Body of Divinity
Sermons upon the Assembly's Catechism
Rev. Thomas Watson
Question: What are the benefits which flow from sanctification?
Answer: Assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
The first benefit flowing from sanctification is assurance of God's love.
'Give diligence to make your calling and election sure' (2 Pet. 1:10). Sanctification is the seed, assurance is the flower which grows out of it: assurance is a consequent of sanctification. The saints of old had it. 'We know that we know him' (1 John 2:3). 'I know whom I have believed' (2 Tim. 1:12). Here was sensus fidei, the reflex act of faith: and 'Christ hath loved me' (Gal. 2:20). Here is faith flourishing into assurance. Ecolampadius, when sick, pointed to his heart, saying, Hic sat lucis, Here I have light enough, meaning comfort and assurance.
Have all sanctified persons assurance?
They have a right to it, and I incline to believe that all have it in some degree before their last expiring; though their comfort may be so feeble, and their vital spirits so weak, that they cannot express what they feel. But I dare not positively affirm that all have assurance in the first moment of their sanctification. A letter may be written, when it is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, and the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it. God is a free agent, and may give or suspend assurance pro licito, as he pleases. Where there is the sanctifying work of the Spirit, he may withhold the sealing work, partly to keep the soul humble; partly to punish our careless walking—as when we neglect our spiritual watch, grow remiss in duty, and walk under a cloud, we quench the graces of the Spirit, and God withholds the comforts; and partly to put a difference between earth and heaven. This I the rather speak to bear up the hearts of God's people, who are dejected because they have no assurance. You may have the water of the Spirit poured on you in sanctification, though not the oil of gladness in assurance. There may be faith of adherence, and not of evidence; there may be life in the root, when there is no fruit in the branches to be seen; so faith in the heart, when no fruit of assurance.
What is assurance?
It is not any vocal or audible voice, or brought to us by the help of an angel or revelation. Assurance consists of a practical syllogism, in which the word of God makes the major, conscience the minor, and the Spirit of God, the conclusion. The Word says, 'He that fears and loves God is loved of God;' there is the major proposition; then conscience makes the minor, 'But I fear and love God;' then the Spirit makes the conclusion, 'Therefore thou art loved of God;' and this is what the apostle calls 'The witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits, that we are his children' (Rom. 8:16).
Has a sanctified soul such an assurance as excludes all doubting?
He has that which bears up his heart from sinking, he has such an earnest of the Spirit, that he would not part with it for the richest prize; but his assurance, though infallible, is not perfect. There will be sometimes a trepidation, but he is safe amidst fears and doubts; as a ship lies safe at anchor, though shaken by the wind. If a Christian had no doubts there would be no unbelief in him; had he no doubts there would be no difference between grace militant and grace triumphant. Had not David sometimes his ebbings as well as flowings? Like the mariner, who sometimes cries out, stellam video, 'I see a star,' and then cries the star is out of sight. Sometimes we hear David say, 'Thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes' (Ps. 26:3). At another time he is at a loss: 'Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses' (Ps. 89:49). There may fall out an eclipse in a Christian's assurance, to put him upon longing after heaven, where there shall not be the least doubting; where the banner of God's love shall be always displayed upon the soul; where the light of God's face shall be without clouds, and have no sun-setting; and where the saints shall have an uninterrupted assurance, and be ever with the Lord.
What are the differences between true assurance and presumption?
(1) They differ in the method or manner of working. Divine assurance flows from humiliation for sin; I speak not of the measure of humiliation, but the truth. There are in Palermo reeds growing, in which there is a sugared juice; a soul humbled for sin is the bruised reed, in which grows this sweet assurance. God's Spirit is a spirit of bondage before it is a spirit of adoption; but presumption arises without any humbling word of the Spirit. 'How camest thou by the venison so soon?' The plough goes before the seed be sown; the heart must be ploughed up by humiliation and repentance, before God sows the seed of assurance.
