THE GROUND OF ASSURANCE
Dr. R. T. Kendall
(Westminster Record, Winter 1988)
[Comments in this font color]
Early in October (1988 editor) Dr. Kendall addressed a fraternal of Ministers. He had been invited to look at the subject of assurance. Can a Christian know for sure that he is going to heaven? If so how? Is it by looking for 'Proofs, of conversion, or is there another way? These are the questions that are discussed below.
Definitions of words in Scripture must be limited to what the normative rules of language, context and logic afford them to be so that every individual of capacity to understand such language may have the ability to read Scripture and understand what it is saying:
A) ENGLISH DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF ASSURANCE WHICH APPLIES TO ASSURANCE WITHIN THE MIND
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, G & C Merriam Co., Springfield, MA, 1980
2: the state of being assured: as
a: a being sure and safe: security
b: a being certain in the mind : freedom from doubt
c: confidence of mind or manner: easy freedom from self-doubt or uncertainty
see CERTAINTY, CONFIDENCE
mistrust, dubiousness, diffidence
Webster's 1913 Unabridged English Dictionary.
n. [OE. assuraunce, F. assurance, fr. assurer.]
2. The state of being assured; firm persuasion; full confidence or trust; freedom from doubt; certainty. Firmness of mind; undoubting, steadiness; intrepidity; courage; confidence; self-reliance.
B) GREEK DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF ASSURANCE
Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary
"plerophoria" noun Full assurance, complete confidence, certainty.
In its four New Testament occurrences, plerophoria is best translated “full assurance” or “confidence.” In Colossians 2:2 Paul wrote of his desire for believers in Colossae and Laodicea to have “the full assurance of understanding,” that is, the fullest and clearest understanding of the gospel possible. Similarly, Hebrews 6:11 expresses the writer’s desire for his readers to have the “full assurance of hope” unto the end. This involves the present hope of pardon and the future hope of glory. Christians are told in Hebrews 10:22 that since they can enter the very presence of God because of Christ’s sacrifice (verse 19), they should do so with a true heart “in full assurance of faith.” They can be fully persuaded that God the Father accepts them on the basis of faith in Jesus and in His atoning work on the cross (see also 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The New Analytical Greek Lexicon
A dictionary of the koine Greek language of the Bible, (Wesley J. Perschbacher, Editor, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Ma; 1992, p. 329), states as the meaning of the word plerophoria which is translated assurance in the English Bible translations as follows:
(4136) "plerophoria" n full conviction, firm persuasion, assurance, 1 Thes 1:5; Col 2:2, et. al.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary:
faith \Faith\, n.
1. Belief; the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting solely and implicitly on his authority and veracity; reliance on testimony. 2. The assent of the mind to the statement or proposition of another, on the ground of the manifest truth of what he utters; firm and earnest belief, on probable evidence of any kind, especially in regard to important moral truth. Faith, that is, fidelity, -- the fealty of the finite will and understanding to the reason.
v. t. [imp. & p. p. Believed; p. pr. & vb. n. Believing]
To exercise belief in; to credit upon the authority or testimony of another; to be persuaded of the truth of, upon evidence furnished by reasons, arguments, and deductions of the mind, or by circumstances other than personal knowledge; to regard or accept as true; to place confidence in; to think; to consider; as, to believe a person, a statement, or a doctrine. "
trust \Trust\, v. t.
1. To place confidence in; to rely on, to confide, or repose faith, in; as, we can not trust those who have deceived us. I will never trust his word after. --Shak. He that trusts every one without reserve will at last be deceived. --Johnson. 2. To give credence to; to believe; to credit. Trust me, you look well. --Shak. 3. To hope confidently; to believe; -- usually with a phrase or infinitive clause as the object. I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face. --2 John 12. We trust we have a good conscience. --Heb. xiii. 18. 4. to show confidence in a person by intrusting (him) with something.
