The Only "Enough" We Need
In his book, The Five English Reformers, J.C.Ryle tells the delightful story of Bishop Rowland Taylor’s warm confidence on the way to the stake, to be burnt to death. We read that as if it were easy, it happened to so many others after all. But I can’t imagine a worse way to die, can you?
Picture the scene: Riding on horseback, Rowland is two miles out from Hadleigh, the place of execution. He is accompanied by the gloating Sheriff of Suffolk, who leans over and asks, “How fares it with thee now, Bishop?” "God be praised, Master Sheriff," he replied, "never better! For now I am almost at home. I lack but just two stiles to go over, and I am even at my Father's house!” A stile is a set of steps built into a fence, or some other obstacle, that helps a weary traveler climb over. This is what Hooper thought of the pyre awaiting him in London: Two small sets of steps reaching up to the family home. Wouldn’t it be lovely to face life (never mind death) with such confidence?
Many struggle here. This fallen world is a dark, deadening, foreboding place for the soul. Infected with doubt, accused by a guilty conscience, and more often than not feeling much closer to dust than to glory, our quest for such assurance can be both elusive and frustrating. For many professing Christians, “How can I know if He really loves me?” is more than a track on their 80’s playlist, it is the anthem of their spiritual lives. They trudge heavenward, wondering, “Can I ever be sure?”
Many Christians plague themselves with doubt because, in their mind, salvation hangs on something they must feel, believe, or do. This error is particularly pernicious because it is partly true. No man is saved, after all, without faith (Acts 16:31), without repentance (Acts 2:38), and without feeling at least some sorrow for his sin (Joel 2:13). Furthermore, no man is saved without a lifestyle of holiness and peacemaking (Heb. 12:14). These statements are all true. But they are not the whole truth. And, as a wit once noted, a half-truth told as a whole truth is a whole untruth. The issue at stake is this: While no man is saved without these things, no man is saved because of these things. If we are to be saved at all, it will be because of Christ ALONE. He is the only reason for our salvation—the only ground beneath our feet preventing us from falling into hell. And if you allow something you must feel, believe, or do to stand between your soul and Christ, you will never feel secure. For the contribution you “must” bring to the table, no matter how small it is, will forever form the weak link in your assurance of salvation. And this link will have the nasty habit of breaking when you need it most.
Perhaps I can illustrate the problem. For many Christians, such a contribution functions a little bit like a ticket—a ticket that earns them the right to enter the throne room of free grace. With such a mindset the Christian thinks if only she can believe enough, or feel enough, or do enough, then Christ will give her an audience. To be sure, HIs grace will be free when she gets there, but getting there—well there’s Hell to pay for that!
In my mind’s eye, I see a trembling sinner walking down the corridor to the Throne of Grace. At the door stands Helga, the ticket collector. Glaring. She has the build of a Czechoslovakian shot-putter and the warmth of the TSA guy who checks your ID at the airport. “I suppose you want to come in here?” she asks cynically—as if to say, ‘Thousands have tried before, but no one ever gets past me!’ “Let me see your ticket?” “What ticket do I need, Ma’am?” the sinner asks. “Why, did no one tell you,” she retorts, “You have to have the pristine ticket of enough faith, repentance, and the kind of Christian life that shows you have really done your best before you can pass me!” “No,” the sinner replies, “the King’s book promises that all I need to enter is faith.” “Ah, this is technically true,” she smiles, “But the Devil’s in the details, you understand? The real question is: Have you believed properly?” At this, the sinner, goes into a bit of a tail spin. Looking down at his “ticket of faith” beaten, tattered, and torn, with the writing all smudged by the greasy fingers of doubt, he’s not so sure. What if I didn’t read all the fine print, sign on all the dotted lines, genuflect in all the right places? Maybe my faith isn’t genuine?
Then comes the coup de grâce: “Ah, young man, it’s all very well talking about faith alone, but I would remind you of one simple word: Enough! E.N.O.U.G.H! Have you believed ENOUGH? Have you felt ENOUGH? Have you repented ENOUGH!”
There is no end to such madness, is there? We might call such a scheme of salvation “Gracious!” And a fine grace it is, when the sinner has to earn the right to get to the place where it can be had for free!
Who can rescue us from the cursed logic of “Enough?” More than anyone else, Andrew Bonar has helped me out of this inexorable labyrinth. In his excellent little pamphlet, How Shall I go to God, he writes “It is with our sins that we go to God, for we have nothing else to go with that we can call our own.” Objective depravity, guilt, and the sentence of damnation are the only qualifying conditions that we need to bring to Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Later in the article, he continues,
“Of a previous goodness, preparatory to pardon, the gospel says nothing, Of a preliminary state of religious feeling as a necessary introduction to the grace of God, the apostles never spoke. Fears, troubles, self-questionings, bitter cries for mercy, forebodings of judgment, and resolutions of amendment, may, in point of time, have preceded the sinner’s reception of the good news; but they did not constitute his fitness, nor make up his qualification. He would have been quite as welcome without them. They did not make the pardon more complete, more gracious, or more free. The sinner’s wants were all his arguments; — “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He needed salvation, and he went to God for it, and got it just because he needed it, and because God delights in the poor and needy. He needed pardon, and he went to God for it, and obtained it without merit or money. “When he had nothing to pay, God frankly forgave.” It was the having nothing to pay that drew out the frank forgiveness. Ah, this is grace.”
When I first read those words, “He would have been quite as welcome without them,” I have to confess I startled. Can that be true? Would God welcome a sinner who is not sorry for his sin? Well in practice, of course, this never happens, but in theory it could. In practice it never happens, because when God draws a sinner to Christ, He almost always uses sorrow and contrition in the process. But in theory it could happen, because we don’t need to feel sorry for our sins before God will open wide His arms to welcome us home. The only qualification we need for salvation is the work of Christ and the sin which made it all necessary. Charles Wesley put it well,
Jesus, the sinner’s Friend, to thee,
Lost and undone, for aid I flee,
Weary of earth, myself, and sin:
Open Thine arms, and take me in.
Pity and save my ruined soul
Tis Thou alone canst make me whole;
Dark, til in me Thine image shine,
And lost, I am, til Thou art mine.
At last I own it cannot be
That I should fit myself for Thee:
Here, then, to Thee I all resign;
Thine is the work, and only Thine.
What can I say Thy grace to move?
Lord, I am sin, but Thou art love;
I give up every plea beside—
Lord, I am lost, but Thou hast died.
These last two lines say it all. Herein lies the root of true assurance: When it comes to salvation, Christ—who He is and what He has done—is the only “enough” we need.