The Knowledge of Christ and the Gift of Assurance
Sermon preached by John E. Hazelton (1853-1924) at Streatley Hall, London.
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
(1 John 5:13)
I find that I have preached from this verse before in this hall, but I have no recollection of the occasion, and as the words have been much on my mind during the past week, I make no apology for again bringing this verse before you. Sometimes I think ministers are hampered by the marks they make in their Bibles, and avoid preaching more than one sermon upon one verse.
What can a poor mortal say in one sermon concerning any verse in God’s holy Word?
Let us then, seeking for grace from on high, speak upon the important subject here.
This letter, in common with all the Epistles of the New Testament, is addressed to believers, as the introduction of this verse declares: “These things have I written unto you that believe.”
Unless we bear in mind the fact that all the letters of the New Testament are addressed to believers, we fail to enter into their spiritual purport and drift. But whilst this is so, it by no means follows that God the Holy Spirit does not work through them in convincing poor sinners of sin and judgment, and in bringing broken and penitent souls into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Some of God’s brightest saints, and many of those raised in the most marked manner from the ruins of the Fall, have been wrought upon by verses in these Epistles applied to their souls.
Therefore I do not want anyone here to say, “If for believers only, then I need not listen to what the preacher is about to say.”
“No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”
(2 Peter 1:20)
Many, as they have read of the grace of the Lord as set forth in these Epistles, have longed to be numbered with the people of the living God. Whilst each letter was written by a human penman, each was inspired by the Spirit of the living God, and therefore every letter of the New Testament is a letter from God the Holy Ghost to those to whom it is addressed.
How many neglect their Lord’s letters, although the letters of the New Testament reveal the purpose and the grace and salvation of our Triune God!
The letters of the New Testament constitute a copy of the will of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning His dear people. We can well understand the noble words of one man when he said, “I would not take all the world for one leaf of the Bible.”
O it is a mercy when the Bible is thus precious to us!
Now with regard to this first Epistle of John, in this verse and in the immediate context he is summing up that which he has previously been inspired to set forth, and he gives to us the great aim which he has in writing this letter: “that ye may know”; “that ye may know.”
There is in the writings of the Apostle John a directness, a simplicity, a wonderful freedom, and at the same time a profound depth.
Why was this Epistle written?
“That ye may know,” and you will find that in the immediate context the word “know” is used six or seven times in the course of as many verses.
“We know that we are of God”;
“We know that the Son of God is come”;
“We know Him that is true”;
“We know that we have the petitions that we desire of Him.”
Is the writer of this letter the writer also of the gospel that bears his name?
What do you think when I read this to you from the Gospel of John?
“Forthwith came there out blood and water.” (John 19:34) And he that saw it – O the simplicity and directness of it all! – “he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:35).
What do you think of this too?
“But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.”
“That ye may know,” not with a speculative knowledge, not with a knowledge that is merely intellectual, but that ye may know it in an experimental and practical way.
“That ye may know” – this is not simply faith, but faith realising, proving and sucking sweetness from the Son of God, from the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. In other words, the apostle was inspired to write this Epistle with a view to the assurance of the people of God that the Lord had done great things for them. Let us bless God for any degree of faith, for the least spark of faith constitutes that power which is described as the hand by which we embrace Christ; as the finger with which we touch Him; as the desire of the soul that reaches forth towards Him. Faith is essential to salvation; assurance is essential to satisfaction.
There are many of the Lord’s people who possess faith, but who do not possess assurance; but the essential to salvation is a living and saving faith. Assurance is the ring which the Lord is pleased to put upon the finger of faith. Peter lost his assurance, and well he might, but he never lost his faith. Peter’s faith was never lost. The Lord Himself said, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not” (or “die not out”). But he lost his assurance.
And how did he find it again?
In the way that God’s people always find assurance: through the condescending mercy of his Saviour in coming and communing with him. The Lord Jesus had a private interview with Peter after His resurrection, and what took place at that private interview assured Peter’s faith.
Then there was a third confirmation of his faith by the Sea of Galilee, when the Lord said to him three times, “Feed My lambs,” “Feed My sheep,” and again, “Feed My sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
So when we feel the power and sweetness of the Lord’s presence, we cannot then doubt our interest in Him; we know, and go on our way rejoicing.
Therefore, whilst I speak to you about assurance, I would not make it for a moment a word of condemnation to any of God’s weak ones, but I pray that it may be a word of consolation to those who as yet tremble to say, “I know.”
But how many there are, and some of whom we hope well, who just settle down in a profession of religion; from whom – am I speaking for myself? am I speaking for you? – from whom we hear in conversation so little that has the power and sweetness and unction of the name of Christ; dry, dull.
