For several years I struggled with whether or not I was really a Christian. During that time we visited my mother-in-law’s home, and I discovered on her book shelves Full Assurance by H. A. Ironside. I borrowed it, and it helped me with one key point in particular.
Recently while looking for something else on my bookshelf, I came across this volume again (I guess that means I never gave it back – sorry, Mom!) I couldn’t remember much about it except for the one point that had helped me so much some 30 or so years before, so I decided to read through it again.
Ironside says in his introduction that he wrestled with assurance for a while himself, and he wanted to “make as plain as I possibly can just how any troubled soul may find settled peace with God” (p. 7). He said that “so many people who profess to want help along these lines are too indifferent to investigate,” but he wanted to appeal to “earnest seekers after truth” (p. 7). He assures that God cares about us and wants us to rest in His salvation.
In subsequent chapters he unpacks several verses that speak specifically of assurance, like Isaiah 32:17 (“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever”) and Colossians 2:1-3 (especially verse 2: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding“).
Then his longest chapter deals with “Difficulties Which Hinder Full Assurance” in the form of questions and answers, like “How can I be sure I have repented enough?” and “I do not feel fit to come to God” and “I don’t know if I can hold out.”
Ironside had been a preacher for almost 50 years at the time of this writing, and he deftly handles every issue from the Scriptures and shares several anecdotes to illustrate his points.
The point I mentioned having trouble with was whether I had repented “right” or “enough.” Forgive the long quote, but I wanted to share his whole answer here:
Very often the real difficulty arises from a misapprehension of the meaning of repentance. There is no salvation without repentance, but it is important to see exactly what is meant by this term. It should not be confused with penitence, which is sorrow for sin; nor with penance, which is an effort to make some satisfaction for sin; nor yet with reformation, which is turning from sin. Repentance is a change of attitude toward sin, toward self, and toward God. The original word (in the Greek Testament) literally means “a change of mind.” This is not a mere intellectual change of viewpoint, however. but a complete reversal of attitude.
Now test yourself in this way. You once lived in sin and loved it. Do you now desire deliverance from it? You were once self-confident and trusting in your own fancied goodness. Do you now judge yourself as a sinner before God? You once sought to hide from God and rebelled against His authority. Do you now look up to Him, desiring to know Him, and to yield yourself to Him? If you can honestly answer yes to these questions, you have repented. Your attitude is altogether different to what it once was.
You confess you are a sinner, unable to cleanse your own soul, and you are willing to be saved in God’s way. This is repentance. And remember, it is not the amount of repentance that counts: it is the fact that you turn from self to God that puts you in the place where His grace avails through Jesus Christ.
Strictly speaking, not one of us has ever repented enough. None of us has realized the enormity of our guilt as God sees it. But when we judge ourselves and trust the Saviour whom He has provided, we are saved through His merits. As recipients of His lovingkindness, repentance will be deepened and will continue day by day, as we learn more of His infinite worth and our own unworthiness (pp. 89-90).
One other point that I remember being struck with, though I can’t find now the specific place he discusses it, is from Hebrews 6:11-12: “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Showing “diligence to full assurance” helped me understand that when we’re having problems along this line, we need to “be not slothful” but diligently seek God’s Word for the answers rather letting doubts and questions fester in the background for years.
I have many places marked in the book. Here are a few of the helpful, standout quotes:
It is well to remember that some vivid emotional experience is not a safe ground of assurance. It is the blood of Christ that makes us safe and the Word of God that makes us sure” (p. 29).
Faith is not the savior. Faith is the hand that lays hold of Him who does save. Therefore the folly of talking of weak faith as opposed to strong faith. The feeblest faith in Christ is saving faith. The strongest faith in self, or something other than Christ, is but a delusion and a snare, and will leave the soul at last unsaved and forever forlorn (p. 39).
Assurance is not based upon any emotional change, but whatever emotional experience there may be, it will be the result of accepting the testimony of the Lord given in the Scriptures. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. That Word believed gives full assurance (p. 45).
So long as a man considers himself worthy there is no salvation for him; but when, in repentance, he owns his unworthiness, there is immediate deliverance for him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without repentance the sinner is unable to believe unto salvation (pp. 91-92).
Many times Ironside counsels readers to study the Bible:
As soon as one knows he is saved, he should begin, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, a careful regular, systematic study of the Word of God. The Bible is our Father’s letter to us, His redeemed children. We should value it as that which reveals His mind and indicates the way in which He would have us walk. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16-17). The study of the Word will instruct me in the truth, it will show me what needs to be rectified in my life and walk, it will make clear how I may get right with God, and it will guide me in paths of uprightness. No Christian can afford to neglect his Bible. If he does, he will be stunted and dwarfed in his spiritual life, and he will be a prey to doubts and fears, and may be carried away by every wind of doctrine (p. 48).
Nothing will make up for lack of this diligent study of the Bible for yourself. You cannot get the full assurance of understanding without it. But as you search the Scriptures, you will find truth after truth unfolding in a wonderful way, so that doubts and questions will be banished and divinely given certainty will take their place (p. 50).
How necessary then for His redeemed ones to study His Word in dependence upon His Holy Spirit, that they may be delivered both from the fears that are a result of ignorance of His truth and pride that is a result of self-confidence. The liberating Word alone will give to the honest, yielded soul who searches it prayerfully, in order that it shall have sway over his life, the full assurance of understanding, for it is written: ‘The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple'” (p. 54).
There’s a very helpful section for those fearing they might not be “elect” or “predestined,” but it’s about three pages long, too long to share here. But one excerpt: “But what does the Word say? ‘Christ died for the ungodly.’ Are you ungodly? Then He died for you. Put in your claim and enter into peace” (p. 92).
I have seen this book listed by various titles just Full Assurance, or Full Assurance: How to Know You’re Saved; Full Assurance, or A Series of Messages for the Anxious Soul, and the author’s name sometimes listed as Harry A., most times as H. A. Ironside. I assume they are all basically the same book, but I don’t know whether there might have been some revisions between reprintings. The copy I have is from 1968, but it says it is a revised edition. If you look at Kindle versions, check the reviews first: one I came across said that several chapters were left out.
This book is an excellent resource especially for those who have wrestled with assurance of salvation or those who counsel such people, but it is also a good resource for those who want to learn more about what salvation is or for those who are already saved to understand and appreciate more what their salvation involves.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)