Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Assurance Must Rest on Universal Atonement - Part 2

Faith is the foundation on which hope rests.

~Calvin, Institutes 3.2.42

This is Part 2 of my answer to a Pyro blogger. You can find part one here: Assurance Must Rest on Universal Atonement."

"Hope," in Calvin's language, would be the same as the modern word "assurance." When the modern evangelical speaks of assurance of salvation, he's speaking of the same thing that Calvin called hope.

So for Calvin, assurance is always produced by faith. But that faith must have an object. Obviously, for the Christian, the object of that faith is God. God promises salvation, faith believes God, and faith in God produces assurance. That's Calvin.

But what of the modern evangelical Calvinist? He says that there are some men for whom Christ has not died. How then can one have faith in God if God, perhaps, has not provided for my salvation, has no love for me, and has no desire that I should be saved? How then am I to have assurance?

The answer of many Calvinists down through the years is this syllogism:

  • All believers will be saved
  • I am a believer
  • Therefore I will be saved

This, or something like it, is called the practical syllogism, and it is often resorted to as the grounds for assurance. The problem in the syllogism is that "I am a believer" part. It's problematic in two ways: first, it focuses on "I"; second, it presumes that I am not a false believer.

But what if I am a false believer? Surely it's conceivable that I have deceived myself. That being the case, I search somewhere for assurance. It cannot rest in God, for God may not love me. It must rest, therefore, in my works. I have believed, I am progressing in sanctification, etc. The assurance for the high Calvinist rests in God's work in him.

For Calvin, though, assurance rests directly in God. It is a direct (rather than reflex) act of faith. The look of faith looks to Christ alone, and finds assurance there.

But what of the objection that God may not love me? Rubbish. God loves all men and has proved his love by sending Christ to die for them.

But what if I'm a false believer? Look to Christ. The answer always for Calvin would be "look to Christ." Assurance is found always and only in the look of faith to Christ. No syllogisms, no looking to self; look to Christ and to him alone for assurance.

That look to Christ can only give hope if I know that God loves me and Christ has died for me. And that is why assurance must rest on universal atonement.

The answer to the Pyro Blogger

So how would I answer Phillips's objection: that if Christ has died for Judas and the Beast, I can't have any assurance that my sins won't send me to hell.

Answer: look to Christ. All objections are answered in that way: look to Christ. In Christ alone is salvation, and in Christ alone is assurance. No syllogisms, no arguments; just look to Christ. I can look to Christ, for I know that he has died for me.


Terry W. West said...

Good job, Steve. It is telling that you have no comments after this installment. Who can argue with look to Christ.

Phil said...

Yes, that's exactly the problem, the high calvinist has bent the proposition of assurance back upon himself. Because he backs himself into a corner he must then assure himself.

Steve said...

I look back at this post, eight years later, and I still find it satisfying and persuasive. As I
read it today, I was thinking about the Pyro blogger who asked about Judas and the Beast. The argument is that Christ's work might not avail for me, since it did not avail for them. But did they look to Christ? If Judas, say, had looked to Christ, then he would have been saved.

And so it goes for me as well. If I look to myself, all I see is damnation (Calvin). If I look to Christ alone, I have both salvation and the assurance of salvation.