Assurance of salvation not of the essence of faith?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by InSlaveryToChrist, Jan 2, 2012.

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  1. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    I recently came across an objection against Limited Atonement which goes like this:

    "If Christ only died for the elect, then does not the person, who is to believe what Christ did, have to simultaneously know that he is one of the elect? Isn't the implication, then, that assurance of salvation is of the essence of faith?"

    Please, help me out.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2012
  2. BobVigneault

    BobVigneault Bawberator

    Samuel, did you ask that correctly? Did the quote really begin with the premise "IF Christ died for SOME ELECT..."?
  3. Stargazer65

    Stargazer65 Puritan Board Freshman

    They are speaking nonsense Samuel. Assurance is the crown of faith, not the essence. You are never told in the bible to find out if you are one the elect or not before you get saved. You are commanded to obey the gospel, assurance comes after you believe the gospel, and come to understand it as the scripture teaches us. Read what the confession has to say about assurance.
  4. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    What difference does it make anyway? But since you asked, yes, it did.

    ---------- Post added at 12:16 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:10 PM ----------

    I know what the Confessions teach concerning saving faith and assurance, but that doesn't answer to the objection that challenges the logic of Limited Atonement. In Universal Atonement one can immediately have faith that Christ died for YOU (although it doesn't save in and of itself, so that actually is not assurance of salvation, but only assurance that Christ has done His part for your salvation -- now the ball is yours), but in Limited Atonement one only believes that Christ died for the elect. The question then becomes: How do you know YOU'RE one of the elect, isn't that assurance of salvation? And then the implication is drawn: In Limited Atonement, one needs assurance of salvation to believe in Christ.
  5. Herald

    Herald Administrator Staff Member

    Samuel, first, Bob was questioning the veracity of a quote that either A) displayed its ignorance of election ~or~ B) was worded incorrectly. There is no such thing as "some elect" when referring to the scope of the atonement.

    If you do understand the confession, as you state, then you will readily agree that there are times when a believer's assurance will be weak. Sin has a way of eroding assurance. Repentence and obedience to the Word of God increase assurance as the Christian rests in God's promises. Universal atonement, which sparked Finneyism and easy believism, offers a false assurance that is not based on the work of Christ, but on the individuals decision to believe.

    sent from my Toshiba Thrive
  6. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    This is the kind of problem that I addressed in the post about "sufficient for all" and the discussion on limited atonement.

    Your trying to reason this out rather than yielding to revelation: God, in His word, invites us. If you've heard that invitation and come, you can know, of a certainty, "him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." This is not contrary to the Reformed confessions but is what they teach. Don't get quite in a rationalistic bind.

    Jesus says, "Come unto me, all ye weary and heavy laden." Is that you, are you weary and heavy laden? Look over that magnificent gospel hymn ("Come Ye Sinners"):Trinity Hymnal. Notice the stanza, " Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream; All the fitness he requireth
    Is to feel your need of him."

    Assurance comes when and as we come to Christ and rest and trust in Him. Assurance does not precede the exercise of faith but follows it. We can be in the exercise of faith and lack assurance, certainly full assurance. We may wait long for it, in fact. Assurance only comes, however, when and as it comes, upon the exercise of faith.

    Our understanding that we are the elect is inferential not direct. We are not given direct knowledge of election (e.g., shown our names in the Lamb's Book of Life). So how do I know that I am elect? Because the Lord has drawn me to Him, and I rest and trust in Him alone. And my faith evidences itself, quite imperfectly, to be sure, but there is life there that would not otherwise be there.

    Dear brother Samuel, look to Christ, wait upon Christ, seek Christ and as you do these problems will clear themselves up. I well remember struggling with this issue as a young Calvinist, spending whole nights awake wondering if I was elect. I finally came to see, as Bonar said, that for every look at myself, I needed to take ten looks at Christ and that being a Christian meant that He did it all and that all my doing was from a life hidden in Christ. Truth be told, it was the teaching of Dick Gaffin on the objective work of Christ (historia salutis) that brought me out of my theological navel-gazing.

    Be encouraged, brother!

  7. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    In Limited Atonement, you also believe that he died for "whosoever will". Limited Atonement explains the backdrop of how it works from God's perspective. But, in the Gospel Call (ie. from our perspective), we believe that it is for "whosoever will believe". And so, we are invited to believe with assurance that the good news is for us. In doing so, we do not have to agree with Unlimited Atonement. Our focus is outward, not inward. It is outward, having certainty towards his promises that they are for whosoever will, not inward, with certainty towards our election. We are believing with a measure of certainty that He is gracious to us in Christ. We are not first believing in our election.

