Calvary Road Baptist Church

This evening I would like to revisit the matter of a Christian’s assurance of salvation, a topic that I believe is one of the most neglected doctrines in Christianity in the United States in this twenty-first century. This message will be an introductory message, to establish my great concern for the neglect of a proper treatment of a Christian’s assurance of salvation that I have witnessed over the years.

To establish my familiarity with the subject matter, let me provide for you the resources that can be found in my library that touch on the topic:

 

 First, I have every tape dealing with evangelism and soul winning the late Jack Hyles ever produced for sale through the church where he was pastor for many years, First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, along with “The Hyles Visitation Manual,” “Let’s Build An Evangelistic Church,” “The Hyles Church Manual,” and sixteen other books written by Jack Hyles.

I have the late Curtis Hutson’s soul winning tapes.

I also have and have read all of Spurgeon’s printed sermons, and such Spurgeon books as “The Soul Winner” and “Around The Wicket Gate.”

I have the popular manual, “Drawing The Net” by Buddy Murphrey.

I have “The Soul Winner’s Fire” by the late John R. Rice.

I have “Evangelism Explosion” by the late D. James Kennedy.

I have “How To Bring Men To Christ,” “Individual Soul Winning,” and “Personal Work” by R. A. Torrey.

I have “The Graham Formula” by Patrick McIntyre.

I have “Gentle Persuasion” by the late Joseph C. Aldrich.

I have “The Master Plan Of Evangelism” by Robert E. Coleman.

I have “Soul Winning Made Easy” by the late C. S. Lovett.

I have “Personal Evangelism” by J. C. Maucaulay.

 

The reason I bring all these publications to your attention is not for the purpose of boasting, but to point out that bringing the lost to Christ has been a central concern of my life for the thirty-five years that I have been a Christian, and to show you that I am familiar with “the lay of the land” insofar as the popular methods of reaching the lost are concerned. Related to reaching the lost with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is this matter of assurance of salvation, a subject I became more than casually interested in many years ago when a friend, an evangelist, quite casually made a comment about scriptural assurance of salvation that set my mind to work on the matter. This series of messages is the result of a process of thinking, reading, and studying the Bible that began almost thirty years ago.

Though even pastors I have talked to about the matter over the years seem to me to frequently confuse assurance of salvation with eternal security, the two are not the same. I will simply state, and not attempt to show, what seems to me to be so clearly taught in the Bible, that saints persevere in the faith, that the possibility of a genuinely born again believer in Jesus Christ completely and finally falling away from the faith so that he is no longer a partaker of the divine nature does not exist. The believer in Jesus Christ is eternally secure. Assurance of salvation is another matter altogether. That such notables who were famous in the twentieth century for their focus on the evangelism taught their followers to give assurance of salvation to those they had supposedly won to Christ shows that among the aggressively evangelistic Christians of recent times, assurance of salvation was not thought to be an automatic consequence of one’s salvation.

Allow me to explain: Understood correctly, eternal security is a doctrine that reflects an established Bible truth, that once established, a believer’s relationship with Christ is firmly dependent upon the very character of Christ and God, and is therefore unalterable. Though it does an injustice to the doctrine as it is presented in the Bible, eternal security has been frequently summarized by the phrase, “once saved always saved.” Quite separate from the fact of a Christian’s abiding relationship with Christ is the matter of the Christian’s assurance of salvation. Though I am in agreement with the prominent so-called soul-winning experts of the twentieth century in maintaining that conversion and assurance of salvation are separate and distinct, I am not in agreement with the prevailing notion popularized in soul winning tape sets and personal evangelism courses about how a new Christian should be given the assurance of his salvation.

So you will be familiar with the most prominent approach to soul winning and giving assurance of salvation in the last decades of the twentieth century, let me read to you the approach used by a man very well known in independent Baptist circles named Buddy Murphrey, in his book “Drawing The Net.” Before continuing, it is important to know that his book, and therefore his approach, was endorsed by John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Hyman Appleman, John Bisagno, Tom Malone, W. A. Criswell, R. G. Lee, J. Harold Smith, Freddie Gage, Oswald J. Smith who wrote the forward, and Lester Roloff, Jack Hyles, and Joe Boyd, to whom the book is dedicated. With this list of endorsements, it is safe to say that the approach used by Buddy Murphrey to give a person who just prayed the sinner’s prayer assurance of his salvation was the approach that dominated the twentieth century leaders in evangelism and personal soul winning.

