In both the Old and New Testaments, Scripture speaks openly about the many ways in which the faith of true believers is challenged, shaken and sometimes plunged into doubt and even despair. The Psalms contain more than a few examples of the saints faltering in their faith and crying out to God in fear and perplexity. (Though the very fact they engage with God in this way is, in itself, an evidence of the genuineness of their faith and the reality of their relationship with God.)
I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed the subject (thankfully I have), but then I began to wonder why this vital topic has apparently been neglected both in the pulpit and in Christian literature in more recent times.
One reason may be because we belong to a generation that tends to take things for granted without appreciating their true worth. As well as this, although we speak much about our struggles and fears in life, in real terms they are little in comparison to what previous generations had to face and what vast numbers of people in other parts of the world live with on a daily basis.
In a Christian context this translates into the way so many professing Christians, even those who see themselves as ‘Reformed’, take for granted the means of grace. While brothers and sisters in parts of the world where there is persecution routinely risk their lives by faithfully turning up for public worship and for prayer meetings, we in the Free World too often regard these privileges as optional. So what may on the surface appear to be ‘assured faith’ is in reality nothing more than spiritual indifference.
Another reason for this topic’s being neglected in many pulpits and many Christian books may be because of how at times it has been handled unhelpfully. Some churches in their commendable concern to avoid ‘presumptive’ or superficial faith have created the unintended consequence of regarding the idea of full assurance as falling into that category. The effect of this, especially on Christians who have a tender conscience, is to make them think they have no grounds for being sure of their salvation and for that reason will often refuse to come to the Lord’s Table. Where such emphases have prevailed for one generation of Christians, often following generations will swing to opposite extremes in an attempt to correct it.