The Doctrine Of Assurance – Part 9


William Perkins (1558-1602) was probably the best known and most widely read divine of the Elizabethan period. By the time of his death, Perkins writings were outselling Calvin and Beza. A large part of Perkins studies was taken up with showing men that they must make their calling and election sure to themselves (2 Peter 1:10). Perkins own thinking and theology was heavily influenced by Theodore Beza, who was Calvin’s successor at Geneva (see appendix).

In his exposition of Galatians, Perkins clearly lays out his understanding of the grounds for assurance; first came the general promise of the gospel, by which faith becomes a particular personal promise; secondly the testimony  of the Holy Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God; and third, the syllogism which rests partly on the gospel and partly on experience. This was patterned on Beza’s views.

There are a number of important areas of Perkins understanding which need clarifying. Firstly Perkins believed in Works of Preparation preceding the Work of Grace. A Christian goes through a process of preparation before he is saved. We shall see how this functions in Perkins understanding in a moment.

Secondly, Perkins definition of assurance needs to be established. It would appear that in his Works 1:125 & 564 Perkins blatantly contradicts himself.

Firstly he says: Whereas some are of the opinion that faith is assurance or confidence, that seems to be otherwise; for it is a fruit of faith…

Then later he writes; True faith is both an unfallible assurance, and a particular assurance of the remission of sins, and of life everlasting…

The problem is that Perkins has divided assurance into two areas, objective and subjective assurance.  This is similar to Calvin’s view of the “knowledge of God’s word” and the “work of the Holy Spirit” as two separate stages.

The first usage (…objective assurance) enables the sinner to view the “pardonable-ness” or “forgivable-ness” of his sins apart from the personal realization of such forgiveness, while the second (…subjective assurance) refers to “full’ assurance received in the wake of the personal application of redemption which enables the sinner to believe that God for Christ’s sake personally forgive all his sins. [1]

[1] A N S Lane, Calvin’s Doctrine Of Assurance, Vox Evangelica 1979 No 11 pg44

Exegesis Of Romans 2:14-15 – Part 5

They are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. The second half of this verse merely repeats what has gone before. However the phrase, a law to themselves needs to be looked at. It can be taken in two ways. If the gentiles are non-christians, then by doing what the law requires they are attesting to knowledge of the divine moral standards. Murray writes that by reason of what is implanted in their nature, they are confronted with the law of God. He says three things are true:

  1. The law of God confronts  non-christians and registers itself in their consciences by reason of what they natively and constitutionally are
  2. They do things which this law prescribes
  3. This doing is not by extraneous constraint but by natural impulse [1]

Moo and others basically agree that this is talking of gentiles attesting knowledge of divine moral standards.

However, if the gentiles are indeed Christians, a different view is necessary. Cranfield writes:

Although they [the gentile Christians] have not been brought up by virtue of their birth in possession of God’s law, they now know it and actually have in their hearts the earnest desire to obey. [2]

V15 They Show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. The main question here is does this refer to a parallel with Jeremiah 31:33? Objections to the parallel are two fold:

  1. Jeremiah talks of the laws being written on their hearts and a complete knowledge of God that results from it. This result is an eschatological work of God wrought upon Israel. The present passage (Rom 2:14-15), however, is concerned with a non-eschatological fact of gentile life.
  2. V15 in most translations miss out the word ‘work’, hence the work of the law written upon their hearts. Murray says that there is a big difference from the requirement of the law written upon hearts than the law itself. If this refers merely to the requirement of the law, then it would be acceptable to equate this phrase with the equivalence of the things of the law. So there are innate moral laws written upon the hearts of every unregenerate person. Moo also comments that while in Jeremiah the final judgment of the people is not in doubt, here it is.

