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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Quote of the Day: Lorraine Boettner: The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture

 

The answer that we are to give to the question, “What is Christianity?” depends quite largely on the view we take of Scripture. If we believe that the Bible is the very word of God and infallible, we will develop one conception of Christianity. If we believe that it is only a collection of human writings, perhaps considerably above the average in its spiritual and moral teachings but nevertheless containing many errors, we will develop a radically different conception of Christianity, if, indeed, what we then have can legitimately be called Christianity. Hence we can hardly over-estimate the importance of a correct doctrine concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures. 
 
In all matters of controversy between Christians the Scriptures are accepted as the highest court of appeal. Historically they have been the common authority of Christendom. We believe that they contain one harmonious and sufficiently complete system of doctrine; that all of their parts are consistent with each other; and that it is our duty to trace out this consistency by a careful investigation of the meaning of particular passages. We have committed ourselves to this Book without reserve, and have based our creeds upon it. We have not made our appeal to an infallible Church, nor to a scholastic hierarchy, but to a trustworthy Bible, and have maintained that it is the word of God, that by His providential care it has been kept pure in all ages, and that it is the only inspired, infallible rule of faith and practice.

Boettner, Loraine. Studies in Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1947. Print.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Fact Checking Preachers: Your Christian Duty?

 

Acts 17:11

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

King James Version (KJV)

 

I am frequently on the road so I often listen to church services while I am driving.  Since I live in the Columbia, South Carolina area I frequently attend First Presbyterian Church in downtown Columbia.  I have lived here for around four years so I have visited many of the local Presbyterian churches in hopes of finding the most conservative one in my area.  Of course anyone to the right of moderate Evangelicalism is decried as an ignorant fundamentalist.  But as I recall that is the same label once applied to the lions of Princeton like B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and Charles Hodge.  In more recent times the fake Evangelical leaders in moderate Calvinist circles have labeled the late Carl F. H. Henry and Gordon H. Clark as pesky fundamentalists.  Cornelius Van Til, however, attacked Henry and Clark as "neo-Evangelicals."  It becomes difficult to sort out all the disputes within the Evangelical Calvinist camp and sometimes I have to wonder if a few of them have gone outright heterodox or even heretical.

I personally do not like controversy.  However, when ministers in the pulpit make controversial remarks I am compelled to respond in some way.  Ministers after all are more accountable because they are the theological and moral influencers of the Evangelical movement in general and the Calvinist movement in particular since I attend mostly Calvinist worship services.  (See:  James 3:1 KJV).  The KJV uses the term masters in verse 1.  A more accurate translation is teachers.  Those who preach and teach the word of God from the pulpit are subject to a greater examination and a greater condemnation from both the Lord and those who hold ministers accountable in the congregation.

A couple of weeks ago or so I was listening to the Sunday evening service of First Presbyterian Church when a newly ordained minister of counseling was delivering the sermon.  The denomination of First Presbyterian is Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the young minister's name is Joshua Squires.  His delivery style is pleasant and easy to hear.  However, I have a major objection to what he said in the sermon.  I cannot remember off hand which of the Gospels he was expositing from the pulpit but it was probably Matthew 4:1ff.  The minister insisted that Jesus must have took other sustenance during the forty days and forty nights that He fasted prior to His temptation in the wilderness or desert.

As God's providence would have it, I was able to attend the morning worship service on January the second, 2022.  Also by God's providence I happened to unwittingly sit in the pew just behind Josh Squires.  The lady sitting behind me knew that I do not attend weekly and insisted that Josh welcome me.  I then recognized him as one of the ordained teaching elders of the session.  So I waited until after the worship service ended and asked him about his remarks during the sermon in question.  I should probably mention that I was not dressed in formal attire since I am a blue collar worker.  

At any rate, the first response of Rev. Squire was animated and defensive.  I do not recall making any accusatory remarks as I was simply asking him what his rationale was for his remark about the possibility that Jesus took other sustenance rather than fasting completely without any food for forty days and forty nights.  I think I pointed out that the text does not say that Jesus took other sustenance.  He immediately got loud and insistent that the text did say so.  Unfortunately for him, this is not only an argument from silence but it could also be called "eisogesis" or reading into the text what is not there.  When I pointed this out to him he doubled down and became even more insistent that the text does say that Jesus took other sustenance.  

