Assured by God
"Come beloved, listen for a moment to this!" preached Charles Spurgeon. "You have the milk of faith, but God wills that you should have this cream of assurance! He would increase your faith." The proven pastors and teachers who have contributed to Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God's Grace join with Mr. Spurgeon in this sweet invitation by offering their own reflections on the assurance of grace and salvation. All Christians are under obligation to be diligent to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10), and Assured by God promises, by God's grace, to help Christian readers make their calling and election sure.
This short volume captures something of God's grand, eternal work of salvation as the immovable bedrock of Christian faith. The writing is both substantial enough to be worth reading, and also accessible enough that a layman may step through its pages without intimidation.
The book's main use will likely be for the believer who lacks assurance or has a weak assurance. Such a person may be to embarassed by his lack of assurance to seek the counsel of other Christians. Or, having sought counsel and teaching, he may have found little that was helpful, or he may even have encountered those who have belittled the seriousness of his concern to obtain assurance. Such a seeker after assurance will find the authors of this book to be the friends and careful, nourishing teachers of his soul. On a more basic level, the book may serve to awaken some Christians to the fact that it is their obligation to seek assurance.
The book will also be a help to those who even doubt the idea that assurance of salvation is possible--take note of Assured by God if you need a book to recommend to such a person. For readers who doubt the validity of the concept of assurance, the authors show how the Bible teaches that a believer may have a true assurance of salvation that is not presumption. Yet, even with the inviting, encouraging tone of the volume, the authors carefully avoid the error of mistaking presumption for assurance. For instance, John MacArthur's chapter on "The Glory of True Repentance" clarifies the relation of one sometimes-ignored doctrine--repentance--to another sometimes-ignored doctrine--assurance. Namely, MacArthur shows how a shallow view of repentance will lead false assurance, though a true spirit of continual repentance "is the very thing that feeds our assurance and keeps it alive." (138)
One strength of the volume is the way that it shows how Reformed theology is the one system in which the doctrine of assurance comes into its own. Rick Phillips' chapter on "Assured in Christ" is a highlight in this respect and others. Interweaving his chapter with the story of John "Rabbi" Duncan, a Scottish minister who lacked assurance, Phillips shows that the ground of a Christian's assurance is the redeeming work of Christ, accomplished and applied. Christ came to accomplish redemption for his own, and he actually succeeded in accomplishing what he intended, and for this reason a believer may be sure of his salvation. As Phillips shows, then, it is Calvinism alone, with its doctrines of election and limited atonement, that has the robust theological basis needed to support a doctrine of the assurance of salvation: "assurance of salvation is a field of theology and Christian experience plowed only by the Reformed." (71)
In reflecting on Romans 4:25, Sinclair Ferguson writes that "we can be so bold as to say that we are as fully justified as our Lord Jesus is. We are as finally justified as our Lord Jesus is. We are as irreversibly justified as our Lord Jesus is. ... We are justified with his justification." (91) Ferguson's chapter is a demonstration that justification by faith alone is always a timely doctrine, because justification is the foundation of our salvation, and therefore the foundation of our assurance. He helpfully distinguishes between justification as the foundation of our salvation and sanctification as the fruits of our salvation. Confusing these two can lead either to a false assurance or to a lack of assurance. In expounding the hallmark Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, Ferguson strengthens the theme that Reformed theology is the true home of assurance of salvation, claiming that "in some senses, the Reformation was the great rediscovery of assurance." (99)
Assured by God is also valuable for passages that clearly show the relation between faith and assurance. Certainly, a believer may have faith and wait long for assurance (WCF 18.3). Yet there is an intimate relationship between faith and assurance. Joel Beeke, in his chapter, traces this theme through Scripture, saying that "the roots of assurance lie in saving faith, which by its very nature cannot doubt." (120) Or, in Ferguson's words, "Faith in its first exercise is an assurance about Christ. The enjoyment of assurance is simply the inner nature of faith bursting out into our conscious awareness of what it means." (102)
Where will you turn if you lack assurance of salvation? Turn to Jesus: "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." And, in turning to Jesus, you must find preaching and teaching and counsel that will nourish your faith till it grows up to assurance. This book is one good place to find that teaching.
Edited by Burk Parsons - Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006
Review by Brent Evans, Student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS