Personal Assurance of Faith: The Puritans and Chapter 18.2 of the “Westminster Confession” -- By: Joel R. Beeke

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 55:1 (Spring 1993)
Article: Personal Assurance of Faith: The Puritans and Chapter 18.2 of the “Westminster Confession”
Author: Joel R. Beeke


Personal Assurance of Faith:
The Puritans and Chapter 18.2
of the “Westminster Confession”*

Joel R. Beeke

* This article was presented in a condensed form at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans, Louisiana, November 16, 1990.

It is well-known that numerous post-Reformation1 orthodox theologians and Puritan2 pastors of the seventeenth-century wrestled in their preaching and writing with ascertaining the precise relationship of the Christian’s personal assurance of salvation and his saving faith. Their labor for theological precision in this area gave rise to a technical vocabulary in which distinctions such as the following were fine-tuned: assurance of faith and assurance of sense; the direct (actus directus) and reflexive (actus reflectus) acts of faith; assurance of the uprightness of faith and assurance of adoption; the practical (syllogismus practicus) and mystical (syllogismus mysticus) syllogisms; the principle (habitus) and acts (actus) of faith; objective and subjective assurance; assurance of faith, understanding, and hope; discursive and intuitive assurance; the immediate and mediate witness in assurance; and the being and well-being of faith. Such terminology was used within the context of a series of correlative issues, such as the possibilities, kinds, degrees, foundations, experiences, means, times, obstacles, qualifications, and fruits of assurance.

With such “scholastic” and pastoral distinctions most modern scholars have little patience. The bulk of current scholarship no longer views this post-Reformation seventeenth-century struggle as a faithful outworking of early Reformation principles. Rather, post-Reformation agonizings to develop a doctrine of assurance have been more recently regarded as antithetical to the simplicity of the early Reformers’ insistence on the inseparability of faith and assurance. It is argued that the Reformers, and Calvin in particular, retained no room for the syllogismus practicus and similar supposedly non-Christological devices as aids for defining or gaining subjective assurance. Rather, it is

argued, assurance must be realized exclusively through resting on the objective promises of God in Christ Jesus. With notable exceptions, the post-Reformers are viewed as having injected a cold, systematic scholasticism into the doctrines of faith and assurance, thereby supplanting the warm biblicism of the Reformers.3

This contemporary school of thought is represented i...

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