So I pressed the point even harder.  I asked him how he knew that the text said this since the plain reading of the text says no such thing?  He then defended his position by appealing to syntax and etymology, which I presume he got from either a commentary or a lexicon or a grammar of the Greek New Testament.  I then pointed out to him that only the Bible is the inspired and inerrant and infallible word of God.  (2 Timothy 3:16; John 10:35; 2 Peter 1:19-21).  I also pointed out that commentaries, lexicons, and grammars are not the inspired and inerrant and infallible word of God.  In other words, the men who write those books can err.   They are fallible and some of them can be and were unregenerate liberal theologians, especially so in some of the more technical lexical and grammatical works.

But here the young minister doubled down even more.  He insisted that the text does say that Jesus took other sustenance.  But the text plainly only says:

Matthew 4:2

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.”

King James Version (KJV)

I later consulted the basic lexicon definition and the lexicon nowhere intimates or suggests that fasting allowed for the taking of basic sustenance.  Mr. Squires insisted that he would not want Jesus to be able to do anything he could not do himself since Jesus was obviously fully human.  But in the Old Testament Moses fasted from both food and water for forty days and forty nights.  (Exodus 34:27-28).  When I pointed this out to Squires he had no response.  I also asked him if he could walk on the water, heal the sick or feed the multitudes?  To his credit Squires said no.  The point I was making that no matter how hard you try, you cannot bring Jesus down to our level theologically.  Unfortunately this minister thought that appealing to authorities outside the Bible was a legitimate way to argue one's case.  Instead such an appeal is a logical fallacy called appealing to authority because when I confronted him that the text did not plainly say that Jesus took other sustenance he insisted that the text did say so and that many scholars agreed with him.  On the contrary, Luke says that Jesus ate nothing during His fast.  (Luke 4:1-2.  See also:  Was Jesus' Time in the Desert Literal?).

Although it is true that Jesus was fully human, that he was born a helpless baby, ate and drank real food and water, and had to learn new things just as human children do as they grow up, it cannot be denied that Jesus was also the divine Logos incarnate who learned nothing new, was not limited in location, being ubiquitous and omnipotent just as the other two Persons of the Trinity were.  God is one in nature essence and three in subsisting Persons.  (Deuternomy 6:4; 1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Matthew 28:19; Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 9:35; John 1:32-33).

I guess the point here is that even if you insist that Jesus sustained Himself during His fast rather than being supernaturally sustained by the Holy Spirit, you have a problem because we are not incarnate gods and Jesus was God incarnate!  I once debated a Free Methodist pastor who insisted that Jesus was susceptible to fall into sin during His temptation.  I insist otherwise.  The Arminians wish to emphasize the real humanity of Jesus to the extreme because they want to show that we have a natural ability to overcome sin and because Arminians believe in common or prevenient grace that neuters total depravity so that libertarian free will makes it a possibility that anyone can become a Christian apart from God's sovereign and irresistible grace.  But mere possibility also makes it possible that no one will believe.  The temptation of Jesus could be a real temptation even if it were impossible for Him to fail.  

There are several reasons that it would be impossible for Jesus to fail.  The first one is that even if He were not God incarnate the providence of God is the carrying out of God's eternal decrees.  If God planned the end from the beginning, then it was never possible that Jesus would fail the test in the wilderness.  (Isaiah 46:9-11; Isaiah 14:24-27; Ephesians 1:11).  Also, since Jesus is the hypostatic union of two natures, divine and human, it logically follows that God cannot sin.  Now this gets into the two persons view of Gordon H. Clark.  If Jesus is truly a human person, then His temptation in the wilderness was very real.  On the other hand, if the divine Person of the Logos is incarnate in the hypostatic union between the human nature and human personality of Jesus, then the human nature and human person of Christ must be infallibly preserved by the divine Person and the divine nature of the Logos and by implication the entire Trinity.  That's because the divine nature cannot be divided into three separate gods or three separate Persons.  Each of the three Persons is a distinct subsistence within the one divine nature or Godhead.  (Colossians 1:19; 2:9).  

But one could ask, "How is the temptation real if Jesus had advantages that we do not have?"  This question ignores the fact that not only was Jesus God incarnate but He was also conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin's womb and He was born without any original sin.  Not only this but Jesus was sinless from birth and never once committed any willful sins in thought, word or deed.  (1 Peter 2:21-23; Isaiah 53:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; John 8:46; Hebrews 7:26).  Jesus was in all points tempted as we are.  (Hebrews 4:15).  But this does not mean that Jesus was tempted with every possible sin that humans have committed since the fall but that He was tempted with the same kinds of general sins.

