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Three Types of Assurances of Salvation
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book Joy Unspeakable, published as a combined edition in 1995 from the First Edition of Joy Unspeakable in 1984 and with the First Edition of Prove All Things in 1985. This combined edition is reprinted in 2000 and 2003.
We are living, let us remind ourselves in an age hopelessly below the New Testament pattern---content with a neat little religion. We need the baptism with the Spirit. We have already seen that this is not something that takes place at conversion, it is something that happens to us, and is clear and unmistakable. Lastly we have seen that it is the direct and unusual action of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16) and that it is not primarily a matter of character or moral qualities---it is not, in other words, to be confused with the continuous process of sanctification as outlined in Ephesians 5:18.
That, then, brings us to the point of saying again that the primary purpose and function of the baptism with the Spirit is beyond any question to enable us to be witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his great salvation. So if we bear this in mind I think it will help to clear up the error that people get into in confusing this with sanctification. This is primarily a matter of witness.
Let me give you some proofs of what I am saying. Take, for instance, what our Lord himself told the disciples before his ascension. Our Lord had appeared to the disciples in the upper room and in Luke 24:45-47 we read: `Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. And he said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem.'
That is the teaching and they have now got it and understood it and grasped it. Then the Lord continued: `And ye are witnesses of these things.' And they were of course. They had been with him, they had heard the preaching, they had seen him crucified, buried, risen from the dead, with the empty grave, and here he is, actually speaking to them in the room. But he goes on and says, `And, behold, I send the promise of the Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.' They have the facts, they know and believe them, but before they can be effective witnesses they must receive this baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Then, of course, you find virtually the same thing stated again in Acts 1:4, `And, being assembled together with them, [he] commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.'
Then verse 8: `But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.' Power! What for? Well, `and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.'
That is the main purpose of the baptism with the Spirit, to make us powerful witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ and his salvation. Go on through the New Testament and you will find that this fact is repeated. Take, for instance, the apostle Peter standing before the authorities: `Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things, and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him' (Acts 5:29-32).
Now the coming of the Holy Spirit, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, is a witness to these things. A witness is not something secret but public, something that is evident. And you see this on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon these disciples and the others---upon the 120 gathered in the upper room. The whole of Jerusalem was stirred and disturbed and the crowd came together. `What meaneth this?' they said. `What is this?' The coming of the Holy Spirit and his effects upon the Christian people is a tremendous witness. The apostles therefore say, `We are witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.'
And, as I have reminded you more than once already, that was the witness that convinced the apostle Peter that Gentiles should be admitted into the Christian Church. He took some convincing. Peter was a Jew and even though he had had a vision, he was not quite clear about this. The vision had convinced him that he must go with these people to preach in the household of Cornelius, but he was not clear about it even then. Then when he saw that the Spirit had descended upon these people, even as it had upon him and the others at the beginning, he said, `Who was I that I could gainsay this, or refuse them water?' The witness of the Spirit, obvious, external, convinced the apostle.
Now there is another very interesting statement of all this in Hebrews 2. The writer is exhorting the people to take heed lest they slip away from these things. He says, `How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him....' Then notice this, the writer continues---`God also bearing them witness'---How?---Well, `both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will'.
That is another way in which this is stated. The purpose, the main function of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, is to witness, to enable God's people to witness in such a manner that it becomes a phenomenon and people are arrested and are attracted. And in Hebrews 10:14-15 we have the same thing. `For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost is a witness to us.' That carries exactly the same meaning there.
How does he do it? Well, that leads me to what I would call the fifth big division of this whole subject. What are the marks and signs, or, if you prefer it, the results of this baptism with the Holy Spirit? There is no difficulty about this. It is seen very clearly in all the accounts that we have of various people being baptized with the Spirit. You find it perfectly, in Acts 2, in the case of the disciples themselves and you see the difference that the baptism with the Spirit made to them. But then you get it in all the other examples and illustrations given everywhere in the New Testament. You find it, as we have seen, in the epistles, where it is implicit, and at the back of all of them. You do not begin to understand them unless you know something about this doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. As I mentioned earlier, how many churches do you know today to whom you need to write the first letter to the Corinthians, where there were excesses because of this?