(2) He who has a real assurance will take heed of that which will weaken and darken his assurance; he is fearful of the forbidden fruit; he knows, though he cannot sin away his soul, yet he may sin away his assurance; but he who has the ignis fatuus of presumption does not fear defiling his garments, he is bold in sin. 'Wilt thou not cry unto me, My Father? Behold, thou hast done evil things as thou couldest' (Jer. 3:4,5). Balaam said, 'My God,' Yet was a sorcerer. It is a sign he has no money about him, who fears not to travel all hours in the night. It's a sign he has not the jewel of assurance, who fears not the works of darkness.
(3) True assurance is built upon a Scripture basis. The word says, 'The effect of righteousness shall be quietness and assurance for ever' (Is. 32:17). A Christian's assurance is built upon this Scripture. God has sown the seed of righteousness in his soul, and this seed has brought forth the harvest of assurance; but presumption is a spurious thing; it has not Scripture to show for its warrant; it is like a will without seal and witnesses, which is null and void in law. Presumption wants [lacks] both the witness of the word, and the seal of the Spirit.
(4) Assurance flowing from sanctification always keeps the heart in a lowly posture. Lord, says the soul, what am I, that, passing by so many, the golden beams of thy love should shine upon me? Paul had assurance. Is he proud of this jewel? No. 'To me who am less than the least of all saints' (Eph. 3:8). The more love a Christian receives from God, the more he sees himself a debtor to free grace, and the sense of his debt keeps his heart humble; but presumption is bred of pride. He who presumes disdains; he thinks himself better than others. 'God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are. . . or even as this publican' (Luke 18:11). Feathers fly up, but gold descends; so the heart of him who has this golden assurance descends in humility.
What may excite us to look after assurance?
To consider how sweet it is, and the noble and excellent effects it produces.
(1) How sweet it is. This is the manna in the golden pot; the white stone, the wine of paradise which cheers the heart. How comfortable is God's smile! The sun is more refreshing when it shines out than when it is hid in a cloud; it is a prelibation and a foretaste of glory, it puts a man in heaven before his time. None can know how delicious and ravishing it is, but such as have felt it; as none can know how sweet honey is, but they who have tasted it.
(2) The noble and excellent effects it produces.
(i) Assurance will make us love God, and praise him. Love is the soul of religion, the fat of the sacrifice; and who can love God as he who has assurance? The sun reflecting its beams on a burning-glass makes the glass burn that which is near it; so assurance (which is the reflection of God's love upon the soul) makes it burn in love to God. Paul was assured of Christ's love to him—'Who hath loved me:' and how was his heart fired with love! He valued and admired nothing but Christ (Philip. 3:8). As Christ was fastened to the cross, so he was fastened to Paul's heart. Praise is the quit-rent we pay to the crown of heaven. Who but he who has assurance of his justification can bless God, and give him the glory of what he has done for him? Can a man in a swoon or apoplexy praise God that he is alive? Can a Christian, staggering with fears about his spiritual condition, praise God that he is elected and justified? No! 'The living, the living, he shall praise thee' (Is. 38:19). Such as are enlivened with assurance are the fittest persons to sound forth God's praise.
(ii) Assurance will drop sweetness into all our creature enjoyments; it will be as sugar to wine, an earnest of more; it will give a blessing with the venison. Guilt embitters our comforts; it is like drinking out of a wormwood cup; but assurance sweetens all health. The assurances of God's love are sweet riches, and with the assurance of a kingdom are delectable. A dinner of green herbs, with the assurance of God's love, is princely fare.
(iii) Assurance will make us active and lively in God's service; it will excite prayer, and quicken obedience. As diligence begets assurance, so assurance begets diligence. Assurance will not (as the Papists say) breed self-security in the soul, but industry. Doubting discourages us in God's service, but the assurance of his favour breeds joy. 'The joy of the Lord is our strength' (Neh. 8:10). Assurance makes us mount up to heaven, as eagles, in holy duties; it is like the Spirit in Ezekiel's wheels, that moved them, and lifted them up. Faith will make us walk, but assurance will make us run: we shall never think we can do enough for God. Assurance will be as wings to the bird, as weights to the clock, to set all the wheels of obedience running.
