“…yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace…”
These words from Chapter 18 of the Confession (2 LCF) are a balm to soul of the pilgrim on the road to glory. And they are biblical words. The Scriptures proclaim that the ultimate ground of our assurance is the promise of Christ (John 6:37, Hebrews 6:11-8), and yet it may indeed be possible for a true believer to wrestle with a lack of assurance in this temporal life. However, a right understanding of what Assurance is can help the believer with comfort and can guard against unnecessary fear and misunderstanding. What is assurance? It is a blessed state of rest and confidence that one is indeed right with God in Christ.
The Confession speaks to the doctrine of assurance in four rich paragraphs. These paragraphs lie out the doctrine systematically, but also provide pastoral comfort. In short, assurance is possible for the believer; it has true grounding in the promises and work of God; it does not belong to the “essence of faith” (a person may be truly justified without having accompanying assurance); and it can ebb and flow in the life of the believer. And what a blessing these truths are! Assurance is one of the graces of God’s Covenant work.
As Chapter 18 unfolds, paragraph one highlights the fact that there will indeed be some who profess Christ, and presume upon assurance, but who are not in a true state of grace. Yet, this fact should not cause the believer to miss out on the reality that true believers who are resting on Christ alone can indeed be assured that they are in the state of grace (Rom 5:2,5). False professors of Christ should not cause the believer to be in a constant state of worry that they are in Christ. Rather, one who is in Christ has every reason to believe that he or she may “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (1 John 2:3).
Paragraph two expounds upon this when it details the ground of assurance. The ground of assurance for the believer is founded on “the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the gospel.” In one sense, the ground of justification and the ground of assurance that one is justified meet at the same place. The believer is to look up, past self and sin, and look unto Christ, whose blood is the atonement for every one of his or her sins, and whose righteousness is the full clothing of the believer. Following on from this are the evidences of grace that the Spirit produces in the life of the believer, as well as the testimony of the Holy Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15-16).
Paragraph three proclaims a great and necessary truth: assurance does not belong to the essence of faith, and a believer may go a long while without assurance. This means that saving faith does not require assurance in order to be real. A true, heaven-bound believer may not have full assurance of faith, and yet be truly in possession of saving faith. What a glorious distinction! The confession continues to point out that a believer may not have assurance, and may need to wrestle long and “conflict with many difficulties before he be a partaker of it”, and yet, by the Spirit and biblical means, a believer’s quest for assurance can reach its goal. Thus, every believer should seek assurance (but this is not seeking justification), and this quest in no way means a believer is free to be friendly with sin (Rom 6:1-2). But, the one looking to Christ alone, but without assurance, can press into His words as He waits for assurance, “…the one who comes to me, I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37b).
Paragraph four, the final paragraph of the chapter, helpfully teaches that a true believer can have their assurance shaken. This can occur because of difficult circumstances, by sin, by neglecting to seek assurance, or even by God’s design for the ultimate good of the believer. Yet, this weakened assurance can be revived (Ps. 42:5, 11) by God’s grace, and the believer need not despair that all seeds of faith are gone (I Jn 3:9).
This chapter of the Confession presents a glorious doctrine and a pastorally necessary truth. Namely, believers can have assurance, weak at times though it may be, and they can continue to press into the hope that they have in the promises of Christ. This view is against others such as that of Rome, or that of the Neonomians. We can rest because Christ has given us rest, and he doesn’t provide the resting place of the orphan—always wondering if he is secure as he rests. No, Christ has made us sons, and he has accomplished salvation, and one of the blessed realities of his accomplishment is that His people can rest that they are secure.
Saturday 21st August 2021