Great Post On Assurance

Wes’s post on assurance is well worth reading very carefully, especially by FV proponents. I thought this paragraph especially helpful:

Now, here is the question I have for these men. Isn’t asking if someone is walking by faith by grace the same as asking, “Am I elect?” Aren’t the regenerate elect the only ones who walk by faith?

The mistake that many FV proponents make is in saying that because we can’t read anyone else’s heart, that therefore we can’t read our own hearts. I wouldn’t deny that it can be difficult to read our own hearts. The heart is deceitful. However, that does not mean that the heart is unreadable by its owner. So that means that yes, I can know that I am elect.

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41 Comments

  1. pduggie said,

    February 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    What if by asking “am I elect” we are asking “is the atonement intended for me”. I’m not sure Wes’ answer works.

    I’m also not sure where the confession really implies we should be asking “am I elect”.

    Instead the confession says we will receive assurance by “truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him”. Thats more like what the “man in the presbytery” is saying

  2. David Gray said,

    February 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Doesn’t the Bible teach us that some will think of themselves as elect erroneously?

  3. J.Kru said,

    February 3, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I liked the article and I am eager to have a real-life FV proponent respond.

  4. tim prussic said,

    February 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I haven’t read the article yet, but I will. Pastor, you say “many” FV proponents move from can’t know others’ hearts to can’t know one’s own. Maybe Wes has identified them, but I’ve not run into them. Who are they?

  5. Brad B said,

    February 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    In my experience, knowing the “marks” of regeneration, understanding the doctrine of predestination and election, God’s sovereignty, His plan, His glory and all that entails has given me assurance that not only comforts me, but spurs me on. It’s as if it’s a self fulfilling doctrine in my way of thinking about it. I dont know how anyone would not lose hope after a lifetime of realizations of the depths of falleness without the knowledge that He will finish what He started. It would be a perniscious lie to deny assurance can be known.

  6. jared said,

    February 3, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    J. Kru, would a sympathizer suffice? I felt like the article was pretty muddled (quality of writing maybe?), but let me take a stab.

    His first “presupposition” gleaned from the WCF chapter on assurance is clearly an assumption and cannot be derived or inferred from the text of the Confession itself. What the confession actually says is that “it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure”. This does not necessitate, nor does it obligate one to question their elect status per se. In fact, questioning one’s elect status seems more like a consequence of some things in WCF 18.4 (not quoted in the article) happening in the believer’s life. Ideally these are some things that we want (and should strive) to avoid. This presupposition is also invalidated by the fact that the Confession states, quite clearly, that this assurance is not required for salvation (i.e. it does not belong to the essence of faith).

    His second presupposition is only problematic in the typical issues involved with the terms “objective” and “subjective” as they relate to elect and reprobate covenant members respectively. In actuality there is a difference between the elect and the reprobate covenant member; namely that one is a member of the invisible church and the other is not. In other words, one is truly saved and the other only thinks he is (which hope of his shall ultimately perish, as the Confession says). The problem is that this objective difference cannot be known by the visible church. No matter how certain I am of another’s salvation it is impossible for me to be as certain as I am about my own. And even more problematic is the possibility of my own certainty being false. Both Scripture and the Confession tie assurance to perseverance so my assurance is only infallible in as much as it is real and the only way to determine if it is real is if I continue on to the end in faith (which I will).

    His third presupposition is redundant given the second. If someone can discern the marks of election via self-examination then, of course, it stands to reason that this individual can also know his own soul since that’s where those marks largely reside. But it needs to be kept in mind that self-examination is not the only, or even the primary, means of obtaining assurance.

    He also tries to bring in the PCA FV Study Report for back-up but this is not a helpful maneuver. The report, kicking off its “comparative analysis” section on assurance, says:

    We recognize that FV proponents point to a major failing in the modern evangelical church: the easy terms upon which a Christian’s assurance may rest. Yet in seeking to challenge these terms, these writers overstress the objective means of salvation and underplay the subjective aspects of “an infallible assurance.”

    What I find fascinating here is that it is the “objective means of salvation” which provide the basis for obtaining an infallible assurance. So, in stressing these objective means the FV is actually encouraging and/or facilitating our duty to make our calling and election sure. In other words, there can be no “underplaying” of the “subjective aspects” of assurance in the FV formula. It’s the objective realities which make possible the various subjective experiences. In the previous section the report quotes Wilkins:

    Steve Wilkins has said, “Whenever you focus on subjective experience as the basis of assurance of salvation, you are ultimately undermining assurance. You ask questions that cannot be answered with any certainty. Have you truly believed? Are you really converted? The decree of election is no ground since no one can know if they have been chosen for salvation.”