Cranfield, however, sees this as a deliberate reminiscence of Jeremiah. Cranfield has no problem with the eschatological element. Paul clearly believed that God’s eschatological promises were already beginning to be fulfilled through the gospel in believers lives.  In this he is in agreement with the Already…not yet paradox which Moo so heavily emphasizes in his commentary. Therefore, for Cranfield, the eschatological objection is removed. He writes:

Here ‘the work which the law requires’ means not the required work as accomplished but the required work in the sense of the commandments contained in the law. [3]

Also, Cranfield points out that the LXX version of Jeremiah 31:33 is so close to v15 that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul has Jeremiah in mind. 2 Cor 3:2-3 says You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.

This passage was addressed to gentile Christians. The objection that the phrase written on their hearts is a very common one is negligible. It is not common in Paul and surely Paul would have known the significance of using such a phrase.

[1] John Murray NICNT To The Romans pg 73

[2] Cranfield pg157

[3] Cranfield pg158

The Doctrine Of Assurance – Part 8

Calvin says that the question “How do I know I am Elect” can cause you to fall into an abyss. It is an unanswerable question for God has not given a list of the elect. Yet Calvin goes on to say…
But if we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves, and not even in God the Father if we conceive him as severed from the Son. Christ then is the mirror wherein we must and without self deception may contemplate our own election… We have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life (Rev 21:27) if we are in communion with Christ.

Assurance is not to be based on anything in ourselves. Here is Calvin’s starting point on assurance. Not even our faith can be used as a ground for assurance for it would mean looking to ourselves. It is only in Christ, by looking to Christ, that assurance is obtained. Lane says that to rely on Christ is to trust him for our salvation and therefore to be confident and have Assurance. Assurance is the fruit of trust, if not synonymous with it.

Exegesis On Romans 2:14-15 – Part 4

Cranfield defies tradition and suggests that nature should be taken with what precedes. This would give the verse the following meaning; gentiles who do not possess the law by virtue of birth.

Romans 11:24 says For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree. Nature here refers to gentile descent. Galatians 2:15 We ourselves are Jews by nature and not gentile sinners. Again, nature is used to denote physical descent. Ephesians 2:3 says And we were by nature children of wrath… and Romans 2:27 says Then those who are by nature uncircumcised. Paul obviously used this word, at least at times,  in a physical and historical sense.

This fits into the argument of chapter 2 better. It is not the having or the hearing of the law that is important – it is the doing of the law. V10 has already established that a Greek / Gentile can be justified and saved by doing good. However, Paul is clear throughout chapters 4 & 5 that we are justified by faith alone, not by human effort. Hence this promise of salvation to those who do good, and who do not have the law cannot contradict with Romans 4 & 5. If these gentiles were not Christians, and they were doing what the law required why are they not saved? Paul is referring to gentile Christians who by their conversion have ‘done the law.’ Romans 13:8 says for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law and Galatians 6:2 bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. The concept that Christians fulfill the law is certainly in Pauline writings. Hence a Christian can say they have done what the law requires through the grace and sacrifice that is in Christ.

The DOctrine of Assurance – Part 7

Calvin writes:

For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes effected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that in even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [c/f Acts 13:48]. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts [Heb 6:4-6] and Christ, faith for a time [Luke 8:13]; not because they firmly grasp the force of the spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the spirit of adoption. [1]

It would appear that what Calvin is saying is that people may exhibit all the outward signs of being elected, but inwardly they are without the Spirit of God and therefore not a child of God. The vital attribute of faith is the inward working of the Spirit. In talking about faith and knowledge Calvin speaks of both our knowledge of the word of God and acceptance of its promises and the work of the Holy Spirit in opening up our hearts in testimony to those truths. Calvin puts it like this:

Our mind must be otherwise illumined and our heart strengthened that the word of God may obtain full faith among us. Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit. [2]

This is the backbone of Calvin’s understanding of assurance. True faith is a firm and CERTAIN knowledge of God’s mercy towards us, appropriating the sure promises of God in Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit. Beeke writes:

Thus for Calvin assuring faith compels an indissoluble tie between saving knowledge, the scriptures, Jesus Christ, God’s promises, the work of the Holy Spirit and Election…Calvin is arguing that faith involves something more than fully believing the undoubted promise of God objectively; rather it contains personal, subjective assurance. [3]

There is no dichotomy between saving faith and assurance.