  8. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    Minister Alan,
    I'm not struggling with whether I'm elect or not. Deep inside I have assurance that Christ is for me. My problem is simply to understand what exactly one believes when he believes the Gospel.
  9. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    Isn't "whosoever believes" the same as "whosoever is elect"? There has to be a look inward to see whether one actually believes, THEN you can be assured that Christ has died for you, a believer.
  10. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    I never said anything about whether you see yourself as elect or not. My whole post had to do with the question that you raised in the OP about the assurance of faith.

    You have, on this Board, in the short time that I have been on, lamented (several times) about what you refer to as "conscious sinning," and have confessed a lack of assurance. Here is November 13, 2011: "I think that the reason I often fall from God's lovely presence back to sin is that I, without even noticing it, start focusing on myself and lose hope of my salvation." That speaks to a lack of assurance and that is exactly what I was addressing.

    The purpose of my comment was merely to encourage you and to help point you away from self to Christ, the real source of our comfort and assurance. I don't mean so much to bring you up short, but I do think that you should take my encouragement and not think that I have somehow misunderstood you.

  11. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    I understand I have to look to Christ alone for my salvation, but that doesn't help me at all in explaining the dilemma I've presented. When there are conditions set before the Gospel (whosoever will, thirsts, believes, is heavy laden, etc.) they must be met before one can receive the Gospel. You must look inward to see if you will, or thirst, or believe, or are heavy laden. That makes the Gospel dependent on the believer's own observations. That is the problem I'm trying to solve.

    Ps. Alan, I appreciate your encouragement, nonetheless!

    ---------- Post added at 02:16 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:07 PM ----------

    Oh, yes, I worded it incorrectly! I'll correct the sentence!
  12. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    It is true that only the elect will believe, but knowlege of election is not where we're commanded to focus. Yes, we must look inward to discern if we truly believe, but that does mean we doubt God's mercy towards man in Christ in the process. We must be careful to not place the cart before the horse. You have to have a fact exist before you can believe in that fact. The fact is: that God is merciful to man in Christ. He is the "city of refuge" prefigured in the Old Testament land. When you run to that city, you are safe. And so, when you abandon all other refuges for your sin problem, and flee to this one as your only solution, you can be sure that you are safe and secure. Faith is simply believing that God is merciful to you in Christ. How do you know that you have truly believed? True belief is when you rest in this promise alone of His mercy towards you in Christ, to satisfy your conscience. True belief may be weak or strong. False belief is when you have such trepidation about resting in his promise alone, that you maintain a mixture of works with your faith to satisfy your conscience.

  13. crimsonleaf

    crimsonleaf Puritan Board Freshman

    I apologise if I judge this post (and by implication, you) without knowing you, as I'm new here. However, this looks like a classic case of over-thinking. It's said that if one is concerned about his or her salvation then one is almost certainly saved, the obvious conclusion being that the unsaved couldn't care less. The question of salvation requires little self-examination, but one's own belief regarding Christ is really the only guide - if one believes, one is saved.

    On the question of continuing conscious sinning it's perfectly natural (no pun intended) to continue to sin. In fact, the increasing awareness and discomfort regarding one's own sin is a sure sign of the Spirit's indwelling. The propensity to sin is inborn. The desire to stop sinning is imputed.

    I hope I haven't got the wrong end of the stick, and apologise if so.
  14. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    I accept your apologies, because that is totally out of context. You didn't quite answer to my objection, bolded above.

    ---------- Post added at 02:45 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:41 PM ----------

    This is more like what I'm looking for.
  15. ladodgers6

    ladodgers6 Puritan Board Freshman

    "God justifies the wicked" Romans 4:5.Justification by Faith Alone in Christ Alone.We are saved through faith in Christ.The basis or ground of our salvation lies only in Christ,and we receive what Christ accomplished by His Active and Passive Obedience that merited perfect righteousness of fulfilling all God's requirements of the Law.Through faith not on the basis of Faith we are accounted as righteous in Christ.Christ's righteousness is now imputed to sinners through faith.Faith itself is not righteous.Faith takes hold of what saves,namely Christ.Christ's death on the Cross propitiates God's wrath against His elect,and by Christ perfect obedience applies all blessings to believers through Faith in the promise of Gospel.
  16. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    It is undisputed that we're saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. My objection had to do with the idea that we're saved by faith that is alone (what Martin Luther also was against). But unlike Luther I'm not talking about good works here but assurance of salvation. The question was if assurance of salvation is of the essence of faith, to which the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism explicitly state, "This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith," and "Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith." I've observed myself that the Bible does make a distinction between faith and assurance of salvation (often called "hope" in the Bible):