    I don’t like how Wilkins tethers it out, but he is absolutely right (and in accordance with the Confession, no less): our subjective experience is not the basis of assurance. Now, I do believe that one can know if they have been chosen for salvation but Wilkins is right to say that the decree of election is no ground because no one can know the decree but God. What the FV is saying is that assurance is based on objective covenant realities (promises) and not on subjective covenant experiences which could be false. The report continues in the comparative analysis:

    The Committee views the FV position as ultimately leading to presumption or despair, not assurance. At the heart of their belief is the view that water baptism serves as the means for uniting each participant to Jesus; those baptized receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation except final perseverance. Our concern is that some of those who are baptized will simply presume on God’s grace, “continuing in the covenant” without “apostatizing” but also without justifying faith (cf. Matthew 22:1-14); others will be driven to despair, working for a salvation out of “covenant faithfulness” instead of resting and receiving Jesus alone for their salvation.

    I’m not convinced the report has adequately comprehended “the heart of their [FV] belief” about what baptism does, nevertheless, the Confessional view of assurance presents the same problems as those which are attributed to the FV view. On the one hand there are hypocrites who have a false assurance (presumption) and on the other there are those who pursue this infallible assurance unto their own despair, though not necessarily to their damnation as in the former.

    The article then goes on to blabber about the term “Christian” in the context of visible/invisible church membership. What’s the point? FV advocates would say the term “Christian” applies to anyone who is a member of the Church whether visible or invisible. The problem here is created by having a divided conception of the Church and positing that, somehow, the visible Church is distinctly separate from the invisible Church. Instead this visible/invisible conception is perspectival rather than ontic. What is true of the invisible church is (or will be) true of the visible church (hence the FV categories of historical and eschatological). These several paragraphs in the article contribute absolutely nothing to the discussion of assurance. I’m not sure the rest of the article is even worth giving a response. He seems to be resting his argument on his first “presupposition” which is, I believe, not exactly the best place to be working from. Assurance doesn’t come merely or simply by self-examination, nor is such examination the basis of assurance, as we have already seen. As an aside, I especially like the part where the he quotes the Directory of Worship which reads like something that could come straight from the pens of FV advocates. What? Children are federally holy (i.e. Christian) even before they are baptised? And we still want to deny them the Lord’s Supper? I’m really not sure how this glaring incoherence slips past some of the sharper minds we have in the PCA.

    Okay, so lets hit the article and the original post at the same time. The article says,

    Now, here is the question I have for these men. Isn’t asking if someone is walking by faith by grace the same as asking, “Am I elect?” Aren’t the regenerate elect the only ones who walk by faith?

    To the first question, no, it’s not the same. And yes, the regenerate elect are the only ones who walk by saving faith. This, of course, is the whole point. If you are walking by grace through faith then you are “truly Christian” and are in a position to obtain an infallible assurance. How do you know if you’re elect? There’s only two ways: (1) you persevere to the end or (2) you obtain this infallible assurance. One way is guaranteed to all who are given to the Son, the other is not. In fact the other way can actually become a stumbling block, a divine way of weeding out some of the goats and the wolves. How do you know if you’re walking by grace through faith? Well, there are many evidences but the central ones are the same ones which can result in obtaining assurance. So not only do we see that the questions are different but we can also see clearly which question is more pastorally relevant. You want to challenge your congregation you ask them about their walk, not about their elect status. I mean, you can ask them about their status too but it doesn’t seem to me that it would be as effective/affective unless you’re using it as a lead-in to questioning their walk.

    But I’m just a layman, and a young one at that, so maybe I’ll come around and see where the supposed error is on this issue.

  7. Wes White said,

    February 4, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Jared, thanks for responding to my “blabber” and “muddled writing,” but I’m having trouble understanding what you are trying to say.

    I’ll put what I understand you to be saying and then respond.

    1. The Confession doesn’t say that you should ask if you’re elect.

    Reply: Yes. It does. Even the FV guys claim that the WCF is speaking from a decretal perspective. Thus, when it says that it is our duty to make our calling and election sure, it implies that we should at least ask the question if we are elect.