However, I digress into a theological discussion of the implications of the young Presybterian minister's remarks.  Frankly, I was disappointed that he became so defensive and aggressive toward me.  I am obviously much older than him.  He did not respect me as an elder--although I am not an ordained elder--even if he mistakenly thought I was an ignorant laymen, which I am not.  I told him that I had seminary education and that I thought his position was a slippery slope to deny the other miracles in the Bible.  He said that I was entitled to my opinion.  And since he had very disrespectfully laid down the gauntlet I did not relent.  I retorted that he was entitled to his opinion as well and that his opinion was just an opinion because only Scripture is the infallible and inerrant and inspired word of God.  Sermons and ministers are not infallible, inspired or inerrant and I remarked that he himself was not an infallible pope.

A further controversy occurred in the worship service that day.  The senior pastor, Derek Thomas, conducted an ordination of many male deacons and at least one female "deaconess."  He remarked that the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church allows for individual sessions or churches to ordain female deaconesses.  He also remarked that the Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain female deaconesses.  Then he remarked that the ARP does not ordain homosexuals, alluding to the fact that the PCA now ordains male homosexual teaching elders who profess to be both celibate and born with an unchangeable homosexual orientation.  (1 Corinthians 6:9).  Thomas justified the ARP position by stating that there appears to be ambiguity in the text of the qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1ff.  His insistence that there is ambiguity in the text is based on the fact that there are no qualifications for the wives of teaching elders (1Timothy 3:1-7) while there are qualifications for the wives of deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-11).  He also said that word for wives of deacons implies that they are deaconesses.  But in verse 11 the word for wives just means a married woman.  Thomas used the appeal to the ordination of women deaconesses on the same exegesis of other questionable and ambiguous texts such as Prescilla and Junia.  But these are ambiguous since the text could also be Junias.  (See Romans 16:7).  Be that as it may, the plain text of 1 Timothy 3:12 says that the deacons are to be the husbands of one wife.  I fail to see how that is ambiguous at all unless you think that women can be the husband of a wife?

Derek Thomas does not support the ordination of women as teaching elders.  But he is inconsistent in doing do since it logically follows that his arguments for the ordination of deaconesses could also apply to the positions of ruling and teaching elders.  I might also point out that denominations that base their theology on ambiguity rather than the perspicuity of Scripture are on a trajectory toward the acceptance of homosexuality as well.  I rather think that logical propositions make it possible to logically deduce from the text what the logical implications of a proposition are.  If there were only male deacons ordained in the book of Acts, doesn't that imply that there were no female deacons?  If Jesus and all of His apostles were men, does that not imply logically that male leadership is the biblical norm and not just a cultural preference?  (Acts 6:1-6).

I will not be joining any denomination that allows for the ordination of women as deaconesses because the plain teaching of Scripture never prescribes it or mandates it, as even Derek Thomas acknowledged.  The Bible alone is the word of God.  (2 Timothy 3:16).  Basing morality and norms on ambiguity opens the door to all sorts of theological and moral compromises, including the two which I mention above, namely undermining biblical miracles, the deity and divinity of Jesus Christ as the Logos incarnate (1 Timothy 3:16), and making allowances which not only feminize the church but also contradicts the command that only men should have theological authority over men and women in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).  Women should not be visiting the sick at home or any other such male duty since it calls for prayers and exercising authority over men in those households.  (James 5:14).  The word in James 5:14 is presbuteros, not the same thing as a deacon; but in practice the deacons of most churches fulfill this duty in the place of the elders when there are too many sick persons for the elders to visit them all.  (Acts 6:1-6).

