Call it “melancholy”, call it spiritual depression, call it excessively introspective, Bible-believing Christians have always recognized the category of the tenderhearted soul. This is the true believer who is nonetheless overly anxious, almost obsessive, about his spiritual state. Everybody around him will quickly identify him as a godly Christian, but for whatever reason, he can’t see it. Often he lives in constant fear that he is among the self-deceived to whom Jesus will one day say, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23). In the curious providence of God, I have several individuals in my congregation who fit this description. And on not a few occasions, I have found myself in this category.
Now in helping such persons enjoy assurance of salvation, it is necessary to be as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. Conventional counsel encouraging believers to look for fruit of the Spirit in their lives rarely helps since tenderhearted souls are often more attuned to their insincere motives than most Christians. And since even our best works are tainted with insincere motives, this approach can easily make things worse. It can plunge the melancholic believer into a painful whirlpool of endless self-examination and despair.
If you are a pastor, almost certainly you have at least a few individuals in your congregation who fit this description. So as you prepare to shepherd your tenderhearted souls through their struggles with assurance, let me recommend a few resources. Books, articles, and lectures on assurance of salvation are legion, but here are a few that I’ve found particularly helpful in this area:
- “The Assurance of Faith”, essay by Peter Jensen (a must read for everybody, especially misguided souls seeking assurance in an experience)
- “The Pastoral Heart of the Reformation” and “Knowing God: The Importance of Grace”, lectures by Carl Trueman (rely heavily on Luther’s theology of knowing a gracious God)
- Don Carson on Assurance, a collection of resources complied by Andy Naselli (what could I say to commend Carson?)
- “Thoughts on The Assurance of Faith”, essay by Augustus Toplady (Toplady was an instrumental preacher in the Great Awakening; this is short but speaks powerfully to those excessively concerned with the strength of their faith)
- Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney (a little book the Lord used profoundly in my own life to help me biblically evaluate the state of my soul)
- The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (a wonderful spiritual tonic for the weak, doubting Christian)
- The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Theses IX, XI, XVII, and XXII, by C.F.W. Walther (the author is a conservative, confessional Lutheran, so his understanding of regeneration is somewhat different, but he has some really helpful things to say to those of us who are overly introspective and subjective)
- Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander (especially helpful for ministering to those with chronic “melancholy” or spiritual depression)
I’d be interested in your experiences. Would any of you describe yourselves as tenderhearted souls? If so, what have you found helpful for enjoying assurance of salvation?
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.