Syn: Confidence; belief; faith; hope; expectation"
The New Analytical Greek Lexicon
A dictionary of the koine Greek language of the Bible, (Wesley J. Perschbacher, Editor, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Ma; 1992, p. 329), states as the meaning of the word pisteuo which is translated believe in the English Bible translations as follows:
"(4100)... [pisteuo] 1 pers. sg. pres. act. indic., fut... [pisteuso] ...to believe, give credit to, Mark 1:15; 16:13; Luke 24:25; intrns. to believe, have a mental persuasion, Matt. 8:13; 9:28; James 2:19; to believe, be of opinion, Rom. 14:2; in N.T. [pisteuein en, eis] to believe in or on, Matt. 18:6; 27:42; John 3:15, 16, 18; absol. to believe, be a believer in the religion of Christ, Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 13:48; trans. to intrust, commit to the charge or power of, Luke 16:11; John 2:24; pass. to be intrusted with, Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 9:17"
Note that the Greek word used in the Bible which is translated into forms of the verb 'to believe' is also defined according to the Greek dictionary to mean a trust in the information presented, i.e., a mental assent - devoid of additional actions on the part of an individual other than the mental agreement. Furthermore, the forms of the verb 'to believe' in Greek which are used in gospel passages all depict a moment of faith. Verb forms and contexts which depict an ongoing faith or faithfulness do not appear in gospel passages, hence the latter are excluded in what it takes to be justified unto eternal life.
To begin with, I want to define assurance as: Knowledge of which you are persuaded. Faith is knowledge, not an existential leap. Faith, saving faith, has as its definite object the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvin, whom I will quote often, defined faith as 'the firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise of Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit'.
Saving faith according to Scripture is more than 'the firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise of Christ...' More details of what that promise is and the precise details of what one must believe must be stipulated in strict accordance to what Scripture says. So this definition of saving faith is inadequate according to Scripture.
The fact that what one expresses faith in is revealed to our minds is implied in anything that one has faith in. One cannot have faith in something that is not revealed in ones mind in some manner! Furthermore, the manner in which the content of what one has faith in in order to be saved unto eternal life is not specifically stipulated in Scripture in every salvation unto eternal life passage. But it is implied that the individual must have in his mind what he believes in as specifically stipulated in Scripture in order to believe in that content within his mind. So there has to be a specific content in the mind of the one believing in it in order for him to believe it! As a matter of fact, how the individual has in his mind the specific content upon which he must believe in order to have eternal life varies from being read from Scripture, to being spoken to wherein the information is available in the mind of an individual to trust in or not. Beyond this, details of how that information is received into the individual's mind is not necessary for the individual to know in order to believe in it and receive eternal life.
The phrase "and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit" is not found in Scripture either implied or stipulated relative to the content of what one must believe in order to have eternal life. Since salvation unto eternal life is a matter of a moment of faith / mental assent alone in Christ alone by an individual who has not yet been regenerated - who is sinful - then it need not be sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit in order to be effectual, nor continued to be believed or even recalled in the mind of the saved individual after he has been saved unto eternal life. No passage which instructs one what to do in order to have eternal life so stipulates this.
The word rendered "hearts" is another word for the activity of the mind:
III) HEART DEFINED IN THE BIBLE
[Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine, Edited by F. F. Bruce, Fleming H. Revell Co. Old Tappan, N.J., 1981, pp. 206-207]:
"The word came to stand for man's entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements...
As to its usage in the N.T. it denotes
(a) the seat of physical life, Acts 14:17; Jas. 5:5;
(b) the seat of moral nature and spiritual life, the seat of grief, John 14:1; Rom. 9:2; 2 Cor 2:4; joy, John 16:22; Eph. 5:19; the desires, Matt. 5:28; 2 Pet 2:14; the affections, Luke 24:32; Acts 21:13; the perceptions, John 12:40; Eph. 4:18; the thoughts, Matt. 9:4; Heb. 4:12; the understanding, Matt. 13:15; Rom. 1:21; the reasoning powers, Mark 2:6; Luke 24:38; the imagination, Luke 1:51; conscience, Acts 2:37; 1 John 3:20; the intentions, Heb 4:12; cp. 1 Pet 4:1; purpose, Acts 11:23; 2 Cor 9:7; the will, Rom. 6:17; Col. 3:15; faith, Mark 11:23; Rom. 10:10; Heb. 3:12.
The heart, in its moral significance in the O.T., includes the emotions, the reason and the will.
|Calvin uses simple
nouns when describing faith: 'Recognition'. 'Knowledge'.
'Illumination'. 'Certainty'. 'Conviction'. 'Persuasion'. 'Firm
Assurance'. 'Full Assurance'.
