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Assurance and doubts

September 23, 2009

Walter Marshall

10.1.3. Beware of thinking so highly of this assurance as if it were inconsistent with any doubting in the same soul. A great reason why many Protestants have receded from the doctrine of their ancestors in this point is because they think there can be no true assurance of salvation in any that are troubled with doubtings, as they find many be, whom they cannot but own as true believers and precious saints of God. True, indeed, this assurance must be contrary to doubtings in the nature of it and so, if it be perfect, in the highest degree, it would exclude all doubting out of the soul; and it now excludes it in some degree. But is there not flesh, as well as spirit, in the best saints on earth? (Gal. 5:17) Is there not a law in their members warring against the law of their minds? (Rom. 7:23) May not one that truly believes say, ‘Lord, help my unbelief?’ (Mark 9:24) 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 is perfect and free the soul from all doubtings? The apostle counts it a great blessing, to the Thessalonians, that they had much assurance; intimating that some true assurance might be in a less degree (1 Thess. 1:5). Peter had some good assurance of Christ’s help when he walked on the water at Christ’s command, and yet he had some doubtfulness in him, as his fear showed when he saw the wind boisterous. He had some faith contrary to doubting, though it were but little, as Christ’s words to him show: ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (Matt. 14:29-31) It is strange if the flesh and the devil shall never oppose a true assurance and assault it with doubtings. A believer may be sometimes so overwhelmed with doubtings that he may not be able to perceive an assurance in himself. He is so far from knowing his place in heaven already (as some scoffingly object) that he will say that he does not know any assurance that he has of being there, and needs diligent self-examination to find it out. Yet, if at that time he can blame his soul for doubting, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him’ (Ps. 42:11); if he can condemn his doubtings as sinful, and say with himself, ‘This is my infirmity’ (Ps. 77:10), these doubtings are of the flesh, and of the devil; if he still endeavor to call God ‘Father’, and complain to Him that he doubts whether He is his Father, and pray that God will give him the assurance of His fatherly love, which he is not sensible of, and dispel those fears and doubtings; I say, that such a one has some true assurance, though he must strive to grow to a higher degree, for, if he were not persuaded of the truth of the love of God towards him, he could not rationally condemn his fears and doubts concerning it as sinful; neither could he rationally pray to God as his Father, or that God would assure him of that love that he does not think to be true.
Do but grant that it is the nature of saving faith thus to resist and struggle with slavish fears of wrath and doubting of our own salvation, and you grant, in effect, that there is, and must be something of assurance of our salvation in saving faith, by which it resists doubtings, and you are, in effect, of the same judgement with me in the assertion, however strange my expressions seem to you. If this that I have said concerning our imperfection in assurance, as well as in other graces, were well considered, this ancient Protestant doctrine would be freed from much prejudice and gain more esteem among us.

Source: The Gospel mystery of sanctification, ch. 10

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