    "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:2)

    “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

    "Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly," (2 Cor. 10:15)

    "For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness (literally: "hope for righteousness") by faith." (Gal. 5:5)

    "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;" (Col. 1:23)

    "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;" (1 Thess. 1:3)

    "But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." (1 Thess. 5:8)

    "Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21)
  17. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    I think we must be careful to not confuse hope and assurance either. They are two distinct things. Hope is the object with which we are assured about. Hence, Christ and the imputed righteousness which he provides us is our hope. Assurance is our confidence in that hope, in that promise that we are safe in him, under the covering of that righteousness.

    When studying the Confession's explanation of assurance, we must remember that it is speaking of a more full assurance, an "infallible assurance", an assurance that also contains a subjective aspect to it, which Calvin and the early Reformers perhaps alluded to, but didn't emphasize. Berkhof and Beeke both have good books on the history of this available. The connection can be made that this inward, subjective assurance was not meant to fix our eyes internally in hopes of a peaceful conscience, but rather to serve to further directs our eyes outward to Christ for an increased confidence in his promises, and to steady our conscience on that. This subjective assurance is to serve objective assurance which is of the essence of faith, which Calvin emphasized, and is a sort of secondary grounds of assurance meant to futher secure our footing on the primary grounds. See Berkhof's Assurance of Faith which can be found here for $5.00: SGCB | THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH:: The Firm Foundation of Christian Hope

    Here are a few excerpts:

    “It was one of the great mistakes of the Pietism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that, in seeking the assurance of faith, or of salvation, it divorced itself too much from the word of God. The basis of assurance was sought, not in the objective promises of the gospel, but in the subjective experience of believers. The knowledge of the experiences that were made the touch-stone of faith, was not gathered from the word of God, but was obtained by an inductive study of the subjective states and affections of believers. In many cases these were not even put to the test of Scripture, so that the true was not always distinguished from the counterfeit. Moreover, there were unwarranted generalizations. Individual experiences and experiences of a very dubious character were often made normative, were set forth as the necessary marks of true faith.

    The result was that they who were concerned about the welfare of their soul turned attention to themselves rather than to the word of God, and spent their life in morbid introspection. It is no wonder that this method did not promote the assurance of faith that fills the heart with heavenly joy, but rather engendered doubt and uncertainty and caused the soul to grope about in a labyrinth of anxious questionings, without an Ariadne-thread to lead it out. This method made seeking assurance by looking within rather than by looking without, to Jesus Christ as he is presented in Scripture, and made the experiences of others, especially those who are regarded as ‘oaks of righteousness’ normative..."

    "...The direct act of faith undoubtedly involves an element of assurance. This assurance may be implicit rather than explicit in the first act of faith, may not at once reach the level of clear consciousness, and may for a long time be a matter of instinctive feeling rather than of positive knowledge; yet it is destined to grow, and its growth will be commensurate with the measure of faith. The more faith shines in its splendor, the more radiant will be the light it reflects upon itself. He who really believes with a true and living faith will also know that he believes, and will be ready to affirm that he believes, even though he should at times be prompted to add the prayer, “help thou my unbelief.” This does not mean, however, that he will always be clearly aware of the security, the safety, and the joy that is involved in this assurance."

    "But though there is an assurance that is of the essence of faith, it cannot be said that all assurance of salvation is necessarily involved in faith. Thus the Reformers were led into a discussion of the nature and the grounds of Christian certitude. They claimed that the assurance possible was of the highest and most perfect description, a certainty like that with which men believe the plainly revealed truths of Scripture; that it was necessarily involved in justifying faith, was its distinguishing characteristic, and in fact belonged to its very essence. He [Calvin] evidently intends to teach that, though faith contains and always retains the element of assurance, the believer does not always so exercise faith that he is constantly free from doubts and perplexities. In other words, that the sense, the feeling of assurance, increases and decreases with the rise and decline of faith."