This brings me back to the main point of this article, namely that laypersons are to hold their ministers accountable to the Bible, which is the only inspired and infallible and inerrant rule for faith and practice:

WCF 1.9  The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one) , it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.1

WCF 1.10  The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.1
 (WCF 1:9-10 WCS)  Westminster Confession of Faith

While laypersons often do not have the benefits of a seminary education, they can read the plain text of Scripture and compare Scripture with Scripture.  When general assemblies appeal more to their own books of order rather than to the final authority of Holy Scripture to justify their moral and theological compromises it is usually an indication that relativism and cultural accommodation is more important to them than doctrinal orthodoxy and purity.  We as Christians must search the Scriptures to see if what our ministers are telling us is true or false.  Any time a minister bases his arguments on ambiguities and the silence of the text it is an indication that he does not uphold the perspicuity of Scripture to interpret itself.  When a denomination allows for unbiblical ordinations in order to prevent church splits it is an indication that truth is secondary to a denomination.  The denominational associations of churches and presbyteries should only be unified by the word of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:9-10).

Saturday, December 25, 2021

For Those Professing Christians Who Struggle with Assurance of Salvation

 

Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.  John Calvin, Institutes  III:2:8.

 

Assurance of Salvation


As the Bible and the Westminster Standards affirm, there are sometimes new believers or even those who have believed for a significant length of time who struggle with assurance of salvation.  This is because no one is omniscient like God is omniscient.  For Dr. Gordon H. Clark, the technical definition of knowledge is that knowledge must be an absolute truth that is either a universal principle or an inspired revelation from God in Holy Scripture.  So if the Bible says that our Lord Jesus Christ was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, then that is an absolute truth and constitutes knowledge.

However, since our individual names are not written in the canonical Scriptures, we cannot "know" that we are saved or regenerate on the same level of knowledge as it is theologically and philosophically defined by Clark.  This is not to say that we know nothing at all in the sense of commonly accepted experience and facts.  Carpenters and block layers learn their job skills through years of accumulated experience but this is different from making experience the basis for an epistemological theory of knowledge itself.  Experiences vary from one person to another and such a  theory of knowledge would result in relativism, not dogmatism.  A presuppositional view of knowledge must begin with the Holy Scriptures, not with empiricism or commonly accepted views of knowledge as a system of constantly growing and learned skills.  In fact, Dr. Clark held the view that we are not born with a blank slate as empiricism or a Thomistic view of epistemology would affirm.  For Clark there can be no two-fold view of truth where only God knows His truth and we know only an analogical truth revealed as merely human truth.  This would negate the Bible as univocal truth from God and instead would replace the Bible with a neo-orthodox theory of Scripture as a framework of God's revelation and not revelation itself.

So in a pastoral sense, how are pastors to help the members of their congregation understand how to be assured of their salvation, especially when they are struggling with sins in their lives?  Is assurance merely a state of psychological certainty?  Or is assurance based on a change of habits?  Or is assurance based on an objective evaluation of the propositions of Scripture in tandem with an objective self examination of one's progress in sanctification?

Obviously there must be an adherence to the principle of justification by faith alone as the objective basis for any assurance of salvation and any progress in the process of sanctification.  Although justification and sanctification are distinct from one another, they cannot be divorced from one another either.  The Westminster Larger Catechism makes this clear:

WLC 70  What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners,1 in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight;2 not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them,3 but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them,4 and received by faith alone.5

WLC 71  How is justification an act of God's free grace? A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified,1 yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them and did provide this surety, his own only Son,2 imputing his righteousness to them,3 and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith,4 which also is his gift,5 their justification is to them of free grace.6

WLC 72  What is justifying faith? A. Justifying faith is a saving grace,1 wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit2 and word of God,3 whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition,4 not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel,5 but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin,6 and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.7

WLC 73  How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God? A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it,1 not as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification;2 but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.3 (WLC 1:70-73 WCS)

***

WLC 75  What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit1 applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them,2 renewed in their whole man after the image of God;3 having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts,4 and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened,5 as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.6

WLC 76  What is repentance unto life? A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace,1 wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit2 and word of God,3 whereby out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger,4 but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins,5 and upon the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ to such as are penitent,6 he so grieves for7 and hates his sins,8 as that he turns from them all to God,9 purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.10

WLC 77  Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification,1 yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ,2 in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof;3 in the former, sin is pardoned;4 in the other, it is subdued:5 the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation;6 the other is neither equal in all,7 nor in this life perfect in any,8 but growing up to perfection.9

WLC 78  Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers? A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins,1 are hindered in all their spiritual services,2 and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.3

WLC 79  May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace? A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God,1 and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance,2 their inseparable union with Christ,3 his continual intercession for them,4 and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them,5 can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace,6 but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.7

