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.
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. (more…)