Home > 1 John, Bible Study, Christian Authors, J. C. Ryle, quotes, S. Lewis Johnson, sanctification > The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson

The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson


In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 John series, here is a section I can especially relate to: study of one aspect of Christian living can lead the “tender conscience” to discouragement and doubting one’s salvation, if the teaching is not properly balanced. Indeed, the superficial teaching at a local church several years ago (including its approach to 1 John), with emphasis on external, outward religion and our good works as evidence of salvation, affected me in just this way. In-depth teaching is always the remedy for proper balance on this (and any) issue, and I still remember the impact to my understanding, when I first read similarly encouraging words a few years ago, in this excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness:

The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another — even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work — is our only title to Heaven. … For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

From Dr. Johnson’s 1 John series, a good analysis of the believer’s conscience, exposition of 1 John 2:12-14:

one can see that a person with a tender conscience might be tending to discouragement at this point because, if you feel as I do, and I don’t say that I have a tender conscience, but sometimes I have something like that, and when I read some of the statements of Scripture that say we know that we know him if we keep his commandments — I recognize that in my life there are many of those commandments that I have questions about whether I’m really keeping them.

And I’m not always sure that I’m always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I’m not walking in the light. We talked about that and how the Christian life is a sin-judged life, and that characteristic of the Christian life is the necessity of continual confession of sin. So I can understand that a person with a tender conscious might have problems, and then when this apostle says that, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now,” that really comes home because I must confess that I have had problems with some of my brethren, that is my professing brethren in Christ. And I have often had to get down upon my knees, and ask God to give me the strength to love, and the mind to love this brother or sister, as the case may be. So I can see that someone with a tenderer conscience than mine might have questions about his salvation.

He might really say, “I don’t think I’m keeping the commandments. I know I fail in loving my brothers and my sisters. Perhaps I’m not a Christian at all.” And so, I think that what John writes now is a kind of interlude in which he wants to encourage people like me, and maybe even more so, those whose consciences are even more tender than mine. I think, therefore, it’s very fitting that in this brief paragraph, this apostle of love, the elderly apostle, the last of the apostles still living — the apostolic age is drawing to its conclusion — assures the ones to whom he writes these very strong words of test, that he is confident of their faith and life.

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  1. Neil Schoch
    March 25, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Lynda!
    The fear of not measuring up to God’s standards in our Christian walk and therefore losing one’s salvation is a major issue with many believers especially in Churches were it is sadly and wrongfully taught that salvation can be lost.
    Sadly it has even led one believer I know to recently attempt to end his life and “get it over with.”
    Thankfully by sharing with him scripture passages like John 10:27-29 and many others his fears were settled and he had peace in his heart.
    “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
    To teach that salvation can be lost is to call our dear Lord a liar. Never perish means just that – never. Jesus took us from the “gutter most” and saved us to the “utter most,” praise be to his holy name.

    Yes, there are scriptures that sound like salvation can be lost, but understanding whom they were written to and for what purpose helps in understanding the truth of all scripture.

    Good works are still very important as Ephesians 2:10 tells us – saved by grace through faith for the purpose of fulfilling God’s plan for our lives, but never the loss of salvation.
    Romans 8:35-39 is another glorious assurance of the eternal security of the believer in Jesus Christ.

    Thanks for this post and may it bring assurance and peace to any doubting heart.

    • March 25, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Neil. Yes, as you said, in many churches the problem comes from the false teaching that people can lose their salvation; in other cases the idea that “what if I’m not one of the elect?” or just the fear of not measuring up. I recall S. Lewis Johnson humorously telling about different denominational groups, that one group is sure they have it (salvation) if they haven’t lost it, and another group knows they won’t lose it but they aren’t sure they have it. Spurgeon also had excellent words for the tender conscience, the timid and weak-faith individuals.

  2. March 25, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you Lynda for these valuable nuggets.

    • March 26, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks, bography. I’m glad that these quotes are helpful.

  3. March 26, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Romans 8:29-30 ESV
    29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

    “Foreknew” does not mean foreknowing that you – corrupt creature that you are/were – will choose Christ, but foreknowing you in the same way as in “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5).

    Believers will never lose their salvation because they will be glorified (granted eternal life). They will be glorified not because they will to be glorifed but because God wills it. According to Arminianism, it is the sinner’s will that predetermines/predestinates, him or her to salvation. It follows that if you can will youself to be saved, you should be able to will yourself to become unsaved – as many times as you will, until God pops you off, while hoping that your game of “I love Him, I love Him not” ends on the right option.

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