Assurance, Good Works, and Sovereign Grace (Berkhof)

Assurance of Faith The Heidelberg Catechism says that the Christian’s good works help in the assurance of faith: “we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits” (Q/A 86).  The Westminster Larger Catechism notes under assurance that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to “discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made” (Q/A 80).  Biblically speaking, James said that true faith is shown to be true by works (James 2:18) and John wrote that we can tell we have new life when we love other Christians (1 John 3:14).

I appreciate Louis Berkhof’s explanation of how assurance of faith is related to good works in the Christian’s life:

…Reformed Confessional Standards also clearly indicate that assurance is based in part on the so-called syllogism of faith, in which the believer consciously and deliberately compares the graces that adorn his life and his general conduct, with the biblical description of the virtues and the godly conversation of those who are born of the Spirit, and on their relative correspondence bases the conclusion that he is indeed a child of God.

Berkhof ended the section this way – by emphasizing sovereign grace:

…Some object to this method of seeking assurance altogether. They claim that it directs believers to seek the ground of assurance within themselves, and thus encourages them to build on a self-righteous foundation. But this is clearly a mistake. Believers are not taught to regard their good works as the meritorious cause of their salvation, but only as the divinely wrought evidences of a faith that is itself a gift of God. Their conclusion is based exactly on the assumption that the qualities and works which they discover in their life, could never have been wrought by themselves, but can only be regarded as the products of sovereign grace.

 Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), chapter 6.

(As a side, The Assurance of Faith is only $5.99 on Logos.  It’s very much worth that!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Keeping Your Assurance

A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election If you’re assured of your salvation in Christ; if you know you’re a child of God by grace, how can you stay strong in that assurance and knowledge? Or how can you grow in assurance?  Christopher Love (d. 1651) gave some biblical answers to these questions in a sermon on 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (NIV).  I’ve edited some of them and posted them below:

  1. Keep close to God in the duty of prayer.  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:24).  Jesus’ words imply that if you keep close to God in the duty of prayer, your spirits shall be complete and full.
  2. Keep close to God in the duty of reading the Word often.  By often reading the Word, you will often meet with promises and supports for your comforts.  That is the reason men lessen in comforts, because they  do not frequently read the Word; you cannot read a Chapter, but you will find there a prop for faith, and a prop for assurance. Keeping constant to the Word, that is the way to keep your assurance.  “These things have I written to you that believe, that you might know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). These things have I written, not only that you have life, but that you might know it. By reading the writings of John, John tells them they might better know they shall live for ever, and everlastingly be saved. Keep close to God in reading his written Word, and this will be of great use because there are promises scattered throughout the veins of Scripture. There is almost no Scripture you can read where there isn’t a promise or support for your faith one way or other.
  3. Keep close to God in constant and conscientious hearing of his Word.  This is a great means to get assurance. …Live under the ministry of the Word, and that ministry will give much assurance of your salvation!

In summary, if you want to grow in assurance of salvation, pray for it, read the Word often, and regularly listen to it preached!

The above (edited) quotes are found on pages 191-193 of Christopher Love, A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election, (Morgan, PA:  Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Assurance and Introspection (Hodge)

 Assurance of faith is one of the great blessings of the Christian life.  To be sure, it comes and goes, waxes and wanes.  Sometimes the Christian is certain he or she is a beloved child of God.  Other times the Christian doubts whether it is so.  But assurance is something Christians should pray for, strive for, and be thankful when they have it.  Charles Hodge has a good word on the grounds, or basis, for assurance in volume three of his Systematic Theology:

Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated (or grows – spl) by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on “The Religious Affections,” and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt.

The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us. They are, according to Scripture,

(1.) The universal and unconditional promise of God that those who come to Him in Christ, He will in no wise cast out; that whosoever will, may take of the water of life without money and without price. We are bound to be assured that God is faithful and will certainly save those who believe.

(2.) The infinite, immutable, and gratuitous love of God. In the first ten verses of the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in the eighth chapter of that epistle from the thirty-first verse to the end, the Apostle dwells on these characteristics of the love of God, as affording an immovable foundation of the believer’s hope.

(3.) The infinite merit of the satisfaction of Christ, and the prevalence of his continued intercession. Paul, in Romans 8:34, especially emphasizes these points.

(4.) The covenant of redemption in which it is promised that all given by the Father to the Son, shall come to Him, and that none of them shall be lost.

(5.) From the witness of the Spirit, Paul says, “We … rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given unto us. That is, the Holy Ghost assures us that we are the objects of that love which he goes on to describe as infinite, immutable, and gratuitous. (Rom. 5:3–5.) And again, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”

If, therefore, any true believer lacks the assurance of faith, the fault is in himself and not in the plan of salvation, or in the promises of God.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 107.

Shane Lems

The Glory and Comfort of Free Justification

Our Reasonable Faith These are some comforting words on justification sola fide:

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, [and] the certainty concerning eternal salvation do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such indeed is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement of good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and his righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the winds” (p. 465-6).

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith.

shane lems

The Lord’s Supper and Assurance

Heaven on Earth (Puritan Paperbacks) The Lord’s Supper is a holy sacrament that Jesus gave to his church to help strengthen us in the Christian faith.  If you’re a Christian who is weak, weary, full of doubts, and in need of God’s love and grace, don’t avoid the table – go to it with repentant faith.  Thomas Brooks put it this way.

“[Assurance] was the principle end of Christ’s institution of the sacrament of the Supper that he might assure them of his love, and that he might seal up to them the forgiveness of their sins, the acceptance of their persons, and the salvation of their souls (Matt. 26:27-28).  The nature of a seal is to make things sure and firm among men; so the Supper of the Lord is Christ’s broad seal, it is Christ’s privy-seal, whereby he seals and assures his people that they are happy here, that they shall be more happy hereafter, that they are everlastingly beloved of God, that his heart is set upon them, that their names are written in the book of life, that there is laid up for them a crown of righteousness, and that nothing shall be able to separate them from him who is their light, their crown, their all in all.”

“In this sacrament Christ comes forth and shows his love, his heart…his blood, that his children may no longer say, ‘Does the Lord Jesus love us?  Does he delight in us?’ but that they may say with the spouse, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is towards me’ (Songs 7:10).”

Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, 27.

rev shane lems