Jeremiah W. Montgomery
Reviewed by: Douglas A. Felch
Walking Toward the Dawn: Finding Certainty in Our Christian Experience, by Jeremiah W. Montgomery. Banner of Truth, 2021. Paperback, 40 pages, $2.70. Reviewed by OP minister Douglas A. Felch.
In this pamphlet, OPC pastor Jeremiah Montgomery addresses the often vexing issue of assurance of salvation. Having walked the “valley of the shadow of doubt” for more than twenty-five years, his purpose is to share the “light of dawn” (Prov. 4:18).
Citing WCF 18.1–4, Montgomery affirms that while assurance is not of the essence of faith, it is still possible to attain it through the ordinary means of grace. Those who truly believe in the Lord, sincerely love him, and who seek to walk in good conscience (that is, exhibit faith, love, and life) can have certainty they are in the state of grace. This is reinforced by the promises of salvation, inward evidences of grace, and the testimony of the Spirit that we are God’s children. Since the ground of our assurance is both theological and experiential, Montgomery organizes his discussion around five theological truths and then three practical steps.
The five theological truths are:
1. The Faithfulness of God. The suspicion that God cannot be trusted lies at the root of all human problems. However, God is not a tyrant who must be appeased in order for him to love us. All God is, says, and does can be trusted now and forever.
2. The Triumph of Jesus. Jesus’s obedience has two sides: In his active obedience he completely obeyed God’s law. In his passive obedience he endured the full penalty for our sin. Consequently, our sins are placed on him, and his righteousness is placed on us. Understanding this dual obedience undergirds assurance. “The gospel is not just that Jesus paid for me, but that he also obeyed for me” (14).
3. The Promise of Life. While the gospel does not promise universal salvation, it is a universal promise to all. Even when refused, the gift is real. The free offer of the gospel, by its very nature, is promise to me.
4. Believing God. To believe a promise is to take hold of the person who made it. Though we cannot presently take hold of Christ’s physical person, we can take hold of his word of promise. “Christian faith receives Christ as God’s gift to me“ (20). This gives us access not only to his salvation, but his smile.
5. Our Strong Branch. Faith is not a work and believing is not achieving. Faith is not my persuading Jesus to keep his promises. “Faith is believing Jesus will keep his promises to me” (22). Faith finds all its hope in its object. It is not how well you believe but whom you trust that saves.
The three practical steps are:
1. Proving Faith Lives. Since God commands us to believe right now, the first practical step is to prove faith’s reality by its exercise. Instead of endlessly examining our faith, we should practice it. Begin with prayer, whose sincere exercise demonstrates the presence of true faith.
2. Proving Your Heart. Romans 8:10 tells us that though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. This means that if we truly desire God, we are clearly not hostile to God and Christ is in us. We are no longer natural but supernatural. The second step to overcoming doubt is to prove our sincerity by examining our desires.
3. Proving the Reality by the Remedy. Since Christ died to rescue us even from unbelief we should “use doubt . . . to destroy doubt” (30). We are not to obsess about doubt or fear, we are to confess it. This draws us to Christ. To call on Jesus is to believe in him, to believe in him is to come to him, and to come to him is to belong to him forever.
In his conclusion, “In the Hands of Jesus,” Montgomery admits that despite these steps doubt may persist, and he directs us to Jesus. His active obedience and perfect faith are imputed to us. Therefore, just as Jesus commended his spirit into the hands of the Father, so also, we can commend our spirit and imperfect faith into the hands of Jesus. “With these words, I take his promises as my resting place, put my heart in his hands, and walk toward the dawn of spiritual certainty” (35).
This brief overview does not do justice to this thoughtful and comforting booklet. It is an excellent contribution to those who lack assurance of faith. Its concise treatment of the subject, coupled with its modest price, make it a useful and affordable resource for any individual, library, or church book table.
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