It is also in the testimonies and lives of innumerable saints throughout the long history of the Christian church. I have quoted some examples to you and shall quote more, in order that people may see that this is not `some strange new doctrine'. This is New Testament Christianity! This is what has been true of the church especially in all the great revivals that she has been privileged to experience and to enjoy.
What, then, are the marks, the signs and manifestations of baptism with the Spirit? I am going to give you general principles. Obviously there are variations from case to case: that is common sense, for not all experiences are identical. They are identical in their character but not in their degree; and this again is a most important point, because it works in two ways. Some people tend to think that unless you have had the maximum experience as it were, you have had nothing at all. Well obviously that is wrong, it can depress people. There are people who may feel that they have never received this baptism with the Spirit because they have not had certain particular experiences. That is quite wrong, quite false. We must look at the principle, at the various manifestations as a whole. And then, having looked at them as a whole, and bearing in mind that there is variation in the degree, we shall be able to test ourselves and to examine ourselves.
These principles can be divided up in two ways: certain things which are in us, certain subjective experiences, and then the objective, the things that become evident and obvious to those who know us and who are outside us. I think that is the most convenient classification.
Let us start with the personal, subjective, experimental consciousness of the individual. What is it that inevitably happens when one is baptized by the Lord Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit? Well, first and foremost I think we must put this---a sense of the glory of God, an unusual sense of the presence of God. This is something, it seems to me, that stands out in all the instances in the New Testament itself and in the subsequent history of God's people. What the Holy Spirit does is make real to us the things which we have believed by faith, the things of which we have had but a kind of indirect certainty only. The Holy Spirit makes these things immediately real. The account of Jonathan Edwards, which we have already considered, brings out particularly clearly the great sense of the glory of God---the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now Jonathan Edwards had believed these things but, as he says, it was extraordinary. It is possible for us to have an immediate awareness of the glory of God. Customarily we walk by faith and not by sight, we believe the testimony of the Scripture and the Spirit applies it to us and we know that these things are true. But here there is something over and above that; you just know that you are in the presence of God. It is almost impossible, as he says, and as others have said, to put these things into words.
I have quoted Jonathan Edwards, an outstanding American genius. Now let me quote a man called Thomas Charles Edwards, the Principal of a college in Wales in the last century. I mention him because he is the same type of man: someone unusually brilliant. He had the best education that was available and was a great scholar. Some of you may know his commentary on the first epistle to the Corinthians. He tells his own experience, which happened to him in a revival in 1859. He was away from home as a student and had been reading books on philosophy and theology that had got him into a state in which he was filled with doubts and questionings. His father was a great man before him and the Principal of a theological seminary. But still this young man was in trouble, uncertain, almost, he says, `of the very being of God.'
Then he went home on vacation and heard it announced in the chapel that one night in the following week two comparatively simple preachers from another part of Wales were due to preach in that chapel. These two men were very much involved in the revival that was then sweeping the country; one of them was the instrument, if I may use such a term, whom God used to start the revival, and the other was his companion. So this young man decided that he would go to the meeting, and he describes how he went and sat in the gallery. And there he was, full of doubts and expecting nothing---after all, these men were two simple men. One had been a carpenter and the other a tailor, while he had been reading, and listening to the great lecturers, the leading philosophers of the last century. So he went in a somewhat patronizing spirit.
Then he tells us how he left that meeting. He does not remember all the details, but the main thing that he does know is that when he left that meeting `he was more certain of God than he was of even the things he could see with his naked eye.' He had met with God, he had felt the presence of God. He knew that God Is. The glory of God had appeared to him through the ministration of these simple men in that meeting. That, you see, is a time of revival. The Holy Spirit was outpoured and this man was carried not only from doubt to belief but to certainty, to awareness of the presence and the glory of God.
And inevitably accompanying this sense of the glory of God and of his presence is also a sense of awe. You read of people in the Bible who have either a vision of God or have been given something comparable to what I am talking about, and immediately they are all filled with a sense of awe. Isaiah describes, in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, how `In the year that king Uzziah died he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.' This vision! And he felt immediately that he was a man unclean.