    2. My presupposition 2 & 3 are redundant.

    Reply: I’ve never been redundant. Have you ever been redundant? I don’t know about you but I’ve never been redundant. Redundancy is just something I don’t engage in.

    I’m not sure if you’re right here. You could say that there is a difference b/n the elect and reprobate that could be determined by self-examination but, since self-examination is impossible, it cannot be obtained.

    3. You say, “What the FV is saying is that assurance is based on objective covenant realities (promises) and not on subjective covenant experiences which could be false.”

    Reply: I agree with this, and this is why the FV is contrary to the Confession. The Confession says it is based on both. This is the syllogismus practicus, which the FV denies, and the Confession confirms.

    4. Asking if I’m walking by faith through grace is not the same as asking, “Am I elect?”

    Reply: I determine if I’m elect by determining if I have true faith. If I determine I have true faith, then I know that I’m elect. You can distinguish these questions, I’ll agree with you there. However, to answer that I have faith is in essence also to answer the question, “Am I elect?”

    Thanks for the critique. Wes

  8. Dean B said,

    February 4, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Jared

    BOQ What the FV is saying is that assurance is based on objective covenant realities (promises) and not on subjective covenant experiences which could be false.EOQ

    The fact that I was baptized as an infant, when to church my whole life, have not shot anyone to death and as a result am still a covenant member to a visible church is NOT the objective aspects of assurance. Looking to Christ alone, who is the object of our faith, is where we get assurance because He has fulfilled all righteousness for me. Like you said assurance is not something subjective, but full assurance is extraspective because it objectively points to Christ Alone and His perfect righteousness.

    WCF 18.3 “This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith”…

    If the emphasis is on the phrase “essence of faith” then I disagree with this article in the Confessions since I believe that assurance is the essence of faith. However if the emphasis is on “infallible” then I would not have a problem since saving faith “is different in degrees,weak or strong” and one can have die with weak faith without assurance.

    If assurance was not the “essence of faith” then I believe the confessions disagree with themselves and Scripture. The “principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.” The result of resting on Christ alone for eternal life will produce assurance. To hold to the position that assurance is not the “essence of faith” is to make the confession disagree with itself. “[T]his faith, …embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. (WCF 14.2).” I believe the phrase “embracing the promises of God” is assurance of eternal salvation.

    And again in WCF 14.3 in speaking of saving faith it states, that is may “growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance.”
    To suggest that assurance is not a result of faith undermines the truth of justification and adoption. If “full assurance” did not flow from faith then where does it come from?

    I too am just a young layman so I am more than willing to learn here also.

  9. ray kikkert said,

    February 4, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    That is a good post … thanks for the link … mention is made at the end of the post regarding the remarks in the Canons of Dort.

    Some of the responders here seem to have a problem with such doctrine … that’s just crazy thinking to question and refute it …, but like the author stated in the article (whether they … the FV advocate and sympathizer are willing to admit it or not ) There not willing ….

    Since our forefathers wisely inserted the rejections of errors within the 5th Head of Doctrine in the Canons of Dort – The Perseverance of the Saints … it deals directly with assurance that only the elect have.

    But the remonstrants had their own ideas …

    “The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

    I. Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will.

    Reformer response: For the Holy Scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection and intercession of Christ: “But the elect obtained it and the rest were hardened,” Romans 11:7. Likewise: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Romans 8:32-35.

    II. Who teach: That God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ever ready to preserve these in him, if he will do his duty; but that though all things, which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, are made use of, it even then ever depends on the pleasure of the will whether it will persevere or not.

    Reformer response:For this idea contains an outspoken Pelagianism, and while it would make men free, it makes them robbers of God’s honor, contrary to the prevailing agreement of the evangelical doctrine, which takes from man all cause of boasting, and ascribes all the praise for this favor to the grace of God alone; and contrary to the Apostle, who declares: “That it is God, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” I Corinthians 1:8.

    III. Who teach: That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever.

    Reformer response: For this conception makes powerless the grace, justification, regeneration, and continued keeping by Christ, contrary to the expressed words of the Apostle Paul: “That while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him,” Romans 5:8,9. And contrary to the Apostle John: “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he can not sin, because he is begotten of God,” I John 3:9. And also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” John 10:28,29.

