Assurance

clark

I’ve been informed that the Trinity Foundation is reissuing Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? along with Clark’s Sanctification in a new volume; What Is the Christian Life?  The book is due out in March.  Here’s a timely excerpt from Today’s Evangelism that was posted on a Yahoo groups Clark list back in 2007.

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Chapter 7
Assurance
GORDON H. CLARK

Assurance of salvation has some connection with evangelism. Several popular evangelists try to give such assurance to those who come forward. They think a convert should have assurance from the very first moment. In any case the Scripture has a few things to say about assurance, and so the subject is a proper appendix to the previous chapter.

One writer on evangelism proposes a method for developing assurance. Stanley C. Brown in Evangelism in the Early Church, previously quoted in chapter three to the effect that Paul never dreamed that people in later ages would be reading his sporadic letters, says that assurance is gained by signing a card, shaking a hand, or some sort of “landmark,” accompanied by strong emotion. Then too I listened to an evangelist who came to speak to a group of Christian students on the subject of evangelism. He made quite a point of remembering where you were converted. Fix the picture of the building, the aisle, or the pulpit in mind. Recall how you stood at the front. With such vivid imagery, he told us, you will conquer your doubts. You will have assurance.

This is hardly what the Bible says. No verse directs the convert to sign a card, shake a hand; and certainly no verse promises assurance by means of a vivid visual image of the place at which the conversion took place. The Bible does indeed have something to say about assurance; and if a Christian wants to preach the Gospel and wants to give some human help in developing assurance in his converts, he should proceed according to the Scripture and not according to the unscriptural imaginations of these false prophets.

There are four points that need to be mentioned with respect to assurance. The first point is that assurance is possible. At first sight, this does not seem to contradict the popular evangelists. Assurance is something they emphasize. Yet as the Biblical study continues, it may eventually appear that these evangelists do not really believe in assurance at all. Or, to put it in other words, what they mean by assurance is not what the Bible means. But first, let it be made clear that the Bible teaches assurance.

The Romanists deny assurance. They consider it presumption to claim assurance. The Council of Trent decided that “No one, moreover, so long as he is in this mortal life, ought so far to presume as regards the secret mystery of divine predestination, as to determine for certain that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; as if it were true that he that is justified, either cannot sin any more, or, if he do sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance; for except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God hath chosen unto himself’ (Sixth session, Chapter XII).

In our church for many years there was a woman of remarkable gifts. She was no intellectual. She had never gone beyond third grade of grammar school. She married a happy, lovable, somewhat irresponsible carpenter. To increase the small income of those days, she baked bread and collected a small clientele. It was good bread; I know! She was superintendent of our primary department for a long time. No one was more faithful in all the affairs of the church than she. But she had been raised a Roman Catholic, and never entirely got over it. Images and indulgences she left behind. But she always thought that it was presumption to claim assurance of salvation. From all external appearances (and that is all the rest of us could judge by) she was the one who had greatest reason to be assured. But she was not.

Unlike this woman, most people get a sense of assurance much too easily. Everyone who has a smattering of religion, and the smattering may be quite minimal, believes he is going to heaven. A Lutheran girl told me (and surely no Lutheran should have told me this) that she was not perfect but that she was really pretty good, and so she had no reason to think otherwise than that she would get to heaven. Maybe this was not a great degree of assurance, but it was an assurance of sorts.

The people mentioned in Matthew 7:22ff. had assurance. Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? But Jesus replied, Depart from me, I never knew you. As the profoundly theological Negro spiritual says, Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t goin’ there. Micah 3:11 says, “The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money yet will they lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us? None evil can come upon us.”

It is clear therefore that there is a feeling of assurance that is not real assurance. Just because a person believes that he is saved is an insufficient reason for thinking that he is saved. It may be suggested for sober consideration whether or not those who are most easily assured of salvation are least likely to be saved.

Nevertheless, in spite of all hypocrisy and self-deception, it is possible to have assurance. The well-known verse in I John 5:13 says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Romans 5:2ff. says, “We. . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God. . . and hope maketh not ashamed.” That is to say, our hope shall not be disappointed. We hope to arrive in heaven; and this hope will be satisfied.