Those in such a condition do not, as a rule, like to be disturbed; they do not like to hear the searching word.
What is my need?
The powerful witness of the Holy Spirit to my soul, creating within me
that assurance which shall enable me to say, “I know.”
Faith is the gift of God, and it has a wide scope. The Lord give to you and to me not simply prayer-meeting faith – you know what I mean, dear friends. We love the prayer meetings, but the Lord give to us not simply prayer meeting faith.
Women here who know the Lord want kitchen faith; men here want business faith, workshop faith. “Lord, increase my faith,” so that whether it be at the prayer meeting, in the parlour, the sick room or the workshop, I may have the powerful witness and say, “I know that I have passed from death unto life.”
Now this is the great object which the apostle under the teaching of the Holy Spirit has in connection with our text, and in what goes before and comes after.
Let us speak for a little while first about the subject set forth in our text, assurance. Secondly and lastly, the means of assurance – the written Word.
“These things have I written” – the written Word witnessed by the Holy Ghost: assurance and the means to assurance.
Is it not an important matter to seek continually to be assured of our salvation?
The Apostle John desires that those to whom he wrote might know it in their own souls.
“Believe on the name of the Son of God” is repeated in our text.
“I have written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that knowing that you have eternal life, you may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
What does the repetition signify?
That you may believe more abundantly, more deeply; that you may believe in the kitchen and in the workshop, as well as when you come to the place where God’s people meet together. It is a parallel word to that:
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
My faith is indeed weak; it is a staggering faith often, but the Lord can make it strong and give assurance; and He sets forth the blessed lines upon which, in His sovereign love and mercy, He is pleased to work. John desires by the Holy Spirit that all who read this Epistle, who have been brought to believe on the name of the Son of God, may have a more personal application to their own souls of the truths of the everlasting gospel. We are, all of us, on our way – on our way somewhere. Every one of us here is a traveller, on our way, each one, either to heaven or to hell.
Now if I am a believer, I am going to heaven, and how important it is to know it, to be well assured of it. You say, “It is presumption.” It would be, if God had not set forth the blessed truth concerning it in His Word. But sometimes to say it is presumption is rather the utterance of unbelief. The apostle sets forth a well-established truth. The apostle was going to heaven, and he knew it; he loved the Lord, and he knew it; and he said, “My heart’s desire for all of you is that you also that believe on
the name of the Son of God may know that you have eternal life.”
Now some of you weak ones (and who is not a weak, a little one?) – it is evident from the tenor of this word that there were some even in John’s day who believed on the name of the Son of God, and yet did not know that they had eternal life – “I have written unto you that believe on
the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.”
Then it is possible to believe, and yet not know that we have eternal life; and John was desirous that this blessed knowledge should be inwrought in their minds and hearts by the Spirit of the living God.
Dear friends, it is no light thing to be a Christian; it is easy to talk about it; it is easy to write about it. “Is So-and-so a Christian?” “So-and-so has become a Christian.” The phrase is heard on the right hand and on the left.
What is it, as Hart sings, to be a Christian?
“Let us ask the important question
(Brethren, be not too secure),
What it is to be a Christian,
How we may our hearts assure?”
It is to be an anointed sinner, an anointed man or woman. Christ means “the Anointed,” and a Christian means an anointed sinner, a set apart sinner, a called sinner. It is to take up the cross; it is to bear it; it is to mortify the old man with his deeds; it is to put off the old man. It is to put on the new man; it is to know the power of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, crucifying the world to you, and crucifying you unto the world.
What is it to be a Christian?
It is to know under divine power and teaching the burden and the guilt of sin, and that under the condemning power of God’s holy law you can find no salvation.
A Christian – a called-out man!
A Christian – a sensible sinner!
A Christian – a man or woman who endures a conflict within and without all along the way!
Everything outside us is against us; the world, and the things that are seen. Our old nature is against us; the great adversary of souls is against us. That being the case, to continue a Christian we need daily supplies of grace and strength and consolation. And the strong consolation which God has set forth in our text this morning is to know that we have eternal life; if I know that, by the grace of God I shall win through. By the grace of God I shall battle on. By the grace of God, though faint, cast down by the inward conflict, and tormented by the outside things, I can say:
“Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven.”
Here, then, is the importance of the knowledge of eternal life.
Is there any encouragement to the child of God like this: to know that we have eternal life?
“I have written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.”
(1 John 5:13)
Look for a moment, then. Here is one who believes on the name of the Son of God, and yet does not know that he has eternal life.
What does the believing involve?
There can be no believing without life, and where there is life it is eternal. God does not give one life to believe, and then confer eternal life subsequently. If I can say honestly, “I believe on the name of the Son of God,” I have life in my soul, and God put it there, and that is eternal life.