    IV. Who teach: That true believers and regenerate can sin the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit.

    Reformer response: Since the same Apostle John, after having spoken in the fifth chapter of his first epistle, vss. 16 and 17, of those who sin unto death and having forbidden to pray for them, immediately adds to this in vs. 18: “We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not (meaning a sin of that character), but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not,” I John 5:18.

    V. Who teach: That without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life.

    Reformer response:For by this doctrine the sure comfort of all believers is taken away in this life, and the doubts of the papist are again introduced into the church, while the Holy Scriptures constantly deduce this assurance, not from a special and extraordinary revelation, but from the marks proper to the children of God and from the constant promises of God. So especially the Apostle Paul: “No creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8:39. And John declares: “And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us,” I John 3:24.

    VI. Who teach: That the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and of salvation from its own character and nature is a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers and other holy exercises, but that on the contrary it is praiseworthy to doubt.

    Reformer response:For these show that they do not know the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And they contradict the Apostle John, who teaches the opposite with express words in his first epistle: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” I John 3:2, 3. Furthermore, these are contradicted by the example of the saints, both of the Old and New Testament, who though they were assured of their perseverance and salvation, were nevertheless constant in prayers and other exercises of godliness.

    VII. Who teach: That the faith of those, who believe for a time, does not differ from justifying and saving faith except only in duration.

    Reformer response: For Christ himself, in Matthew 13:20, Luke 8:13, and in other places, evidently notes, besides this duration, a threefold difference between those who believe only for a time and true believers, when he declares that the former receive the seed in stony ground, but the latter in the good ground or heart; that the former are without root, but that the latter have a firm root; that the former are without fruit, but that the latter bring forth their fruit in various measure, with constancy and steadfastness.

    VIII. Who teach: That it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew.

    Reformer response:For these deny by this doctrine the incorruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again. Contrary to the testimony of the Apostle Peter: “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,” I Peter 1:23.

    IX. Who teach: That Christ has in no place prayed that believers should infallibly continue in faith.

    Reformer response:For they contradict Christ himself, who says: “I have prayed for thee (Simon), that thy faith fail not,” Luke 22:32; and the Evangelist John, who declares, that Christ has not prayed for the Apostles only, but also for those who through their word would believer: “Holy Father, keep them in thy name,” and: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one,” John 17:11, 15, 20.”

  10. jared said,

    February 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    I don’t have a problem with assurance at all, neither do most (all?) FV advocates. I do have a problem with those who would use the doctrine as a club to bludgeon those who might emphasize a different aspect of the doctrine for pastoral reasons. Whatever else the FV may be mistaken about, assurance is not one of the issues. And, just so you don’t have to go looking for it, here’s the FV joint statement on assurance:

    We affirm that those who have been justifed by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are saved to the uttermost and will spend eternity with Christ and His saints in glory forever. We affirm also that though salvation is granted through the instrument of faith alone, those who have been justified will live progressively more and more sanctified lives until they go to be with God. Those believers for whom this is true look to Christ for their assurance – in the Word, in the sacraments, in their fellow believers, and in their own participation in that life by faith. We deny that anyone who claims to have faith but who lives in open rebellion against God and against his Christ has any reason to believe that he will be saved on the last day.

    Yes, real threatening and Romish piece of work that is, isn’t it. Totally anti-confessional too…

  11. Reed Here said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Jared: is there a particular snarky comment to which you are responding with snarkiness?

    Don’t let it get to you brother. You’ve not in the past. Rise above the provocation. (Advice from one who is grateful for forgiveness in Christ.)

  12. jared said,

    February 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Reed,

    Snarky? No. I just wanted to get across the ridiculousness of the article’s supposition that the FV understanding of assurance is Romish and that it “destroys the biblical basis for assurance of final salvation”. Also, I don’t particularly appreciate being associated with the Remonstrants. Not that I don’t think they weren’t (or aren’t) fine people, it’s just not my theological cup of tea (neither is it the FV’s cup of tea). Thanks for the advice and the reminder though, the admonition shan’t fall on deaf ears (or eyes, as it were).

  13. GLW Johnson said,

    February 5, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Gee whiz Jared but of course you would take exception to being linked to the Remonstrants-the family resemblance, however, is striking. Cal Beisner made this very same observation in the foreword to Guy Waters critique of the FV ( but , like Wes’ post, you probably think Waters is all wet as well).