However, one problem still exists. If the reprobate can have all the outward signs of the elect, how can the elect know that they are saved?

[1] Ibid pg 555

[2] Ibid pg 551

[3] Beeke pg 49

Romans 2 v14-15 – part 3

C Cranfield and Karl Barth are almost alone in connecting v14 of Romans chapter 2 with v13b. Cranfield writes:

“The most natural explanation of the “For” (at the beginning of v14) would seem to be that these verses are thought of as confirming v13b…. v13b, which might at first sight appear to conflict with “And also for the Greek” of v10, does not in fact do so, since those Gentiles who do the things the law requires stand in a real positive relation to the law (v14b & v15a) and so may be regarded as included in the reference of the “doers of the law” in v13b” .

In other words, Cranfield sees a continuing between v10 and v13. The greek can do good and receive honor and glory and peace (which is salvation), v10, and therefore the doers of the law who will be justified can also be greeks. V13 refers to separate groups of people, those who hear the law (and so have the law physically – the jews) and those who do the law (anybody, Jew or Greek). To connect v14 to v12a would imply that v12b-13 is a form of parenthesis or explanation. I do not see such a division. Paul is merely establishing the fact that to have the law, to hear the law, does not mean you are saved.

The word ‘Gentiles’ is without the definite article, which suggests that it refers to some gentiles, not all gentiles. As we have said, Moo et al see this as referring to gentiles who are not converted while Cranfield / Barth sees these gentiles as Christians.

The next part of the verse: who do not have the law do by nature what the law requires has some difficulties. Traditionally the word nature has been taken with what follows. This means the verse would say the gentiles, as a result of their possession of natural law, do some of the things required by God’s law instinctively.

This is what Moo argues. He says that Paul is almost certainly referring to a greek / stoic tradition that all human beings possess as unwritten law, an innate sense of right and wrong. Hence, we do the law by nature. Moo says that for this reason, this cannot refer to believing gentiles, because believers do the law by grace, and not by nature.

Romans 2:14ff – Part 1

For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend31 them, on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. (NET Bible)

Douglas Moo, in his detailed commentary, lists three possible interpretations of who the gentiles are referred to in this passage:

1. Gentiles who fulfill the law and are saved apart from explicit faith in Christ
2. Gentiles who do some part of the law but who are not saved
3. Gentile Christians who fulfill the law by virtue of their relationship with God.

If we take for granted that option one is immediately ruled out as un-biblical, most commentators opt for option two. Paul is referring to non-christian gentiles who are not saved. Indeed, so wide spread is this understanding that there are only two scholars who opt for option three – Karl Barth and C Cranfield (who is massively influenced by Barth anyway).

Chapter two of Romans is typically thought to be addressed to Jews. Although it is not until v17 that the Jew is directly addressed, the language throughout v1-16 is consistent with having Jews in mind. Leon Morris argues that the way ‘Jew’ is used in v17 does not look like the introduction of a new topic.

If indeed the Jew is being addressed here, the charge from Paul is quite condemning. Paul’s argument is that the Jew is storing up wrath for himself by judging others. In fact the things the Jews judge others for, are the very things that they themselves do! Yet it would appear that the Jews believed they would not be judged for doing such things (2:3).

By their actions and their complete apathy towards any judgment Paul asks his readers a rhetorical question, “Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience…” (v4). He is saying that the very fact that you are not judged right at this moment is because of God’s patience and kindness. It is this patience and kindness which should lead one to repentance (v5). It is not by covenant or birth that judgment is deferred. In fact He (God) will repay according to each ones deeds (v6). Hence a Jew will be judged by what he does not who he is. The question then becomes ‘what is it that we should do.’ The answer is ‘by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality.’ You can only seek glory, honor and immortality through and by a living relationship with God. The negative side of this equation is not that if you are not a jew you are in trouble but the emphasis is on action, for those who are self seeking and who do not obey the truth there will be wrath and fury (v8), anguish and distress, first for the jew then for the gentile (v9).