(iv) Assurance will be a golden shield to beat back temptation, and will triumph over it. There are two sorts of temptations that Satan uses. (1) He tempts to draw us to sin; but being assured of our justification will make this temptation vanish. What, Satan! shall I sin against him who has loved me, and washed me in his blood? Shall I return to folly after God has spoken peace? Shall I weaken my assurance, wound my conscience, grieve my Comforter? Avaunt, Satan! Tempt no more. (2) Satan would make us question our interest in God, by telling us we are hypocrites, and God does not love us. Now there is no such shield against this temptation as assurance. What, Satan! have I a real work of grace in my heart, and the seal of the Spirit to witness it, and dost thou tell me God does not love me? Now I know thou art an impostor, who goest about to disprove what I sensibly feel. If faith resists the devil, assurance will put him to flight.
(v) Assurance will make us contented though we have but little in the world. He who has enough is content. He who has sunlight is content, though he is without torchlight. A man that has assurance has enough: in uno salvatore omnes florent gemmae ad salutem. He has the riches of Christ's merit, a pledge of his love, an earnest of his glory; he is filled with the fulness of God; here is enough, and having enough he is content. 'The Lord is the portion of my inheritance . . . the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places, and I have a goodly heritage' (Ps. 16:5,6). Assurance will rock the heart quiet. The reason of discontent is either because men have no interest in God, or do not know their interest. Paul says, 'I know whom I have believed' (2 Tim. 1:12). There was the assurance of his interest. And, 'As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing' (2 Cor. 6:10). There was his contentment. Get but assurance, and you will be out of the weekly bill of murmurers; you will be discontented no more. Nothing can come amiss to him that has assurance. God is his. Has he lost a friend?—His Father lives. Has he lost his only child?—God has given him his only Son. Has he scarcity of bread?--God has given him the finest of the wheat, the bread of life. Are his comforts gone?--He has the Comforter. Does he meet with storms on the sea?--He knows where to put in for harbour; God is his portion, and heaven is his haven. This assurance gives sweet contentment in every condition.
(vi) Assurance will bear up the heart in sufferings, it will make a Christian endure troubles with patience and cheerfulness. With patience, I say. 'Ye have need of patience' (Heb. 10:36). There are some meats which are hard of digestion, and only a good stomach will concoct them; so affliction is a meat hard of digestion, but patience, like a good stomach, will be able to digest it; and whence comes patience but from assurance? 'Tribulation worketh patience, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts' with cheerfulness (Rom. 5:3, 5). Assurance is like the mariner's lantern on the deck, which gives light in a dark night. Assurance gives the light of comfort in affliction. Ye 'took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves' (Heb. 10:34), there was assurance. He that has assurance, can rejoice in tribulation; he can gather grapes of thorns, and honey out of the lion's carcase. Latimer said, 'When I sit alone, and can have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is mine, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me.'
(vii) Assurance will pacify a troubled conscience. He who has a disturbed vexatious conscience, carries a hell about him, Eheu quis intus scorpia! but assurance cures the agony, and allays the fury of conscience. Conscience, which before was turned into a serpent, is now like a bee that has honey in its mouth, it speaks peace; tranquillus Deus, tranquillat omnia. Tertullia. When God is pacified towards us, then conscience is pacified. If the heavens are quiet, and there are no winds stirring, the sea is quiet and calm; so if there be no anger in God's heart, if the tempest of his wrath does not blow, conscience is quiet and serene.
(viii) Assurance will strengthen us against the fears of death. Such as want [lack] it, cannot die with comfort; they are in aequilibrio, they hang in a doubtful suspense as to what shall become of them after death; but he who has assurance, has a happy and joyful passage out of the world; he knows he is passed from death to life; he is carried full sail to heaven! Though he cannot resist death, he overcomes it.
What shall they do who have not assurance?
(1) Let such labour to find grace. When the sun denies light to the earth, it may give forth its influence; so when God denies the light of his countenance, he may give the influence of his grace.
How shall we know we have a real work of grace, and have a right to assurance?