  14. David Gray said,

    February 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I remember hearing Waters on a Baptist radio program where they had no clue regarding what he was discussing and sounded very suspicious about Romish practices like infant baptism. I guess any publicity is good publicity…

  15. GLW Johnson said,

    February 5, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Now that is a really spot on retort DG.

  16. David Gray said,

    February 5, 2010 at 7:56 am

    >Now that is a really spot on retort DG.

    It wasn’t a retort GLWJ, it was an observation.

  17. Dean B said,

    February 5, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Jared

    BOQ We deny that anyone who claims to have faith but who lives in open rebellion against God and against his Christ has any reason to believe that he will be saved on the last day.EOQ

    I would like your help in understanding what the advocates of the FV intend to communicate here.

    Pastorally speaking do you think assurance stops or should stop when a member of the visible church lives for a period of time in unconfessed sin? More specifically, someone like David who is living in unconfessed sin and “open rebellion” may they still possess a level of assurance or did/should it stop during this time?

    Is it possible for someone to have assurance even during their time of unconfessed sins and “open rebellion” and when they confess their sins they “strengthen their assurance” (WCF 16.2). In other words, during our life of sanctification when we do good works (confession) do we strengthen what is already there beginning in our effectual calling?

    Do this above sentence by the FV do they intend to disagree with this section by Robert Shaw in his commentary on WCF 3.2? “It ought ever to be remembered, that no man can know his election prior to his conversion. Wherefore, instead of prying into the secret purpose of God, he ought to attend to his revealed will, that by making sure his vocation, he may ascertain his election. The order and method in which this knowledge may be attained is pointed out by the Apostle Peter, when he exhorts Christians to “give all diligence to make their calling and election sure.”–2 Pet. i. 10. Their eternal election must remain a profound secret until it be discovered to them by their effectual calling in time; but when they have ascertained their calling they may thence infallibly conclude that they were elected from eternity.”

  18. Brad B said,

    February 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Dean B, I substantially agree with what you’ve said, but think that the sense of assurance from the mans point of view does wax and wane in concert with obedience. I think the force of the warnings like those in the book of Hebrews have their intended place in the waning times and the fear that comes give even more meaning to the 2 Pet 1:10 reference.

    Theree’s not doubt tahat men sin when we dont believe the promises of God when He said that He will deliver all that the Father has given, but the fact is we sin and doubt. Thanks be to God that it’s not my faithfulness that counts, it’s His.

  19. Dean B said,

    February 5, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Brad

    BOQ “but think that the sense of assurance from the mans point of view does wax and wane in concert with obedience.”

    I agree. However, I think there is a bad tendency for Christians to use their subjective feelings as the barometer for how assured they feel at any moment in time rather than the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to assures us of eternal life (HC Q&A 1).

    It must be emphasized that Evangelical obedience restores the “felt presence” of God not the actual presence of God. In Psalm 51:12 David asks God to “restore” the joy of salvation not to “create”.

    Berkhof ST (515): “The usual position of Reformed theology, however, is that in justification God indeed removes the guilt, but not the culpability of sin, that is, He removes the sinner’s just amenability to punishment, but not the inherent guiltiness of whatever sins he may continue to perform. The latter remains and therefore always produces in believers a feeling of guilt, of separation from God, of sorrow, of repentance, and so on. Hence they feel the need of confessing their sins, even the sins of their youth, Ps. 25:7; 51:5-9. The believer who is really conscious of his sin feels within him an urge to confess it and to seek the comforting assurance of forgiveness. Moreover, such confession and prayer is not only a subjectively felt need, but also an objective necessity. Justification is essentially an objective declaration respecting the sinner in the tribunal of God, but it is not merely that; it is also an actus transiens, passing into the consciousness of the believer. The divine sentence of acquittal is brought home to the sinner and awakens the joyous consciousness of the forgiveness of sins and of favor with God. Now this consciousness of pardon and of a renewed filial relationship is often disturbed and obscured by sin, and is again quickened and strengthened by confession and prayer, and by a renewed exercise of faith.”

  20. Brad B said,

    February 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Hi Dean B, the Berkhof quote was good, thanks. You said:

    “It must be emphasized that Evangelical obedience restores the “felt presence” of God not the actual presence of God. In Psalm 51:12 David asks God to “restore” the joy of salvation not to “create”.”

