Assurance, WCF, Clark.

My comments are regarding the subject of the assurance of one’s salvation. I invite any and all to comment on whatever you would like. The following is taken from the WCF Chapter 18, sections 1-4, entitled:

Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation

Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.

I have heard the argument that since hypocrites can have assurance of their salvation that is based upon a false hope; then it follows that assurance is not of the essence of faith for those whose hope is in Christ (an infallible hope and foundation). Those who say that assurance is not of the essence of faith, also say things like this:

“Just as one can have [false] assurance that they are saved and yet not be, so one [a true believer] can have no assurance that they are saved, and yet be so.”

This, of course, does not follow. For there is a HUGE difference between assurance that is built upon the sand of the sinner’s self-righteous efforts, and assurance that is built solely upon the solid Rock of Christ’s finished work.

Some verses quoted to prove the above statement might be the one where a certain man cries out, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!” I’m not sure how to explain this man’s belief/unbelief, but I do know that his belief/unbelief has no reference to the gospel of salvation by the work of Christ alone, but to the healing of his ailing son.

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

The above point is right when it says that, “this CERTAINTY is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation.” If we stop there, thus far it would agree with the CCF V.C.6. But it looks to me like my aforementioned quote of point II of the WCF, contradicts with point III of the WCF.

III. 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.

The above references 2 Peter 1:10, making one’s calling and election sure. But how do we make our calling and election sure? Where does our assurance come from? What is our assurance based upon? Whose work(s) is our assurance based upon? I believe these questions help us to determine what 2 Peter 1:10 does not mean, in light of the sure and certain promise of God to save His people based on Christ’s work alone.

Scripture teaches us that those who say they believe the gospel, and yet live lawless lives, are lying about believing the gospel (1 John); and that Christ has become the source of eternal salvation to the ones obeying Him (Hebrews 5:9). Yet it by no means follows that our abstaining from a lawless life, and our obedience to Christ, forms any part of the ground of our assurance. For if one’s assurance is based on their obedience and abstaining from a life of lawlessness, so is their hope and salvation.

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

Point IV has a contradiction. It says that true believers have the assurance of their salvation diminished, but then also says that they (believers) are never utterly destitute of the life of faith. If assurance that one is saved is diminished, then where is the life of faith?

Charles Hodge, on pages 106-107 of Volume III, writes:

“To make assurance of personal salvation essential to faith is contrary to Scripture and to the experience of God’s people. The Bible speaks of a weak faith….Those who make assurance the essence of faith generally reduce faith to a mere intellectual assent” (cited by Gordon Clark in his commentary on First John, p. 106).

Clark’s response to Hodge’s critique of those who make assurance the essence of faith, is as follows:

“Aside from the pejorative term mere, this is essentially Calvin’s position. For him [Calvin] a person without assurance has no faith at all. Anyone who believed knew he believed and was ipso facto assured. But to continue with Hodge: ‘…Scripture and experience teach that assurance is not only attainable, but a privilege and a duty. There may indeed be assurance, where there is no true faith at all’” (Clark’s commentary on 1 John, pp. 106-107).

I don’t know if Calvin later (or even earlier) contradicted this view of assurance, but it is right on. To restate Clark’s statement of Calvin:

“…a person without assurance has no faith at all. Anyone who believed knew he believed and was ipso facto assured.”

Commenting on 1 John 5:13, Clark says:

“Assurance of eternal life can be deduced from a knowledge that one is a believer…With constant frequency people are assured of many things untrue. Indeed certainty increases in direct proportion to ignorance. The less educated a man is, the more things of which he is certain. If this obvious truth disturbs anyone, he should also realize that assurance is not essential to salvation. Different people have different mentalities. John Bunyan was so morbid he could hardly have had much assurance. With others more careless, doubts never arise. But if one knows, if one has a clear intellectual understanding that he believes, he should have legitimate assurance” (Clark’s Commentary on 1 John, pp. 161).

