For any Christian it is no hardship to sing
Blessed assurance, Jesus is
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His spirit, washed in His blood
We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works and desertings; Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily A Short Declaration ‘’Of the True, Lively and Christian Faith” The homily discusses ‘dead’ faith (James 2.17), and emphasises the fruit of faith. ‘Assurance’ is not mentioned. This is dated 1547
Move on a century, to the time of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)’ the chapters on Justification, Chapter 11, and Chapter 18, ‘Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation.’ There are two elements, justifying faith and its assurance. Ch.18 is among the most sophisticated chapters in the Confession. Here are parts of that chapter.
Having distinguishing certainty from having a probable persuasion the Confession states -
II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God: which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.
III. 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 be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
This is the Puritan version of justification, the outcome of a century’s preaching on the consequences of true faith, while being careful not to make any of those grounds a case of justification by works. An experimental (or experiential) approach to the matter of justification , and of the application of the doctrine at the centre of many a Puritan sermon on justifying faith. From this development the evangelical stress on assurance, such as the hymn ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine’ is a development.
(For those who wish to study this seventeenth century development in justification of faith, there is no better book than Joel Beeke’ s dissertation, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (Peter Lang, 1991), and The Quest For Full Assurance, (Banner of Truth, 1999.)
Here is ‘assurance’ in order of its occurrence in the New Testament -
The resurrection, Acts 1.31 ‘given assurance to all’.
Coloss. 2.2 ‘full assurance’
I Thess. 1.5 ‘full conviction’ ESV/’much assurance’ KJV
2Tim 3.14 ‘assured’, ‘firmly believed’(ESV)
11, I ‘assurance’, ‘substance of’
Summing up, ‘assurance’ has degrees, and it means in the New Testament the making aware of the evidence of spiritual realities, depending of the context
2. degrees, ‘much’, ‘full’
giving conviction, evidence
3) it is desirable for disciples to grow to possess it, and therefore it is the subject of the Apostles’ prayers, bringing this to a belief which is made so strong until it is ‘full’ or the ‘form’ of it.
So, in the New Testament ‘assurance’ has not only a qualifier of faith but also of other spiritual realities. For example in Colossians 2.2 Paul prays to the church that their hearts to more and more love between them ‘the full assurance of understanding, and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ ‘in whom are hidden all the riches of full understanding’. (v.3), and this is continued in verse 4, and put negatively in v. 8 and continuing…
When did you last pray for such assurance? Are these matters important items in our daily prayer list?