If we can resolve two queries: (i) Have we high appreciations of Jesus Christ? 'To you that believe he is precious' (1 Pet, 2:7). Christ is all made up of beauties and delights; our praises fall short of his worth, and is like spreading canvas upon a cloth of gold. How precious is his blood and incense! The one pacifies our conscience, the other perfumes our prayers. Can we say we have endearing thoughts of Christ? Do we esteem him our pearl of price, our bright morning-star? Do we count all our earthly enjoyments but as dung in comparison of Christ (Philip. 3:8)? Do we prefer the worst things of Christ, before the best things of the world; the reproaches of Christ before the world's embraces (Heb. 11:26)? (ii) Have we the indwelling of the Spirit? 'The Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us' (2 Tim. 1:14).
How may we know that we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit?
Not by having sometimes good motions stirred up in us by the Spirit; for he may work in us but not dwell; but by the sanctifying power of the Spirit in our heart the Spirit infuses, divinam indolem, a divine nature; it stamps its own impress and effigy on the soul, making the complexion of it holy. The Spirit ennobles and raises the heart above the world. When Nebuchadnezzar had his understanding given him, he grazed no longer among the beasts, but returned to his throne, and minded the affairs of his kingdom; so when the Spirit of God dwells in a man, it carries his heart above the visible orbs; it makes him, superna anhelare [pant after heavenly things], thirst after Christ and glory. If we can find this, then we have grace, and so have a right to assurance.
(2) If you want assurance, wait for it. If the figures are graven on the dial, it is but waiting a while, and the sun shines; so when grace is engraven in the heart, it is but waiting a while, and we shall have the sunshine of assurance. 'He that believes makes not haste' (Is. 28:16). He will stay God's leisure. Say not, God has forsaken you, he will never lift up the light of his countenance; but rather say, as the church, 'I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob' (Is. 8:17). (i) Has God waited for your conversion and will you not wait for his consolation? How long did he come wooing you by his Spirit? He waited till his head was filled with dew; he cried, 'Wilt thou not be made clean? When shall it once be' (Jer. 13:27). O Christian, did God wait for thy love, and canst thou not wait for his? (ii) Assurance is so sweet and precious, that it is worth waiting for; the price of it is above rubies, it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir. Assurance of God's love ' is a pledge of election, it is the angels' banquet: what other joy have they? As Micah said, 'What have I more' (Judges 18:24)? So, when God assures the soul of his eternal purposes of love, what has he more to give? Whom God kisses he crowns. Assurance is the firstfruits of paradise. One smile of God's face, one glance of his eye, one crumb of the hidden manna is so sweet and delicious, that it deserves our waiting. (iii) God has given a promise that we should not wait in vain. 'They shall not be ashamed that wait for me' (Is. 49:23). Perhaps God reserves this cordial of assurance for a fainting time; he keeps sometimes his best wine till last. Assurance shall be reserved as an ingredient to sweeten the bitter cup of death.
How may deserted souls be comforted who are cast down for want of assurance?
(1) Want of assurance shall not hinder the success of the saint's prayers. Sin lived in puts a bar to our prayer; but want of assurance does not hinder prayer; we may go to God still in an humble, fiducial manner. A Christian perhaps may think, because he does not see God's smiling face, God will not hear him. This is a mistake. 'I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications' (Ps. 31:22). If we pour out sighs to heaven, God will hear every groan; and though he does not show us his face, he will lend us his ear.
(2) Faith may be strongest when assurance is weakest. The woman of Canaan had no assurance, but a glorious faith: 'O woman, great is thy faith' (Matt. 15:28). Rachel was more fair, but Leah was more fruitful. Assurance is more fair and lovely to look upon, but a fruitful faith God sees to be better for us. 'Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20:29).
(3) When God is out of sight, he is not out of covenant. 'My covenant shall stand fast' (Ps. 89:28). Though a wife does not see her husband's face for many years, yet the marriage-relation holds, and he will come again to her after a long voyage. God may be gone from the soul in desertion, but the covenant stands fast. 'The covenant of my peace shall not be removed' (Is. 54:10). But this promise was made to the Jews, and does not belong to us! Yes it does, for says verse 17, 'This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.' This is true of all the servants of God, those who are now living, as well as those who lived in the time of the Jews.