Clark had said:

“Indeed certainty increases in direct proportion to ignorance. The less educated a man is, the more things of which he is certain.“

Well, certainty CAN increase in direct proportion to ignorance, BUT it does NOT necessarily have to. If I remember correctly, I read someone who quoted Einstein as saying that the MORE he knew, the LESS things of which he was certain (at least with regard to the study of science).

The reasons for John Bunyan’s lack of assurance could be many. One of them was his belief in universal atonement, regardless of whether or not he believed it was a reason. The primary reason, I think, was that he was ignorant of the righteousness of God, and was thus seeking to establish his own righteousness (Romans 10:1-4).

Gordon Clark, commenting in his book, “What do Presbyterians believe?”, regarding the WCF, Chapter XVIII, sections 3 and 4:

“…On the other hand we must not say that assurance is a necessary and inseparable concomitant of faith. Some overly enthusiastic evangelists insist that unless a man is sure he is saved, he is not saved at all. They sometimes use a jingle: ‘I was there when it happened, and I ought to know.’ Just imagine a baby three months old making such a claim! If assurance were a necessary concomitant of faith, the Scriptures would not exhort the faithful to press on to assurance. But the Scripture references contain such exhortations…”

Clark said that,

“If assurance were a necessary concomitant of faith, the Scriptures would not exhort the faithful to press on to assurance. But the Scripture references contain such exhortations.”

Well, what if I respond to Clark by saying that if Christians could never perish, then the Scriptures would not exhort the faithful to take heed lest they fall, etc. Anyways, I think we press on in the assurance that we are saved, rather than pressing on (in obedience) in order to obtain that assurance.

We press on BECAUSE we are assured of the salvation that is conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ alone; we are NOT assured BECAUSE we press on, for that would bring us back to the assurance of our salvation (and hence, our salvation itself), being based on our own obedience and continued repentance, contrary to the CCF V.C.6.

It’s true that we do obey (Hebrews 5:9), but the perfect standard of obedience that is demanded we cannot produce, so we rest in One who did meet it on our behalf (CCF V.A.1.2.3).

More from Gordon Clark:

“In general, one must be extremely cautious, not merely in asserting that faith and assurance are inseparable, but in making any universal statement of the psychology of Christians. The New Testament records a number of conversions, and psychologically they were all different, in fact very different. The New Testament and church history as well give abundant evidence of the infinite variety of Christian experience.”

Who is making a universal statement of the psychology of Christians? The reason that faith and assurance are inseparable, is because they both rest in Christ alone. It is true that the various circumstances surrounding the conversion of “psychologically diverse” Christians are in fact, very different. But what is NOT different about these “psychologically diverse” Christians, is the ground and hope of their assurance.

Gordon Clark continues:

“Not only because of particular sins and temptations, but also because of differences of temperament, of upbringing, of education, and of the cultural and historical conditions of one’s age, no pattern of experience fits everybody. Some are too fearful of presumption, others are not fearful enough. Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot, but Jeremiah may have died in despondency. Assurance of salvation, like other blessings, does not come to all Christians; but is a part of the fullness of God’s grace which we may legitimately and consistently hope to enjoy.

It is therefore most hazardous to insist that a man is not saved unless he conforms to some familiar pattern. Such patterns are familiar largely because the evangelist has had a limited experience. Just consider the difference between Paul and Timothy, for instance. Their lives were so different; their childhood homes and conversions were so different; their subjective experiences had little if anything in common. There was something the same, however, not only for Paul and Timothy, but for all of us too. It is not something subjective. What is the same is the object of our faith, and this object is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Gordon Clark, WDPB, pp. 179-180).

Clark said that Paul and Timothy lived different lives. Their childhood homes and subjective experiences surrounding their conversions were very different. Clark said that both Paul and Timothy had the same objective hope. He also said that all Christians have the same object of faith.

