“So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”” (Matt. 14:29-31)
“An inquirer into religion would find more understanding if he made these simple distinctions between faith and assurance. It is all too easy to confuse the two. Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.
Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press and touched the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25). Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers and saying, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
Faith is the penitent thief, crying, “Lord, remember me” (Luke 23:42). Assurance is Job, sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).
Faith is Peter’s drowning cry, as he began to sink: “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30.) Assurance is that same Peter declaring before the council in after times, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:11, 12).
Faith is the anxious, trembling voice: “Lord, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Assurance is the confident challenge: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. 8:33, 34). Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind and alone (Acts 9:11). Assurance is Paul, the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave, and saying, “I know whom I have believed. There is a crown laid up for me” (2 Tim. 1:12; 4:8).
Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can describe or realize the gulf between life and death? “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Eccl. 9:4). And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, weary, burdensome, joyless, smileless to the very end. Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigor, activity, energy, manliness, beauty.
It is not a question of “saved or not saved” that lies before us, but of “privilege or no privilege.” It is not a question of peace or no peace, but of great peace or little peace. It is not a question between the wanderers of this world and the school of Christ: it is one that belongs only to the school: it is between the first form and the last.
He that has faith does well. Happy should I be if I thought all readers of this message had it. Blessed, thrice blessed, are they that believe! They are safe. They are washed. They are justified. They are beyond the power of hell. Satan, with all his malice, shall never pluck them out of Christ’s hand. But he that has assurance does far better—sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more, has more days like those spoken of in Deuteronomy, even “the days of heaven upon the earth” (Deut. 11:21).”
– J.C. Ryle