What shall we do to get assurance?
(1) Keep a pure conscience. Let no guilt lie upon the conscience unrepented of. God seals no pardon before repentance. He will not pour the wine of assurance into a foul vessel. 'Let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience' (Heb. 10:22)! Guilt clips the wings of comfort. He who is conscious to himself of secret sins, cannot draw near to God in full assurance; he cannot call God father, but judge. Keep conscience as clear as your eye, that no dust of sin can fall into it.
(2) If you would have assurance, be much in the exercise of grace. 'Exercise thyself unto godliness' (1 Tim. 4:7). Men grow rich by trading; so by trading in grace we grow rich in assurance. 'Make your election sure.' How? 'Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge' (2 Pet. 1:5). Keep grace upon the wing; it is lively faith that flourishes into assurance. No man will set up a great sail in a small boat, but in a large vessel; so God sets up the sail of assurance in a heart enlarged with grace.
(3) If you would have assurance, cherish the Holy Spirit of God. When David would have assurance, he prayed, 'Take not away thy Spirit from me' (Ps. 51:11). He knew that it was the Spirit only that could make him hear the voice of joy. The Spirit is the Comforter, that seals up assurance (2 Cor. 1:22). Therefore make much of the Spirit, do not grieve him. As Noah opened the ark to receive the dove, so should we open our hearts to receive the Spirit, which is the blessed dove that brings an olive branch of assurance in its mouth.
(4) Let us lie at the pool of the ordinances, and frequent the word and sacrament. 'He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love' (Song of Solomon 2:4). The blessed ordinances are the banqueting house, where God displays the banner of assurance. The sacrament is a sealing ordinance. Christ made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread; so, in the holy supper, in the breaking of bread God makes himself known to us, to be our God and portion.
How should they conduct themselves who have assurance?
(1) If you have assurance of your justification, do not abuse it. It is abusing assurance when we grow more remiss in duty; as the musician, having money thrown him, leaves off playing. By remissness, or intermitting the exercises of religion, we grieve the Spirit, and that is the way to have an embargo laid upon our spiritual comforts. We abuse assurance when we grow presumptuous and less fearful of sin. What! because a father gives his son an assurance of his love, and tells him he will entail his land upon him, shall the son be wanton and dissolute? This were the way to lose his father's affection, and make him cut off the entail. It was an aggravation of Solomon's sin that his heart was turned away from the Lord, after he had appeared to him twice (1 Kings 11:9). It is bad to sin when one wants assurance, but it is worse to sin when one has it. Has the Lord sealed his love with a kiss? Has he left a pledge of heaven in your hand, and do you thus requite the Lord? Will you sin with manna in your mouth? Does God give you the sweet clusters of assurance to feed on, and will you return him wild grapes? It much pleases Satan, either to see us want assurance, or abuse it. We abuse assurance when the pulse of our souls beats faster in sin, and slower in duty.
(2) If you have assurance, admire his stupendous mercy. You deserved that God should give you gall and vinegar to drink, and has he made the honeycomb of his love to drop upon you? Oh, fall down and adore his goodness! Say, Lord, how is it that thou shouldst manifest thyself to me, and not to other believers! for many whom thou lovest as the apple of thine eye thou holdest in suspense, and givest them no assurance of thy love; though thou hast given them the new name, yet not the white stone; though they have the seed of grace, yet not the oil of gladness; though they have the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, yet not the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Lord, whence is it that thou shouldst manifest thyself to me, and make thy golden beams of assurance to shine upon my soul? Oh, adore God on this account! such will be the work of heaven.
(3) Let your hearts be endeared in love to God. If God gives his people correction, they must love him: much more when he gives them assurance. 'O love the Lord, all ye his saints' (Ps. 31:2,3). Has God brought you to the borders of Canaan, given you a bunch of grapes, crowned you with lovingkindness, confirmed your pardon under the broad seal of heaven? How can you be frozen at such a fire? How can you be turned into seraphims burning in divine love! Say as Augustine, animam meam in odio haberem, I would hate my own soul, if I did not find it loving God. Give God the cream and quintessence of your love, and show your love by being willing to lose all for his sake.