    This seems to go well with the idea that the body *is* the temple of the Lord

    1 Cor. 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? ”

    But, isn’t this an intellectual understanding, not a sense or felt presence only? I dont know how to have a sense of safety in assurance without *knowing* the particulars of that safety ie that He bought me and will not fail, that my duty is to get up/continue again since there’s really no other option. Hey a form of fatalism I can rest in!

  21. jared said,

    February 5, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Wes White,

    Thanks for your response. You say of the Confession’s admonition to make our calling and election sure:

    Reply: Yes. It does. Even the FV guys claim that the WCF is speaking from a decretal perspective. Thus, when it says that it is our duty to make our calling and election sure, it implies that we should at least ask the question if we are elect.

    You don’t make sure you have something by asking yourself if you have it; rather you look for the evidences that you have it. Asking yourself if you’re elect doesn’t help you in any way to determine whether you are elect. Instead you need to be asking yourself if you have the “proper fruits of this assurance”. Do you have peace and joy in the Holy Spirit? Do you show love and thankfulness to God? Do you obey God with strength and cheerfulness in those duties He has seen fit to task you with? Asking yourself if you’re elect is a sign of doubt, not piety. You say,

    I’m not sure if you’re right here. You could say that there is a difference b/n the elect and reprobate that could be determined by self-examination but, since self-examination is impossible, it cannot be obtained.

    Self-examination is possible, it just isn’t infallible. This is why Scripture and the Confession don’t make it sole the basis of assurance. You say regarding the FV’s pitting objective against subjective as the basis for assurance:

    The Confession says it is based on both [the objective realities and subjective experiences of the covenant]. This is the syllogismus practicus, which the FV denies, and the Confession confirms.

    Sorry I was unclear at this point. It seems to me that the FV doesn’t flatly deny the role of subjective experience in relation to assurance. They want to emphasize objective above subjective because of the possibility of error inherent in emphasizing the latter. I agree that assurance involves both and I don’t think the FV would disagree. But because their theology is characterized by externals I can see how one could think that they simply take the internals out of the picture (either by denial or some other means). The FV wants to say that if you want assurance then looking at yourself first is not the right place to begin; this seems to comport with the Confession. It’s not that self-examination is bad or undesirable, it just isn’t the primary basis of assurance. Your last stated issue is about the equation of two proposed questions:

    I determine if I’m elect by determining if I have true faith. If I determine I have true faith, then I know that I’m elect. You can distinguish these questions, I’ll agree with you there. However, to answer that I have faith is in essence also to answer the question, “Am I elect?”

    Yes, I agree that if you determine you have true faith then it follows that you are elect. If you determine that you are walking by grace through faith then it would be right to answer the question “Am I elect?” with a “Yes”. But if you start with the question “Am I elect?” you’re going to have problems. You don’t start with doubt because it’s a slippery slope that can prevent you from obtaining assurance. My point (and the FV contention) is that “Am I elect?” is not a question that necessarily should be asked. Can it be asked? Sure. Does the WCF imply that we should (as in we ought to ask)? No, I don’t think it does. The more I think about it the more it seems to me that this question is one that should be asked to someone else instead of to one’s self. Do you think I’m elect? Does my life exhibit faithfulness? Do I have the marks of a true Christian? Accountability is a huge part of self-examination and, I think, one of the best ways to foster assurance (amongst other positive qualities). I hope I’ve helped clear some things up for you.

    Dean B.,

    Re. #8, you say:

    If the emphasis is on the phrase “essence of faith” then I disagree with this article in the Confessions since I believe that assurance is the essence of faith. However if the emphasis is on “infallible” then I would not have a problem since saving faith “is different in degrees,weak or strong” and one can have die with weak faith without assurance.

    Well that’s what’s interesting (troubling?) about the WCF, there seems to be more than one or two ways to understand any given chapter and section. I would say that spiritual life, or righteousness, or justification, is the essence of faith. I think what the Confession is saying is that self-assurance is not a necessary part of faith, since self-assurance seems to be the topic of the chapter. Your response here is a bit odd since you say, on the one hand, that you believe assurance is the essence of faith and then you finish by saying that one can die with a weak faith without assurance and, presumably, still be saved in spite of your belief that assurance is the essence of faith.