    "The Westminster Confession apparently sounds a different note, when it says: “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 a partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things that are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto.” Presbyterian divines generally interpret this to mean that, though faith carries with it a certainty respecting the truth of the promises of salvation in Christ, it does not include what is usually called “the assurance of salvation,” or “the assurance of hope,” i.e. the personal assurance of being in a state of grace, of having a saving interest in Jesus Christ, and of being an heir of everlasting life. But it is possible to put a different interpretation on the words of the Confession, as was done by the Marrow-men, who were accused in 1720 of teaching contrary to the doctrine of the Confession that assurance is of the essence of faith. It should be noted that the Confession speaks of a complex assurance, resting in part on the promises of God, and in part on the evidence of the inward graces wrought in the life of believers and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It calls this the “infallible (full) assurance of faith,” and asserts that this is not necessarily enjoyed by believers from the very moment that they accept Christ by faith. So understood the teaching of the Confession does not materially differ from that of the Reformers and of the other great Protestant Confessions, though there is undoubtedly a difference of emphasis."

    See also this article by Joel Beeke:

    Last edited: Jan 8, 2012
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member



    a. The Promises of God

    IT WAS one of the great mistakes of the Pietism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that, in seeking the assurance of faith, or of salvation, it divorced itself too much from the Word of God. The basis of assurance was sought, not in the objective promises of the Gospel, but in the subjective experiences of believers. The knowledge of the experiences that were made the touch-stone of faith, was not gathered from the Word of God, but was obtained by an inductive study of the subjective states and affections of believers. In many cases these were not even put to the test of Scripture, so that the true was not always distinguished from the counterfeit. Moreover, there were unwarranted generalizations. Individual experiences and experiences of a very dubious character were often made normative, were set forth as the necessary marks of true faith. The result was that they who were concerned about the welfare of their soul turned attention to themselves rather than to the Word of God, and spent their life in morbid introspection. It is no wonder that this method did not promote the assurance of faith that fills the heart with heavenly joy, but rather engendered doubt and uncertainty and caused the soul to grope about in a labyrinth of anxious questionings, without an Ariadne-thread to lead it out. This method of seeking assurance by looking within rather than by looking without, to Jesus Christ as He is presented in Scripture, and by making the experiences of others, especially of those who are regarded as “oaks of righteousness” normative, has not yet been abandoned entirely in our own circles. Yet it is a most disappointing one. Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience quotes the narrative of a certain R—— C——, who makes the following pertinent statement: “I had spent much time in reading accounts of Christian experience, and those which lay down the marks and evidences of true religion, such as Owen on Spiritual-Mindedness, Edwards on The Affections, Guthrie’s Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ, Newton’s Letters, Pike and Hayward’s Cases of Conscience, etc. I also conversed much with old and experienced Christians, as well as with those of my own age. But all these having, as it seemed to me, very little facilitated my progress, and the evils of my heart seeming rather to increase, I hastily resolved to lay aside all books except the Bible, and to devote my whole time to prayer and reading until I experienced a favourable change.” The sequel shows that he did not make that trial in vain; by the study of God’s Word and prayer he was led into light.

    The experience of R—— C—— points the way. If we would have the assurance of faith, the first great requisite is that we make a diligent study of the Bible, and more particularly of the glorious promises of forgiveness and salvation. After all it is only in the Word of God and in the living Christ, as He is mirrored in the Word, that we find the objective basis for the assurance of grace and perseverance to the end. The free promises of God are the foundation of our faith, and it is only on the strength of these that we place our trust in Christ as our Saviour. These promises are absolutely reliable and have their confirmation in Jesus Christ. “For how many so-ever be the promises of God, in him is the yea; wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.” 2 Cor. 1:20. Desiring to give the heirs of salvation full assurance in this respect, God even confirmed his promise by an oath, “that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Heb. 6:18. A real conviction of the truth of the promises inspires trust, and trust confidence, and these, in turn, are the sure foundation of a living hope. The promises are not only sure, but also unconditional, i.e. they are not conditioned by any work of man. This is a very essential element in connection with the assurance of salvation. If they were not entirely gratuitous, they would throw us back upon our own works and thereby make assurance for the future impossible. Calvin says: “Therefore, if we would not have faith to waiver and tremble, we must support it with the promise of salvation, which is offered by the Lord spontaneously and freely, from a regard to our misery, rather than our worth.” Faith has no firm footing until it rests in the mercy of God. Moreover, the promises of God are all-comprehensive. They make provision for our natural life and for our spiritual needs; they hold out prospects of strength for the weary and of joy for the afflicted; they give the assurance of sufficient grace for the present, of perseverance to the end, and of future blessedness.

