Assurance, A Second Work? Only For Some Believers?

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by David Shedlock, Sep 10, 2014.

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  1. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman
    Faith and Assurance by Joel Beeke | Reformed Theology Articles at

    I sure would like some clarity on the subject of assurance. Joel Beeke seems to be arguing in circles. First, he says in the video that having "full and absolute" assurance is like a sailboat going out in full gale that I am "free from the guilt of sin", have "great joy in my relationship with the Triune God" and a "wonderful liberation within, knowing that I belong to the family of God" He says you can know you have assurance by its fruits: close life of fellowship with God, childlike obedience, trusting and thirsting after God...anticipating revival...longing for the second advent of Christ....Christ-centered life". It is the "cream of faith" "something special". It gives us great peace with God".

    A quote by Puritan Thomas Brooks:

    All of this leaves me bewildered and with many questions. If assurance is a separate experience from faith, how is that different than Pentecostalism. the Methodist doctrine of Second Blessing, and Carnal Christian Theory? Even the Jehovah's Witnesses believe that there are two levels of Christians, those that make up the 144.000 are a different level.

    1. If assurance is obtained by self-examination, and yet results in a more mature Christian, how is this not arguing in circles?

    2. Is it that if "I walk closely with Christ, I live a life of obedience" therefore I can be assured I'm saved and it will make me "walk with closely Christ and I will live a life of obedience"
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2014
  2. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Much in every way! But before getting into details, perhaps you should ask yourself another question: can someone be a true Christian and yet doubt that they are saved? If you answer in the affirmative then surely you have admitted that assurance is, at least in some sense, distinct from saving faith.
  3. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't deny that a Christian can have doubts arising from a besetting sin, great trials or suffering.

    But Beeke and Brooks seem to teach that it is a distinct second experience, perhaps only open to some Christians. The circular reasoning as to "this experience" is what I question. If I obtain assurance by seeing certain fruit, and yet assurance causes certain fruit, that defines arguing in circles.
  4. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Faith is an instrument. By faith alone we are saved. Faith is also a gift.

    A homely analogy:

    I remember when I was young, an old-timer was watching me use a pick on hard ground. He said, "let the tool do the work."

    I thought hard on that and asked him, "how can the tool do the work--it just sits there on its own?"

    He said, "let the tool do the work, but you have to work the tool."

    Faith justifies, indeed. But we are creatures made to do things to the glory of God. That means we must apply the gifts given to us. When I first started walking, I had no assurance of staying upright. Through practice, assurance in walking became a given. I didn't have to look for it. I simply walk. Practice led to that assurance, but the fact that I was given by God innate abilities to balance and move my feet was required.

    So it can be with spiritual assurance. If we proclaim faith, it is time to get to the work God has set before us. We fail at every turn, ask him for forgiveness, praise him for his grace, and keep on going.

    I think, in sum, the more you focus and chase after assurance, the less likely you will experience it. Chase after God instead. Do the simple tasks he sets out before us. Read Scripture. Meditate on his Word. Pray without ceasing. Be diligent and true in your worldly affairs. At some point you may notice that you are assured because you have truly and deeply tasted the things of God in your daily life.
  5. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I generally agree with you, Mr. Bottomley. That is not how many see it. They tell us we have a duty to seek assurance. I do wonder, though, if what is missing is the fact that assurance is closely tied with faith. Most people, who experience salvation, who have had their sins forgiven, know it. I don't understand, especially the Brooks view, that it is a rare thing. To try and divide the trust (reliance) at conversion from one's experience as a believer causes doubt, not assuages it.

    It even leads to some dishonesty, I fear. Who (on the board, for example), wants to admit that they doubt if they are saved. My inclination to a doubter is to ask them questions about their faith, not their sanctification. True believers, would likely confess their sinfulness, not their righteousness. The hypocrite would be more likely to begin to list his or her improvements. I have been often told that I should use the example of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as an example. But that reads to me, the exact opposite. The Pharisee examined himself and found all kinds of reasons he was right with God. The tax collector saw only his sin and cried out for mercy.
  6. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Just to clarify, assurance in the reformed system is not a "second work." It grows up out of faith in conjunction with the graces of the Spirit. As with all graces of the Spirit, it must be stirred up, increased, and strengthened. See the Larger Catechism on sanctification, and compare with its teaching on assurance.
  7. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    Is Brooks view consistent with the reformed view, that is a rare mercy, too good for all but God's closest friends?
  8. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I take him to be speaking of "full" assurance.
  9. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    What's "full" assurance? That is why I think it is a "second work". Do you have it?

