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drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned."
The apostle expresses, however, his charitable hope and belief concerning them, that they were not such as would be left thus to fall away: ver. 9, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." And the particular ground of his entertaining this persuasion in their favor, he lets them know, was the good fruit which they had hitherto brought forth. Ver. 10, "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and labor of love; which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." Then he exhorts them to go on as they had begun ; that they, as well as he, might have reason to be more and more satisfied to the last, that they were not christians in name only, but in deed and in truth. This exhortation follows in our text: "And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end."
It is proposed for the illustration of these words,
I. To explain what we are to understand by the full assurance of hope.
II. To consider the motives there are to give diligence to obtain such an assurance, and to keep it unto the end and,
III. To show wherein, or in what ways the diligence of believers should be exercised, in order to this.
For explaining the assurance here spoken of, little need be said. In brief, to have the full assurance
of hope, is, for a person, on good grounds, to feel fully certain that he shall be saved.
This is what some call, (though improperly) the faith of assurance. It is never so called in scripture. The apostle speaks of the assurance of faith, not the faith of assurance, Heb. x. 22, Having an highpriest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith." He means, in a firm belief of what the gospel reveals concerning the high-priesthood of Christ; his full atonement and prevalent intercession, in behalf of all his true disciples. But a man may have this; he may entertain no doubt of Christ's being able to save them who come unto God by him, and yet not be at all certain that he himself is one of this happy number. A man who is fully satisfied that the scriptures are the word of God, and that all the doctrines taught in them are infallibly true, has the full assurance of faith, respecting revealed religion; but yet, he may not be fully satisfied, at the same time, that he is a true believer. A man may be fully persuaded that every one who is created after God, and endures unto the end, in righteousness and true holiness, shall be saved; and yet may not be fully persuaded that he himself has been so created, and shall so endure. Faith is the substance of things hoped for; but it is not hope itself. The hope of salvation, if well grounded, is built; first, on the word of God; secondly, on faith in his word; and thirdly, on good evidence that we have saving faith. Had there been no revelation that there is forgiveness with God, or that he will give to any sinner eternal life; our hope of pardon and salvation, if we had any, would have been built upon no solid ground. Now there is such a revelation, if we do not believe it, we are still as much as ever without hope. If we do believe this revelation of grace and truth, but do not know that we believe to the saving of the soul; though we may have a hope, yet not the full assurance of hope.
A man may have some well-grounded hope of ob. taining salvation, before he is a true believer. He may believe, or be rationally convinced, on scripture evidence, that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and that he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy; and therefore, that he may have mercy on him. When he is reconciled to God, submits to his sovereignty, and cordially acquiesces in the gospel way of peace, his hope is much increased. He now sees the substance of things hoped for; is persuaded of the promises, and embraces them. He flees for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before him. Still, however, he may not think that what he experiences is saving faith; or if he thinks it is, he may not feel certain of it. He has new comfort and support; his mind is stayed on God, through Christ. He sees a glorious object of hope, and a glorious ground of hope. He may have full assurance of faith; while yet, that his heart is right with God, he is far from being fully assured: and, consequently, whether he has any part or lot in the promises of grace and glory, he cannot be certain. Besides being persuaded of the promises as true, and embracing them as good, one must have certain evidence of being a christian indeed, before he can have a well-grounded, full assurance of hope, respecting his own salvation.
Persons may be very confident that they are in a state of grace, and shall infallibly be saved, when they have no good evidence of their being new creatures; but their confidence is not well-grounded. Yea, some may have such an assured hope, as not to be troubled with any doubts concerning their future happiness; while, nevertheless, they live in vicious courses, and are far from being holy in any manner of conversation: but their hope is no other than that of the hypocrite, which will prove at last to be as a spider's web. A well-grounded, full assurance of hope, can"not be obtained without good evidence of a gospel
temper-a temper conformable to that of Christ-a heart to love God, and keep his commandments.
II. We will now consider the motives there are, to give diligence in this matter.
1. Motive I shall mention is, that the full assurance of hope is a possible attainment.
Were it impossible; urging christians to take pains after it, would be of no avail. Despair of success, in any pursuit, cuts the sinews of all exertion. And with many professors, it is probably thus, in the present case. They do not think that by any diligence which they could give, it would be possible for them ever, in this world, to make their calling and election sure: and therefore they rest, and endeavor to make themselves easy, in a doubtful hope. But that there is no reason thus to yield to absolute discouragement in this case, provided persons are real christians, may appear from a due attention to the following things:
(1.) That there are absolute divine promises of the final salvation of all who are once true believers in Christ. If this were not the case, it would indeed be a vain thing for any to think of obtaining the full assurance of hope, respecting their eternal happiness. If men might be in a state of grace to-day, and in a state of wrath to-morrow; if true believers were sometimes left to fall away and be lost, and if the best of them might be thus left, the true believer, notwithstanding any certain évidence he might find of his past or present faith and holiness, must remain in utter uncertainty respecting his final salvation. But the infallible perseverance of all real saints is a plain doctrine of scripture. Our Saviour hath assured us, that every one who heareth his word, and believeth on him that sent him, "hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation." That to those who
hear his voice and follow him, he will give eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand. And in the writings of his apostles a never failing connection is asserted between effectual calling, justification, and glorification; Between the beginning of a work of special grace in and its being performed until the day of Jesus Christ; between being begotten again unto a lively hope, and being kept by the power of God unto salvation. If, therefore, any can be certain of their being true christians, they may be equally certain that they shall so endure unto the end as to be finally saved.
(2.) From the essential difference which we are taught there is between the sanctifying fruits of the Holy Spirit, and any thing ever experienced by the unregenerate, that good men may attain to the full assurance of hope, by giving proper diligence, is reasonably to be supposed.
Things different in their nature, it is probable, may be certainly distinguished, by those who have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, if they will take due pains in attending to them. Were there no difference only in degree of goodness, between the regenerate and the unregenerate, it might be impossible for those of the former character to know that they were not of the latter more, especially since that height of holiness, from the lowest degrees of it, which is necessary to denominate one a true saint, is no where ascertained in scripture. But that those who are in a state of grace, differ only in degree of goodness from those who are in a state of nature, is not the case, according to the word of God. The unregenerate are there said to be dead in sin. They are described as being of that carnal mind which is enmity against God; which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Our Saviour says, That which is born of the flesh is flesh :" and the