    But promises do not necessarily constitute a sure foundation for faith and trust and hope. Experience teaches us that many promises fail. Men are often very liberal with their promises, but soon forget about them, or simply ignore them, or find that they have promised more than they can accomplish. And doubly unfortunate are they who accept such promises in good faith, who trust to their fulfilment, and who pin their hopes on them for the future. It is quite evident that the real value of promises as a foundation on which to build depends on the reliability, the faithfulness, and the power of their author. And it is exactly when believers consider the Author of the promises on which they build the house of their hope, and then only, that they are in a position to evaluate them aright and recognize in them a foundation firm and sure. In their perplexity they may occasionally ask, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” Yet they may rest assured that He will never forget his people (Isa. 44:21), nor be unmindful of his covenant (Jer. 50:5). He cannot forget the promises made to his people. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee.” Isa. 49:15. Believers may and often do become unfaithful and ignore their covenant responsibilities, but in spite of the perversity of his children, God remains faithful to his covenant. The Bible is full of assurances respecting the faithfulness of God. We find a touching expression of it in the eighty-ninth psalm, verses 28–34:

    “My lovingkindness will I keep him forevermore,
    And my covenant shall stand fast with him.
    His seed also will I make to endure for ever,
    And his throne as the days of heaven.
    If his children forsake my law,
    And walk not in mine ordinances;
    If they break my statutes,
    And keep not my commandments;
    Then will I visit their transgression with the rod,
    And their iniquity with stripes.
    But my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him,
    Nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.
    My covenant will I not break,
    Nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”

    It is hardly possible to find a stronger statement of the faithfulness of our covenant God than is found in Isa. 54:10, “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah, that hath mercy on thee.” But even the faithfulness of God would not be an absolute guarantee for the fulfilment of his promises, were there any power in heaven or on earth that could thwart his gracious purposes. But our covenant God is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, the Ruler of the universe, who holds all things in the hollow of his hand, and has absolute control of all powers and principalities. In connection with the incredulous laughter of Sarah the Lord said: “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?” The expected answer to this question is an absolute negative. Of Abraham we are told that he believed against hope. Though the fulfilment of the promise which he had received seemed to be a physical impossibility, he wavered not through unbelief, but was fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform. A similar faith finds expression in the words of Paul: … “for I know Him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” 2 Tim. 1:12.

    Now the believer’s trust in God and in Jesus Christ for the blessings of grace and the joys of salvation is based on the promises of their covenant God. These constitute the only objective foundation on which he can build. And the measure in which he trusts in Christ and thus appropriates the promises of the Gospel will, if all other things are equal, also determine the strength or weakness of the feeling of security that fills the heart, and the degree of the consciousness that his sins are forgiven, and that he is an heir of everlasting life. Isaiah says: “They that wait for Jehovah (i.e. who trust in Him and are confident that He will fulfill his promises) shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” 40:31. Mindful of the comforting significance of the statutes of the Lord, which are regarded as including his promises, the psalmist sings: “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Ps. 119:54. Well may believers utter their joy in the words of the well-known hymn:

    “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
    What more can he say than to you He hath said,
    To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

    “Fear not, I am with thee; oh, he not dismayed!
    For I am thy God; I will still give thee aid;
    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
    Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.

    “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
    For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

    “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
    The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
    The dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

    “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
    I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
    That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
    I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

    b. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    But the promises of God, no matter how beautiful and reliable, are not in and by themselves sufficient to awaken faith in the heart of the sinner. They are not seen in their beauty and strength until the eye of faith is opened by the operation of the Holy Spirit. And after faith has been wrought in the heart, it is ever dependent on the Spirit for its progressive growth and its increasing maturity. It is through the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit that the light gradually dawns on the Gospel promises, increases in strength, and finally reaches its mid-day height. Again, the first faltering steps that give evidence of trust in Christ, the increasing confidence based on the promises of the Gospel, and the final complete self-surrender to Christ,—they are all fruits of the Spirit. In view of all this it is but natural that we should have alongside of the objective ground of assurance in the promises of God, also a subjective ground in the witness of the Holy Spirit. Both are clearly recognized in the Canons of Dort: “This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16); and, lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience, and to perform good works.
    There is good Scriptural evidence for such a witnessing of the Holy Spirit. The most famous passage containing this truth, is Rom. 8:15–17, “For ye received not the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” A similar note is sounded, though not with the same fulness, in Gal. 4:6, “And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Again, we hear an echo of the same truth in a slightly different form in 1 Cor. 2:12, “But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given us of God.” The Holy Spirit is clearly set before us in Scripture as a witness, witnessing particularly to Christ and his saving work. He witnesses to the objective truth revealed in Christ, both in and through the disciples, John 15:26; 16; 13–15; Acts 5:32; 1 John 5:7, 9, 10; and also to the life of Christ in the hearts of believers, that expresses itself in a holy conversation.