Is not this our trouble, my dear friends, that we talk about God and we believe in God but do we know God, the glory of God? You get illustrations of this in the Bible. Think of Moses and the burning bush: the glory which made him stand back, the voice that spoke. It is there everywhere. John in the Book of Revelation describes the same thing. `He fell down as one dead.' The apostle Paul had a glimpse of the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, and falls down, blinded. But when the Spirit comes, when we are baptized in this way with the Spirit, he makes all this thing vital and real to us, and there is a kind of luminosity and an immediacy. It is the great characteristic of being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Let me remind you again of D. L. Moody, whose experience I have already quoted to you. Here is a man who was as converted as a man could ever have been and who had a knowledge and an assurance of a kind. But in the light of what happened to him in New York City, in Wall Street, it almost becomes nothing. `God', he says, `revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.' And, as those of you who know his story are aware, it was after that that Moody began to be used in the way that we know of in Britain, and in the United States, and other places. It was the turning-point in his whole career. This is the thing that made him the witness that he became. But notice how he describes it; he puts his emphasis there upon this sense of awe and of majesty; and accompanying it inevitably again is a sense of being humbled. This is most important.
I will come back later to deal with how we should differentiate between the baptism with the Spirit and the counterfeits---there are counterfeits to everything. The devil is subtle and able; he can transform himself into an angel of light. He is so subtle as almost to be able to deceive the very elect, says our Lord himself. When we come to that, this will be a most important point---that the baptism with the Holy Spirit always has the effect of humbling you, because it is a manifestation of God, an extraordinary and immediate realization of God's presence. This is inevitable.
Let me put this in terms of a statement which you will find in the journal of George Whitefield for November 5th 1740. He says:
Mr Gilbert Tennant preached first and I then began to pray and to give an exhortation. In about six minutes one cried out, "He is come! He is come!" and could scarce sustain the manifestation of Jesus to his soul.
This was just an ordinary member of the congregation, remember. This was not Whitefield himself nor Gilbert Tennant, who was also a mighty preacher and used of God. It was a member of the congregation who suddenly cried out like that. Whitefield continues:
But having heard the crying of others for the like favour obliged me to stop, and I prayed over them as I saw their agonies and distress increase. At length we sang a hymn and then retired to the house, where the man that received Christ continued praising and speaking of Him until near midnight. My own soul was so full that I retired and wept before the Lord, and had a deep sense of my own vileness, and the sovereignty and greatness of God's everlasting love. Most of the people spent the remainder of the night in prayer and praising God. It was a night much to be remembered.
Now George Whitefield was one of the saintliest men that has ever trod the face of this earth; he was outstandingly so. But the effect of this experience upon him there was just a repetition of what he had had previously---a deep sense of his own vileness and the greatness of God's everlasting love.
My friends, if you say and if you argue that every Christian has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, well then I ask you this question: how often have you had that sort of experience? Have you ever had it? Be careful. If you postulate that every Christian of necessity has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, I am afraid you will have to come to the conclusion that there are very few Christians in the Christian church. This is what happens when a man is baptized with the Holy Spirit---this immediacy. This is not reason, or faith; but action taking place upon us and to us. It is a manifestation, God---Father, Son, and Holy Spirit---making themselves real to us and living in our very experiences.
Another pronounced characteristic that always accompanies it is an assurance of the love of God to us in Jesus Christ. This is most important and remarkable. On the one hand you have such a conception of the glory and the greatness and majesty of God, and of your own vileness and filthiness and foulness and unworthiness. `Well,' you say, `it must be a most depressing experience.' It is not, for at the same time you have an overwhelming knowledge given to you of God's love to you in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now I would say personally that this is the greatest and most essential characteristic of the baptism with the Spirit. He makes us witnesses because of our assurance.
I once read in a paper a story which I must confess searched me to the very depth of my being. It was an account of a meeting held in the St Andrew's Hall in Glasgow a number of years ago and the report of the meeting was given by Alexander Gammie, who was well-known as a religious writer, but he also went to political meetings and so on. He had been listening to two men speaking, and speaking on the same theme, and he later wrote: `They were both excellent speakers, very eloquent, able men, able to marshall their arguments, state their case and so on, but,' he said, `I felt there was one great difference between the two men.... The first man spoke as an advocate, the second man spoke as a witness.'
That is the difference! The first was like a barrister, with his brief---an advocate. He stated the case---and stated it so well because he believed in it. But the second man had got something additional, a plus---he was a witness.
