The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …


with 3 comments

Having recently preached on the topic of assurance, I found this article from the Jollyblogger interesting. He concludes:

So, what do you think? Have I just completely misunderstood Edwards? Am I making excuses for myself? Or is there in truth, as I suspect, a better means of assurance and a better way of spirituality than we have been offered in the religious affections – the way of objectivity as embodied in the teachings of Luther and Calvin, as opposed to the subjectivity embodied in Edwardean religious affections?

For those wrestling – personally or pastorally – with issues of assurance, I think this article raises some excellent questions. As I see it, there is an objective foundation for assurance, and there are some objective indications for the existence of saving faith, but many of those objective indications have a subjective element, in the sense that they are part of our experience. To swerve toward the objective alone, stripped entirely of the subjective, leaves us with a religion that could consist only in mental assent rather than genuine faith; but to abandon the objective in order to rest on the subjective can leave us subject to every whim of soul, every assault of Satan, every tremor of feeling, every trouble of body.

The Jollyblogger is not suggesting that Edwards made the latter error, but I think some of those who follow Edwards might have gone further in that direction than he would have done.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 07:57

3 Responses

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  1. It’s kind of trendy at the moment to slate Jonathan Edwards, and it makes me uncomfortable, in the sense that I don’t believe that many of the criticisms against him are justified, yet I’m not familiar enough with his own writings to be able to back that up properly. I also wonder if people may rightly be criticising things that Edwards himself didn’t say, but third parties claim that he said: but again, if the third party is one John Piper, I really don’t know enough about him to say for sure – it’s just a suspicion.

    Assurance is a difficult enough question in itself anyway. It would be interesting to know more about how you preached about it. The hints you give about how there are both objective and subjective elements seem to echo, if you don’t mind me saying so, the Westminster Confession, which says that an infallible assurance of faith is attainable, and that it’s founded on three things:
    * the divine truth of the promises of salvation
    * the inward evidence of these graces to which the promises are made
    * the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.

    There is after all a difference between believing in Christ for salvation and knowing that you have believed in Christ for salvation. If people aren’t sure whether they have believed in Christ for salvation, what can be said to help them?


    Saturday 5 May 2012 at 20:21

    • Thanks, Cath. I agree that often it is not so much Edwards who is under assault – or, indeed, being hymned – as a certain interpretation of Edwards. You are right to say that my approach sought to reflect the Biblical balance of the Westminster and 1689 Confessions, trying to take account both of the objective realities and the subjective experience of those realities, and the relationship between them. In my dealing with the subject, I started off by saying that assurance is definable, possible, and desirable (including the operations of the Holy Spirit), then considered some of the false foundations upon which some build, then looked at the true foundation and the proper materials for building the house of assurance: accepting the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin as a foundation, and then three central and identifiable marks of new life in the renewed creature – the pursuit of God’s glory, growing holiness, and love for the brothers. I closed by coming back to Paul’s declaration: “I know whom I have believed.”

      Jeremy Walker

      Tuesday 8 May 2012 at 09:29

      • That declaration, “I know whom I have believed” is so useful as a touchstone because (i hope it’s true to say) it focuses you on the person of Christ, Christ as a person, and so exposes the two dangerous extremes – one, it’s a reminder that faith unites the soul to a person, not a set of propositions, and two, it’s a reminder that what saves is the union to another person and not dependent on something about me. So on the first hand, part of the problem with some believers not even realising that assurance can even be a problem for some people could arguably come from the notion that what saves is believing that X or Y doctrines are true (eg, just believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or just believe that Jesus rose from the dead). In the normal way of things, when you believe a proposition, there’s not much difficulty about knowing that you believe it, so that in the religious realm even if you’re believing a proposition about something divine or something divinely revealed, the expectation remains that there isn’t much place for much angst about whether you know you believe it. But if on the other hand it’s all about knowing him, then that personal trust is the essence of saving faith, and it doesn’t affect the safety and security of the believing soul whether or not they know that they believe (although it does affect their comfort and fruitfulness). Even to say, ‘For my part, he is such a one for beauty and glory, I cannot but love him,’ without knowing for sure that the feeling is mutual (so to speak!) — it’s a piece of evidence that the soul could in principle use to come to a clearer understanding of their relationship to the person of the Saviour, but even if they can’t or don’t use it like that, it’s still the reality of the union with the Saviour that saves, not the clarity of their sight of the union.


        Btw also: I revisited William Cunningham’s chapter on the Reformers’ view of assurance, in his Reformers and Theology of the Reformation and he firmly rebuffs the allegation that the C17th and C18th folk differed from the Reformers on the question of faith and assurance. George Smeaton says the same thing in his chapter on ‘The Spirit’s regenerating work on the individual’ in his Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Which I think is worth mentioning because it’s a bit too convenient to blame everyone after the Reformers for deviating from Reformation-era clarity into some horribly complicated, introspective subjectivity. The problem is far less likely to stem from the Puritans et al and far more likely to stem from contemporary misunderstandings about both faith and assurance. Imo.


        Friday 11 May 2012 at 00:02

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