Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Monday, November 07, 2005

John Calvin and Reformed Assurance

Is it a sin of presumption in Calvinism to declare infallibly that one indeed has eternal life?

Every Calvinist author I have read will never say infallibly or certainly that they are saved. They state that they retain doubts, and really always will. They really don't know if they are one of the elect. It seems to be a sad state of affairs. They are the unsure teaching other people how they can be unsure of their salvation too!

R.C. Sproul, in an article he wrote, "Assurance of Salvation" [This is his article on assurance of salvation!] (Tabletalk, Nov 1989) states:

"A while back I had one of those moments of acute self-awareness... and suddenly the question hit me: 'R.C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not in heaven after all, but in hell?' Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified.

"I tried to grab hold of myself. I thought, 'Well, its a good sign that I'm worried about this. Only true Christians really care about salvation.' But then I began to take stock of my life, and I looked at my performance. [How come you don't just look to Christ and His promise in faith?] My sins came pouring into my mind, and the more I looked at myself, the worse I felt. I thought, 'Maybe it's really true. Maybe I'm not saved after all.'

"I went to my room and began to read the Bible. On my knees I said, 'Well, here I am. I can't point to my obedience [Really? I thought this was one of the legs/foundations of Reformed assurance!]. There's nothing I can offer... I knew that some people only flee to the Cross to escape hell... I could not be sure about my own heart and motivation. Then I remembered John 6:68... Peter was also uncomfortable, but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option!"

Being uncomfortable with Jesus is really the best assurance that Calvinism offers!

Yet I think of John Calvin. I disagree with him on much, but those who have taken his name have strayed from a doctrine I agree with him on. It is my contention that he believed that absolute (certain) assurance was of the essence of saving faith:

"In short, no man is truly a believer, unless he be firmly persuaded, that God is a propitious and benevolent Father to him... unless he depend on the promises of the Divine benevolence to him, and feel an undoubted expectation of salvation" (Institutes III.II.16)

"Now we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say, that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence toward us" (Institutes III.II.7)

I am certain that I have eternal life. John 6:47 says, "Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has eternal life." I believe in Jesus and His promise, thus I infallibly and most certainly possess assurance of eternal life.

It is impossible to believe in Jesus for eternal life and not know that we are saved. The message carries its own guarantee along with it! To doubt the guarantee of eternal life is to doubt the message itself. In short, if one does not believe that he has eternal life, he does not believe the offer that God has made to him, he does not believe the saving message of Christ.

Calvinism would do well to return to the doctrine of Calvin which they have spurned.



Anonymous Bobby Grow said...


Do you think the "Lordship" guys you've been interacting with actually believe what you're stating here. I.e. that there view does not allow for "certainty" of salvation.

I have argued similarly to you in the past, see my article on Antinomian vs. Nomian, I provide some historical substantiation showing current day Calvinists logical outworking of their soteriology in the "Puritan" past.

But they somehow fail to make the connection between their own soteriolgy and that of the Puritans. Many conveniently distance themselves from Puritans--failing to see that their system is just as driven by "proving" their election as the Purtians were. This, to me, can either be explained by naivete' not realizing the implications of their theological paradigm; or pure arrogance, believing that they have nothing to worry about salvifically speaking--they know they are one of the elect believing their ardent defense of the Calvinist gospel "proves" this.

The Sproul quote is revealing of someone who understands the implications of his system of salvation.

November 08, 2005 9:26 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...


You raise some interesting questions. I think many, if not most, believe that assurance is not "certain".

Yet many may also, because of arrogance, or some form or self-righteousness may take stock in their "performance" and deem it adequate for a measure of "assurance".

They may also do as you say, be greatly disposed toward thinking they are saved due to their defense of the Calvinist gospel.

But you can see the disastrous results when it comes to someone else's salvation for that is where fruit inspection is regularly used. And Calvinist's love to ruin the assurance of other believer's.

Have you ever heard of the doctrine of "temporary faith"?


November 08, 2005 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Grow said...

Absolutely Antonio, I mean, to the question of "temporary faith". I've read some of William Perkins' stuff on this, and various other Puritans. What an unfounded doctrine, but I suppose when driven by an obsession to "prove" one's salvation; all kinds of aberrant teaching can arise--temporary faith being one of them.

It's hard for me to understand how some Calvinists don't see the anthropocentric and Roman Catholic emphasis explicitly laden within their own soteriological construct.

If I was constantly trying to "prove" that my wife had chosen me to be her husband, I would never be able to grow in the already presupposed relationship of our marriage (same with the LORD--what a circular way to live and think--sad too). But again, I don't think that most Calvinists honestly think this way, cause if they did, they would abandon their experiemental "venture".

November 08, 2005 7:45 PM  
Blogger forgiven said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 09, 2005 5:12 AM  
Blogger Julianne said...

I didn't read the whole post, but God promises to sanctify all those whom He has justified.

November 21, 2005 7:20 AM  
Blogger Paulos said...


You stated, Every Calvinist author I have read will never say infallibly or certainly that they are saved. They state that they retain doubts, and really always will. They really don't know if they are one of the elect. It seems to be a sad state of affairs. They are the unsure teaching other people how they can be unsure of their salvation too!

If you mean what you stated, then you must not yet have read The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. The book argues that assurance of salvation is integral to Christian faith. And, the authors are Calvinists.