Now the thing that makes a man a real witness is his assurance of these things. You can be a Christian without that. You can have believed the Scriptures, you can have read it, you can have heard it preached and believed it and you can have a kind of certainty with respect to it; but that is not the thing that made the apostles witnesses. Our Lord tells them, 'Ye are witnesses of these things.' Of course they were. They had been with him, and he is there with them in the upper room; but in Luke 24 he says, 'Ye cannot be witnesses for me until....' This absolute certainty! And, of course, this is the thing that is so evident and obvious in their whole life and experience after the day of Pentecost.
You notice that even in Acts 1 these men, though they had had such instruction and such opportunity, are still a bit muddled; in Acts 1:6 we read that they say, `Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?'---still that old materialistic thinking. There was a kind of uncertainty. But all this disappears after the Baptism with the Holy Spirit; they are different men, and speak with assurance and certainty.
So the baptism with the Spirit is that which gives us the highest form of assurance. There are in the word of God three types of assurance possible to the Christian. The first type of assurance is the assurance that we get by deduction from the Scriptures. This is the commonly recognized form of assurance. You have all heard it and it has probably been said to you. You have been troubled as to whether you are a Christian or not and you go in your trouble to a minister or to some Christian friend.
`Wait a minute,' they say, `you should not be confused like this. The thing is quite simple.' They ask, `You believe the Scriptures to be the word of God?'
`Yes,' you reply, `I do.'
`Well,' they say, `this is what the Scriptures say---"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Do you believe that?'
`Very well, then, you shall not "perish", but you have "everlasting life." "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world: he that believeth in him is not condemned." Do you believe that?'
`Well, you are not condemned then. "But he that believeth not is condemned because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God."'
Then they conclude, `Well, there you are. If you believe the Scriptures you must believe that. The Bible says that because you believe, you are not condemned, you are saved, you must be saved. Do not worry about your feelings, believe the bare word of God.'
And that is right. Perfectly right. That is something we must all do. But I venture to describe that as the lowest form of assurance. It is a form of assurance but still the lowest.
The second form of assurance is the kind that is dealt with in the first epistle of John. John tells us there in chapter 5:13 that his whole object in writing to those people was `That ye [who believe on the Son of God] might know that ye have eternal life'---assurance.
How, then, does he give it them? Well, he says that there are various tests which you can apply to yourselves. Some people have described these tests as the `tests of life'. The familiar one, the commonest of all is: `We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.' This is a better test than the first one. While the first one is valid, the danger is that you may say, 'Ah yes, but is this only an intellectual assent that I am giving? Am I only doing it with my mind?'
Now here is a more thorough test because it examines your total reaction to the truth you claim to have believed. You love the brethren? You can say honestly that you would sooner be with the brethren than with anybody else, that you have found that people whom you do not like by nature you can love as Christians because they are, with you, children of God? If you do find yourself loving the brethren, you can be sure that you are a child of God. You know that. You will know that nothing else would make you love such people and enjoy their company but this fact that it has happened to them and to you, and you are aware of this thing that you are sharing together---common participation in the life of God.
And you apply the other tests as well such as: his commandments are no longer grievous; he has given us of his Spirit; we have an unction, and an anointing, and an understanding, and so on. We must work them out for ourselves.
But there is a third type of assurance, which is the highest, the most absolute and glorious, and which differs essentially from the other two. How? Like this. You notice, in the first two types of assurance, that what we are doing is to draw deductions, as we read the Scriptures, perhaps. We arrive at the assurance by a process of reading, understanding, self-examination or self-analysis. It is a deduction that we draw from the premises given; and it is right and true. But the glory of this third and highest form of assurance is that it is neither anything that we do, nor any deduction that we draw, but an assurance that is given to us by the blessed Spirit himself.
Now if you like, it is again the whole difference between Romans 8:15 and Romans 8:16. Romans 8:15 reads like this: `For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father.' Then verse 16: `The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit' (RV). Our spirit has been crying 'Abba, Father', but over and above that the Spirit now bears witness with our spirit - he confirms ours saying to us: `You are right.' The Spirit does it. Now this is neither our action, nor our deduction, but the immediate witness of the Spirit, and that is why it is both so absolute and so certain. What the Spirit does is this: he tells us in the most unmistakable manner that we are the children of God, that God loves us with an everlasting love, and that it was because he so loved us that Christ gave himself for us.