Okay. Then why does Clark say regarding the belief that assurance is of the essence of faith, that it is “most hazardous to insist that a man is not saved unless he conforms to some familiar pattern“? I would ask Clark: Is this “familiar pattern” the object of the faith of all Christians, which as you said, is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

Gordon Clark, in his commentary on 1 and 2 Peter, says regarding 2 Peter 1:10 and making one’s calling and election sure:

“…And this is the election that Peter exhorts us to make certain for ourselves. To make my divinely decreed election certain for myself is simply a matter of assurance. Simply, not because the doctrine of assurance is guaranteed to be devoid of problems; but because it does not face the impossible problem of making God’s decree more certain than God could make it. The text [2 Peter 1:10] deals with assurance.

…The idea of becoming assured of one’s own salvation is perfectly Scriptural, and part of the method is self-examination. Therefore one commentator’s view that we cannot make our own election sure, on the ground that only God can grant assurance, is without foundation; for though it is God who gives us certainty, he does this through several means. The same commentator’s suggestion that Peter refers here to our making our election certain to others by our good works is altogether implausible. The idea of assuring others cannot be found in the text.”

Gordon Clark says that God grants His people assurance through several means. I would say that there is only one means: Belief in the gospel of Christ. Belief that Jesus Christ alone met all the conditions for salvation.

“…The Lord may indeed grant me assurance of my election by means of my good works. Nor does this infringe on God’s sovereignty or grace. Paul also admonishes us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us not only to cause us to do good works, but even earlier to cause us to will to do them; and it is all of God’s sovereign pleasure” (Gordon Clark, New Heavens, New Earth: A commentary on First and Second Peter, pp. 182-183).

Clark says that the Lord may grant assurance of one’s election by means of their good works. He is quick to say that this does not infringe on God’s grace. Well, what does Paul say about that in Romans 11:5-7?

“So then, also in the present time a remnant according to election of grace has come into being. But if by grace, no longer is it of works; else grace no longer becomes grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; else work is no longer work. What then? What Israel seeks, this it did not obtain, but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened.”

Election is according to grace. This grace is not of works, but of the righteousness of faith (Romans 9:30). This “righteousness of faith,” is the imputed righteousness of Christ that God’s people receive and rest in (CCF V. C. 4.). Their assurance of their election is based and grounded upon the SOLID ROCK of Jesus Christ alone.

So how does one know they are one of the elect? “Good works” alone? Clark would say, no. But it looks like Clark is saying that ASSURANCE that one is elect depends on some kind of mixture of belief of the gospel (though he does not explicitly mention it), and good works wrought by “grace.”

To Clark then, I think, belief in the gospel would NOT be enough (at least not necessarily) for one to have the assurance that he is one of the elect. It would also take (in addition) some “good works” to KNOW, and thus be assured, that one is among the elect. If that is the case, then one’s ASSURANCE, (and thus one’s HOPE of final glory), is NOT in the finished work of Christ alone, BUT in a mixture of (so-called) belief of the gospel AND good works wrought by ”grace” in the sinner.

Gordon Clark, in his book, “The Johannine Logos,” says:

“Both of them [Luther and Calvin] in several places made assurance of salvation essential to faith. The implication is that unless one is certainly assured that God has saved him, he is not regenerate. Now, Luther’s impetuosity led him many times to exaggerate his expressions: for example, his statement, Sin boldly! Luther also corrected his words, and there are passages in which he seems, at least seems, to deny that assurance is essential to saving faith. Calvin was much more cautious and careful than Luther. But Calvin too seems, at least seems, to say that assurance is essential. But elsewhere he indicates that this is not really his opinion” (pp. 99-100).

“…In paragraph 7 [of his Institutes, Book III, Chapter 2, titled “Faith Defined”] Calvin explains why faith cannot simply be defined as knowledge of God. Adam and Cain both knew God, but their knowledge terrified them. Hence faith requires a knowledge of God’s mercy, not merely of God’s law. Even so, if we know God’s promises, yet if our knowledge is mixed with doubts, it is not faith. Faith is “uniform and steady,” not “wavering and undecided.” [Clark quoting Calvin]

“Now, we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say, that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence toward us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise is Christ, is both revealed to our minds and confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” [End of Calvin quote] (pp. 101).

