By Pastor Glenn Pease
Storms had ravaged the ships; the Pinta had lost her rudder; the food was getting wormy, and the crew was threatening mutiny. Conditions could hardly have been worse, for there was darkness, danger, hunger, panic, and exhaustion. All of these stared them in the face, and yet the Admiral of the ship refused to turn back. Day after day he wrote in his log, "This day we sailed on. When Joaquin Miller read that log that Columbus had written on his first voyage across the uncharted Atlantic, his imagination caught on fire, and he felt he was right there with him.
He could feel the sting of the spray on his cheeks, and he could hear the roar of the sea, and in spite of the fact that all he could see was endless darkness he felt secure, for he knew he stood by a man of steadfast purpose, who was assured of his goal, and knew he would reach it. Miller was so possessed with the amazing perseverance of Columbus that he spontaneously poured out his feelings in poetry. I want to share just a part of that poem. The mate is speaking.
"My men grow mutinous day by day; My men grow ghastly, wan and weak."
The stout mate thought of home; a stray of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
What shall I say, brave Adm'r'l, say, if we sight naught but seas at dawn?
"Why, you shall say at break of day: Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!"
They sailed and sailed, as wind might blow, Until at last the blanched mate said,
Why, now not even God would know Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way, For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Adm'r'l; speak and say-"He said: Sail on! sail on! and on!"
They sailed and sailed. Then spake the mate: This mad sea shows its teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait, With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Adm'r'l say but one good word: What shall we do when hope is gone?"
The words leapt like a leaping sword: Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!
We all know that in spite of the number and magnitude of the obstacles, Columbus did sail on and on until he reached land. The question naturally
arises, why did he have such assurance when all others feared for their lives? Was he just stubborn, or did he have no fear of death, or was there another reason for his assurance in the midst of great trial? Columbus answers this question for us himself in the first sentence of his will. He wrote this: "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, who inspired me with the idea, and afterward made it perfectly clear to me, that I could navigate and go the Indies from Spain, by traversing the ocean westwardly..."
By his own testimony in which he gives all the glory to God he tells us his assurance was due to the fact that he knew he was following the leading of God. If a man knows and is assured that he is on a course charted by God, then nothing can cause him to forsake it. Therefore, the most important factor in any person's life is assurance, for it will enable a man to ride out any and all storms, and finally to arrive at his goal.
All people are on a voyage across an uncharted sea of time heading for the new world of eternity. Some will go down in the storms; others will lose their way, and still others will chose to change their course and give up the goal. But there will be many also who will, like Columbus, sail on and on and on, and at last arrive because they have God's assurance that they will. We want to consider two facts about assurance that John makes clear, for these two facts are precious gems from the vault of God's own treasure. To know them and believe them, and then to obey them is to be partaker of the very riches of Christ. First we observe that-
I. ASSURANCE IS POSSIBLE. v. 3.
"Hereby we do know that we do know Him." John is saying, not only can we know God, but we can know that we know Him, and it is this knowing that we know that is called assurance. It is not enough just to know that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that He is the Advocate of all who believe and trust Him. We must know that He died for my sins, and is my Savior, and my Advocate. John says that such assurance is possible.
This is good news in itself, and adds greatly to the Christians joy, for it gives him a solid foundation on which to build in a world where uncertainty seems to rule. One cannot be stable and secure unless he can know something significant for sure. It is not enough to believe that you can be sure about what Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes." If certainty is limited to these things, then the skeptics are not far off who say, "The only certainty is that nothing is certain." Or, "Nothing is more certain than uncertainties." You cannot build very high on the hope of such men, for they have no hope, and life to them is one big tragic sham. Omar Khayyam said,
"One thing at least is certain-this life flies.
One thing is certain, and the rest is lies."
Such pessimism is the natural result of men who see only with the eyes of flesh, and not the eyes of faith. Faith alone sees God's revelation, and this changes the whole picture. The materialistic and secular mind is blind to spiritual truths, and can only speak of relativity and probability. Nothing is absolutely certain, and as a result there is no assurance. This makes everyone and everything unstable. A teacher asked the son of a weatherman, "How much is two plus two?" And he said, "Four probably." She asked him, "How old would a person be if they were born in 1920?" And he asked, "Man or woman?" Some people think of life in terms of the weather and a woman's age, and so they feel that probable conclusions are the best we can have.