    I am confident God has saved me, not because I am looking at me, but because I am looking at Christ.
  10. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It is the fullest assurance a believer can have in this life amidst temptations and sins. A person that grows to a full man does not require a second work of creation.

    Does "saved" include "sanctified?" Or are you confining this confidence to the forensic aspects of salvation only?
  11. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    Reverend Winzer, I thought to 'testify' on my own personal experience but after reading the Larger Catechism, I decided it would be beside the point. I think what I'm seeing is that no matter what the believer's current state, past experience, he can trust in the Word as the exegesis of the Westminster Divines explains it ?
  12. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Senior


    There are few of us who never struggle with assurance at any point in our Christian lives.

    But assurance in some measure or degree ought more and more to characterize us, and as we walk with the Lord and exercise faith, as Brother Vic so beautifully put it, we will grow in such, not so much by directly aiming at it, but by reflecting upon it as we realize that we've made progress that we would never have made without the sanctifying grace of God in our lives.

    I think that in all its part the Confession puts it best, and what I cite here seems especially relevant to your question, David (WCF 18.3):

    "This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness."

    Bottom line: even infallible assurance is not some extraordinary thing for a few select Christians but something that "true believers" (though perhaps only after some time and after many difficulties) " the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto." Let no one who is contending for such fret that he does not have it, but let no one think that it is only for the "super-Christian," as there are not any (though there are those more sanctified than others, but never those who think themselves to be more sanctified than others).

  13. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I'll kindly ask again. Do you have it?

    As to your second question, yes, it includes sanctification. I am sanctified, am being sanctified and will be sanctified on the last day. I believe the promises to this fact.
  14. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I'll also reiterate my earlier question, perhaps making it more understandable. Does assurance cause "childlike obedience" or is it obtained by examining yourself and seeing such "childlike obedience"?
  15. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Jimmy, thank you for posting that portion of the WLC. It is always a help for those who wrestle with assurance.

    Well, I'll admit it. I have come to personify one aspect of my remaining sin that I'm aware of: I call him Doubtful the Accuser. I know him well--he is my own personal prosecutor.

    Right when things seem to be going well, the waters are stilled and I feel some aspect of comfort, the accuser starts speaking (not literally, but in my thoughts--for those who wonder if I hear voices--I do, but....nevermind) : "Do you really believe that? I didn't think so. Do you really think Christ saved you? Look at yourself and tell me you are righteous." Etc.

    It is an exercise of applied faith to recall Hebrews 4:14: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession."

    And then the answer is simple, despite the doubting indwelling voice of my sinful heart: "Yes, I believe what I profess. I hold fast, and by God's grace will always hold fast."

    The very fact that I can do that is an act of mercy and of grace on God's part, and I take it as a blessed and amazing fruit, worth more than any sort of wealth or comfort. And from that perspective, I don't see it as counting the good things in my favor, but rather, it is thanking God and even boasting of the remarkable work his Spirit brings about in a sinner who was as spiritually dead as Ezekiel's bones. And nobody else even sees it.

    Nevertheless, I am doing something: I'm holding fast, for dear life, gripping onto that anchor described, in Hebrews 6:19, the work, nature, and office our true High Priest :

    "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil...."
  16. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I don't see assurance causing childlike obedience. It would seem more like such obediece is one of "and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened" described in the answer to Q. 75 of the Larger Catechism. Discerning this obedience, by the power of the Spirit, may bear witness of one's status before God--which is part of what I think we call "assurance."
  17. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I would tell 'ol slew-foot (the accuser of the brethren) that Christ is righteous and that he has paid the penalty for all my sins. I would quote portions of Romans 8 to him:

    33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.

    34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

    35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
  18. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I think that is between me and my Lord.

    Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the believer. Assurance of that must require some reflection on Christian progress in terms of what 2 Peter 1 calls adding to faith.
  19. JOwen

    JOwen Puritan Board Junior

    I would suggest reading Dr. Beeke's lamanized PhD thesis, "The Quest for Full Assurance". In it, you will find that Goodwin and Owen, for instance, have a different methodological approach as to precisely how full assurance is attained. If you really what to know what Beeke teaches on the subject, which is thoroughly Puritan & Reformed, you will want to read this book. It can't be trivialized, especially when you live in circles, as I do (as does Dr. Beeke), where many struggle greatly with it. Assurance can be attained, lost, and then found again through many circumstances throughout the life of the believer. "This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith", ad Dr. Strange points out is key. It is not the essence of faith, that is, it is not the sum and substance of faith, but rather assurance is the ripest fruit of faith. From your comments David, it appears that you have missed some steps along the way in rightly understanding this doctrine. As Jonathan Edwards wrote to Ebeneezer Erskine in a letter, ""Faith is belief, in its general sense, of what God has revealed to us in the gospel. He has revealed to us that all who believe will be saved, and we must believe that on the ground of the gospel assertion: but He has not revealed to us in the gospel that I, Jonathan Edwards, of Northampton, shall be saved, and therefore that does not belong to the essence of faith. The essence of faith consists in receiving what God has revealed." I'll leave you with Anthony Burgess when he said by sin, "we often chase away our assurance; many times the people of God may walk without this comfortable persuasion", that is the evidence of felt assurance.
  20. Conner

    Conner Puritan Board Freshman

    I just finished Thomas Brooks book, "Heaven on Earth" (where this quote comes from). Brooks is completely in accord with both the reformed creeds and the scriptures. I don't think he is speaking of assurance as a second work of grace, but rather seeing that full infallible assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Check out perseverance of the saints in the canons of Dort, saving faith and assurance in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Ursinus' commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism "what is faith". How long were the Christians John wrote to in his first epistle saved before they read the words of 1 John 5:13? "I write these things to you who believe, so that you may know that you have eternal life"
  21. Conner

    Conner Puritan Board Freshman

    Assurance grows out of, and is increased by sanctification. In the same way, sanctification is increased by and grows out of assurance. I don't see anything circular about that.
  22. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I've never seen this word before and can't find it in any of my dictionaries. Google doesn't seem to yield a definition. What does it mean?
  23. JOwen

    JOwen Puritan Board Junior

    Sorry, Laymanized, "To make technical subjects understandable for non-technical people". Forgot the 'y'.
  24. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

  25. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    I find this quite awkward. When sharing the gospel through preaching or personal witness, am I supposed to say that if they trust in Christ, they will be saved or they might be saved? "Whosoever shall call upon the Lord shall be saved" or "might be saved"? "Whosoever believeth is saved or might be saved"?

    "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:" or is it we might be the children of God?
    "Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:" or is it might perform it?

    2 Timothy 1:12 - For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Isn't this for everybody, or just for Paul?

    John 5:24 - Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

    2 Timothy 4:8 - Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

    Philippians 1:6 - Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ:

    Ephesians 3:12 - In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

    Romans 5:1 - Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

    Isaiah 12:2 - Behold, God [is] my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH [is] my strength and [my] song; he also is become my salvation.

    Hebrews 6:19 - Which [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

    Should we listen to pastors, for example, who cannot even assert that they know God and believe on him?
  26. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    Since someone on their deathbeds has no time for reflection on their progress, they cannot have any comfort or confidence of their eternal state? If self-examination of one's own sanctification is the basis of assurance, how is that different than one who is self-righteous?
  27. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    Do you agree that "yet it is only obtained by a few"? I find Brook's comments reprehensible, and arrogant, that he consider himself one of God's "best and dearest friends"
  28. Conner

    Conner Puritan Board Freshman

    David, it doesn't seem that you have been considering any of the responses on this thread recommending resources for why full assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Check out the Westminster confession of faith chapters on saving faith and assurance. I think someone recommended Joel Beeke's work the quest for full assurance, that is a good place to start. Hey quick meditation on Psalm 77, Psalm 88, Psalm 130, and John 5:13 may also do the trick. One I would also like to read someday is Thomas Goodwin's "a child of light walking in darkness". See the Canons of Dort on perseverance of the saints as well.
  29. Conner

    Conner Puritan Board Freshman

    Sorry, I didn't see that last post. If you read the rest of the book you will see (I think) that Brooks maintains that assurance is available for every child of God. The universal testimony of all believers does show, however, that there are many who show strong evidence of being genuine believers, who yet can not seem to be assured of Gods love to them.
  30. David Shedlock

    David Shedlock Puritan Board Freshman

    "when you live in circles, as I do (as does Dr. Beeke), where many struggle greatly with it." Perhaps many struggle with it because of this teaching that assurance is only for a few.

    If Jonathan Edwards were right, no one could ever know that they are saved, because no one's name is written in the Bible.
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