But what does the believing involve?
A title to heaven, because the righteousness of Christ is there. It is a righteousness which is “unto all and upon all them that believe.”
If I am at this moment believing in the name of the Son of God, I have Christ’s name, work and Person as my title to the inheritance that is “incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”
Hence, we started by saying that faith is essential to salvation; I can have no belief in the name of the Son of God without that faith which is connected with the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“That ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Believing puts us in touch with our title. Eternal life is the capacity for receiving from the Lord our God. A dead sinner – that is, a sinner “dead in trespasses and
sins” – has no title, experimentally so, and no capacity for the things of God, none whatever. I think I have related to you what I read once in the Life of William Wilberforce, a grand man, the great instrument in the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies. On one occasion he took his friend, William Pitt, then Prime Minister of England, to hear one of the best of the evangelical ministers of his day.
The minister laid the sinner low, and exalted a precious Christ high, to Wilberforce’s great delight. After the service he asked Pitt what he thought of the sermon, and he replied, “I could not make out what the man was driving at.” Apart from the conferment of a divine capacity – the new nature, eternal life – there can be no reception of the things of God.
“These things have I written unto you that believe, that ye may know
that ye have eternal life.”
What is it?
How does it commence?
A sinner is laid low before Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
What does the Apostle Paul say concerning his own experience of the ups and downs of the way, and of that which God had done for his soul?
In the second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 4, we have this as a transcript of the apostle’s experience:
“We faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
O the mercy to have that faith which looks at the unseen!
That faith which looks towards an unseen Saviour, which looks towards unseen things, and which, working in the heart, brings to us the knowledge that we have eternal life, so that our afflictions are esteemed to be but light afflictions which endure but for a moment.
This assurance, then, of salvation is an unspeakable comfort; it is a divine encouragement, and it fills the soul with a holy and gracious confidence.
Again, to revert to the experience of the Apostle Paul, he says, “I am
willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the
Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)
He had the grace of assurance, and it is a sanctifying principle. When we are favoured with the assurance of faith, knowing that we have eternal life, all the terrors of the grave are gone; we are delivered from that bondage which comes through the fear of death; we have a blessed anticipation of glory; we gird up our loins and go forward in the way which the Lord is pleased to appoint.
But does not all this mean conflict?
Joseph Hart sings concerning the temptation of our Lord:
“That impious IF he thus
At God incarnate threw,
No wonder if he cast at us,
And make us feel it too.”
“If Thou be the Son of God” – the “impious if” that the devil cast at God incarnate; and Joseph Hart says, “If he cast that ‘if’ at incarnate God, do you suppose he will let you escape?” The devil seeks in every possible way to hinder and destroy the assurance which the Apostle John by the Holy Ghost has in view when he says, “I desire ye may know.”
But when we are thus brought low, we do know again and again something of the experience of Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, when his sword was knocked out of his hand, and he laid low before the Destroyer.
Then said Apollyon, “I am sure of thee now,” and Christian replied, stretching forth his hand – faith brought into exercise – “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8).
And with that he gave a deadly thrust at Apollyon, who spread his black wings and flew away.
Let us speak of the means which the Lord is pleased to use to give this assurance or knowledge that we have eternal life. The Apostle John very simply, clearly and directly expresses the means that are used, “These things have I written.”
O let us bless and praise God for the written Word. “These things have I written.” You dear friends who are trembling, doubting, fearing, read this letter again and again; pray over it:
“Lord, open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.”
This I know, that no living soul here this morning, trembling, doubting and fearing, will ever be satisfied, and can ever be satisfied, until sweetly assured in the sense of the apostle here. Safe you are as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; comfortable, happy, satisfied, strong, that you will be through the assurance which is spoken of here.
I know of no other part of God’s Word which is so full of evidence as to the position and work of Christ in the soul as is this Epistle. One of the greatest proofs of eternal life is given when a sinner feels the plague of his own heart; when a sinner (pursuing a figure used by Solomon in his dedicatory prayer at the opening of the temple), when a sinner stretches forth his hand toward this holy place.
Solomon said, “O Lord, whether that man be a stranger or a Jew, as he feels the plague of his own heart, and stretches forth his hand toward this holy place, then, Lord, hear, answer and forgive.”
And if you want God, if you know the plague of your own heart and are stretching forth your hand toward the Lord Jesus Christ, you have an indubitable evidence that you are a possessor of eternal life.
“But I am so unworthy; I have not sufficient depth of conviction; my repentance is not what I would have it.”
If you tarry till you’re better, You will never come at all.
