[This is the 10th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]
“Direction 10: That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation, in that every faith whereby Christ himself is received into our hearts: therefore we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely giveth to us interest in Christ and his salvation, according to his gracious promise.”
This tenth direction is something of an elaboration of the ninth, wherein Marshall contends that one of the comforts of the gospel requisite to performing the duties of the law is an assurance of salvation. Marshall began with four clarifications at the outset, to establish a right understanding of this doctrine.
First, in regard to the nature of assurance intended by this direction: The assurance directed unto here is not a persuasion that we have already received Christ and his salvation, but only that “God is pleased graciously to give Christ and his salvation unto us.” Hereby he distinguished between the direct vs the reflex act of faith, the latter being what we typically think of when we mention assurance (the direct act being the belief that God is ready to receive us for salvation which is inherent to saving faith, and the reflex act being a well-grounded assurance that one is in a state of grace, a thing which many precious saints are without).
Second, the assurance directed to is not what is nowadays commonly referred to as “once-saved-always-saved” wherein a person can live any way they please because they have prayed the prayer, walked the aisle, or what have you. Rather, the assurance Marshall has in mind is a persuasion “in a limited way, through mere free grace in Christ, by partaking of holiness as well as forgiveness, and by walking in the way so holiness to the enjoyment of the glory of God.”
Third, Marshall warns against “thinking so highly of this assurance, as if it were inconsistent with any doubting in the same soul.” As long as saints remain here with indwelling sin, there will inevitably be doubts that linger about one’s state. As Marshall put it: “Can any on earth say, they have received any grace in the highest degree, and that they are wholly free from the contrary corruption? Why then should we think, that assurance cannot be true, except it be perfect, and free the soul from all doubtings?”
Fourth, Marshall notes the priority of faith in obtaining assurance: “In the last place, let it be well observed, that the reason why we are to assure ourselves in our faith, that ‘God freely giveth Christ and salvation to us particularly,’ is not because it is a truth before we believe it, but because it will never be true, except we do, in some measure, persuade and assurance ourselves that it is so.” He went on to say that “our assurance is not impressed on our thoughts by any evidence of the thing; but we must work it out in ourselves by the assistance of the Spirit of God, and thereby we bring our own thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Practically this comes down to taking God at his word and trusting on Christ alone for salvation, for there is no under name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. To seek any other method of salvation is vain idolatry, and to doubt God’s willingness or ability to save impugns His character. Hence we are bound to come to Him as helpless beggars, seeking our all in Him. When we take Him at his word, he proves to be faithful.
Marshall then provides seven arguments to prove that “there is, and must necessarily be such an assurance or persuasion of our salvation in saving faith itself.” I will deal only with the first and the fifth one here.
In the first argument, Marshall contends that this “assurance of salvation is implied in the description before given of that faith whereby we receive Christ and his salvation, into our hearts.” His main point here is that coming to faith in Christ involves a full reliance upon Him alone for salvation, trusting in Him completely and utterly, and that such trust will not be in vain:
“If you will rest in the Lord, you must believe that he dealeth bountifully with you (Ps. 116:7); or else, for ought you know, you may make your bed in hell. And you will show little regard of Christ, and of your soul, if you dare to rest under the wrath of God, without any persuasion of a sure interest in Christ. . . . The soul that liveth in such wavering and doubting concerning salvation, doth not stay itself, nor rest at all; but is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6, 8). – If you continue on the mere suspense and doubtfulness of salvation by Christ, your desire to trust, us but a lazy woulding, without any fixed resolution, and you dare not yet venture to trust on him steadfastly.”
In the fifth argument, Marshall underscores the importance of the assuring one’s self in the enjoyment of Christ:
“The chief office of this faith in its direct saving act, is to receive Christ and his salvation actually into our hearts, as hath been proved; which office cannot be rationally performed, except we do, in some measure, persuade our hearts, and assure ourselves in the enjoyment of him.”
There can be no fence-sitting here where the direct act of faith is concerned, in terms of whether or not Christ is willing and able to save those who come to him. In the direct act of faith, there is no doubt about where salvation is to be found, offered, and freely given:
“If we do not make choice of Christ as our only salvation and happiness, or if we be altogether in a state of suspense, doubting whether God will be pleased to give Christ to us or no, it is evident, that our souls are quite loose from Christ, and have no holdfast or enjoyment of him. They do not so much as pretend to any actual receiving, or laying hold, or choosing of him, neither are they fully satisfied that it is lawful for them so to do: but rather they are yet to seek, whether they have any good ground and right to lay hold on him or no. Let any rational man judge, whether the soul doth, or can put forth any sufficient act for the reception and enjoyment of Christ, as its Saviour, Head, or Husband, while it is yet in doubt, whether it be the will of Christ to be joined with it in such a near relation? Can a woman honestly receive any one as her husband, without being assured the he is fully willing to be her husband? The same may be said concerning the several parts of Christ’s salvation, which are to be received by faith. It is evident, that we do not aright receipt the benefit of remission of sins, for the purging of our consciences from that guilt that lieth upon them, unless we have an assured persuasion of God’s forgiving them. We do not actually receive into our hearts, our reconciliation with God, and adoption of children, and the title to an everlasting inheritance, until we can assure ourselves, that God is graciously pleased to be our God and Father, and take us to be his children and heirs.”
This reminds me of something that John Bunyan mentioned in his autobiography, Grace Abounding. Bunyan described himself as a great sinner before his conversion, and went to some length to describe the struggles he went through at the outset of his conversion. Satan confronted him with his sin, suggesting that his transgressions were such that there could be no grace sufficient enough for his salvation. Bunyan discovered that when he shared his struggles with mature saints who had been in the Lord many years, they were encouraged. Bunyan concluded that this was because Satan uses the same tactics with “lesser sinners” later on in their Christian walk that he does with “great sinners” early on, just with a different focus. Rather than holding up all those sins committed before conversion, with “lesser sinners” Satan accuses them for all their sins since conversion, seeking to call into question the genuineness their salvation, suggesting something to the effect that “there is no more grace for you.” In this way Satan seeks to separate the saint from the object of his direct act of faith (the assurance Marshall has been describing). But the answer to this attack is the same on the first day on the narrow road of faith as it is on last, as expressed in the words of John Newton’s hymn, Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat:
“Be thou my shield and hiding place, that, sheltered near thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, and tell him thou hast died.”