    Though the fact of the Spirit’s witnessing to the sonship of believers is well established by Scripture, there is considerable difference of opinion as to the manner in which He gives his testimony. Our Confessional Standards simply speak of the “testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God.” This statement clearly proceeds on the assumption, based on Rom. 8:16, that there is a joint testimony of the spirit of believers and of the Holy Spirit, but does not indicate the precise nature of this testimony. Wesley and the Wesleyan Methodists conceive of the witness of the Holy Spirit as being of the nature of an immediate and overpowering impression upon the soul, almost if not quite a special revelation, at the time of the believer’s justification, respecting his spiritual state. Says Wesley: “By the testimony of the Spirit, I mean an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God, that Jesus Christ hath loved me and given himself for me, that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.” He distinguishes sharply between the witness of the Holy Spirit and that of the spirit of believers, and regards the latter as an inferential judgment, based on a comparison of the believer’s experience with the Scriptural delineation of the Christian life. It is really the result of reflection on the Christian graces which the believer discovers in his own soul.

    Reformed theologians generally have a somewhat different conception of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, added to that of our own spirit. While some are inclined to think that Paul in Rom. 8:15, 16 speaks of but a single witness, that of the Holy Spirit, the majority are of the opinion that he has two witnesses in mind, the witness of the believing spirit and that of the Spirit of God. There can be little doubt that the apostle refers to a double testimony. At the same time it is perfectly clear that he conceives of the two as most intimately related, the one as grounded in the other. This is evident from the fact that, according to Rom. 8:15, believers cry “in the Spirit,” Abba, Father; and that Gal. 4:6 represents this cry as that of the Spirit himself. It may be said that the Spirit of God testifies through our spirit, but also to our spirit.

    Even in Reformed circles the testimony of the human spirit is often represented as being exclusively the product of a reflective process, and not at all the result of a spontaneous conviction which issues, without any consciousness of argumentative procedure, from living spiritual affections. And yet it would seem that Paul has in mind such an instinctive witnessing, when he says that we cry in the Spirit, Abba, Father. Certainly a man’s judgment, on reviewing himself and finding that he has the fruits of the Spirit, is a witness of his own spirit that he is a child of God. “But,” says Sheldon, “there is a swifter and intenser witness than this. The mother whose heart is actually bound up in her child does not need, in order to convince herself that she has parental love, to reflect upon an approved catalogue of the fruits of parental love. The outgoing of her heart to her offspring is an immediate experience of parental love, an original knowledge which reflection may ratify, but to whose vivacity and certainty it can add little or nothing. So spiritual emotions and affections in the heart,—the feeling of trust, the blended reverence and confidence, the joyful complacency which accompanies the thought of God, the thirst for divine fellowship, and the sense of that fellowship,—irradiate one’s relation to God before time is taken for any formal induction.” And it is just this immediate consciousness of love to God, of trust and confidence in him, of reverence and childlike fear, of longings for God and satisfaction in his blessed communion, and of joy in obedient service, that prompts the spontaneous cry, arising from the depths of the soul, “Abba, Father.” It is a human cry, but a cry of divine origin, born of the Spirit of God.

    But the believer, knowing the deceitfulness of his own heart, and conscious of his inability to understand, to fathom, and to evaluate the deep things of God, may be inclined to doubt his own testimony, especially in seasons of spiritual darkness and when satan sows the seeds of distrust in the heart. Therefore the apostle points to the fact that there is another and more fundamental testimony than that of the human consciousness; a testimony of one who knows, a testimony that is absolutely reliable, a testimony that can never be invalidated. It is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who knows the deep things of God, who is absolutely infallible in his judgment, and who will maintain his estimate of believers in spite of all adversaries. “The spirit himself beareth witness with (or, to) our spirit, that we are children of God.” If the believer confidently addresses God as his Father in heaven, God recognizes the believer as his child.