You say you are so unworthy.
Why? that just makes you suitable for Jesus Christ the Lord. That sense of unworthiness is, as it were, the digging into your heart of God the Holy Ghost that into that hole He may let down His grace, love and mercy. In the temple and the tabernacle, mortice and tenon exactly fitted into one another, and God has made a mortice in your heart, when you say you are unworthy and sinful, which exactly fits the tenon of Christ’s all sufficiency.
“But,” you say, “I am so unworthy; will Jesus receive me?” (this is the mindset of one who believes in works salvation, brethren consider not comments like this as a form of humility, but in fact think of it as pride and have no such speech come forth from your lips)
I answer that question:
Is His name Jesus?
His very name of Jesus is the sign-manual that He will receive you.
“Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
Concerning conviction of sin, my experience is – I doubt not that many of you will confirm this – my experience is that my conviction of sin has been deeper at the foot of the cross than before I reached that place.
My repentance is so shallow!
O but when we see the crucified Saviour, when He condescends to commune with us, when our Joseph says, “Draw near to Me,” and falls upon our neck, and kisses us, then repentance deepens. O brethren and sisters, it is all at Calvary; deepening conviction, deepening repentance, blessed assurance!
O Thou risen Saviour, draw us to Thyself, and the praise and the glory shall be Thine!
Here is another evidence in the first verse of this chapter:
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
(1 John 5:1)
“What more can He say, than to you He hath said, You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?”
That is wide enough, is it not?
“Whosoever thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink.”
Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He who is called Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed Saviour?
That is what “Christ” means; anointed by God the Father to be the Saviour of His people. Believing that, you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, because only He could be a Saviour for such an one as you. Then you are born of God and have received the anointing. So we have an anointed Saviour, and anointed sinners coming to Him as their Prophet, Priest and King.
“The same anointing teacheth you of all things.”
(1 John 2:27)
Here, then, stand the infallible Scriptures; here stands the inerrant Word of the living God.
“These things have I written unto you.”
(1 John 5:13)
Take them not simply as John’s words, but as the words of God the Holy Ghost.
“I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write”; and the Spirit replied, “Yea” (Revelation 14. 13) – the Spirit’s “Yea” to he writing. Now to have this blessed Book with these truths expressed in black and white is better than a vision that fades and dies. It is better than angels. Here you have the truth of the living God, not in visionary form, not by angelic messengers, but written by men under the Spirit’s power. This same blessed Spirit attends this Word with divine power in your heart and conscience, and so through the things that are written, the Word of God attended with divine power, we have this blessed testimony.
Once more. “Every one that loveth Him that begat loveth Him also that is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1).
What is love?
What is desire?
It is an effect. If you love the brethren, that is an effect, and an effect cannot exist without a previous cause.
And what is the previous cause of love to the brethren?
God’s love to you. Unless God loved you, and had shed abroad His love in your heart, according to the measure of His grace, you would not love.
“This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not grievous.”
(1 John 5:3)
Obedience is the test of love. Now I ask you in this respect, “Is your presence in this house of prayer – in other houses of prayer where God’s people are wont to assemble – is it cheerful? Is it willing? Do you feel it to be a very hard matter to give up sinful, worldly amusements?”
“His commandments are not grievous,” and, “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”
Where your heart is, there will be your pleasure.
But I must stop. There are three Witnesses – you can follow all this out as you read them, to the strengthening of your faith and the bringing of that assurance which you desire.
“There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
(1 John 5:8)
Has the Spirit quickened, changed, illuminated you?
Do you know aught – I know not a few of you do – do you know aught of His secret power?
“The water and the blood” – water, Christ my sanctification, delivering me from the power of sin; “the blood” – Christ my justification, cleansing me from the guilt of sin.
All this is of God’s sovereign grace and mercy. The Lord give us then that sweet assurance of faith which is expressed by Susannah Harrison:
“My God! for I can call Thee mine,
My Father and my Friend!
Am I not Thine, for ever Thine?
To Thee my groans ascend.”
I read the other day of a blind child who was in the arms of his father. The father put him into the arms of someone else, and said to the child, “You do not know who has hold of you; don’t you feel frightened?”
And the child replied, “I don’t know, but you do, and I am not a bit frightened.”
O to have the sweet assurance that God is my Father, that Jesus Christ is my blessed Redeemer, that the Spirit of the living God is my Comforter and my Guide.
He brings the blind by a way that they knew not. (Isaiah 42:16) Often we know not in the providence of God the next place on which we shall set our foot, but our Father knoweth all, and “these things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” – that ye may believe more fully, more powerfully, more sweetly on the name of the Son of God. The Lord bless His Word for His name’s sake. Amen.