Each of these words listed above may adequately describe faith or add more to that description redefining it into something beyond the normative rules of language, context and logic which men would not know to include. It depends upon the context of the sentence each word is contained in. Anything beyond the normal use of language cannot be in view because it would disqualify mankind from having an opportunity to be saved unto eternal life if they were not especially advised of this special meaning beyond the normal use of the word in the language, context and logic of the times.
What is absent? The need to prove faith; in theological terms we call it 'voluntarism', that is faith as man's act or faith that must await experimental knowledge to verify its presence.
[Scripture doesn't call it 'voluntarism.' Why not use words from Scripture and include a passage that can be referred to.]
Calvin said that faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God's favour but receiving from Christ that which we lack'.
[Too general a statement. In order for this previous statement to be adequate it must be more specific. Otherwise it could be read into to contradict Scripture. How is faith unto the reception of eternal life merely passive according to Scripture.]
Faith is the 'instrument' for receiving righteousness. '
[Scripture does not say that "faith is the 'instrument" for receiving righteousness." The statement is again too general. The content of what the faith must be in is not stipulated in this particular sentence. Nor are the details of how the righteousness is received and the definition of that righteousness according to Scripture]
A kind vessel'.
[Since Scripture does not use the word "vessel" to describe how an individual receives eternal life, I am not sure you can make it Scriptural in the context of receiving eternal life without opening up doors to misinterpretation. The word vessel has a number of meanings which all seem to include the idea of being a receptor / container of some kind, which does not describe what the dictionary means by faith. It is the individual who receives eternal life, not the faith of the individual]
A passive work 'to which no reward can be paid'.
[How is faith a work and how is that work passive if salvation unto eternal life is not by works at all according to Scripture? What passage can be used in Scripture to prove that the saving faith when exercised is passive]
It is merely witnessing what God has already done in Christ.
[Faith is not a witness of what God has already done in Christ, it is a mental assent to what God has already done in Christ according to the Scriptures and in this age. I can neither be a perfect witness of my own faith to myself nor to anyone else because I and the rest of humanity remain flawed in this mortal body. The witness of what God has already done in Christ is Scripture insofar as one accurately represents what it says and / or insofar as one hears that accurate representation of God's Word on that subject of how to receive eternal life]
The Greek word pistis translated 'faith' comes from a root peitho which means to persuade.
[What the root word of any word means does not necessarily determine what the word in view means. That is determined by usage of the specific word which is reflected in acceptably accurate dictionaries, and not by the root word itself. Hence we are to be cautious in such kinds of word studies. So what peitho means does not necessarily determine what the word pistis means.
On the other hand, acceptable dictionaries do provide the usage of persuade to describe what pistis means in certain contexts as previously stipulated
We are saved because we are persuaded that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the God-man, and that He paid our debt by His shed blood on the cross.
to dictionaries that accurately report the usage of words, a number of
words and phrases can be used in place of "we are persuaded,"
to say the same thing, such was "we believe," "we trust,"
"we accept as true," "we place confidence in," "we
exercise faith in," etc. It all depends upon the normative rules of
language, context and logic.
There are numerous passages in Scripture which do not stipulate every point precisely as it appears in the sentence above which states, "We are saved because we are persuaded that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the God-man, and that He paid our debt by His shed blood on the cross." Nevertheless these other passages provide eternal life for the one who believes in the content of each of those passages as well. Hence some of the details are essential to believe in, and some, albeit true, are not required to believe in order to have eternal life. By the way, the word "saved" in this sentence must be clarified to signify saved unto eternal life. Temporal salvation / deliverance is not in view.
If we are not persuaded that Jesus Christ is the God-man then there can be no assurance of saving faith, hence no assurance of salvation. If we are not persuaded that Christ has paid our debt there can be no assurance of saving faith, hence no assurance of salvation. But if we are persuaded that Jesus Christ is the God man and that he paid our debt on the cross we are saved. We are not only saved but eternally saved. Whether one is convinced of the latter is another matter. He is so eternally saved even if he doesn't enjoy the knowledge of it.