    This testimony of the Holy Spirit should not be conceived of as a communication, conveyed to the believer by a secret voice, and giving him the assurance that he is a child of God; nor as a specific operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind, by which he directs attention to a passage of Scripture containing that assurance. Neither should it be regarded as a testimony that is given once for all at the moment of conversion, to which the believer can confidently appeal ever after, no matter whether he be yielding the fruits of the Spirit, or be following the lusts of the flesh. The Spirit of God testifies continually by his indwelling in the hearts of those that fear the Lord, and by all those gracious operations in the renewal of man that are so manifestly divine. He opens the eye of faith to the beauty and glory of the promises of God, illumines the mind so that their spiritual import is understood, and fills the heart with a sense of their appropriateness for lost sinners. He discloses to the spiritual eye the gracious character of the Saviour, causes the sinner to flee to him for refuge and to seek shelter in the shadow of his wings, and leads the soul to a trustful repose, safe in the arms of Jesus. He speaks in all the movements of the new life: in the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts, in the filial spirit, the spirit of love and reverence and obedience, in his intercessions in the inner man with groanings that cannot be uttered, in the manifold experiences of comfort in suffering, strength in weakness, victory in seasons of temptation, and perseverance under the trials of faith. These are all works of the Holy Spirit. In so far as they are in us and abound, they bear witness to the reality of our reconciliation with God, and in the very voice of the Spirit give us the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are children of God. These vital spiritual affections shine with their own light, and thus constitute the testimony of the Holy Spirit that carries conviction to the soul. The more the life of faith develops, the greater our progress in the way of sanctification, the clearer will the voice of the spirit ring out, dispelling all doubts and filling the heart with joy and peace.

    We meet with a closely related idea, where Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal with which believers are sealed, and as an earnest of their inheritance. This twofold significance of the Spirit finds expression in a single passage, Eph. 1:13, 14 … “in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Now a seal is used for various purposes: (1) to authenticate or mark as true and genuine; (2) to mark as one’s property; and (3) to insure security or safety. The sealing of believers has this threefold significance. Being in possession of the Holy Spirit, they have the witness within themselves that they are true children of God, 1 John 5:10; Rom. 5:5; 8:16. By the seal of the Spirit that is impressed upon them they are also marked as belonging to God, so that others readily recognize them as children of God. Moreover, the fact that they are said to be sealed unto the day of redemption, Eph. 4:30, clearly indicates that the sealing of God secures their safety, that they are thereby rendered sure of their final salvation. The Spirit is even the earnest of their inheritance. In him believers possess the first fruits of the full harvest of salvation that will be reaped in the great day of the coming of Jesus Christ.

    c. The Testimony of the Christian Graces

    Finally, Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God. The Bible says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, … blessed are they that mourn, … blessed are the meek, … blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness,” etc. And the believer who is purposely in quest of assurance examines his heart and life to discover, whether he is poor in spirit and truly humble, and whether he mourns on account of his sin and really hungers and thirsts after righteousness. His self-examination determines the conclusion to which he comes. If he finds that these graces do really and truly adorn his life, he will naturally infer from this that he belongs to the number of those whom Jesus pronounces blessed.
    It is quite evident that in this logical deduction we are operating with premises derived from the two grounds of assurance to which attention was called in the preceding, viz. the promises of God in his Word and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers. When the Holy Spirit originates, strengthens, and increases faith in God’s children so that they not only begin but also continue to appropriate the promises of God, this will at once carry with it a certain measure of assurance. It may be that this instinctive and immediate assurance will be but vaguely felt at first; but it will naturally rise to the level of a conscious certitude in the measure in which faith increases and becomes abundant in spiritual fruits, and often rises to that height without any conscious reflection on the grounds, the nature and the operations of faith. Many Christians who enjoy the assurance of faith are not able to give an intelligent explanation of it, and are at a loss what to say when they are asked for the grounds of their assurance, or for proof of the genuineness of their faith. They may be able only to repeat the words of the man whom Jesus cured of his blindness: “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” Their lack of clear knowledge on this point, however, may cause them to reflect on the nature and grounds of their faith, and on the evidences of the life of the spirit that is born within their hearts. And then they are invariably led to base their assurance consciously and deliberately on the objective promises of God in connection with the subjective fruits of the Spirit.