In these areas probability is good enough, for we do not have to be certain of the weather or of a woman's age. But when it comes to salvation and the goal of life, we can never be content with anything less than certainty. Those who talked about hoping they are saved cannot have the peace necessary to be happy in the Lord. A man has to know he is saved, and the point here is that such certainty and assurance is possible. John had to write to this to the Christians of his day because with all the false doctrine and false claims being made, they could easily be confused and wonder if they were among the true Christians, or the deceived Christians. Today Christians still get confused and wonder for sure if they are right or wrong, and how they can be sure that they are really saved.
Theologians of both the Calvinist and Arminian school agree that it is possible to be saved on not be sure of it, for salvation and assurance of salvation are not the same thing. Charnock, a Calvinist, wrote, "The characters of faith may be written in the heart as letters engraved upon a seal, yet filled with so much dust as not to be distinguished.." Watson, an Arminian, wrote, "A child of God may have a kingdom of grace in his heart and yet not know it. O Jacob wept for his son Joseph, when Joseph was still alive; thou mayest weep for want of grace, when grace may be alive in thy heart."
Because it is possible to be saved and lack assurance of it, it is of the utmost importance that we know that assurance is possible. Some not knowing of this go on living in a hope-so-salvation, when a know-so-salvation is possible, and it is God's will for each believer to know. R. E. Neighbour wrote,
What wondrous blessings overflow,
When we can truly say, I know.
I know in whom I have believed,
I know the one I have received,
I know His blood avails for me,
I know that I was blind, but see,
I know that my Redeemer lives,
I know the gift He freely gives,
I know He'll keep me till the end,
I know He's my unfailing Friend.
In order to gain the full benefit of God's plan, the Christian must know this primary fact, that he not only can know God, he can know that it is God that he knows, and thereby have full assurance of his salvation. After stating that assurance is possible, John goes on to explain that-
II. ASSURANCE IS PRACTICAL.
It is the result of a very practical test. If we keep His commandments is the test. We know because we obey. If there is no obedience, there can be no assurance. It is not the result of some mystical experience such as seeing a vision; being caught up in a trance, or hearing the voice of God. It is not a matter of being transported to heaven, speaking in tongues, or any other
All the debates on whether or not these unusual experiences are of value is beside the point that we are concerned with here. If they were necessary for the Christians assurance, John would certainly have mentioned them at this point, but he does not. He makes assurance rest on such a simple and practical test that a child can understand it. It is simply obedience to God's commands. Jesus said in Matt. 12:50, "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." The way into the family of God is by simple obedience, and doing what God expects us to do.
The Gnostics had some of the early Christians confused, and had them doubting their own security in Christ. They made such amazing claims about their unique and superior knowledge of God that the average Christian would start to wonder if their experience could begin to match it. Considering their inferior experience, they may begin to doubt if they are even Christians at all. Many Christians feel the same today when they hear of the marvelous experiences of some believers. They feel so ordinary that they wonder if they are indwelt by the Spirit at all.
John says not to look to the unusual experiences to give you assurance, but rather, examine your life, and see if you are keeping God's commandments. If you are not, all the extraordinary experiences in the world will not give you the certainty that the simplest Christian has who gives heed to the message which says, "Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The happy Christian is the Christian with assurance, and the Christian with assurance is the Christian who obeys.
My gracious Lord, I own Thy right
To every service I can pay,
And call it my supreme delight
To hear Thy dictates, and obey.
The Gnostics said that only the elite can rise to the highest knowledge of God. The masses must remain in their near animal state without this knowledge. This is reserved for the intelligentsia. John says that this thinking has no part in Christian theology, for Jesus died for all men, and every man can rise to the full assurance of the knowledge of God, and of his salvation. All that is necessary is obedience, for as we obey God He draws nearer, and reveals Himself and His will more fully. Obedience is the way to assurance for every man, woman, and child.
Let us not be deceived, for the higher and deeper Christian life is not reserved for pastors, Sunday School teachers, and a few superior laymen. Full assurance which leads to full fellowship with God is placed on such a practical level of attainment that every Christian can reach it. They need to simply obey what they do know of God's commands, and they can have the same certainty as anyone else. How do I know I am a good citizen or not? If I obey the laws of the land I can be assured that I am recognized as a good citizen. How can I know I am a child of God? I simply need to look at my life and see if I obey God's laws. Do I really love to do what is good, pure, and right? Do I rejoice when I see God's will revealed so that I can obey it?
