Thursday, March 20, 2008

Salvation affection

One of the most haunting and difficult questions that i'm asked by students is this 'how do i know i'm saved?' Does the doctrine of perseverance mean that we can pray a prayer when we're fifteen and then not worry about it? Everything in me wants to say a resounding no! The problem with that application is that it often gives younger Christians the impression that all they need to do is pray and then get on with it.

James says: faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by works is dead...i will show you my faith by my works'. Sure proof texting is an inexact science, but James's message is clear. The best evidence of inward change is outward action. The best evidence of past conversion is present convertedness.

But thats dangerous again isn't it? Works as evidence can easily become, in our fallen hearts, works as justification. So again we need to look at the inward change. What are the best evidences of inward change? A desire to go to Heaven? Surely anyone given a choice between eternal joy and eternal torment would choose the former regardless of the state of their heart. I'm not sure even deep feelings of regret at sin is really evidence on its own of saving faith. Before i was saved i still felt bad when i knew i'd done something wrong, still occasionally wished i wouldn't argue with my parents so much or be such a bad big brother. So how can we know? Is there no evidence that we can look to to know for sure, despite the storms and sin, whether or not we are saved.

Henry Scougal seemed to think so. His book 'the life of God in the soul of man' was instrumental in the conversions of George Whitefield and both the Wesleys. Indeed Whitefield said he didn't know what true religion was until he read it. Piper and Packer rave about it. It's clearly worth some attention. Scougal, who died at the age of 27, wrote with startling awareness for his age, both in terms of his youth and in terms of when he was actually writing (early 17th Century). So here, with really very little apology, i lean on him for an answer.

Scougal talks about our life of faith like a tree, with a root and branches. The root is of course faith. Faith particularly aimed at God's reconciliation though a mediator. Faith in Christ is the root of all our assurance, without faith it is impossible to please God.

Scougal's first branch is love to God, which is defined as a delightful and affectionate sense of the divine perfections. Not, loving God because of what he's done, not for the benefits of loving Him, but simply loving Him because of His perfections. 'Desiring in all things to please Him and delighting in nothing so much as fellowship and communion with Him'

The next evidence is charity to man. Loving your brother. If we don't love our fellow man, we might be able to assume that our love for God is fairly cold, if it's there at all. Scougal says this is because 'of the relation they have to God...having something of His image stamped upon them'. I love how God centred his reasons for assurance are!

Next up is purity, or a 'due abstractedness from the body and mastery over inferior appetites.' A wish to forsake everything that excludes our relish of God, no matter what the cost. I don't think he means anything gnostic by 'due abstractedness from the body', but simply having a mind of faith that controls what we think, and eyes of faith that control what we see.

The final branch of the salvation tree is humility. Which 'imparts a sense of our own meanness, with a hearty affection acknowledgement that we owe all we are to Divine bounty' It is accompanied with what i might call 'big God little me' theology, and the reverent fear of the Lord.

Scougal describes the preceding as 'the highest affections felt by either men or angels'. The word affections is interesting, if only mostly because it reminds us of the Religious Affections where Edwards puts forward love for Jesus and a desire for holiness as two key evidences of salvation. But our affections can't just be emotionalism...feeling nice when a 'good worship song' comes on. It is always accompanied by a change of heart and action.

Not sinless perfection, but a desire, a lustre, a hungering for more of Him and less of me. For more of Him and less of the world, more holiness, less smut, more serious Christ centred joy, less bubblegum worldly happiness.

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