The Spirit does this in many ways. Sometimes he will do it through a verse of Scripture, a verse you may have read a thousand times before but which suddenly seems to stand out---it is for you, he is speaking to you. Sometimes it is without even a verse of Scripture; it is an impression upon the mind and in the heart. You do not hear an audible voice, or see anything, but you just know with an absolute certainty. That is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
Let me finish on this particular point by putting it to you once more in the form of the experiences of certain people. Let us start with an old Puritan who died in 1623---Edward Eltham. He says:
I take it therefore that the witness and testimony of the Spirit he has spoken of is an inward secret and unspeakable inspiration of the Spirit; the Holy Spirit of God inwardly, secretly, and in an unspeakable manner informing our hearts and inwardly persuading us that God is our Father, and pouring into our heart a secret, wonderful and unspeakable sweet sense and feeling of God's love to us. Not of God's ordinary or common love, but of his special and Fatherly love, that God loves us with such love as He bears to His only begotten Son Christ Jesus, in Whom we are adopted to be His children. As the Lord Jesus Himself speaks in that excellent prayer of his [John 17:23] that God loves us, we believing in Christ as He hath loved us. And to this purpose the Apostle speaks plainly [Romans 5:5] the Holy Spirit of God given to us doth infuse and pour into our hearts a sense and feeling of God's love to us in Christ.
Let me also quote from the journals of a man called Howell Harris, who was mightily used of God two hundred years ago. Here was a man who was convinced on Good Friday in 1735, went through an agony of conviction and uncertainty, and then, on Whit Sunday the same year was given the knowledge that his sins were forgiven, so that he believed and rejoiced. Three weeks later, after his conversion, after he had received a quiet assurance of salvation he received a further experience. He had gone to retire to the Clock Tower of the church in Llangasty. He went there in order that he might have peace to read the Scriptures and to pray. His biographer tells us what happened next: `After two to three weeks that love burst forth into a flame which melted his whole nature.'
His experience of forgiveness which he had received earlier `was doubtless sweet, nevertheless it left in his heart an indefinable sense of some further need, but while he was engaged in secret prayer in the church at Llangasty, that sacred place where he had given himself to God, God now gave himself to him'---and there he scarcely knows how to describe what happened.
He piles the richest biblical phrases one on top of the other in an attempt to give adequate expression to what he felt and experienced that day; that was when his heart was cleared from all idols, and the love of God was shed abroad in his heart. Now he had received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba, Father, and he began to desire to depart and to be with Christ. All fears were cast out for months, and perfect love took their place. And he never forgot that day. It was from that day that Howell Harris began to be such a remarkable and outstanding witness, and testified to the grace and love of God. And he describes how this love of God came upon him in wave after wave after wave.
Another man called Christmas Evans does exactly the same thing. Those of you who have read the autobiography of Charles Finney will know that he says exactly the same thing again.
Now this is what I mean by this highest form of assurance, the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. It is direct, immediate. Not our deduction but his absolute certainty, the Spirit telling us that we are children of God.
Let me finally tell you again what I regard as one of the most beautiful ways in which this matter has ever been put. It is by Thomas Goodwin, one of those great Puritans again of three hundred years ago, the President of Magdalen College at Oxford during the commonwealth, and a brilliant scholar and preacher. This is the difference between what I call, the customary assurance of the child of God, and this extraordinary assurance. He describes a man and his little child, his son, walking down the road and they are walking hand in hand, and the child knows that he is the child of his father, and he knows that his father loves him, and he rejoices in that, and he is happy in it. There is no uncertainty about it all, but suddenly the father, moved by some impulse, takes hold of that child and picks him up, fondles him in his arms, kisses him, embraces him, showers his love upon him, and then he puts him down again and they go on walking together.
That is it! The child knew before that his father loved him, and he knew that he was his child. But oh! this loving embrace, this extra outpouring of love, this unusual manifestation of it---that is the kind of thing. The Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
This is the outstanding characteristic of the baptism with the Spirit. God give us grace to examine ourselves in the light of these things. I take it you have all got the first and the second types of assurance: do you know anything about the third? Do you know anything of the glory of God, this immediacy, this certainty, this absolute assurance given by the Spirit that banishes all doubt and uncertainty and you know that God loves you in particular with an everlasting love in Jesus Christ? [89-104]
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