Some people never ask this question, it doesn’t really occur to them. Others feel they never should ask it, though the inclination exists. Still others never get beyond only asking themselves this question. They don’t get to an answer that satisfies. Contrary to the opinions of many, it is both biblical and helpful to ask this question (2 Corinthians 13:5). But only if we arrive at biblical answers.
One person who asked themselves this question carefully in various ways was James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In fact he addresses 20 different doubts he has about his spiritual state. They are along the lines of: “If I really am a Christian then why do/don’t I…?” He also answers each concern fully to his satisfaction. After this, he gives 27 evidences of true conversion in the soul. It is extremely helpful to read the careful, spiritual way in which Fraser handles these problems. The questions and answers were recently published by the Banner of Truth in a pocket book called Am I a Christian? There is a special offer for this valuable book at the bottom of this post.
Fraser came from the Black Isle, Ross-shire and was ordained during the times of persecution. He refused to appear before the Privy Council when to answer for “illegal” preaching. Eventually captured he was sentenced to imprisonment on the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. Along with many others he suffered much in those fearful conditions. He was imprisoned at a later period in Blackness Castle but survived the times of persecution. His autobiography gives an interesting account of his life and spiritual experience. The questions and answers were written down in it for his own benefit.
Some of Fraser’s questions and answers are included in an updated form below.
1. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Compassion for the Unconverted?
I lack compassion and a deep apprehension for the lamentable condition of the souls of my unconverted relations and my ignorant, godless, nominal, neighbours . Does it not lie heavy on my spirit? Do I therefore believe a hell or heaven or that the ignorant or unconverted shall go to hell?
(a) I confess there is great lack of compassion, faith, and seriousness in this and that there is great deadness. “Lord help it”. We believe, love and prophesy in part only (1 Corinthians 13:9).
(b) I mourn over this and this deadness is loathsome and hateful to me.
(c) I am helped through occasional views of their condition to have my sorrow stirred and to be earnest with the Lord for them. I also pour out tears and sighs of grief for them and find my compassion stirred in a felt way.
2. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Delight in Spiritual Duties?
There is a constant indisposition of spirit to all kinds of duties. There is unwillingness to enter into them. I am wearied and without heart in them and glad when they are finished. Thus, I fear there is not a new nature which delights in the Law of God.
(a) There is an unregenerate part in every believer, which is continually opposite to that which is good as well as a regenerate part. This unwillingness comes from the unregenerate part, in which no good thing dwells (Romans 7:8). It should not make us question our state any more than whether a body of death exists (Romans 7:24).
(b) I find something in me that mourns under this. There is something which esteems, approves, and sees a glory and delight in the law of the Lord (Romans 7:22). “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)
(c) I am not so much wearied of the duty (which I love) therefore but rather of my own evil heart in the duty. A loving son who has a sore foot is willing to run his father’s errand and glad to be employed, yet the sore foot makes the journey a burden; there is a thorn in the flesh. An unsound heart’s opposition is to the duty itself; hypocrites do not love every duty.
3. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not see more Spiritual Growth?
I do not seem to grow, see rapid growth or advance in the work of grace, things just seem always to be the same.
(a) There may be growth in grace that does not always appear in an obvious way. It grows as a seed of corn, and a man knows not how (Mark 4:27). It comes “not with observation” (Luke 17:20).
(b) Despite remaining evils, I find a remarkable growth; not in the size of grace but in its nature and purity. There is not so much of it but it is better now. I do things more with the gospel in view that I did before and with purer aims. I grow downward even if not upward.
(c) I have found growth in faith, love, patience, humility. There is growth in dying to the world, myself, self-righteousness and living unto God. This is so even if there is no growth in what I have resolved.
(d) It is expedient, if no necessary to pull down a certain kind of righteousness. Thus a man will find himself worse than before until the righteousness of God is set up.
4. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I full of Spiritual Pride?
My spiritual pride streams through all my actions – even my most spiritual. I find that I resolve to be holy so as to get esteem, not so much from men but from conscience. I mourn for sin as a weakness, and as contrary to my design and resolutions. Although I find that my duties are not sufficient to save me and I must flee to another, yet my heart secretly wishes that it were otherwise and life was possible through my own works. This makes me secretly desire and endeavour to do something on earth that might be a part of my crown in heaven. I found myself despising the glory revealed in heaven if freely given and not merited in any way. This makes me question whether I was ever dead to the law or not.
(a) I satisfy myself with this. Just as I find a spirit of self and pride acting, so I find a spirit of humility loathing myself for my pride. I also find a secret contentment in breaking my resolutions even when they were good, because in this way self was debased and the counsel of the Lord made to stand. Indeed, I find “I rejoice in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I love heaven better, because it is the purchase of Christ’s blood and the fruit of free grace.
(b) “Self will be in every action. This body of death will manifest itself thus, as well as any other way” (Thomas Shepherd).
5. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I so Spiritually Unstable?
I find such instability in my heart and ways, such uneven steps between the Lord and my idols, that I fear my whole heart is not come to the Lord; I am not His alone. O for a single heart, a united heart, a wedded heart! But, mine is divided between the Lord and idols. Sometimes I delight in the Lord and sometimes in my idols and worldly contentment. “They served the Lord, and they served their idols” (2 Kings 17:33).
(a) No man ever closed so fully with Christ or had such wedded love without being inclined to idols because of the unregenerate part. Our union of faith and love is imperfect as well as any other grace; the unregenerate carnal part cries still out for its lovers. In heaven our affections shall be wholly for the Lord.
(b) The renewed part is for the Lord wholly and only and does not consent to what the flesh does. It is led captive, sighs under the bondage and cries out against its own whoring heart. The name is taken from the better part. “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:20). Unrenewed men are content to divide their affections but they neither loathe nor abhor them- selves.
(c) I find the Lord’s work growing stronger and stronger in my soul.
Special Offer: Buy Your Own Copy of Am I A Christian?
Fraser’s book is published by the Banner of Truth in their Pocket Puritans series. It is 81 pages and in small format that can fit into most pockets. A special 10% offer is available from James Dickson Books (usual price £2.95 – RRP £3.25). This special discount is available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. Purchase here (enter the code after adding the book to the cart). Email info [at] jamesdicksonbooks.com if you experience any difficulties.
The book contains a biographical note as well as the selection from the “Memoirs” of James Fraser of Brea.