by William Guthrie
The word “interest” in the title of Guthrie’s book does not just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian. It also has a legal sense, in which to have an interest means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know that he has a legally valid claim within the Will and Testament (or Covenant) that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine whether or not our claim is a true one.
Guthrie opens the book with a concern that there are many “pretending, without ground, to a special interest in Christ”. On the other hand many others “who have good ground of a claim to Christ are not established in the confidence of His favour, but remain in the dark without comfort, hesitating concerning the reality of godliness in themselves”. This state of affairs prompts two questions:
- How can someone know if they are in Christ and whether or not he may lay genuine claim to God’s favour and salvation?
- What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest?
1. How can someone know whether or not they are truly saved?
It is important to be clear that assurance is possible, and more easily attained than many realise. It is of the utmost importance to be “savingly in covenant with God”. Scripture must be the rule by which we are able to judge whether or not this is so.
Only a few, however, seem to reach this assurance. There are many different reasons for this:
- Far too many are ignorant of the different ways in which God works.
- Others deal deceitfully with God and their own conscience in holding on to sin.
- There is also a lazy apathy that resists the effort of examining ourselves, but it is “a work and business which cannot be done sleeping”. Assurance must be laboured after, it is not something that falls effortlessly into our laps.
- Many are ignorant concerning what evidence will satisfy the quest for assurance, despite the fact that it is clear in Scripture.
- Some are looking for entirely the wrong evidences, such as attaining sinlessness or continuous rapturous prayer.
- Many that are struggling to attain assurance can make the following mistakes: (a) they think that all who are in Christ know that they are; (b) they think that all who have assurance have the same degree of certainty; (c) they think that this persuasion should be continuous; (d) they think that a person must be able to answer every objection against their assurance.
- Others believe that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost and put themselves beyond pardon. Guthrie defines what this is (and what it is not) very carefully and helpfully from the Scriptures.
Guthrie speaks of the different ways in which people are drawn to Christ. Some indeed may be drawn lovingly or called suddenly in a very direct way. The “ordinary” way involves being humbled by conviction during which the conscience is awakened till the soul is full of concern about salvation and driven from resting in anything of themselves, to casting their all on Christ for salvation. This is carefully distinguished from the temporary convictions of those that fall away.
The Marks of True Faith and the New Birth
The first evidence that Guthrie calls for in this trial is faith. Faith is vital in the matter of assurance – indeed all other marks are worthless without it. Yet it can be mistaken. It is not as difficult or mysterious as some men think. Scripture speaks of it as a simple trusting, resting, and looking. It can be found in various marks of submissive obedience and devotion to Christ. “If men but have an appetite, they have it; for they are blessed that hunger after righteousness”. Thus Guthrie identifies the marks of true faith, but also distinguishes it from false faith.
The second set of evidence called upon relates to regeneration. There is a total renewal when a man comes to saving faith in Christ. In mind, heart and will he is changed from being self-oriented and self-serving to serving and glorifying God. Attitudes to all aspects of life are renewed, whether it is work or worship, or relationships, or recreation or eating and drinking. There is a respect to all of God’s commandments, and a submission to and valuing of Christ alone that hypocrites never have despite their outward similarities with believers.
Assurance that we are truly saved
The great question in the minds of many, however, is why some believers doubt. Guthrie opens this up in considerable depth dealing with God’s sovereignty and our own responsibility in these matters. He speaks of twelve areas where different levels of experience may be enjoyed and where assurance may be obtained.
2. What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest?
Part Two of the book proceeds to deal with the second question raised: what should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest? Many may believe that they have closed in with Christ in the gospel. Very few, however, really have.
The covenant of grace lays a duty on all who hear it preached. There must be a “coming” on our part. “God excludes none if they do not exclude themselves.” “It is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on His part.”
What is it to close with God’s offer of salvation in the preached covenant? It means to recognise the full guilt of sin, our need of salvation, and the impossibility of any salvation without God’s appointment in Christ. We must “quit and renounce all thoughts of help or salvation by our own righteousness”. Faith is humble though resolute, and hearty rather than mere mental assent, though it must depend upon knowledge.
Matthew A Vogan
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To the Reader
Memoir of the Author
The Christian's Great Interest.
Part I. The Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ
Chapter I.--Things premised for the better understanding of the trial itself Before we speak directly to the question, we shall premise some things, to make way for the answer.
I.--A man's interest in Christ may be known
II.--Importance of having an interest in Christ
III.--We must allow our condition to be determined by Scripture
IV.--Causes why so few attain to a distinct knowledge of their state
V.--Some mistakes concerning an interest in Christ removed
Chapter II.--Marks of a Saving Change
A preparatory law work
I.--Some called from the womb
II.--Some called in a sovereign gospel-way
III.--Some graciously called at the hour of death
IV.--God's more ordinary way of calling sinners to Himself
V.--Objections and difficulties considered
Chapter III.--Evidences of a Believing State
I.--Mistakes as to what faith is
II.--True saving faith described
III.--Farther explanatory remarks concerning saving faith
Chapter IV.--Evidences of a Renewed State
I.--The whole man must be to some extend renewed
II.--He must be, to some extent, renewed in all his ways
III.--The supposed unattainableness of such evidences considered
IV.--The special attainments of hypocrites considered
V.--Doubts because of prevailing sin considered
VI.--Doubts arising out of a want of Christian experience considered
PART II.--How to Attain a Saving Interest in Christ
Chapter I.--Some Things Premised for the Information of the Ignorant
Chapter II.--The Duty of Closing with God's Plan of Saving Sinners by Christ Jesus
I.--What it is to accept of, and close with, the gospel offer
II.--This the duty of those who would be saved
III.--What is required of those who would believe on Christ Jesus and be saved
V.--Some of the effects of saving faith
Chapter III.--Objections and Difficulties Answered and Explained
I.--The sinner's baseness rendering it presumption to come to Christ
II.--The singularity of his sin barring the way
III.--Special aggravations a hindrance
IV.--Sins not named a barrier
V.--The sin against the Holy Ghost alleged
I.--What it is not
II.--What the sin against the Holy Ghost is
III.--Conclusions bearing on the objections
I.--Objections from the want of power to believe answered
VII.--Objection arising from the complaints of believers as to unfruitfulness
VIII.--Objection from ignorance regarding covenanting with God,--The nature of that duty unfolded
IX.--Doubts as to the inquirer's being savingly in covenant with God answered
I.--The thing itself is warrantable
II.--The preparation needed
III.--How the duty of covenanting is to be performed
IV.--What should follow this solemn act
X.--A want of proper feeling considered as an obstacle in the way of covenanting
XI.--The fear of backsliding a hindrance
XII.--Objection arising from past fruitlessness considered
Conclusion--The whole Treatise resumed in a Few Questions and Answers