Faith, plus nothing, saves
|The question follows, 'Can one be persuaded that Jesus Christ is the God man, and that he paid our debt, and not be saved? Answer: no: Otherwise one is not saved by faith in the promise alone. If one must look beyond the promise then there is no justification by faith alone. It would be justification by faith plus works. It would be justification by faith plus sanctification, or plus baptism, or plus perseverance.|
But I am talking about a persuasion of the heart, not mental assent to doctrine, however true that doctrine may be. There can be a counterfeit faith, faith professed under pressure or when one confesses faith for the wrong reasons. There can be a persuasion in the mind that the doctrines are true generally, when one may not be personally persuaded that the efficacy of Christ's blood applies to himself. But when one is convinced in his heart that Christ has paid his debt, and that one is resting his soul and final destiny on Christ, plus nothing, that person is saved, and saved for ever.
This is true for two reasons. First Paul said, 'With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Romans 10:10). This latter aspect implies a voluntaristic element which Calvin takes for granted. The reason Paul adds this is surely because one must not only be persuaded that Christ has done everything, but one must personally trust what Christ has done. Calvin was loath to stress the voluntaristic aspect of faith lest one see faith as doing something beyond the application of faith to himself, lest he begin trusting what he was doing rather than looking entirely to Christ alone. It must be remembered that Calvin was attacking Rome and the doctrine of justification by works. The point is, one who is persuaded by Christ's death, but who himself rests his case on the atoning work of Christ is himself saved.
The second reason this is true is that faith is the gift of God. God alone can give saving faith. Faith is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. This is what produces the persuasion that Christ's work applies to me. Thus the person who is convicted by the Holy Spirit that Christ's work is sufficient will sooner or later irresistibly be persuaded that it is for him. The hymn got it right, 'The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment a pardon from Jesus receives'.
Can you be saved and not have assurance?
The question now follows, 'Can a person be saved and not be assured that he is saved?' Calvin obviously makes assurance the essence of the faith. Now if you push that too far you will have to' say, 'If I have no assurance I cannot be saved' - Calvin as far as I know did not address this question. If he had, and pushed his theology to its logical conclusion, then many of those who thought themselves his followers were not saved, for so many of them lacked assurance. Calvin did not have sufficient perception, and sufficient perspective and objectivity to see all of the implications of his own teachings. He was able to see for example what Luther failed to perceive, and this is why Calvin is clearer than Luther on justification by faith alone.
However, Calvin didn't see everything that his own teaching implied, and his followers seized upon a teaching of his which Calvin had not, I'm convinced, obviously thought through. That's the doctrine of the temporary faith of the reprobate. Reprobate, theologically, means non-elect. It's questionable whether adokimos in the Greek means non-elect, but it was used in reformed thinking as referring to non-elect. So the doctrine of the temporary faith of the non-elect is that the person who was never predestined to salvation could nonetheless manifest all the appearances of Christian faith and imagine himself to be saved. Theodore Beza followed Calvin on the doctrine of temporary faith, but departed from Calvin on faith as assurance. The result was predictable. Beza taught that the non-elect can be sanctified and yet that the elect are assured by sanctification. Hence the elect looking to his sanctification for his assurance to be firm was never fully sure that his own sanctification was not that of the reprobate. It is a pity that Calvin did not see this coming. But he had no idea that Beza, and Perkins after him, would separate faith and assurance.
|It is interesting that the Puritans eventually dropped the idea of temporary faith of the reprobate. It does not appear once in the Westminster Confession, but the idea never died.|
Because of this historical development we have no choice but to separate faith from assurance. I do not think Calvin would want to say Perkins was not saved, although Perkins battled with a troubled conscience in his dying hours. One of the most stunning discoveries I made while at Oxford, and it's sad, is that so many of these men, who are household names in reformed homes today, died doubting whether they were saved. It's a melancholy fact. And it is a melancholy fact that godly men ever since have too often questioned their own salvation. We are therefore forced to make this separation between faith and assurance, although I see it as an unbiblical dichotomy. Surely it is a great pity that people who obviously love God question whether he loves them. A responsible parent would never want his son or daughter to question whether one belonged to the family. There may be times when a parent disapproves of his child's behaviour and it is right that this disapproval be shown, but never by making that son or daughter say, 'I'm not loved'. 'My father isn't really my father'. Now God is the perfect parent and 'he loves whom he chastens' (Heb 12:6). Chastening is to prove sonship, to prove that a chastened child is not a bastard.
