Protestant churches today are not what they used to be. And I think that it is partially because of our neglect of the great old hymns. They are simple, yet beautiful and full of meaning. These hymns were foundational to the great faith of Christians in the past. But much of today’s “contemporary Christian music” is little more than catchy, repetitious phrases of “loving Jesus,” etc. There’s nothing wrong with loving Jesus, but the question is, does this kind of music glorify God with its worldly, hypnotic and driving beat and its shallow content? There is not much substance to many of these contemporary songs, while the old hymns were filled with biblical doctrine. They didn’t just give you a good feeling, they taught deep scriptural principles.
The following link contains a very good article dealing with contemporary Christian music. The author rightly states, “Music is to worship God and not to get high on the beat.” See here:
One of my personal favorites of the great hymns is Blessed Assurance. Having been raised Catholic, I don’t ever remember this song being sung in the Catholic Church and I doubt if it ever will be. The Catholic Church, in general, tends to stay away from the topic of assurance of salvation. But you see, this old popular hymn is about biblical assurance. Now, there is a balance to this doctrine of assurance of salvation because it has unsound teachings on either side of it.
On the one hand, there is Calvinism, which often expresses what some would consider too much assurance, and on the other hand, there are some religions (including Catholicism), which tend to express too little assurance. The biblical teaching is somewhere in the middle.
But, to their credit, Catholics don’t believe in the hardcore Calvinistic “once saved, always saved” doctrine. And neither do many Protestants, including myself. I have a series of articles on this particular topic pointing out some of its errors, which can be seen here:
On the other hand, for biblical salvation, we don’t have to strain and sweat and work ourselves to death in hopes that we will gain enough “points” (good works) to make it into Heaven. Catholics will say that they don’t do this, but Catholic teachings lean heavily toward such a works-based salvation and therefore, a lack of biblical assurance.
And why would I say that a lack of assurance follows a “salvation of works”? The truth is that it is inevitable that a person who is trusting in his works to gain Heaven will, at some point in his life, wonder if he really has enough works. This question continually haunts the individual who bases his salvation on his good deeds. It seems that, at some point, he begins to realize that God requires PERFECTION (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10)! And none of us are perfect, so it is impossible to achieve Heaven through our good works, rituals or sacraments (Romans 4:4-5; Titus 3:5). The Bible tells us that our only hope is to trust in the Person of Jesus Christ and His work of suffering on the cross. You can’t substitute anything else for it, and you can’t add anything to the cross to “help” merit salvation. There are plenty articles on this blog that deal with the relationship between salvation and works, if anyone wants to do a simple topic search.
But concerning assurance, the Council of Trent, in its Sixth Session, Canon XVI states:
“If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.” See here:
Now, we would agree that a person today cannot have infallible certainty (only God has that). As for as absolute certainty, that could be debated, depending on your definition of “absolute.” But according to Scripture, we certainly can have a sufficient certainty:
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13 – Emphasis added)
The Amplified Bible is more emphatic and says:
“… so that you will know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have eternal life.”
But the Catholic Church calls this type of assurance “the sin of presumption.” The largest lay Catholic organization in the country, Catholic Answers, says this about presumption. They tell us that according to the Baltimore Catechism:
“Q. 1183. What is presumption?
A. Presumption is a rash expectation of salvation without making proper use of the necessary means to obtain it.”
And again, Catholic Answers tells us that this is how the old Catholic Encyclopedia defines the sin of presumption:
“It may be defined as the condition of a soul that, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of his sins without repenting of them.”
But I have a problem with both of these quotes. The Baltimore Catechism quote speaks of the “necessary means” of salvation. Well, to the Catholic, this includes faith (rightly so), but it also includes works, like baptism and other rituals/sacraments. But this is not biblical, as I stated earlier.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia quote speaks of doing something to deserve salvation. We Protestants believe in the repentance mentioned in this quote, but there is nothing we can do to deserve what Jesus did for us. This is because “… while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
Biblical assurance is not presumption. We simply must “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Furthermore, according to Roman Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott:
“The reason for the uncertainty of the state of grace lies in this that without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions which are necessary for the achieving of justification. The impossibility of the certainty of faith, however, by no means excludes a high moral certainty supported by the testimony of conscience.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 262) See here:
So according to this theologian, without a direct, supernatural revelation from God, no one can know with certainty whether or not “… he has fulfilled all the conditions” required for salvation. This, my friend, is enslavement. This is the haunting uncertainty of a works-based salvation that I just mentioned above. But not to fear! Let it be known that there is only ONE biblical condition for salvation – to believe (trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His work on the cross (Acts 16:30-31). This doesn’t mean that the person shouldn’t be baptized, or that he won’t do any other good works – but it does mean that he will not be trusting in these works for his salvation.
This is the reason why we can indeed have assurance that we are saved and will go to Heaven: It is dependent on HIS work, not ours.
Yes, it is possible that someone who is saved can fall away (again, see the links above on “once saved, always saved). But staying saved is about where you keep your trust - it is simply maintaining your trust and faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:3).
This type of faith is a true and living faith, i.e., one which will produce good works and a deep love for God. It is not a dead faith, nor is it a blind faith. It is a simple faith that honors God. It is the type of faith that God, Himself, has chosen to get His people into Heaven!
With this type of faith, the playing field is level. Every human has equal opportunity. It doesn’t depend on our strength, our wisdom, size, gender, physical state, finances or skill in life. We are all equal at the cross. Anyone and everyone can attain this free gift – if he wants it and is willing to surrender to God and to let God change his heart.
With this type of faith, you can indeed have that blessed assurance of which the great old hymn speaks.