A Classic Study by Richard Baxter (1615Ė1691)
Settled Doubts of Sincerity and Salvation;
Temptations to Despair, pt. 2
(Continued from last monthís issue. Mr. Baxter is enumerating
considerations concerning this type of affliction)
8. It is one thing to have grace, and another thing to know that we have it: many have it, who doubt whether it be sincere. And it is an unspeakable mercy to have it, though you doubt of it. God knoweth His grace in us, and will own it, when we doubt of it or deny it. As long as this foundation of God is sure, that God knoweth who are His, and while we name Christ we depart from iniquity, we are safe, though through fear we are uncomfortable.
9. Though true faith do of its own nature tend to the peace and quietness of the believer, yea, and to fill his soul with joy; yet it does not always quiet it; but it always consenteth to the baptismal covenant, which maketh us Christians, and so far trusteth Christ for pardon, grace, and glory, as to cast our souls and hopes upon Him, and to forsake all other trust and hopes rather than to forsake Him. As I have oft said, if a prince say to a beggar, "Go out of thy own country with me in this ship, and trust me to convey thee to Mexico or China, and I will make thee a lord or prince"; if he venture and go with him, though he trembles with fear at every wave or pirate in the voyage, he truly trusteth him, and shall speed accordingly. If a physician say, "Trust me and take my medicine, and I will undertake to cure you;" if the patient take his medicine, he shall be cured, though he tremble with fear, and doubt of the success: he trusteth him practically, if he cast his hope upon him, though with fear. Though faith and obedience be formally two things, faith, which will cause us to consent, venture, and follow or obey Christ, preferring heaven, whatever we lose by it, is saving faith, whatever doubts, fears, or disquietment remain. If this were better understood, timorous and dark or melancholy Christians (who know there is none but Christ to trust to, and therefore resolve to be ruled by Him) would not so ordinarily think they have no true faith, because it does not cast out all their doubts and fears, and quiet and comfort them; which indeed a strong faith would do, which is not hindered by error or diseases.
10. We greatly wrong God and ourselves in contenting ourselves with poor, diminutive thoughts of the essential love and goodness of God. When we think of the sun (a thousand times bigger than all the earth), and of all the stars, and the incomprehensible orbs of the heavens, and the unconceivable swiftness of their motions, and the power and extent of their rays of light and emanations, we are overwhelmed with the thoughts of the greatness, power, and wisdom of God; but when we think of His goodness and love, we scarce think much more highly of it than of the goodness and love of a father, a friend, or some excellent man. And should we match His power but with a manís, what madness and ugly blasphemy were it!
Yet I would not have the presumption here to mistake, and hence to conclude that a God so good will not condemn the rejecters of His grace, and say, essential, infinite love will make all men as happy as He can. For, 1. Experience assureth us of the contrary; that He maketh great variety of creatures, and permitteth pain and misery in the world. 2. And the execution of justice on the impenitent, wicked subjects is good as a means to the right government of free agents. 3. And the infiniteness of Godís goodness and love does not appear in His loving any creature which is finite, but in loving that which is infinite.
But yet we must conceive of His essential attributes as equal in themselves. And if Godís goodness and love were conceived of by man, in any proportion to His greatness and power, we could never so easily suspect His kindness, nor fear that He will damn those who unfeignedly desire to please Him; nor should we fly from Him as from a hurtful enemy, but long to be nearer Him in holy communion, as we desire the company of our wisest, dearest friends; nor should we be so distrustful of Him, as if He were no security to us from our dangers; but the name of the Lord would be our strong tower, to which when we fly, we should believe that we are safe, and our trust in God would be the quieting of our tormenting fears and cares.
11. And we have these poor thoughts of the love of God to man, because we do not sufficiently study the miraculous demonstrations of it in our Redeemer: diversions cause us to neglect this study; and perverseness and unbelief do cause us to give it too narrow a room and too slight and short entertainment in our thoughts. Nothing in this world does better deserve our most diligent and delightful study, than the gospel of Christ, and the wonderful work of divine love in manís redemption and salvation: study this till you firmly believe it, and taste it, and it will be as angelsí food, a heavenly feast here sent down to earth, to draw menís hearts to God in heaven. The love of God will turn your very hearts into returning holy love. It was drops of love that Christ sweat in the shape of blood in His agony, and it was a stream of love which flowed from His pierced side, in the shape of blood and water. It is love which the three witnesses on earth, and the three from heaven, attested. God knew how much sin had obscured His love and goodness to man, more than His power and greatness, by making man an unmeet receiver and discerner of it, by reason of guilt, fear, and naughtiness of heart; and therefore how very backward man is to believe and relish Godís love. Therefore while Satan more industriously enticeth the soul of man to the idolatry of creature carnal love, than ever He did entice the bodies of men to worship Baal or such like; God hath set up His own image sent down to man from heaven, in opposition to Satanís idols, that sense may have suitable means for the moral conquest of the tempter, and the replenishing of the soul with a truly excellent facilitating love; and in a congress of the love of God and man, in and by Him that is God and man, heaven may be here begun, and may have a fuller communion with souls on earth, than it had before Christís incarnation. Study the gospel aright, as the book of divine love, and it will turn you from many unprofitable studies, and cure sinful, melancholy fears, better than all other medicines in the world. And even those that said with Thomas, "Unless I may see and feel, I will not believe" (John 20:25), or as a holy divine in deep melancholy rashly said to me, "If an angel from heaven should tell me that I have free grace, I would not believe him"óthey would repent as both these did. And when by faith you have as it were put your finger into His wounded side, the sense of divine love will make you cry out, "My Lord, and my God" (John 20:28).
