Chapter 13 was reviewed here (just for DW’s convenience, as he has not replied to that one just yet). Some other posts of mine on assurance can be found here. This post is a review of chapter 14 of “Reformed” Is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson.
Wilson’s chapter on assurance has many fine things in it. I especially appreciate the fact that he didn’t just say, “Look to your baptism for assurance.” The following are the main characteristics of someone who is assured of their salvation: he is holding fast to Jesus Christ, he has the gift of the Holy Spirit, he loves his brothers, is humble in mind, delights in the means of grace, understands spiritual things, is obedient, and is chastened for disobedience. These are the “bullet points” of the chapter. A few other comments of his require some comment. He defines “morbid introspection” as something which “holds up the mirror of self and spews forth doubts” (p. 125). This is contrasted with true self-examination, which “holds up the mirror of the Word and asks honest questions” (ibid.). Questions have answers, whereas doubts exclude answers (pp. 125-126). I believe that this contrast is intended to help people avoid wallowing in themselves, which I think Wilson would argue (and I would agree with him) is one of the main problems of modern “evangelicalism,” especially as it is a function of the Enlightenment (or, as my brother is fond of saying, the Endarkenment) synergizing with Christianity.
A few points of criticism are necessary, however. One of them involves a somewhat ambiguous statement of Wilson’s: “Objective assurance is never found through trying to peer into the secret counsels of God, or into the murky recesses of one’s own heart” (p. 130). Now, with regard to the first part of that sentence, ambiguity exists: does “peer(ing) into the secret counsels of God” imply trying to see into the Book of Life to see if one’s name is in fact written there? Or does it mean that we should not use the doctrine of decretal election as part of our assurance? Nowhere in this chapter does Wilson argue that the doctrine of election plays any part in our assurance. Without answering the direction of ambiguity, I will say this: the doctrine of decretal election provides assurance for the doubting Christian (although it provides no assurance for the backslidden Christian). Election says that nothing can take the believer out of God’s hand. Now, election is not the only thing that provides assurance. The things that Wilson has listed contribute, as do all the means of grace (some of which Wilson listed, though not all). Assurance, in other words, is the result of many, many things working together in the believer’s life.
The second point of question that I have concerns this statement: “And so a Christian searching for biblical assurance should take these passages of Scripture, see how they are all fulfilled in the font and Table, and then rest in his salvation” (p. 130). Surely we do not want to say that all the promises that Wilson listed in Scripture passages quoted are fulfilled only in the font and Table. Of course, they are primarily fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in Whom all promises are yes and amen. Wilson does say in this context that the Word always accompanies Sacrament. That helps, but does not quite fully alleviate the limitation Wilson has put on those promises. Secondly, even in the Sacraments, the promises are fulfilled when one has the thing signified by the font and Table, not primarily when one receives the sign. They can and often do happen at the same time (especially at the Table). But they do not have to occur at the same time.
I think Wilson and I would both agree that our primary means of assurance is looking to Jesus Christ. At least, I would hope we would agree on that. The differences can be chalked up to a difference in our views of how Christ is appropriated. I don’t know if Wilson would deny that election is a source of assurance. Maybe he just forgot to mention it. A lot depends on how the ambiguity mentioned above on the “secret counsels” statement is resolved.