“Faith is the grace, and the only grace, whereby we are justified before God, by it we eat of the Tree of Life, (Jesus Christ) and live for ever.” (Edmund Calamy)
The above quote introduced “Evidence of Heaven,” the February 22nd daily meditation for Day by Day with the English Puritans. In typical Puritan fashion, the full title of the original work was: “Evidence for Heaven: Containing Infallible Signs and Real Demonstrations of our Union with Christ and Assurance of Salvation.” Day by Day listed Edmund Calamy as the author, and a Google search found a link to a digitized copy of the original work here. Evidence for Heaven was attributed to the Puritan preacher, but Calamy himself said its true author was an anonymous female member of his church.
While the author’s anonymity will seem odd to moderns, it was unusual for a ‘gentlewoman’ in 1657 to write and then publish something she wrote. As Clamay said in his introduction: “I hope no man will condemn this Book, because written by a Woman but rather admire the goodnesse, love, and power of God, who is able to do such great things, by such weak instruments.” He added that it was her “great desire” that her name be concealed. If anyone were to reap a spiritual advantage by reading it, “she hath obtained the height of her ambition.”
In the Preface, the author said it was her intention to “lay down some rules” by which a person that wants to have some assurance, or “Evidence for Heaven” can know that they have been chosen (predestined) to eternal life. They must seek it in Christ and in union with Christ, which is the only true touchstone we have to try ourselves. If they were to go to someone else or from person to person—like a bee goes from flower to flower—to find assurance of their salvation, the world would say: “We have heard of the fame thereof, but know not what it is.” Even God’s people would say, “We thirst after it, but know not where to find it.”
Her counsel was to go to Scripture: “it will tell thee in the Word.” She urged her readers to frequent the Word preached; to read the Word printed; to seek evidence in renewing grace; to seek it in the narrow way. “These are the paths wherein the flock of Christ have gone before us, and which they have trodden out unto us; follow their foot steps, if thou wouldest attain assurance.” And this search must be done diligently, orderly, humbly and perseveringly.
First is the need for diligence. As it says in 2 Peter 1:10, we are to be “all the more diligent” to confirm our calling and election. We should seek assurance as a treasure laid hidden deep in the bowels of Scripture. As Solomon taught us to strive for wisdom and understanding, we should: “seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4). We should labor for it as those who work in the silver-mines.
Second is the need for the right order; we must follow the vein. We must begin with the branches of regeneration and justification for they issue out of predestination, which is the root of salvation. When Jesus instructed Nicodemus about his spiritual estate, he did not send him to Heaven “to read the records of the celestial court.” Rather, he sent him to search his own heart and life—to consider whether he was regenerate and born again. If someone wants good evidence of the love of God and their own salvation, they must begin with the workings of God in and upon themselves.
That he that would get assurance of his Election, must seek it in the workings of God, in, and upon himself; he must consider, how his justification is evidenced by his sanctification, and his election by both. Sanctification is Gods work in us, justification is Gods work upon us, both together are certain pledges of his good will towards us
Third, the person who seeks assurance should do it humbly; with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Although it is possible for a child of God to know their estate, it is very difficult. A seeker of assurance must seek it with a holy fear and jealousy—humbly on their knees.
Fourthly, they must seek it perseveringly; never giving over until they have received. Never giving over until they find what they seek. They must follow the example of the Bride searching for her beloved (Song of Solomon 5:6f). They should persist like the Canaanite woman, who did not rest until she got her answer (Matthew 15:22-28). The Scripture exhorts all Christians to labor for assurance; to be diligent to confirm their calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).
They should make every effort to supplement their faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Assurance is a thing of incomparable worth, a thing which no man knoweth, but he that hath is, a thing that no man prizeth so much, as he that wants it; in a word, it is a thing of such incomparable worth, that a man cannot buy it at too deare a rate: Could a man but know its goodnesse, and taste its sweetnesse, he would think no labour too much to attain it, no sinne too sweet to part with for it, no sufferings too much to preserve it, no care and industry too much to increase it; for it is (indeed) next grace, the most precious and delectable love token, that we can possible receive from Jesus Christ the Bridegroom of our souls, in his bodily absence. And if this will not persuade thee, Reader, to seek after it, I leave thee to him to persuade, who persuaded Japhet to dwell in the tents of Shem; what God hath bin pleased to impart unto me on this Subject, I have committed to writing, more than this, I dare not do, for going out of my sphere, and lesse then this, I could not do, least I should be blamed of my Heavenly Father, for hiding my Talent in a napkin, and burying divine love in a dunghill; if ever this little draught of Evidence, which I penned for my own use, and hope to leave to my Children for theirs, should by any providence come abroad to publique view, my desire and hope is. That this little draught of Evidence may (through Gods Blessing) be helpful to some of Christ’s Lambs, to some poor souls, which thirst after assurance on Scriptures-grounds, and invite others of profounder judgments, and greater abilities, to search the Scriptures, by them to make discovery of the way to get this precious and invaluable Jewel of sound assurance.
There are still people today who struggle with doubt regarding their salvation. They would do well to spend time reading the thoughts of this anonymous gentlewoman, a member of the congregation of Alderman-bury. Our anonymous author suffered from an affliction for over thirty years that kept her, in great measure, from public and private spiritual helps which others enjoyed. And yet she could write of the assurance of salvation with confidence that speaks to us over 350 years after it was published.