(4) If you have assurance, improve it for God's glory. (i) By encouraging such as are yet unconverted. Tell them how sweet this hidden manna is; tell them what a good master you serve; what gales you have had; tell them God has carried you to the hill of myrrh, to the mountains of spices; he has given you not only a prospect of heaven, but an earnest. Oh, persuade sinners, by all the love and mercy of God, that they would enrol their names in his family, and cast themselves upon him for salvation. Tell them God has met with you and unlocked the secrets of free grace, and assured you of a land flowing with those infinite delights which eye has not seen. Thus, by telling others what God has done for your soul, you may make them in love with the ways of God, and cause them to turn proselytes to religion.
(ii) Improve assurance, by comforting such as want it. Be as the good Samaritan to pour wine and oil into their wounds. You who have assurance, are arrived as it were at the haven, you are sure of your happiness; but do you not see others who are struggling with the waves of temptation and desertion, and are ready to sink? Oh, now sympathize with them, and do what you can to comfort them while they are in this deep ocean. 'Whether we be comforted is it, for your consolation' (2 Cor. 1:6). The comfortable experience of one Christian being communicated to another much revives and bears up his fainting heart. 'Our comfort,' says the apostle, 'is for your consolation.'
(iii) Improve assurance, by walking more heavenly. You should scorn the things below; you who have an earnest of heaven, should not be too earnest for the earth. You have angels' food; and it becomes not you, with the serpent, to lick the dust. The wicked are all for corn, wine and oil; but you have that which is better. God has lifted up the light of his countenance; and will you hanker after the world, when you have been feeding upon the grapes and pomegranates of the holy land? Do you now lust after the garlics and onions of Egypt? When you are clothed with the sun, will you set the moon and the stars above you? Oh let them scramble for the world, who have nothing else but husks to feed on. Have you assurance of heaven, and is not that enough? Will not a kingdom satisfy you? Such as are high in assurance, should live above the world.
(iv) Improve assurance by a cheerful walking. It is for condemned persons to go hanging down their heads. But hast thou thy absolution? Does thy God smile on thee? Cheer up. 'Why art thou, being the king's son, lean' (2 Sam. 13:4). Art thou the king's son? Has God assured thee of thy adoption, and art thou sad? Assurance should be an antidote against all trouble. What though the world hate thee? Thou art assured that thou art one of God's favourites. What though there is but little oil in the cruse, and thou art low in the world? Thou art high in assurance. Oh, then rejoice! How musical is the bird! How does it chirp and sing, though it knows not where to pick up the next crumb! and shall they be sad and discontented who have God's bond to assure them of their daily bread, and his love to assure them of heaven? Certainly those who have assurance, cannot but be of a sanguine complexion.
(5) If you have an assurance of salvation, let it make you long after a glorified state. He who has an earnest in his hand, desires the whole sum to be paid. The soul that has tasted how sweet the Lord is, should long for a fuller enjoyment of him in heaven. Has Christ put the ring of assurance on thy hand, and so espoused thee to himself? How shouldst thou long for the marriage-supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). O Christian, think with thyself, if a glimpse of heaven, a smile of God's face be so sweet, what will it be, to be ever sunning thyself in the light of God's countenance! Certainly, you who have an assurance of your title to heaven, cannot but desire possession. Be content to live, but willing to die.
(6) If you have assurance, be careful you do not lose it. Keep it, for it is your life, your bene esse, the comfort of your life. Keep assurance. 1st. By prayer. 'O continue thy lovingkindness' (Ps. 36:10). Lord, continue assurance; do not take away this privy seal from me. 2ndly. Keep assurance by humility. Pride estranges God from the soul. When you are high in assurance, be low in humility. Paul had assurance, and he baptized himself with the name, 'Chief of sinners' (1 Tim. 1:15). The jewel of assurance is best kept in the cabinet of an humble heart.