Now a theology that would separate faith from assurance by architectural design straight away encourages three things. One, doubting of sonship. Two, looking to Christ for salvation but not for assurance of salvation. And three it encourages pastoral problems, sometimes nightmares, that are surely unnecessary. I ask, do you think God wants his own to question their assurance of salvation, or sense of belonging? If the answer to that question is yes, namely that God may want his own to question whether they are accepted through the merits of Christ, we must conclude that God is not displeased when godly people, even after years and years, question whether they are saved. That their fear of being non-elect may just be engendered by the Holy Spirit. However, I do not believe that the answer to that question is yes. Paul said, 'all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him, amen' (2 Cor.1:20). Paul also said 'God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind' (2 Tim.1:7). I do not believe that God ever oppresses us, or demoralises us.
Calvin repeatedly stressed that Christ is the 'mirror of our election'. By that he meant that we look to Christ and infer our election.
A wonderful freedom
The possibility that I will be saved tomorrow does not exist until tomorrow comes. When tomorrow comes I can know I'm saved because I'm still believing and demonstrating good works. This is what John Wesley taught. I may know I am saved now, if I have an 'up to date experience'. It must be said that good and godly men in Methodism had great assurance, partly because they didn't believe in sovereign election. That solved the problem and all they had to do was to walk in the light. So there was no great theological impediment that would militate against assurance. They didn't believe in election in the first place so they walked in the light and knew they were saved. This is partly why Wesley could say, 'Our people die well'. These were godly people. But when you have a fairly sound doctrine of justification and Wesley did have (Whitefield learned Justification by faith from Wesley) without believing in election, then assurance of salvation is attained by faith plus perseverance.
classical Puritanism. This is seen in the teaching of William Perkins
and his followers that culminated in the Westminster Confession. These
men were sound on election and justification by faith. But I have often
feared that Luther's glorious rediscovery of the sixteenth century was
forced to pass behind a cloud. They were sound on justification by
faith, yes, but whoever knew for sure that they were justified? The
teaching that turned the world upside down in the sixteenth century in
fact excited few in the seventeenth century because they never knew it
applied to them for sure.
It is because the ground of faith was taught as being separate from the ground of assurance. Said one of the Westminster divines, 'faith is one thing, assurance another'. Faith is looking to the promise but assurance that you have faith is looking to your sanctification. Beza said, and I quote, 'We must begin at the sanctification which we feel in ourselves, for as much as our sanctification from whence proceedeth good works is a certain effect of the faith, or rather of Jesus Christ dwelling in us by faith'. Perkins repeated this line many, many, times; and it became dogma in the seventeenth century. However, this simply didn't give assurance, especially with the ominous possibility that one had (the whole time) only got Temporary faith. There never, never, never, was a way by which one felt that he had sufficient sanctification, by which he could now say, 'I know for sure I am elect, and eternally and irrevocably saved'. It always eluded them.
The Roman Catholic position
|The Roman Catholic objection to the idea of assurance of salvation was always that it was presumption. We must see why they felt like this, if indeed one is looking to his good works to infer salvation. Surely any of us would call it idolatry if we claimed to be saved by works, but some seem not to mind if we are assured that way! That makes it O.K. Really? Who can ever be sure that he is saved if he is trusting his good works after all? He may say, 'I'm not trusting my good works to save me'. Of course not, but 'I am trusting good works to assure me that I'm saved'. This is not looking to Jesus Christ for assurance. Am I to believe that my Lord would not want me to trust his blood, his word, to know that I am saved? I would like to hear it discussed today how and in what manner a person is in effect better off than being an Arminian if he gets his assurance in much the same way.|
John Calvin's position
I believe there's a rather better alternative; that Jesus Christ is my assurance. John Cotton broke out of the mould but was in the minority. And yet he frequently appealed to Calvin. You can read the debates, they are available verbatim. Cotton would just exclaim, 'Let Calvin answer for me!' For Cotton knew Calvin was on his side. I quote Calvin:
|'If men begin to judge whether they are regenerate by good works nothing will ever be more uncertain or more evil'.|
|'If works be judged by themselves by their imperfection they will no less declare God's wrath than by their incomplete purity will testify to his benevolence'.|
|'When a Christian looks to himself he can only have grounds for anxiety, indeed despair'.|
|'We should not seek assurance by conjecture, for faith corresponds to a simple and free promise, hence no place for doubting is left!|
What is it we are assured of? Well, first, by faith alone we are assured of salvation. Biblical salvation consists in being saved from sin and God's wrath. By sin I mean the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and ultimately the presence of sin. Being saved from the wrath of God is two things. Being saved from the curse of God in this life, and eternal punishment in hell, we are assured of salvation.