As a Calvinist, I am as confident as any human can be that I will stand justified before God in Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment. How is this for Christian assurance?

November 24, 2005 4:22 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Dear Paulos,

Thank you for viewing my blog and commenting.

Calvinist authors have much to say about assurance. But none of them have assurance. They have "an assurance". It falls way short of certainty.


The state of being assured; firm persuasion; full confidence or trust; freedom from doubt; certainty; Firmness of mind; undoubting, steadiness; confidence

To this, no Calvinist will concede. They will not concede to absolute assurance, when one of the 3 legs of their pillars of assurance is the subjective nature of the perseverance in faith and good works.


November 25, 2005 7:22 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...


how do you know that your faith will not turn out to be "evanescent" and "temporary"?

how do you know infallibly that you will persevere in faith and good works until the end thus proving your election?


November 25, 2005 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is such a thing as a Free Grace Calvinist. I consider myself one. I believe in all five points, but I do not accept the front loading (submission, etc.) of salvation that so many Reformed people are famous for. I do disagree that absolute certainty is necessary to saving faith. The Scripturs are full of admonitions to those with weak faith. In one sense assurance is of the essence of saving faith in that that which is pure faith is certainly not doubt. But that does not mean that one is necessarily conscious of absolute certainty at the moment of believing. This is where I would depart from Hodges and Wilkins and go with Joel Beeke in his work The Quest for Full Assurance. I do not agree with Beeke's lordship bent, but I think he is on the money in showing that Calvin and the later Reformers were not as far removed on the nature of saving faith as many believe. In sum, I hold to a Free Grace perspective with two exceptions: 1)I believe regeneration must of necessity come before faith, 2) I believe that saving faith does not necessarily include absolute certainty. Any thoughts?

December 19, 2005 9:41 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

"John Calvin and Reformed Assurance," Nov 07, 2005, 09:58 AM.

I love that quip, Antonio! "They are the unsure teaching other people how they can be unsure of their salvation too!"

This points out something that should be pointed out more frequently. All in the name of Calvin, denying that he was right. I've read most of Kendall, and some of Beeke too, until I had to put Beeke down as obfuscation and gobbledygook.

No doubt there is an even more aggressive stance against assurance than Beeke nowadays. It is the love of unassurance. It is the video-game mindset, where every step you take may be your last -- and loving the thrill of that!

(We often do too little justice to the psychological feedback people may get from beliefs irrespective of whether they are right. This is an example, I think.)

December 19, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger James said...

Hi Antonio,

Assurance is an interior reality, an experience of the soul, correct? Assurance is not objective for the simple reason that it is subjective by definition. Assurance may (and should be) based on objective truth, but it is not equivalent to objective truth. So, that gospel saves entirely and certainly all those who believe. However, not all who confess faith are saved for the simple reason that they do not actually have faith.

As a human act of volition and belief, faith is something we experience and enact.

The certainty of salvation rests neither in my experience of faith, nor in the fruit of this faith, but in Christ alone. Strictly speaking, faith doesn't save us. Jesus saves us, through the instrumentality of faith.

My faith is not the basis of my assurance. Christ alone is my confidence, my certain hope for salvation. To focus on my faith to secure my salvation is a profound (but all too common) error.

And so, if some of the Puritans made the mistake of placing undue emphasis on the fruits of faith to demonstrate its authenticity, then others make the mistake of placing undue emphasis on the outward evidneces of our coming to faith as the gorunds of our assurance. E.g., I walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, filled out a card, got dunked, sang a song, did a thing, etc. In search for a definite, well-defined basis for assurance (in our messy, subjective experience of faith), we latch onto a past, decisive event (or so it may appear in retrosepct).

But this is false, isn't it? It is placing our hopes in our own experiences, and not the gospel. I am saved because I walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, etc.

Hence, R.C.'s experience, which is relayed I believe to make the point that we have nothing in ourselves on which to establish confidence for salvation - not even our experience of faith, which is fluctuating, imperfect, and at times even unbelieving (cf. Mark 9:24)!

In reality, I must come to Christ again and again to refresh, revitalize and deepen my faith, my assurance and joy. Not because I feel I have somehow lost my salvation, or because I have necessarily doubted its reality, but because my faith is weak and imperfect, and needs to constantly feed on Christ.

The promises are static, of course. The gospel is unchanging. But my faith in the Christ is dynamic.

So the NT contemplates the subjective elements of assurance, as well as the objective promises of a ever-willing and all-sufficient Savior. This is not to replace the objective promises of the gospel, but to bolster them in our experience of faith.

As we experience the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and see the outworkings of faith (cf. 2Pe.1), our assurance is re-enforced and strengthened. Not because the fruits of faith have somehow contributed to our justification, but because they confirm our experience of faith. They are outward signs that testify to the Spirit's inward reality (which we also variously experience).

Like "effort", our assurance can feel like it's at 100%, 200%, etc. It can also at times feel like its at 90%, or 60%, etc., and at such times we need to refresh ourselves with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and rekindle our faith, and say to our faltering souls, "Rejoice, O my soul! Why are you downcast within me?" Believe the good news, and be revived!

As a subjective experience, it is difficult to quantify in any strict sense. But to deny that assurance can fluctuate seems to be disingenous to the entire Christian experience. Have we never had our moments of doubt? Really?

May 19, 2009 9:18 PM  

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