Nothing But Certainty Will Do

The following is an excerpt from the work The Everlasting Righteousness by Horatius Bonar. Of this work, Charles Spurgeon said:

A rich book, suggestive, gracious, full of holy unction. Unlike many writers of the Evangelical school Dr. Bonar is not content with baling out milk for babes, but gives us real thought and teaching. There never was any need that orthodoxy and platitudes should go together, but they often have done so; no one can bring that charge in reference to this work. We say to all our friends, read and be refreshed.


What is God to me? This is the first question that rises up to an inquiring soul. And the second is like unto it,-What am I to God? On these two questions hang all religion, as well as all joy and life to the immortal spirit.

If God is for me, and I am for God, all is well. If God is not for me, and if I am not for God, all is ill (Rom 8:31). If He takes my side, and if I take His, there is nothing to fear, either in this world or in that which is to come. If He is not on my side, and if I am not on His, then what can I do but fear? Terror in such a case must be as natural and inevitable as in a burning house or a sinking vessel.

Or, if I do not know whether God is for me or not, I can have no rest. In a matter such as this, my soul seeks certainty, not uncertainty. I must know that God is for me, else I must remain in the sadness of unrest and terror. In so far as my actual safety is concerned, everything depends on God being for me; and in so far as my present peace is concerned, everything depends on my knowing that God is for me. Nothing can calm the tempest of my soul, save the knowledge that I am His, and that He is mine.

Our relationship to God is then to us the first question; and till this is settled, nothing else can be settled. It is the question of questions to us, in comparison of which all other personal questions are as moonshine. when the health of a beloved child is in danger; I seem for the time to lose sight of everything around me, wholly absorbed in the thought, Will he live, or will he die? I move about the house as one who sees nothing, hears nothing. I go to and I come from the sick-room incessantly, watching every symptom for the better or the worse. I eagerly inquire at the physician, Is there hope, or is there none? I am paralyzed in everything, and indifferent to the things which in other circumstances might interest me. What matters it to me whether it rains or shines, whether my garden-flowers are fading or flourishing, whether I am losing or making money, so long as I am uncertain whether that beloved child is to live or die? And if uncertainty as to my child’s health be so important to me, and so engrossing as to make me forget everything else; oh, what must be the engrossment attending the unsettled question of the life or death of my own immortal soul! I must know that my child is out of danger before I can rest; and I must know that my soul is out of danger before I can be quieted in spirit.Suspense in such a case is terrible; and, were our eyes fully open to the eternal peril, absolutely unendurable. Not to know whether we are out of danger, must be as fatal to peace of soul as the certainty of danger itself. Suspense as to temporal calamities has often in a night withered the fresh cheek of youth, and turned the golden hair to gray. And shall time’s uncertainties work such havoc with their transient terrors, and shall eternal uncertainties pass over us as the idle wind?

In the great things of eternity nothing but certainty will do; nothing but certainty can soothe our fears, or set us free to attend to the various questions of lesser moment which every hour brings up. The man who can continue to go about these lesser things, whilst uncertainty still hangs over his everlasting prospects, and the great question between his soul and God is still unsettled must be either sadly hardened or altogether wretched.

He who remains in this uncertainty remains a burdened and weary man. He who is contented with this uncertainty is contented with misery and danger. He who clings to this uncertainty as a right thing, can have no pretensions to the name of son, or child, or saint of God: for in that uncertainty is there any feature of resemblance to the son or the saint; anything of the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father; any likeness to the filial spirit of the beloved son of God?

He who resolves to remain in this uncertainty is a destroyer of his own soul; and he who tries to persuade others to remain in this uncertainty is a murderer of souls. He who does his best to make himself comfortable without the knowledge of his reconciliation and relationship to God, is a manifest unbeliever; and he who tries to induce others to be comfortable without this knowledge is something worse; if worse can be. That there are many among professing Christians who have not this knowledge, is a painful fact; that there are some who, instead of lamenting this, make their boast of it, is a fact more painful still; that there are even some who proclaim their own uncertainty in order to countenance others in it, is a fact the most painful of all.

Thus the questions about assurance resolve themselves into that of the knowledge of our relationship to God. To an Arminian, who denies election and the perseverance of the saints, the knowledge of our present reconciliation to God might bring with it no assurance of final salvation; for; according to him, we may be in reconciliation today, and out of it tomorrow; but to a Calvinist there can be no such separation. He who is once reconciled is reconciled for ever; and the knowledge of filial relationship just now is the assurance of eternal salvation. Indeed, apart from God’s electing love, there can be no such thing as assurance. It becomes an impossibility.

- Horatius Bonar