Secondly, we are by faith, assured of regeneration. By faith I know I am born again. Regeneration is an unconscious work therefore I may not know exactly when I became regenerate. Augustus Toplady put it like this, 'You may know the sun is up, although you may not have been awake the moment it arose'. But if I know I am regenerate I know I am a new creature. I have God's life in me. I cannot be lost because God cannot die. I know this by faith.
Third, I am assured of justification. By faith I know two things. The imputation of no sin and the imputation of Christ's righteousness. But those who are justified are also sanctified. Justification and sanctification are distinct but nonetheless inseparable. Justification does not admit to improvement. I'm no more righteous in God's sight fifty years after my conversion than fifty minutes after my conversion. Sanctification is different however. It is progressive and admits to growth. The evidence of sanctification is more obvious in some than others, but there's no such thing as the justified man who is not sanctified.
Fourth, I'm assured of my adoption by faith. I did not adopt God, he adopted me. By faith then I know that I am elect, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He is, if I may put it this way, God's only 'natural' Son. I am an adopted son. Because I am a joint heir I can no more be dislodged from the family than Jesus Christ can be disenfranchised from the Godhead. This adoption was predestined and with the purpose that I would be holy and without blame.
By faith in the promise, then, I know I am saved, regenerate, justified, and adopted. It follows then that by faith I know I am delivered from the grip of sin, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, sanctified by God's progressive work, and being changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory. I do not have to look for evidence of this in order to believe it. I know it is true by virtue of the promise. It is not open to question whether or not there is progressive sanctification in me. The old man has died. Being made free from sin and having been made a servant of God I have fruit unto holiness. Yet if I look to see whether I am sanctified in order to believe the promise that I am sanctified I would be looking beyond the promise. Spurgeon said, 'I looked to Christ and the dove flew in, I looked at the dove and it disappeared'. God does not want us to get our assurance of his grace by looking to the outward evidence of that grace. When I do it will begin to deceive me. Christ is the mirror of in election.
Sanctification - a cracked mirror
My sanctification is like a cracked mirror. Calvin said in every saint there is something reprehensible. I may ignore that and look to some aspect of my life that may not seem so reprehensible. But I'm being selective with my own ground of assurance. Anybody, regenerate or unregenerate, can find something respectable by which he may conclude that he's not so unworthy, or so bad after all! But that's not God's way, before or after conversion. Although holiness in the believer is inevitable it does not follow that holiness need not be preached. The progression in sanctification can be advanced or retarded and this can often be the consequence of the kind of preaching a person hears from the pulpit.
We all need to be admonished. This is one of the reasons Paul wrote his epistles I need to admonish my hearers: To walk in the light. To love one another. To hold no resentment or grudge, no matter how deep the hurt. To resist sexual temptation, and to know the promise of God's wrath upon sexual sin. To resist the devil. To have a consistent prayer life and Bible reading plan. To witness for Christ, to your neighbour, to the milkman and to be committed to church, Christ's body. If people do not get this kind of preaching it will tell in their lives, but such obedience to the preacher's admonitions should never, never, never, become the ground of assurance. If they are taught that such good works count for something they are going to believe it. But if they are taught instead 'we are unprofitable servants, we have done that which is our duty to do' they will avoid with greater consistency the pitfalls of pride, fear, and self-righteousness.
Possible objections discussed
I now raise three scriptures that will almost certainly enter someone's mind. I've had to be so selective because of time. First 2 Peter 1:10, 'Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure'. There are two ways of interpreting this verse: the way Perkins interpreted it, and the way Calvin interpreted it. The contrast is obvious. Perkins said, that you prove your election to yourself by your conscience, namely by good works. So 2 Peter 1:10, says Perkins, is how to get assurance. Calvin said 2 Peter 1:10 should not be referred to the conscience to derive assurance but rather that our election should be confirmed in a holy life. In other words 2 Peter 1:10 is a Christian duty, but not because we had to prove something to ourselves.