This practical test is so vital, and yet we often neglect it and assume that all a person needs to say is that they believe in Jesus as the Savior. Many people have said that who do not obey God's commandments, and John does not hesitate in verse 4 to call them liars. Any kind of salvation that goes no further than changing a man's tongue so that he speaks pious words once in a while is not worth having. Whatever men claim, if they cannot back it up with a life, John says do not pay any attention to their claims. They might say they know God, but Jesus will say in the day of judgment that he did not know them. This verse puts a heavy responsibility upon the professing Christian. If he does not keep the commandments of God, the Bible authorizes the community to consider him a liar. It will do no good for the disobedient to say judge not, for he is already judged by the Word of God, and he stands convicted as one in whom the truth does not dwell.
John says in verse 5 that if we are professors who keep the Word of God, then we will have the love of God perfected in us. He says we will then have the assurance that we are in Him. Obedience, which all can understand, is the road open to all that leads to perfect love and full assurance. John then closes this line of thought with the perfect example, which is Jesus Christ. He says in verse 6 that we who profess to be in Christ ought not to make being a Christian a mystery or hidden secret of any kind, as did the Gnostics, and those of mystery religions. We ought to walk just as Jesus walked, and we know He walked the same way Columbus sailed. He walked with the assurance that he was in God's will, and he was determined to reach his goal whatever the obstacles.
He walked the common lanes, the city streets He trod,
And in His heart was beauty....the beauty born of God.
The beauty of Jesus can be seen in us when we walk as He walked, for beautiful is the life that has a fullness of love and purpose because we can say, "Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine."
When Rudyard Kipling was a lad he went to sea with his father. Soon after the vessel was on its way Mr. Kipling went below. He heard a commotion above him, and soon the officer was banging on his door. "Mr. Kipling," he cried, "Your boy has crawled out on the yardarm, and if he lets go he'll drown." "Yes," said Mr. Kipling, glad to know it was nothing serious, "But he won't let go." Here was confidence expressed in another human being that gave peace and assurance. Even on the human level this kind of assurance is beautiful, and it leads to calmness in the midst of life's storms. How much greater the peace if we are assured that God will never let go of us? Often we might rightly feel that if God let's go of us, we are sunk, but assurance says, "But He won't let go."
We need assurance to face persecution. Many fall away in times of trial, but those who have assurance count it a joy to suffer for their Lord who suffered so much for them. Valerim, the Emperor of Rome, issued a decree which required all Christians to sacrifice to idols or be put to death. Cyprian was arrested and brought before the proconsul of Carthage. Maximus said, "Art thou he who hath borne the highest offices of their religion among the Christians?" "Yes," said Cyprian. "The Emperor commands that you offer sacrifice to the gods of Rome." Cyprian responded, "I will not. Do as thou art ordered, nothing can move me from the stand I have taken." "Let him be beheaded," was the sentence, and he was led to an open field outside the city. He prayed and tied the bandage on his eyes, and then ordered his friends to give a sum of gold to the executioner to show that he had no unkind feelings toward him. He bowed himself to the earth, and with a simple blow was ushered out of this life into the presence of his Redeemer. One does not die like that without assurance.
Moody said, "There's no liberty, peace, rest, joy, power, until we have assurance." It is found in simple obedience to the commands of Christ. When the lawyer came to Jesus asking what he had to do to have eternal life, Jesus said he was to love God and his neighbor. If you want to live, you need to love. It's really that simple, for to love is to live. To walk as Jesus walked is to relate to everyone you confront with love. The level of our maturity is measured by the degree to which we let love control us. If we have little love, we live on a low level. If we have greater love, we live on a higher level. If we have the sacrificial love of Christ, we live on the highest level.
Karl Menninger in his book Love Against Hate says the world will not listen, but modern psychology has discovered that the disease of the world is the disease of the individual. He says the sickness of the individual is the lack of love, and thus the sickness of the world is lack of love. He is saying that they have discovered that the two great commandments of Jesus are the basis of a happy meaningful life. If this be so then it follows that the greatest sin is to lack love for God and neighbor. Lack of love is a violation of the greatest commandments, and is the root cause of all the unhappiness in the world. It is no wonder the world is sick and cannot find a cure. Christians who have the cure in their hands fail to inject it into their own hearts. How often do we hear it, or think about it even, that our greatest sin is lack of love? Smiley Blanton, another psychiatrist, said so much when he titled his book simply, Love Or Perish. The greatest commands of God are to love, and when we live in obedience to these commands, and we are loving people toward God and man, then we can have the blessed assurance that the Spirit of the Christ we trust as Savior truly dwells in us, and we can know that we are children of God.