    This method of seeking assurance is perfectly Scriptural. While Paul emphasizes the significance of the inner witness of the spirit in connection with the assurance of faith, John lays the chief stress on the ethical tests of faith and thus illustrates the method now under consideration. “We know,” says he, “that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” 1 John 3:14. Referring to that same test of love to the brethren, a love in deed and truth, he continues in the 19th verse of the same chapter: “Hereby we shall know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him.” Again, he sounds the language of assurance in the words: “We know that we have come to a knowledge of him, if we keep his commandments,” 2:3; and, “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked,” 2:5, 6. We may find the same line of thought indicated in 2 Pet. 1:5–10, where the apostle exhorts his readers to assure themselves of their calling and election by adding to faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, to temperance patience, to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly love, and to brotherly love, love to all.

    But it is quite possible to expect too much of this method of comparison. It seems to be a very easy matter, but in reality it is extremely difficult. Disappointment may follow the attempt to gain assurance by contemplating the fruits of faith. There are several reasons for this. The inner life of man, and especially the religious side of it, is very complicated and therefore constitutes a difficult field to explore. Moreover, in view of the deceitfulness of man’s heart, it is not easy to maintain strict impartiality, seeing that he who collects the evidence and passes judgment on it, is also the interested party. By nature man is not inclined to see himself just as he is, in all his sinfulness and corruption; and even in the regenerated man it requires a large measure of grace to overcome this natural aversion. Then, too, a faithful self-inspection usually reveals so much that is defective, that the first result is apt to be discouragement rather than the glad assurance of hope. Again, in testing the genuineness of his faith by good works as the fruit of faith, a person may find that he is after all merely reasoning in a circle. The question naturally arises, What are good works? And the Heidelberg Catechism answers: “Those only which are done from true faith, according to the law of God, for his glory.” He who would know whether his faith is genuine, must investigate, whether it bears real spiritual fruit; and in order to determine whether the fruit is genuine, he must consider whether it springs from a true and living faith. And finally, it should be borne in mind that, while genuine fruits of righteousness do indeed testify to the presence of a living faith, the fact that these fruits have not yet made their appearance does not prove the absence of true faith. How extremely difficult it is to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian by their respective fruits is clearly apparent from the attempts of some eighteenth century theologians to discriminate between the believer at his worst and the unbeliever at his best. In order to know men by their fruits, the real character of these fruits must be clearly apparent.

    It would seem to be a mistake, therefore, to make a comparison of the graces that adorn the Christian’s life and the requirements of God, together with the self-inspection which it involves, the only or even the chief ground of his assurance. It can only serve to confirm a conviction that is already more or less present in the mind, and in many cases adds little or nothing to the assurance of faith. Where faith is weak and does not reveal its vitality in the development of Christian graces and in the production of good works, there is no subjective basis for the comparison, and therefore no ground for the certitude of faith. And where faith is strong and vital and abounds in spiritual fruits, it carries an immediate assurance with it, which a deliberate comparison would not be able to make more sure, though it might render it more intelligible. Whatever assurance may be attained in this way, can only result from a true spiritual insight into the promises of God; from a self-examination that is performed with candid honesty, with great thoroughness, in a prayerful frame of mind, and above all under the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit; and from a conclusion that is based on a correct interpretation of the promises of God, and of such Christian graces as are clearly and unmistakably recognized as fruits of the Spirit.

    Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

    Berkhoff, L. (1939). The assurance of faith (49–68). Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  19. ladodgers6

    ladodgers6 Puritan Board Freshman

    Please provide the point of reference of the WCF on this statement?
  20. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    If you're asking me that question I was quoting Berkhoff. It is a more detailed elaboration of what is found in the WCF and WLC on the topic.

    Q. 78. Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
    A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins,339 are hindered in all their spiritual services,340 and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.341

    Q. 79. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?
    A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God,342 and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance,343 their inseparable union with Christ,344 his continual intercession for them,345 and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them,346 can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace,347 but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.348

    Q. 80. Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
    A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavour to walk in all good conscience before him,349 may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made,350 and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God,351 be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.352

    Q. 81. Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?
    A. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith,353 true believers may wait long before they obtain it;354 and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions;355 yet they are never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.356

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  21. KingofBashan

    KingofBashan Puritan Board Freshman


    Does this mean your question was answered?
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