Mr Doubtful couldn’t believe it! There he was standing at the entrance to the Celestial City. Was it all a dream? Had he really been summoned to live with Prince Emmanuel and his people? Were they all expecting him? Would he be welcomed or turned away?
He stood frozen to the spot. Suddenly, the porter appeared with two guards. ‘Have you a summons?’
‘Er, here it is, I think’, answered Doubtful, in a quivering half whisper. Out of his inside pocket he retrieved, hesitantly, a crumpled piece of paper. The porter turned towards the two guards behind him, ‘You may open the gates. The document is authentic’.
The porter, with a reassuring smile, escorted the overjoyed pilgrim into his heavenly home.
It is not unusual for people to be like Mr Doubtful, unsure about their relationship with the Lord. Have I really been saved? Was my conversion genuine? Has God really forgiven me my sins?
Such questions can be uttered by genuine believers. King David (Psalm 51:11-12), the apostle Peter, Martin Luther, John Owen and William Cowper all went through periods of doubt.
J. C. Ryle has a wonderful chapter on ‘assurance’ in his book Holiness. Being concerned about our standing with the Lord can, in fact, be a positive spiritual sign. But almighty God does not want us to flounder in a sea of doubt.
He comes to our aid through his holy and authoritative Word. As Thomas Watson wrote, ‘True assurance is built upon a scriptural basis’. A table has four legs; lacking one leg leads to instability. So let us examine here the four helps to assurance of faith.
All four helps involve looking in the right direction. When we were at school, we looked to the teacher for help. When we have tooth problems, we look to a dentist. When we have medical problems, we should look to qualified medical assistance. So, when we have spiritual doubts and fears, we should look to the Lord. We need to look to God, not to ourselves.
We need to look at God the Father’s plan. The salvation of anyone is due to the plan and will of God the Father. Consider how gracious God is to love sinners. Think on the amazing love of the Father, that he loves sinners and has determined to save them.
‘In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:9-10).
We must look to God the Father and consider his determination to save sinners. He has provided a plan of salvation, in which whoever believes can be saved. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved’ (John 3:16-17).
Stop looking inwards at yourself and look to God the Father. He delights in saving sinners. When you feel poor, look to the riches found in the Father’s incomparable gift.
Secondly, look to God the Son. Salvation is not because of you; it is because of what Christ has done. A Christian is someone who has been given a gift. That gift is the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to the Son, who is the Saviour.
Look to his humanity. He is perfectly able to represent you before the Father and be your substitute. He is human — flesh and bone, blood and DNA. He understands you more than you understand yourself. He knows what it is to face temptation and suffer in this world. He understands us completely.
Look to Jesus and consider his approachability and love. He loves sinners and calls to himself those who grieve under their sins and doubt. He is full of mercy and grace.
Look to his deity. ‘Ah’, you say, ‘He may be kind, but he is not able to help me. I feel so bad. I have such doubts’. But where does it ever say in the Bible that we are to depend on our feelings?
Did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego depend on their feelings when they stood before the fiery furnace? Did Jeremiah allow his feelings to stop him from being a prophet for God? We mustn’t allow feelings to guide us. Our feelings are to follow our minds. We are to listen with our ears, understand with our minds, and do what the Lord commands.
Thirdly, look at the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, in his kindness. He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to him by faith. ‘He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God’ (John 3:18). Jesus Christ will never turn you away.
Look to God’s grace and mercy. ‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me’, said Jesus (John 14:1). ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).
Don’t doubt his care and kindness. Remember how little children came to Jesus while he was on earth, and he took them in his arms and blessed them. He hasn’t changed; he is the same Saviour in heaven, full of grace and truth, love and compassion.
He calls all kinds of people to himself for salvation. Listen to how God the Father commends Jesus to us: ‘Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon him … He will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench’ (Isaiah 42:1-3).
Finally, look to God the Spirit. There is help at hand from the Holy Spirit. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he encouraged them to be persistent in petitioning the Father for what they desperately need. ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’ (Luke 11:13).
Salvation is the gift of God. Christians are those who have been born again from above. Whatever we require is given to us by the Spirit: a new heart, a new life, Christ the hope of glory. All these blessings are from the Holy Spirit, applying the truths of God’s Word to us.
If you need faith, ask God to give it. If you lack the ability to repent, seek God. Pour out your heart to him. Be persistent; don’t give up; keep asking. God gives his Holy Spirit to those who seek. ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15).
Do not be afraid. God has saved people worse than you and they are now in his presence, perfect and rejoicing in his great grace and mercy. Read how Paul encouraged the Ephesians: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’ (2:4-8).
There is absolutely no need to doubt, but, instead, trust God. There is great hope for those who look to the triune God for salvation and assurance.
Jean-Marc Alter is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Swansea