him in one of those meetings to rise and say : “I live, yet not I. Christ liveth in

me,

and the life which I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Many a professor would (in,

( wardly) say, “I don't understand that. Rather enthusiastic.” Yes, thank God, enthusiastic ; but not fanatical. It is a most solid and substantial experience. Nothing so pre-eminently marks this life as that it is a life of faith—a life in which faith is personal, habitual, assured, full. It may have far less violent emotion in it, and is, at all events, far less dependent on emotion than a lower state of grace; just as the deep river is silent, while its tributaries babble.

“ Stillest streams
Oft water fairest meadows; and the bird

That flutters least is longest on the wing." Many a disciple but poorly grounded in grace has, in some rare hour of fresh pardon, a thrill of feeling which the maturer Christian does not need, because he has no such backslidings to be healed. The one has just climbed a little hill, and is looking round with transport. The other is steadily travelling the “highway of holiness," along the mountain range, above the clouds.

The faith of assurance is personal, constant, and adequate to life's needs. Its possessor is not driven for comfort to search after the results of roundabout and uncertain inferences; he rejoices in a blissful fact. His relation to the Saviour is a permanent part of his consciousness. It stands no more in need of repeated proof than his relation to the members of his family. The delightful conviction of the existence of this relation needs not to be kept by an exhaustive effort. It keeps him, rests him, and enwraps him evermore, like an exhilarating atmosphere. Jesus is with him all the while. When he wakes in the night, when he rises in the morning, wherever he goes, Jesus is there. When he goes to his rest among utter strangers, or in the middle of the stormswept ocean, His trusting spirit sings :

" Jesus protects ; my fears begone !

What can the Rock of Ages more?
Safe in Thine arms I lay me down

Thine everlasting arms of love." Such a faith is eminently rational. It is avouched by the testimony of three unimpeachable witnesses : the Word of God, the Spirit of God,

[ocr errors]

and the spirit of man. The man who has this experience knows he has it-knows it by faith ; and that faith rests immovably on this threefold foundation : God's promise, the witness of God's Spirit, and the answering testimony of the renewed soul. God's Word long ago laid the firm foundation of “exceeding great and precious promises” for such faith to rest on. But, not content with having spoken ages back for His child, God now speaks directly to him by the Holy Ghost, assuring him of his personal interest in Christ. And then this Divine voice from heaven is answered by a humble human voice within the soul : “I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. As Saul ceased to be Saul, and became Paul, so I am not the man I once was, but another man—a new man, with new tastes, new loves, new hopes; and, blessed be God, as the foundation of all else, with a new heart.”

John Wesley thus defined “the witness of the Spirit ": "By the testimony of the Spirit I mean an inward impression on the soul, whereby

Ι the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given Himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.” Later he said : “ After twenty years' further consideration I see no cause to retract any part of this."

Is there need of any further proof of the existence of such an experience as assurance of faith"? Does any man say, “Oh! this is only Methodist theology”? No; it is Pauline, Petrine, Johanneannay, Christian.

It was in the world long before Methodism was born. Almost a century before John Wesley began to preach it, it was proclaimed by the Westminster Assembly as part of the orthodox faith, and has since been adopted in their words in the religious symbols of many denominations. The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church

says: “Such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God; which hope shall never make them ashamed. This, certainly, is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope ; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the Divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, and the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God."

We are kept at uncertainty as to the precise time of Christ's coming, that we may be always ready. For it is no thanks to a man to be ready for an attack, if he knows, beforehand, just the time when it will be made.

Your Crowu. You expect one, of course, if you belong to Christ. Does it seem real to you? Do you think of it during business hours, in the home circle, at midnight, while others sleep? And when the pressure of the cross is heaviest, does the thought of a crown, that is pledged to you, lighten the burden?

There are dear ones, perhaps, who once were a part of your life, that are wearing the crown. They are beckoning you on.

In the twilight hours, as you gaze on the glories of the waning day, you remember how you promised to meet them on the other side. And

you wonder if they will be waiting to greet you just inside the blessed portals, when the pearly gates have opened for your soul to rest, at home.

Perhaps you are watching the daily lives of some whom you know are being fitted to wear the crown. They gladden the earth with their presence. They live as hearty as any other men, and often lend a helping hand to charity, to neighbours, and to country. But joy is to them a foretaste of heaven. They feel that sorrow is transient.

While listening to the music of earth, they hear the angel choirs. They are already

. dwelling with Christ. Are you as sure of your crown as you are that they will win the prize of their earthly race!

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

Hold that fast ich thou hast, that no man take thy crown." Those are the conditions

upon
which

you may wear a crown. The cross stands in the entrance to your pathway. You must take it up and bear it to the end.

Faithful unto death! Do you lack examples to encourage you? The records of the ages are filled with them, and the annals of the day are ever adding new names to the long list of those who have proved faithful to the end. The same disciples who forsook their Lord in the hour of His agony, dared at last to die by the hand of cruelty, for the honour of

Are you eager to wear your crown? Do you, in some dark hour, long to cast off this earthly mantle and pass into the realm where your Redeemer reigneth ? And have you ever prided yourself on such a feele ing? If it was merely a wish the sooner to be with God, it was doubtless pleasant in His sight. But if you yearned for the crown because you were weary of the cross, you were simply acting the part of a child who sighs for a reward before the promised time. If

you have a crown to wear, it will be all your own. No one will ever purpose to take it from you, or try to share its glory. No one will envy you its possession, for all will have crowns, sparkling with jewels,

His name.

« PreviousContinue »