This is an assurance that many popular evangelists do not have themselves and cannot promise to their hearers. Yes, they insist on assurance, but it is not the assurance that the Bible teaches. These evangelists, the ones I have in mind, are Arminians. They do not believe in the perseverance of the saints, or, as they call it, eternal security. They claim to be very sure that they are saved now; but they are not sure that they will be saved tomorrow or next week. If they die tonight, they will be in heaven immediately. But if they should live a while longer, they might fall into sin, fall from grace, and then they would be eternally lost. But they are very sure just now. Their mentality is hard to understand. How can anyone be very happy if he thinks he has an eternal life that is so little eternal that it might end next week? How can such a person look to the future with equanimity and confidence if he is so unsure of heaven? Such an evangelist might as well be a Romanist. They talk about being born again, about regeneration; but the kind of regeneration they preach is something that a man must experience as many times as he falls from grace. To be really saved, ie., to get to heaven, one must be born again over and over again. Their hope therefore is one that can easily disappoint. These preachers often talk quite a lot about the Holy Spirit; but they deny to the Spirit the power to give a man eternal life. By eternal I mean eternal; not a life that ends in the near future. Thus they do not have assurance; nor do they preach the Gospel, for the Gospel promises at least the possibility of assurance. It promises, not the mere possibility of eternal life; it promises eternal life.  

This leads to the second point that needs to be mentioned in this chapter. The Gospel promises the possibility of assurance. It does not quite promise every Christian actual assurance. It is strange that some preachers, some evangelists, even those and especially those already described, talk as if one cannot have faith without having assurance. They give the impression that you must know you are saved, if you are saved. But this is not what the Bible says. The verse from I John, quoted just above, said that John wrote the epistle in order that those who read it might be assured. But if regeneration ipso facto guaranteed assurance, it would not be necessary to write an epistle encouraging assurance and giving direction on how assurance can be obtained.

Since the epistle was written for this purpose, it is one of the best places in the Bible to find directions. I John 2:3 says, “Hereby we do know that we know him—if we keep his commandments.” Recall the lament, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” But these people were condemned because they had not acted righteously. They may have walked down the aisle, shaken someone’s hand, and signed a card; but they were workers of iniquity. Remembering some emotional experience would do them no good. We know that we know the Lord by keeping his commandments. Another test by which we may come to assurance is given in 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” Later in the same chapter it says, “Let us love. . . in deed and in truth; and hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” Again, “He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him; and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”

II Peter 1:5 does not explicitly mention assurance, but the section has to do with God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” with which he “called us to glory and virtue,” so that the remainder of the section describes how we may be assured of profiting by those promises. Verse five then says, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance. . . for if these things be in you, and abound, they shall make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Without minimizing the other items in this list, it is well to emphasize knowledge. If one wishes assurance, he will try to increase his knowledge. Knowledge is mentioned twice in the section. Therefore, if one wishes assurance that he is regenerated, let him ask himself, Do I study the Scripture? How much of it do I know? Some people know so very little; some people believe so very little; some evangelists must have so very little assurance.

A final note on this point returns us to the Romanists. The Council of Trent said that it would require supernatural revelation to know whether one was predestinated to eternal life. These directions in the Bible on how to attain assurance show that without extraordinary revelation, simply by the right use of the ordinary means, we may attain to the assurance of faith.

A third point concerning assurance is one that is logically implied by what has already been said. Yet it deserves an explicit mention. The Westminster Confession puts the matter very strongly. “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 evidences 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.”

Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where a misunderstanding may arise. First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary. All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation. Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.

The fourth and last point with reference to assurance is that, although salvation can never be lost, assurance can. That this is so, and that in addition assurance can be restored, is all seen in a very fine passage in Micah 7:7-9: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me. He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” When David was thus bearing the indignation of the Lord, he prayed, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. . . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O Lord, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.”

A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan has a chapter on the loss of assurance. Christian and his new companion Hopeful have recently escaped from the persecutions in Vanity Fair. They recuperate beside still waters and in pleasant pastures. Then it is time to push forward. But the road up from the river is stony, and their feet hurt. So they climb over a stile and proceed along a path that seems to run parallel with the Way. Overtaken by a storm they can neither go forward nor find their way back. Exhausted, they sleep under some rough shelter. In the morning, Giant Despair, on whose grounds they have been trespassing, finds them, drags them to Doubting Castle, and throws them into his dungeon. He beats them severely, tries to persuade them to commit suicide, and starves them. Finally Christian remembers that he has a key in his pocket that can unlock the doors of the dungeon in the castle. It is the key of promise. With it the two men escape as the Giant falls into one of his occasional fits.

