Spurgeon: Better Farther On

I’ve been reading Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook recently. It’s a great tool for regularly reminding myself of the gospel and its implications.  I was particularly struck by his entry based on Nahum 1:12:

There is a limit to affliction.  God sends it, and God removes it.  Do you sigh and say, “When will the end be?” Remember that our griefs will surely and finally end when this poor earthly life is over. Let us quietly wait and patiently endure the will of the Lord till he cometh.

Meanwhile, our Father in heaven takes away the rod when His design in using it is fully served. When He has whipped away our folly, there will be no more strokes. Or, if the affliction is sent for testing us, that our graces may glorify  God, it will end when the Lord has made us bear witness to His praise. We would not wish the affliction to depart till God has gotten out of us all the honor which we can possibly yield Him.

There may today be “a great calm.” Who knows how soon those raging billows will give place to a sea of glass, and the sea birds sit on the gentle waves? After long tribulation the Rail is hung up, and the wheat rests in the garner. We may, before many hours are past, be just as happy as now we are sorrowful. It is not hard for the Lord to turn night into day. He that sends the clouds can as easily clear the skies. Let us be of good cheer. It is better on before. Let us sing hallelujah by anticipation.

Assurance of Salvation (the second kind)

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

In verse 1 of this chapter, Paul has made a statement of confident assurance, grounding the believer’s hope of salvation on faith in Christ alone.  He has expanded on this confident expectation in verse 2, describing it as “hope of the glory of God”.  So far, this certainty has had no reference at all to the results of faith in the believer’s life.  Assurance has happened prior to any kind of fruit inspection.

But now Paul goes a step further, and provides another source of hope.  It is an ironic one, since it starts with the kind of circumstance that would tend to crush the normal human kind of hope.  The line that he draws to hope begins with suffering.  This suffering, in God’s economy, produces good things for the believer.  In particular, it produces endurance.  This is not simply because the believer has become a better person, but because the believer has seen more of God’s trustworthy love.  What has grown is not the believer himself, but the believer’s faith, which looks away from the believer’s capacities to the all-sufficient resources found in God.

As suffering produces endurance, so endurance produces character.  These two kinds of producing happen in much the same way.  The believer who looks to God over and over again in the midst of trials gets to see God in transforming ways.  As this happens, the character of Christ is manifest with increasing clarity through the believer.  And as the believer becomes more like Christ, he gains a fuller experience of the hope that began in verse 1.  This is very similar to the connection that Peter describes between sanctification and assurance (2 Pet. 1:3-11).

In Paul’s description as well as Peter’s, this kind of assurance is secondary.  It must be, because without a clear sense that I am accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, no amount of Christian growth will be able to convince me that I am justified.  There are simply too many problems mixed in with my growth at every point.  For every evidence of growth, I can come up with evidence of remaining sin.  An evaluation of my motives makes things even messier.  There is no good thing that I can do that will guarantee, by its nature, that I will do it for the right reason.  I can run myself in circles, and eventually into the ground, if I try to start with assurance based on my growth.

On the other hand, if I can stand firmly on the fact that I have peace with God because I am justified by simple faith, then I can have a brand new way of looking at my halting, imperfect growth.  Suddenly, the good things I do become evidence that the righteousness of Christ is actually at work in me, since I know I could never produce those things on my own.  The remaining sin is what I contribute on my own, but the fact remains that I am not on my own.  God justifies the ungodly, and my knowledge of my remaining sin reminds me that I am exactly the kind of person that God justifies, through faith in Christ alone.