WLC 80  Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation? A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavour to walk in all good conscience before him,1 may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God's promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made,2 and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God,3 be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.4

WLC 81  Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved? A. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith,1 true believers may wait long before they obtain it;2 and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions;3 yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.4
 (WLC 1:75-81 WCS)

I will leave it to the reader to consult the proof texts from the Edinburgh edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  If you do not have this edition, I highly recommend it as the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have both edited the confessional standards so that they fit with a more American view of civil government and other issues.  Also, the proof texts for certain doctrinal areas have been edited by both of these denominations.  I am quoting the entire series of questions for a reason and that reason is that there is a progression of thought from one question to another.  Anyone who reads the questions and answers in context and looks up the proof texts can see that the Westminster divines were concerned not to confuse justification with sanctification yet they were also concerned not to promote hypocrisy or false assurance by means of a lawless or antinomian faith.  Just as good works cannot justify anyone so lawlessness cannot sanctify anyone or give any assurance of salvation.  In short, it is better to have saving faith and not have assurance than to have a false assurance of salvation based on works righteousness or a false security while living a life of licentiousness.

After conversion we must begin somewhere.  That beginning is to study the Bible and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 3:18).  For a genuinely converted Christian to struggle with assurance there must be either past sins or a continuining struggle with current habitual sins interfering with that person's assurance.  An objective knowledge of the Bible must be the starting point for our study.  Dr. Clark referred to the book of Romans and to 1 John as the basis for attaining assurance of salvation.  I highly recommend Dr. Clark's chapter on assurance in the book, What Do Presbyterians Believe? The Westminster Confession Yesterday and Today, 1965, (Unicoi:  Trinity Foundation, 2001), second edition.  Also:  First John.   

According to Dr. Clark, saving faith is an intellectual assent to the Gospel message and a subsequent turning away from sin and turning to our Lord Jesus Christ.   For Clark saving faith is not a bare assent but a pious assent to the propositions of Holy Scripture.  Unfortunately I think Clark misunderstood Calvin when he cites Calvin's remarks in Institutes III:2:8 as a reference to emotion:

. . . Yet Calvin in just another line seems to require assent, for he says, “The assent which we give to the Divine word…is from the heart rather than the head, and from the affections rather than from the understanding. For which reason it is called ‘the obedience of faith,’… It is an absurdity to say that faith is formed by the addition of a pious affection to an assent of the mind; whereas even this assent consists in a pious affection.... Faith consists in a knowledge of Christ.” 

In this quotation from Calvin, note the emphasis on assent. Very good; and both against the late Arminians and with Calvin against the Romanists, this assent and faith are not products of our unaided efforts. The Spirit must make us willing. But the willing is assent. 

I regret that Calvin, a giant among pygmies, said that assent comes from the heart and not from the head. This distinction is unscriptural; the Bible nowhere opposes heart to head, for it does not mention this “head.” Naturally assent comes from the heart because all psychological actions of a person come from the heart. There is nothing else for them to come from. 

Aside from this unfortunate slip, Calvin proceeds to say that assent is the obedience of faith. Clearly obedience is a matter of volition. Assent then is an act of will. No pious additions are necessary, for the assent itself is already pious.

Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 3228-3238). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition. 

 

Calvin's argument with the papist Roman Catholics is that the papists were accusing the Protestants of antinomianism due to the emphasis on justification by faith alone apart from good works.  The papists said that the Protestants were impious antinomians who had no obedience of faith and no love.  In other words, they accused Protestants of having a bare intellectual assent to propositions in the Scriptures with no subsequent piety or sanctification.  The Protestant critique of the papists, on the other hand, was that they conflated justification with sanctification thereby making justification and sanctification the same thing.  The papists insisted on justification by faith alone in regards to baptism but from that point on the papists insisted that faith that justifies must produce good works in order to continuously restore justification that is lost when a believer sins.  The papists denied that justification is a forensic and legal declaration instead of an infused righteousness that can be lost every time the believer sinned.  Calvin's argument is that saving faith is an intellectual assent that comes from the heart, not merely a bare assent without the involvement of the total person, including the mind, the will, and the affections.   By affections, Calvin does not mean the emotions but the totality of the soul much like Jonathan Edwards' definition of the affections.  Calvin's remarks show that he is rejecting the papist accusation that justification by faith alone is a mere or bare intellectual assent to the Gospel:

8. But before I proceed farther, it will be necessary to make some preliminary observations for the purpose of removing difficulties which might otherwise obstruct the reader. And first, I must refute the nugatory distinction of the Schoolmen as to formed and unformed faith.285 For they imagine that persons who have no fear of God, and no sense of piety, may believe all that is necessary to be known for salvation; as if the Holy Spirit were not the witness of our adoption by enlightening our hearts unto faith. Still, however, though the whole Scripture is against them, they dogmatically give the name of faith to a persuasion devoid of the fear of God. It is unnecessary to go farther in refuting their definition, than simply to state the nature of faith as declared in the word of God. From this it will clearly appear how unskillfully and absurdly they babble, rather than discourse, on this subject. I have already done this in part, and will afterwards add the remainder in its proper place. At present, I say that nothing can be imagined more absurd than their fiction. They insist that faith is an assent with which any despiser of God may receive what is delivered by Scripture. But we must first see whether any one can by his own strength acquire faith, or whether the Holy Spirit, by means of it, becomes the witness of adoption. Hence it is childish trifling in them to inquire whether the faith formed by the supervening quality of love be the same, or a different and new faith. By talking in this style, they show plainly that they have never thought of the special gift of the Spirit; since one of the first elements of faith is reconciliation implied in man’s drawing near to God. Did they duly ponder the saying of Paul, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” (Rom. 10:10), they would cease to dream of that frigid quality. There is one consideration which ought at once to put an end to the debate, viz., that assent itself (as I have already observed, and will afterwards more fully illustrate) is more a matter of the heart than the head, of the affection than the intellect. For this reason, it is termed “the obedience of faith,” (Rom. 1:5), which the Lord prefers to all other service, and justly, since nothing is more precious to him than his truth, which, as John Baptist declares, is in a manner signed and sealed by believers (John 3:33). As there can be no doubt on the matter, we in one word conclude, that they talk absurdly when they maintain that faith is formed by the addition of pious affection as an accessory to assent, since assent itself, such at least as the Scriptures describe, consists in pious affection. But we are furnished with a still clearer argument. Since faith embraces Christ as he is offered by the Father, and he is offered not only for justification, for forgiveness of sins and peace, but also for sanctification, as the fountain of living waters, it is certain that no man will ever know him aright without at the same time receiving the sanctification of the Spirit; or, to express the matter more plainly, faith consists in the knowledge of Christ; Christ cannot be known without the sanctification of his Spirit: therefore faith cannot possibly be disjoined from pious affection.  (III:2:8).

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997. Print.  Beveridge edition.

But I digress here.  The original purpose of this post was pastoral.  How does the pastor encourage new believers and long time believers who are struggling with assurance.  He must emphasize that no amount of spiritual growth could ever justify the believer.  Without this foundation there can be no true sanctification and no assurance.  Although sinful habits must be overcome, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the beginning point for true assurance for without it there can be no assurance  attained.  That applies to Arminians and especially to papists:

Having the opinion that assurance is rare, Ryle extends its possibility to every Christian (103). He allows that Rome denies this possibility. True. And also, “the vast majority of the worldly and thoughtless Christians among ourselves oppose the doctrine.” Possibly true then, but very likely false now. However, Job 19:25-27, Psalm 23:4, 6, Isaiah 26:3, and 32:17, Romans 8:39 on to 1 John 5:19 insist that assurance is possible. Not only was assurance possible in apostolic times, but “many have attained to such an assured hope…even in modern times” (105). This certainly seems to be what the Bible teaches; but Ryle, at least so far, has not told us how to attain such assurance and how to distinguish it from careless presumption or from what Louis Berkhof calls “temporary faith,” so little temporary as to last a lifetime.

Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 738-745). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition. 

One subhead under the general title of Sanctification or Holiness is Assurance. Calvin and the first generation of Reformers seem to have held that assurance is inseparable from faith. Whoever is not assured of his salvation is simply not saved. This view may have been encouraged by the severity of Romish persecution, the exuberance of a newly found faith, and the utter impossibility of finding assurance in penance and good works. But as the persecutions diminished and as calmer study could be undertaken, the Westminster divines, a full century later, wrote, “This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he is partaker of it” (XVIII, 3). 
 