Everybody should have read A Pilgrim’s Progress when a child—at least a child’s version of the story. But also everyone should read it again for the theology. For its theology is not that of Arminian evangelists; it is thorough-going Calvinism.

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9 Comments on “Assurance”

  1. Denson Dube Says:

    Wow!

  2. Joe Says:

    Howdy Sean,

    I’m just wondering, do you think Clark has a different take on assurance than Horatius Bonar? I remember you posted something by Bonar on assurance a while back from his “The Everlasting Righteousness”, and it seemed to me that he taught that assurance comes–or ought to come–from the Gospel alone. The Philipi jailor had salvation and assurance of salvation apart from works. It doesn’t seem that Clark grounds assurance in the Gospel (or in believing the Gospel) like Bonar does, but rather in the believer’s obedience. What do you think?

  3. Sean Gerety Says:

    @Joe. I don’t recall what Bonar said regarding assurance. Sorry.


  4. Without minimizing the other items in this list, it is well to emphasize knowledge. If one wishes assurance, he will try to increase his knowledge. Knowledge is mentioned twice in the section. Therefore, if one wishes assurance that he is regenerated, let him ask himself, Do I study the Scripture? How much of it do I know? Some people know so very little; some people believe so very little; some evangelists must have so very little assurance.

    This is quoted in the little commentary on the WCF as well.


  5. Though the wording is very clear, it may be necessary in this age to point out two places where a misunderstanding may arise. First, the infallibility mentioned is not ours, as if we are infallible. The infallibility belongs to the promises of God. There is no hint here that we rise to the level of the inspired authors of the Bible. This would be a reversal to the Romish position that a supernatural revelation is necessary. All that is necessary is the Scripture. The second point at which a misunderstanding may occur is the reference to the Spirit witnessing with our spirits. Here too, the same idea is involved. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits as we study the Bible. He does not witness to our spirits, as if giving an additional revelation. Aside from these two matters, the Westminster Confession is clear.

    Obviously, special revelation is impossible but having knowledge that leads to assurance is not impossible, according to Clark. “All that is necessary is the Scripture.” That’s fairly straightforward. Anyway, thanks for the clarifying article.


  6. If you are grounding your assurance in obedience and not the knowledge of Scripture, then you’re siding with the legalists. Obedience is a result of knowledge, not the cause of salvation.

  7. Hughuenot Says:

    Today’s evangelism is not, so “Counterfeit” is the correct answer. Do I win a prize, Sean?

  8. Steve M Says:

    Hugh
    You are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It seems now-a-days you can get it before you do anything.

  9. Steve M Says:

    Horatius Bonar on assurance:

    Assurance of Salvation
    ”Christ for us,” the obedient in the place of the disobedient, is the first part of our message. His assumption of the legal claims, which otherwise would have been made good against us, is the security for our deliverance. That deliverance becomes an actual thing to us immediately upon our consenting to allow him to undertake our case.

    “Christ in us” is the second part of our Gospel. This second is of mighty moment, and yet is not to be confounded with the first. That which is done for us is not the same as that which is done in us. By the former we are constituted righteous, by the latter we are made holy. The one is properly the Gospel, in the belief of which we are saved; the other, the carrying out of that Gospel in the soul. Christ “for us” is our justification. “Christ in us, and we in Christ,” is our holiness. The former is the external substitution; the latter, the internal energy or operation, taking its rise from the former, yet not to be confounded with it, or substituted for it. Christ the substitute, giving his life for ours upon the cross, is specially the object of faith. The message concerning this sacrificial work is the Gospel, the belief which brings pardon to the guilty. God has given us this Gospel not merely for the purpose of securing to us life hereafter, but of making us sure of this life even now. It is a true and sure Gospel; so that he who believes it is made sure of being saved. If it could not make us sure, it would make us miserable; for to be told of such a salvation and such a glory, yet kept in doubt as to whether they are to be ours or not, must render us truly wretched. What a poor Gospel it must be, which leaves the man who believes it still in doubt as to whether he is a child of God, an unpardoned or a pardoned sinner! Till we have found forgiveness, we cannot be happy; we cannot serve God gladly or lovingly; but must be in sore bondage and gloom. This is the view of the matter which Scripture sets before us; telling us that salvation is a free, a sure, and a present gift. “He that believes is justified” (Acts 13:39). “He that believes has everlasting life” (John 3:36). The Bible gives no quarter to unbelief or doubting. It does not call it humility. It does not teach us to think better of ourselves for doubting. It does not countenance uncertainty or darkness.


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