    If assurance was not the “essence of faith” then I believe the confessions disagree with themselves and Scripture. The “principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.” The result of resting on Christ alone for eternal life will produce assurance. To hold to the position that assurance is not the “essence of faith” is to make the confession disagree with itself. “[T]his faith, …embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. (WCF 14.2).” I believe the phrase “embracing the promises of God” is assurance of eternal salvation.

    I’m not sure your argument follows. The result of resting on Christ alone for eternal life is the obtaining of eternal life. If resting on Christ alone were all it took to have assurance then chapter 18 is completely superfluous. Doubt is an inescapable aspect of human constitution on this side of heaven. I think you’re right in that we should have confidence in Jesus and the gospel. Embracing the promises of God is something faith does, having assurance is something you do; it doesn’t come automatically or without continuing effort (and to some it doesn’t come at all). Assurance doesn’t save you, Jesus does. You conclude:

    And again in WCF 14.3 in speaking of saving faith it states, that is may “growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance.”
    To suggest that assurance is not a result of faith undermines the truth of justification and adoption. If “full assurance” did not flow from faith then where does it come from?

    Notice that it says “growing up in many” not all. Assurance is the result of faithfulness in many but it is not necessary for salvation (i.e. it doesn’t belong to the essence of faith).

    GLW Johnson,

    Except there isn’t a family resemblance. There’s nothing in the “Who teach” parts of that section of Dordt which apply to me, or to the FV.

    Dean B.

    Re: #17, you ask:

    Pastorally speaking do you think assurance stops or should stop when a member of the visible church lives for a period of time in unconfessed sin? More specifically, someone like David who is living in unconfessed sin and “open rebellion” may they still possess a level of assurance or did/should it stop during this time?

    No, I don’t think it needs to stop during a period of time in unconfessed sin. True believers are prevented from falling into utter despair and are always brought back in line one way or another. I believe that once true assurance has been obtained, while it can be shaken and diminished to some extent, it cannot be eliminated. You continue,

    Is it possible for someone to have assurance even during their time of unconfessed sins and “open rebellion” and when they confess their sins they “strengthen their assurance” (WCF 16.2). In other words, during our life of sanctification when we do good works (confession) do we strengthen what is already there beginning in our effectual calling?

    This is two different questions. Yes it is possible for someone to have assurance even during a time of open rebellion. No, I don’t think assurance is “already there beginning in our effectual calling”. At least it isn’t universally there for all true believers. I, personally, cannot recall a time when I wasn’t sure but I don’t believe my experience is typical. And to you last question, no, I don’t think the FV sentence I quoted is at odds with WCF 3.2 or with Shaw’s analysis of it. The denial in the above quote is born out of a high view of church discipline. There’s no reason why someone living in sin should think he will be saved. Such an individual is stricken with epistemic inconsistency. If you think grace is a license to sin then maybe you don’t really understand (or have) grace. What if David had continued in his rebellion? Would he have ended up like Saul? Of course we can’t know but it isn’t something that should be toyed with.

  22. GLW Johnson said,

    February 6, 2010 at 5:47 am

    Au contrare,masque Jared why your picture shows that you bears a remarkable likeness to Episcopius!

  23. jared said,

    February 6, 2010 at 8:29 am

    He wasn’t related to Arminius though…

  24. Dean B said,

    February 6, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Jared

    “Your response here is a bit odd since you say, on the one hand, that you believe assurance is the essence of faith and then you finish by saying that one can die with a weak faith without assurance”

    I am sorry I was not clearer. A person can grow in faith and as a result of that strengthened faith a person will grow in assurance. A weak faith will produce weak assurance instead of no assurance. I agree very much with your statement, “I believe that once true assurance has been obtained, while it can be shaken and diminished to some extent, it cannot be eliminated.”

    “Embracing the promises of God is something faith does, having assurance is something you do”

    Assurance is the result of the work of the HS (HC Q&A 1). Faith is both knowledge and an assured confidence (HC Q&A 21). Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the HS our hope [of eternal life] is absolutely certain and can never be taken away (Rom 5 – 8).

    Certainly, assurance is strengthened by progressive sanctification, but even faithfulness is the work of the HS in us (Eph 2:10).