Lesson 20 is the chapter titled “Drawing The Net,” and is devoted to the technique whereby the soul winner gets “the prospect to cross the line to salvation.[1] After leading the sinner through a twelve step approach that includes persuading him to grasp and then squeeze the soul winner’s hand while he prays, then thanking God for his decision, the author writes about giving assurance of salvation:

 

13. AFTER FINISHING YOUR PRAYER, LEAD HIM TO ASSURANCE FROM THE WORD.

 

NOTICE

This is the third time the sinner is brought to the place of exercising faith in Christ. If, perhaps, he failed to “believe” when he prayed and even when he took your hand, it is possible he will release his faith at this time. It is not wise to get up from the prayer meeting and say, “Now, John, you are a Christian.” We do not want to put words in his mouth and give him a false assurance. It has been my experience many times, that while leading the person into assurance through the Word, he actually exercised the initial faith unto salvation.

 

EXAMPLE:. “John, according to this verse (pointing to Revelation 3:20) where would you go if you were to die right now? (To heaven.) Why would you go to heaven? (Because Jesus came into my heart.) Well, John, how do you know that He came into your heart? (Because He said so right here.) In other words you are taking Christ at His promise today? You believe then that since you have opened your heart for Jesus, you are convinced that he has kept his promise and has come into your heart and saved you? (Yes.) Alright, John, tell me, who saved you? (Jesus did.) What did He save you from? (Sin and Hell.) That is right. And John, since Jesus has come into your heart today, what has He given you? (Eternal life.) That’s right, eternal life. If it is eternal, how long will you have it? (Forever.)”

 

“John. suppose that someone tomorrow would ask you, ‘John, are you a Christian?’ What would you say? (Yes.) Suppose they ask you when you became a Christian. What would you say? (Yesterday.) In other words you believe that right here today is the time at you have gotten it settled for men and eternity? (Yes.) You believe that today as been your day of salvation? (Yes.) John, this is what I would do if I were you I would take my Bible and write in the front cover today’s date. Put down, ‘June 19, 1969, at 3:40 P.M., in my living room.’ I would also write ‘Revelation 3:20, the promise that you claimed today. And John. jot another verse down there, “Hebrews 13:5,’ where Jesus says that He will never forsake nor leave us. If He came into your heart today, and He has promised never to leave you, then He is yours forever. If you are tempted to doubt your salvation later, you can come back to your Bible and open it to these two verses and stand on His precious promises.”[2]

 

The soul winner’s dealings with the supposed new Christian do not end here. The personal evangelist is next directed to persuade his subject to commit to “walking the aisle” the next Sunday morning at church and to make a public profession of faith. He offers to pick the new Christian up and drive him to Sunday School, to sit with him during in the church service, and then to offer to go forward with him during the invitation at the conclusion of the service.

Our focus this evening is assurance of salvation. I have shown you the most common approach to dealing with people about their assurance of salvation in the last half of the twentieth century, but we have not yet dealt with what assurance of salvation really is. You might have guessed, from my earlier comment that many pastors I know confuse eternal security with assurance of salvation, that many people do not really know what assurance of salvation really is. This is both surprising and sad. No one doubts that truly effective communication takes place only when the terms that are being used are clearly understood.

That might cause you to think assurance of salvation would be defined in the writings or instruction tapes produced the famous proponents of soul winning, but you would be mistaken. I cannot recall from the many hours of Jack Hyles’ tapes and Curtis Hutson’s tapes I have listened to a single instance of assurance of salvation being defined. Unfortunately, the same is true concerning all the books on evangelism in my library. I did find that in my four volume set of “Christian Dogmatics” by Lutheran scholar Francis Pieper, a very large section in the index devoted to “assurance,” as well as a large section in the index devoted to “certainty,” which Pieper treats as synonymous terms.[3]

As well, I found a section on “assurance” in Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology. Chafer writes, “assurance is a confidence that right relations exist between one’s self and God.” Chafer clearly distinguishes between assurance and eternal security in the very next sentence: “In this respect it is not to be confused with the doctrine of eternal security.”[4]