I must confess I do not like the word infallible in this context. The Pope claims infallibility, but if this is a false claim, it seems strange that it can be asserted of a thousand or a million Protestants. One of the older divines, whose name I have forgotten, illustrated infallibility by the knowledge of a ship captain’s guiding his ship into a harbor. Though the captain was ignorant of many things, and mistaken about many others, he infallibly knew the channel. But is it not possible, as it actually happened in 1983 when a naval vessel struck a sand bar in San Francisco Bay, that a storm could have closed the previous channel? Scripture is infallible; nothing else is. We all can and we all do make mistakes. 
 
Ryle does not seem to realize this. Nor do many others. Those who are so assured about assurance do not seem to understand the difficulties. Once I had a very friendly conversation with a college professor who was strongly Arminian. I remarked that one difference between Calvinism and Arminianism was that the latter denied the possibility of assurance. “Not so,” he replied, “I’m right now completely assured of my salvation. If I should die this moment, I know I would go to Heaven. Of course,” he continued, “if I should live until tomorrow or next week, I do not know whether I shall be saved or not.” This raises the question of the value of assurance. Assurance of salvation does not mean that you will get to Heaven. Assurance that a good restaurant serves good food does not guarantee that it serves good food. My major professor in graduate school took his wife out one Saturday night to a restaurant which he had often patronized. Before the night was over, he had died of food poisoning. His assurance had been misplaced. Many people are assured of all sorts of things. Some are sure that drinking vinegar will cure warts. But assurance guarantees nothing.

Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 712-731). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition. 
 
Perhaps someone will say that it is wrong to seek for a method of achieving assurance. It is a gift of God, we cannot earn it; there is nothing for us to do except to hope that God favors us. Well, it is true that assurance, like faith, is a gift of God, but though regeneration and faith can have no preparation on our part, assurance or at least sanctification requires certain actions by us. Perhaps method is not the proper term, but John tells us that “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.” The usual exegesis of “these things” that John wrote is that faith, love, and obedience, while they do not automatically produce assurance, are nonetheless requirements for being a candidate, so to speak, to receive it. Actually love is one form of obedience, since it is commanded, and hence belief and overt obedience are the two prerequisites. 
 
There is, however, a difficulty. It is the same one Luther struggled with before he discovered the doctrine of justification. In Romanism he was supposed to earn his salvation by good works, penance, flagellation, and various monkish practices. But, being very sincere, he was troubled because he could never be sure that he had done enough. A similar difficulty arises here. If we wish to distinguish a valid assurance from a false assurance, how can we know that we have a sufficient theological knowledge and a sufficient degree of obedience to have met the requirements? Do we love deeply enough? Have we satisfied John’s criteria? Is there any devotional writer who has forthrightly faced this problem? It is hard to believe that none of them has thought of it. If as previously stated, Louis Berkhof’s temporary faith can last a lifetime, how can the true be identified in contrast with the false?

Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 754-768). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

Dr. Clark rightly points out that assurance is problematic.  So if there is no absolute infallibility in regards to our assurance of salvation, where does that leave us?  The only place I know of is Scripture.  The words of comfort quoted just after the absolution in the communion service of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer say:

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him:

Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.


Matthew 11:28–29 (KJV 1900)

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest .

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Also, at the point of regeneration and conversion God forgets all of our past sins and declares us righteous at that point:

Micah 7:18–20 (KJV 1900)

18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, And passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, Because he delighteth in mercy.

19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; And thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

20 Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, Which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.


Romans 5:1–9 (KJV 1900)

1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

In closing, it should be noted that Clark does not stop with his remarks above but transitions over into a discussion of the doctrine of perseverance in faith to the end.  Furthermore, Clark asserts that saving faith is not a temporary faith but God imparts to the believer eternal life which never ends.  Of course, all of this is the gift of God, including the antecedent irresistible and effectual grace of regeneration.  Those who struggle with assurance are encouraged to study the Bible more closely and to study the system of theology outlined from the Bible in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism.  There are also additional articles in the Edinburgh edition of the doctrinal standards.  In particular, there is an article in the Edinburgh edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith called, "The Sum of Saving Knowledge."  That article outlines what saving faith is and the evidences of true saving faith.  I highly recommend reading, "The Sum of Saving Knowledge," especially the last section, "The Evidences of True Faith."  While this is challenging given the looseness of the modern Evangelical churches, it is completely within the doctrinal standards of the Bible and the Westminster confessional standards. 

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