12. And it greatly hurteth Christians, that they are not duly sensible, how much it is Satanís design and work in all his temptations to misrepresent God to man, and hide His love and goodness from us: as he does it in the wicked by drawing them to fleshly, deluding love, and making them ignorant, unbelieving, or forgetful of the love of God; so he does much against better men by raising many objections against it, and filling them with false imaginations, and diminutive or suspicious thoughts against God, as if He were far more terrible to us than amiable.
13. And it wrongs some that they misunderstand the office of conscience, as if it always spoke as an oracle from God, whereas it is but the act of a dark understanding, which very usually erreth, and misjudgeth of our state; and a mistaking conscience accusing falsely, as graceless, etc. shall no more condemn us at Godís bar than a slandering enemy. "I judge not my own self," saith Paul, "I know nothing by myself, [inconsistent with sincerity], yet am I not thereby justified: There is one that judgeth me, even the Lord" (I Cor. 4:4): that is, it will not really go with me as I judge, but as God judgeth.
14. And alas! When fear beareth down both faith and reason, as to the act, no silencing reason prevaileth with the soul. I prove to them from the gospel this great truth; that Christ damneth none (that hear the gospel) but those that willfully reject Him and refuse His offered grace, out of greater love to something else, and this to the last. I oft convinced dejected Christians that this is true, and that this is not their case; they do not continue to refuse Christ and His grace by preferring something else. And yet this quieteth them not, nor receive they the conclusion; for fear, and feeling, and weakness, and melancholy, overpowereth their reason; as bitter physic would not let children believe that it was good for them, and given them in love.
15. Though no pretence of patience must abate our desires after full assurance and perfection, yet while we find by experience that God will have men on earth to differ much from those in heaven, and to have but low and little things in comparison of their joy and glory, it is our great duty to be thankful for our present measure, and to wait in hope for more. He that hath no comfortable apprehension of his condition, can have no thankfulness for it: and we are all obliged to great thankfulness for the least degree of grace and hope: and thankfulness is somewhat more than patience, and therefore does include it.
The acts of the understanding and of the will go together: and if we had as full an understanding of the heavenly state, as those have that possess it, our wills by answerable love and joy would now enjoy it; and so we should have the peculiar privileges of the glorified here on earth. But this is no more suited to our present state in flesh, than it is to an infant in the womb to know what cities, courts, and churches are, or what trades, and merchandise, and husbandry is, or what books, and arts, and sciences are, or what meat, and drink, and recreation are. We must be content on earth with the measure which God designeth unto earth. We see by constant experience, that He hath precluded the heavenly state from all our senses; He will not let us see what is done above. The first martyr had such a sight by miracle, but we must not expect it. He will not let our departed friends appear to us here to give us notice of what they see. He will not send angels to satisfy our desire of such knowledge; nay, infernal devils shall appear but rarely: the rareness of all these leaveth sadness in doubt whether there be any such thing or not. And Paulís sight of paradise was such as must not be uttered to us.
And full subjective certainty of salvation, which excludeth all doubts and fears, is so high a degree as few in flesh, I think, obtain. Objective certainty every true Christian hath; that is, his salvation (if he so die at least) is absolutely certain itself, so that his belief and hope of it shall never deceive him. But to be certainly known to men, that is, with an apprehension which as much excludeth doubts and fears as sight and possession would do, or as the light and visible objects exclude all doubts whether we behold them, or as we know that two and two are four, or that every effect hath a cause, and every relate a correlate, and that full contradictions are inconsistent; I think this degree of certainty none have on earth, without some miraculous inspiration or revelation. But we may attain to so firm an apprehension of that truth and blessedness, which is certain in itself, as may make our hope, and joy, and desire far greater than our doubts, and fears, and aversion. And this joyful life of well-grounded hope may be called a certainty or full assurance; though yet it be far short of perfect, and the certainty of beatifical vision and fruition. And alas! It is but very few true Christians who attain this quieting, joyful degree.
All this being considered, you see that while we are on earth, we must not expect heaven; nor in the wilderness expect the Land of Promise: Joshua and Calebís encouraging words, and the bunch of grapes, and Godís promise and presence, and His conducting light, provision, and protection, must quiet us in our journey: and some few have Mosesí Pisgah-sight. Murmuring at wilderness-wants, dangers, and difficulties, was the Israeliteís sin and fall. We must not look for the harvest at seed time, nor for more knowledge, and assurance, and joyful apprehensions of heaven, on earth, than is suitable to the state of travelers in flesh: we are yet, alas, too sinful; and sin will breed doubts and fears: we are here very ignorant, and conscious that we are very liable to err; and that every man hath many errors; and therefore we are apt to doubt even of that which we see and feel, yea, and to fear where we see convincing evidence of certainty; and we can scarce tell when and how to trust our own understandings: we are in a dark world; and in a dark body, and chained to it in our actings; all our grace and goodness is imperfect; and till every grace be perfect in us, assurance of salvation will not be perfect; for the perfection of every grace is necessary to it. And is it any wonder that such a wight as man, in flesh, and sin, and under temptations, and in a dark, malignant world, which God hath very much forsaken, should not have the joy of full assurance of invisible glory? The Christians of all those ages, who held that none (or only a few rare persons) could be certain of their salvation, could not have that certainty which they thought none had. Yet they did, and we must, rejoice in hope, and be thankful here for a traveling degree.