I found a third definition in the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms compiled by Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling: The doctrine that teaches the possibility of Christians’ (sic) knowing that they are truly children of God. The apostle John teaches that assurances comes both as a result of living an obedient Christian life (1 Jn 2:3-6) and through the abiding presence and inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 4:13).[5]

To recapitulate, we are now familiar with how those in the last half of the twentieth century, from Jack Hyles, John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, and Tom Malone among the independent Baptists, to W. A. Criswell, Freddie Gage, and Hyman Appleman among the Southern Baptists, as well as D. James Kennedy among the evangelistic and conservative Presbyterians, approached the matter of assurance of salvation. They sought to employ a set formula approach to win the lost to Christ, culminating in leading the sinner in some version of a “sinner’s prayer,” not unusually a prayer whereby the sinner would ask Jesus into his heart, followed by an effort to impart assurance of salvation to the “new Christian.” The meeting would conclude by seeking a commitment to attend Sunday School the following Sunday, and also to make a public profession of faith by “walking the aisle” during a public invitation after the Sunday morning sermon.

What I failed to learn from my investigation of the writings and tapes published by the strong and assertive proponents of soul winning was what the phrase “assurance of salvation” actually meant. A conservative Lutheran theologian of the first half of the twentieth century, Francis Pieper, likened assurance of salvation to certainty that one is in right relationship with God through Christ. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, defined assurance as confidence in 1948. The third definition was from a pocket theological dictionary published in 1999, a full fifty years without any apparent effort on the part of the most prominent soul winners in the fundamentalist and evangelical wing of North American Christianity. One can only guess that assurance of salvation was a concept that was so familiar from usage of the phrase that no saw fit to establish a working definition that was in any way different from Pieper’s or Chafer’s understanding of the concept.

Thus, I bring my initial consideration of assurance of salvation to a close with three conclusions: First, at least among the prominent independent Baptists and Southern Baptists who stood tall for personal evangelism in the twentieth century, assurance was seen to be something quite distinct from salvation, since their practice was to attempt to impart assurance after winning the sinner to Christ.

Second, though the Baptists and evangelistic Presbyterians I consulted did not define what they meant by assurance of salvation, a conservative Lutheran theologian and a conservative Presbyterian theologian, both writing before most of the prominent soul winners published their soul winning guidelines, defined assurance of salvation as certainty, as confidence of a right relationship with God.

Therefore, since the conservative Baptists and D. James Kennedy did not offer up their own definition of assurance of salvation, I can only assume they did not see assurance of salvation as being anything different from the Lutherans and the Presbyterians. Assurance, then, is a personal certainty, a personal confidence, if I may state it that way, that one has a real and saving relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, it is a feeling a person has, an opinion he holds, based upon his understanding that he has been saved from his sins and is now a Christian.

Finally, it seems to have been the universal practice by the aggressively evangelistic independent and Southern Baptists, as well as by some Presbyterians, as illustrated by D. James Kennedy (a Presbyterian), and such notables as Jack Hyles, John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Tom Malone, W. A. Criswell, Freddie Gage, Lester Roloff, and many others, that it was the soul winner’s responsibility to persuade the newly converted Christian of his assurance of salvation immediately after praying the “sinner’s prayer.”

I have been an independent Baptist for thirty-five years. I have never been any other kind of Baptist. That means, I am as familiar with the issue of assurance of salvation as most Baptist preachers are, and since it has been a topic of focused study, it may well be that I am more familiar with the topic than others are. Therefore, I feel that I am qualified by my familiarity with our movement and with this topic to say that even though independent Baptists have not felt it necessary or appropriate to define what they mean by assurance of salvation when they refer to it (at least not in their writings), and even though their practice has been to treat assurance as distinct from the salvation experience, I would suggest that independent Baptists will generally object to the definition of assurance put forth by the Lutheran, the Presbyterian, and the pocket theological dictionary, or at least what those definitions imply, and they will react against any professing Christian not having assurance of his or her salvation.

Lord willing, next Sunday night’s message will be a strong critique of the approach to assurance of salvation that has dominated the landscape for the last half century as being both unscriptural and dangerous to souls.



[1] Buddy Murphrey, Drawing The Net, (Corpus Christi, TX: Buddy Murphrey, 1969), pages 34.

[2] Ibid., pages 38-39.

[3] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Volume IV, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1957), pages 38-40, 87-90.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. VII, (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), page 21.

[5] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 17.



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