James, Paul and Luther
Second, James 2:14-17. 'What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.' I perhaps am biting off more than I can chew in trying to explain what I believe is the truth of this in a couple of minutes. About eight years ago, we spent ten weeks in this very passage here in Westminster. It's obvious to me that James is not putting forward the test whether the person who says he has faith is himself saved or lost. That's not the issue. Luther thought that, and so he called James a 'strawy epistle' and to his dying day said it shouldn't be preached from. What a pity! James' argument is about the poor man back in verse 6. When James says, 'Ye have despised the poor'. Many translations show it indeed to be the accusative masculine, singular. 'You have despised the poor man.' That's what the Greek literally says. It's talking about the poor man. His argument is that the poor man cannot be saved if we do not do something more for him than just say 'God bless you, be warmed in the fire'. Now most readers of James 2 seem to have thought James changed the subject from the 'poor man' which he introduced early in the chapter, to another thing when he got to verse 14. But no. He's still talking about the poor man. His burden throughout this section is for the poor man (the accusative singular), in his discussion of justice and mercy, and in the verses that follow: he's still talking about the poor man. So when it comes to verse 14 and it says 'Can faith save him?' it's not a reflexive pronoun; 'Can faith save himself?' Rather he's talking about the poor man again, accusative singular. Can faith save that poor man? And do you know it is the only interpretation that makes consistent sense right to the end of this chapter. It shows that there never was a question about James and Paul differing.
The third scripture is 2 Corinthians 13:5: 'Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith'. Few people seem to have bothered to have checked the context of this as well. Paul isn't remotely speaking of whether the Corinthians are saved or lost. He is dealing with a question: who is speaking with divine authority? At this stage on a particular matter, which you can read about in the beginning of 2 Corinthians 16, these Corinthians were tending to question Paul's authority on a particular matter. In response Paul was outrightly questioning their authority, and so he says, 'Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith'. By faith he means whether you are led of the Holy Spirit. That is what he means. He's not talking about faith that justifies as opposed to being lost. The reference to reprobate, in the context, is shown clearly by the N.I.V. It just means not standing the test. Paul says, 'I believe we stand the test that we have got the authority'. By the way I am not referring to Hebrews 6 because I think I would need a long time on that. But there are as many five point Calvinists, not four and a half, but even five pointers, who believe that Hebrews 6 refers to regenerate people.
The Oath and the Promise
One last point and I close. The assurance that comes by seeing God swear an oath to us. In Hebrews 6:18 the writer refers to two immutable things. The promise and the oath. They are both equally and absolutely true. The promise and the oath have the exact same content, but the oath produces a very high level of assurance which does not accompany the promise generally. One example, and the example the writer uses, concerns Abraham. Abraham was walking out under the stars on a dark clear night. God said, 'Count the stars, so shall your seed be' (Gen 15:5). At that time Abraham had no son and Sarah was getting older, yet Abraham believed it and God imputed righteousness to him. This incident became, as you know, the ground of Paul's teaching of justification by faith. And so that was the promise; there's no oath there, just promise. Thus we are justified by faith in a promise. That promise was repeated many times to Abraham. You can read between Genesis 15 and Genesis 22. You can find about ten times where God-would come back to him. You get the feeling that Abraham maybe got discouraged. Nothing was happening and, as it were, he said, '0 God, is it really true?' The promise would come back and it would be always the same, 'Your seed will be as the sand on the seashore,' and Abraham would feel better again. But throughout this time it was promise, promise, promise.
One day though, God swore by an oath. And Abraham was set. He didn't need any more after that. All right, I think one of the purposes of Hebrews 6 is to ask God to swear an oath to us, and this comes by an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit. It testifies to the promise that was already believed. It testifies to the promise that was believed, but leaves the believer with a higher level of assurance. That's what the oath does. (See the Westminster Record Winter 1987.) It is possible but I think rather unlikely, that this oath will be sworn to the person who has not first believed the promise. Jesus said, 'He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much' (Luke 16: 10). The ground of assurance does not change. It is still Christ, but the temptation to have to look to your sanctification is removed. What is true of the oath is true of the promise. We don't have to look to works for our assurance to be firm.