“…Calvin seems to say that faith cannot be mixed with doubts; faith must be uniform and steady, not wavering and undecided. But this does not seem to square with John the Baptist’s doubts when he was in prison. Nor do these phrases accord very well with the idea of faith as a grain of mustard seed, with the cry, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief, and with Christ’s refusal to quench smoking flax. Calvin’s definition seems to equate faith with assurance — something the later Calvinists did not do” (pp. 102).

The Psalms talk of losing the joy of one’s salvation due to falling into some grievous sin. It would seem that a Christian can lose some joy when he is afflicted by a trying circumstance, or from persecution by the enemies of God. But this is a FAR CRY from doubting that you are saved because of sin in your life. Of course, true believers will NOT practice sin (1 John 5:18), but even when they do sin, they DO NOT DOUBT that they are saved because they have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1).

As for Gordon Clark’s slander against John the Baptist, even the heretic Matthew Henry clearly understood the purpose of John the Baptist in sending his disciples to Jesus:

“He [Jesus] points them to what they heard and saw, which they must tell John, that he [John] might from thence take occasion the more fully to instruct and convince them out of their own mouths” (Matthew Henry commentary).

Gordon Clark, in his book, “Sanctification,” states:

“Calvin and the first generation of Reformers seem to have held that assurance is inseparable from faith. Whoever is not assured of his salvation is simply not saved. This view may have been encouraged by the severity of Romish persecution, the exuberance of a newly found faith, and the utter impossibility of finding assurance in penance and good works. But as the persecutions diminished and as calmer study could be undertaken, the Westminster divines, a full century later, wrote,

“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” (XVIII, 3).

I must confess I do not like the word infallible in this context. The Pope claims infallibility, but if this is a false claim, it seems strange that it can be asserted of a thousand or a million Protestants” (pp. 35-36).

Clark wrote:

“Calvin and the first generation of Reformers seem to have held that assurance is inseparable from faith. Whoever is not assured of his salvation is simply not saved.”

Clark does not believe that assurance is inseparable from faith. Clark is wrong. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped…” Romans 4:19-22 says,

“And being about a hundred years old, not weakening in faith, he did not consider his body to have died already, nor yet the death of Sarah’s womb, and did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do. Because of this, “it was also counted to him for righteousness.”

Abraham did not stagger by unbelief at God’s promise, but instead, was FULLY PERSUADED that what God had promised, He was also able to do. This is a HUGE verse on the assurance of believers, which assurance is grounded solidly upon the sure and certain promise of God to save His people through the work of Jesus Christ alone (CCF V. C. 6.).

In a book (Copyright, 2004) written by Joel R. Beeke, he comments on Calvin’s view of assurance. The book is entitled, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, published by Reformation Heritage Books:

“Since faith takes its character from the promise on which it rests, it takes on the infallible stamp of God’s very Word. Consequently, faith possesses assurance in its very nature. Assurance, certainty, trust-such is the essence of faith” (Beeke, p. 35).

To summarize Beeke’s explanation: Calvin would say in one place that assurance was the essence of faith, and then somewhere else he would allow for a faith that lacks assurance. Beeke tried to resolve the paradoxes of Calvin on the subject of assurance. In my opinion, I do not believe Beeke succeeded.

Beeke also comments on Anthony Burgess’ (of the Westminster Assembly of Divines) view of assurance expounded in Spiritual Refining: or, A treatise of Grace and Assurance (London: A. Miller for Thomas Underhill, 1652).

Lacking the consciousness of true assurance … Believers may possess saving faith without the assurance that they possess it. Assurance augments the joy of faith, but it is not essential to salvation. Faith alone justifies through Christ alone [italics Beeke’s]; assurance is the conscious enjoyment of that justifying salvation….

Burgess acknowledged that many believers lack full assurance. Though most believers have some degree of assurance, few attain a comfortable degree of assurance. Full assurance is difficult for most believers to attain” (Beeke, pp. 176-177).

