Doctrine of Assurance – Part 1

I am going to be looking at the topic of Assurance. Before we go any further, it is imperative for us to define exactly what we mean by this term. There are two ways in which this term may be used. Berkhof explains this two fold use:

  1. The objective assurance of faith, which is the “certain and undoubting conviction that Christ is all he professes to be, and will do all he promises.” It is generally agreed that this assurance is the essence of faith.
  2. The subjective assurance of faith, or the assurance of grace and salvation, which consists in a sense  of security and safety, rising in many instances to the height of an “assured conviction that the individual believer has had his sins pardoned and his soul saved.[1]

Therefore one definition of assurance places it at the time a person exercises faith in Christ, the other as a process into which a Christian grows and matures. One of the biggest problems in the understanding of assurance has been the confusion between these definitions. It is the second definition which the puritans used when discussing the Assurance of Faith.

The puritan tradition saw assurance as a fruit of faith which pointed to true election in Christ. This in itself was part of a much larger question which was often asked; “”How do I know that I am saved and one of the elect?” It was not an easy question to answer. The doctrine of limited atonement was dominant as was the doctrine of temporary faith. Temporary faith came from Calvin and was developed through Theodore Beza and William Perkins.[2] It claimed that an unelect reprobate may have all the outward signs of a true Christian, he may even have the desire to believe, but he will always be one of the unelect.

Eventually, maybe after five, ten or twenty years living as a Christian such a man will fall away and thus show he was a reprobate, never truly converted in the first place. This approach does cause a problem. The question, “How Do I Know I am Elect” is almost unanswerable in these circumstances. For this reason, Practical and Mystical Syllogism and the Reflex Act were developed. The Practical Syllogism  worked as follows:

Major premise: According to scripture, only those who possess saving faith will receive the Spirit’s testimony that their lives manifest fruits of sanctification and good works. Minor premise: I cannot deny that by the grace of God I have received the Spirit’s testimony that I may manifest fruits of sanctification and good works. Conclusion: Consequently, I may be assured that I am a partaker of saving faith.

The Mystical Syllogism, on the other hand, worked along the following lines:

Major premise: According to scripture only those who possess saving faith will experience the spirit’s testimony confirming inward grace and godliness, such that self will decrease and Christ will increase. Minor premise: I cannot deny that by the grace of God I may experience the spirit’s testimony confirming inward grace and godliness such that self-decreases and Christ increases. Conclusion: Consequently, I may be assured that I am a partaker of saving faith.[1]

As Beeke explains, the Practical Syllogism was largely based on the believers sanctification and good works as evidenced in practical and daily life while the Mystical Syllogism was based largely on the believers internal exercises and progress in the steps of grace[2].

The role of the Reflex Act was to enable a person to look at their faith to see if such evidences were there [3]. Hence, to know if you are one of the elect, a puritan would tell you to i) believe the promises of God, that is the Gospel and ii) to look at your life and see if the evidences of God’s grace through faith are there.


[1] J Beeke Assurance of Faith (Peter Lang 1991) pg160

[2] Ibid pg160

[3] Ibid pg161


[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth Trust 1988) pg507

[2] R.T Kendall Calvin And English Calvinism to 1649 (OUP 1979) pg2-9

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s