    Calvin Commentary Eph 1:13:
    BOQ Our minds never become so firmly established in the truth of God as to resist all the temptations of Satan, until we have been confirmed in it by the Holy Spirit. The true conviction which believers have of the word of God, of their own salvation, and of religion in general, does not spring from the judgment of the flesh, or from human and philosophical arguments, but from the sealing of the Spirit, who imparts to their consciences such certainty as to remove all doubt. EOQ

  25. jared said,

    February 6, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Dean B,

    While I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said, it still seems to me that WCF 18 is speaking about self-assurance, something a true believer can be without (as in, it isn’t a necessary result or aspect of saving faith). It should also be noted that the Heidelberg Catechism is not an official part of the Westminster Standards and, thus, cannot be used as a codex for determining one’s conformity thereunto. It can also be supposed that the assurance you are speaking of (that which is inherent in faith) is a different kind of assurance than that which is related/associated with election and salvation. For example, I can have confidence in the veracity of the gospel and yet not be fully certain that it’s realities apply to me.

  26. Coram Deo said,

    February 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    The Moralist’s Catechism

    FV = a resurgent variant of moralism.

  27. jared said,

    February 7, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Except that it isn’t and Clark doesn’t have the slightest idea what he’s talking about.

  28. GLW Johnson said,

    February 7, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Masque Jared
    You don’t like what Clark says therefore Clark must be clueless? You don’t like your theological propinquity either but it is as plain as the nose on your face.

  29. David Gray said,

    February 7, 2010 at 8:51 am

    >You don’t like what Clark says therefore Clark must be clueless?

    Isn’t that sort of how Clark deals with Frame?

  30. GLW Johnson said,

    February 7, 2010 at 9:07 am

    DG
    No, Clark actually engages Frame-the two of them , you will remember ,served together on the faculty at WSCAL. Also,Masque Jared gave the same kind of response to Wes calling his post ‘ridiculous’.

  31. David Gray said,

    February 7, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Frame doesn’t seem to agree with you.

    http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2010Clark.htm

  32. GLW Johnson said,

    February 7, 2010 at 9:43 am

    DG
    I am sure in time Clark will give a rejoinder-but, and this is the point under debate, Frame and Clark are not doing what Masque Jared did. By the way, I had Frame as one of my professors in a PhD course at WTS on the doctrine of the Knowledge of God- and I still profoundly disagree with him over Shepherd, the FV and a host of other things.

  33. David Gray said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    >By the way, I had Frame as one of my professors in a PhD course at WTS on the doctrine of the Knowledge of God- and I still profoundly disagree with him over Shepherd, the FV and a host of other things.

    Do you think he should be brought up on charges?

  34. GLW Johnson said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Oh yes- as soon as possible. The trial should be held in Moscow, ID. with their distinguished bishop presiding- just to make sure the jury is not stacked.

  35. David Gray said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

    >Oh yes- as soon as possible.

    OK.

  36. GLW Johnson said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I also think you ought to be on trial for being a dufuss.

  37. David Gray said,

    February 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

    > I also think you ought to be on trial for being a dufuss.

    That would be quite a reign of error…

  38. jared said,

    February 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    GLW,

    No, Clark is demonstrably unaware of the actual relationship between FV and moralism. Moreover, I am also demonstrably at odds with the Remonstrants (as is the FV, at least on the issue of perseverance/assurance). And, if you’ll bother reading, above you’ll see that Wes, on the face of it, seems to appreciate the fact that I engaged his article in spite of my poking at his writing abilities (he, like myself, would probably admit to not being the best, most clear writer). You’ll also notice that he didn’t respond at all to my pointing out of the irrelevance of his tirade about the term “Christian”.

    I don’t care if you insult me but don’t make fun of my theology if you are unwilling to dialog. As a professor and, thus, as someone in a position to influence young minds (even my own) you should take care not to influence them negatively.

  39. GLW Johnson said,

    February 8, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Masque Jared
    Ok, but you first have to acknowledge that you really are a closet Remonstrant.

  40. Reed Here said,

    February 8, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Gentlemen: as long as the banter is light-hearted, feel free to use it to seek to make your proints. Please however, consider if your own motives, and consider the response of the other. If you see they’re not able to maintain their response to your comments, please back off.

  41. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    February 24, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Reed, I don’t understand your vague and general rebuke. Can Gary Johnson read Jared’s heart and mind? And is it acceptable to say: “I won’t reply to you unless you first admit I’m right about you”? I’m not sure why Gary thinks that is helpful and appropriate, nor why it gets a free pass at this blog.


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