Yeah, faith alone justifies through Christ alone. BUT, if they do not know that they possess faith in Christ, then how can Beeke say that someone is justified, when that person himself doesn’t even know if he’s justified?

Burgess is quoted as saying that few believers “attain a comfortable degree of assurance,” and that, “Full assurance is difficult for most believers to attain.” In light of these two aforementioned quotes, it’s obvious that these “believers” were in reality unbelievers, who as yet, still had a spirit of bondage again to fear, rather than the Spirit of adoption whereby they would not have feared, but cried out, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

“The Westminster Confession addresses the foundations of assurance in chapter 18.2. It is important here not to confuse the foundations or grounds of assurance with the foundations or grounds of salvation. As John Murray said: ‘When we speak of the grounds of assurance, we are thinking of the ways in which a believer comes to entertain this assurance, not of the grounds on which his salvation rests. The grounds of salvation are as secure for the person who does not have full assurance as for the person who has’” (Beeke, p. 177).

The foundation of the Christian’s assurance, is the SAME foundation of his salvation! Christ alone! Beeke says that it’s important not to confuse the two. WRONG. The ground of one’s assurance IS the ground of one’s salvation, and the ground of one’s salvation IS the ground of one’s assurance.

For Beeke (evidenced by his favorable quote of Murray), one’s SALVATION is supposedly grounded on the work of Christ alone, BUT for some weird and wicked reason, ASSURANCE of one’s salvation is some kind of mixture of “works wrought in the sinner by the Holy Spirit,” and the work of Christ. The reason I wrote the sentence, “works wrought in the sinner by the Holy Spirit,” is because that is probably what Murray had in mind when he said this:

“When we speak of the grounds of assurance, we are thinking of the ways in which a believer comes to entertain this assurance, not of the grounds on which his salvation rests.”

WHAT? Is the response I have for the comment by Murray. So, the ground of my salvation is the work of Christ alone, BUT the “full assurance” of my salvation is, at least in part, grounded on my works done by God’s grace?

“Burgess and his colleagues consistently reminded believers that the objective promise embraced by faith is infallible because it is God’s comprehensive and faithful covenant promise. Consequently, the subjective evidence, though necessary, must always be regarded as secondary, for it is often mixed with human convictions and feelings even when it gazes upon the work of God. All exercises of saving faith apprehended to some degree the primary ground of divine promise in Christ” (Beeke, p. 179).

The faith of God’s elect, which lays hold of the sure and certain objective promise of God to save His people conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, is an infallible faith. One “subjective evidence” is described in Hebrews 5:9 as, “Christ has become the source of eternal salvation to the one’s obeying Him.” BUT the Christian’s obedience to Christ DOES NOT form any part of the ground of his assurance of his justification, and hence, his justification itself. To assert that assurance of one’s justification is attained by works, is to assert that one’s justification is attained by works. Where your assurance is, is where your hope is.

If we BELIEVE in Christ, then we will OBEY Christ. And if we BELIEVE in Christ, then we will NOT think that our obedience to Christ gains or maintains our salvation/justification (or the assurance of our salvation/justification).

We will NOT think that our obedience to Christ forms any part of the ground of our salvation/justification (or the assurance of our salvation/justification).

From regeneration to final glory, it is all the work of Christ. His blood that really (not theoretically or hypothetically) atones; His imputed righteousness that really (not theoretically or hypothetically) justifies, apart from any wicked and anti-christian contribution from the sinner (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Assurance that we are justified is grounded upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.

To assert assurance of justification by works, is ipso facto to assert justification by works. How so? A certain person says that he believes that a person is justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. AND he also says that he himself is justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. BUT then he says that he can only obtain (or attain) an actual assurance of this alleged justification by Christ’s righteousness alone by means of works. So, he says that he has faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, while saying that he can only be sure that he actually has this alleged “faith” by means of his works. His assurance of his justification is found in his own works — and thus, in his works, is where his hope has been established and found (cf. Romans 10:1-4).

Advertisements