Is Assurance Possible
by Jody Dillow
According to the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, all truly saved people persevere in faith and good works. Charles Hodge, for example, said:
Election, calling, justification, and salvation are indissolubly united; and, therefore, he who has clear evidence of his being called has the same evidence of his election and final salvation…The only evidence of election is effectual calling, that is, the production of holiness. And the only evidence of the genuineness of this call and the certainty of our perseverance, is a patient continuance in well doing.2
In other words, the only real evidence of election is perseverance, and our only assurance of the certainty of persevering is—to persevere! So on this ground there is no assurance at all! As John Murray put it, "The perseverance of the saints reminds us very forcefully that only those who persevere to the end are truly saints."
Two Contradictory Views
Those who believe in this view of perseverance cannot really ever offer anyone assurance of salvation, even though they claim to be able to do so. They claim that they believe it is possible for a person to have assurance during his life that he will go to heaven when he dies. We will call this Proposition A.
However, Proposition A is at odds with the following syllogism, which they also hold as true:
Major premise: I am saved now if I persevere in faith to the end of life.
Minor premise: It is possible that I will not persevere to the end of life.
Conclusion: I may not be saved now.
This inevitably leads to the belief that it is not possible for man to have assurance during his life that he will go to heaven when he dies. We will call this Proposition B.
Since both Proposition A and Proposition B cannot be true at the same time, the Calvinist system flatly contradicts itself. Some Calvinists might reply, "This is not a contradiction, only a healthy tension."3 The word "healthy" is used to imply that there is value in wondering whether or not one is saved. His doubts and resultant fears may motivate him to live a godly life. The word "tension" is simply a substitute for the more obvious word "contradiction."
It is disturbing that many claim to be able to believe these contradictory things. One is reminded of the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice in Wonderland. When Alice protested that there is no use trying to believe impossible things, the Queen said:
I dare say you haven’t had much practice....When I was your age I did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.4
Furthermore, the idea that God intends to motivate His children to godly living by causing them to go through life uncertain whether they are regenerate is so far removed from the apostles’ statements of grace and love that one wonders how anyone could ever find it in the NT. Yet such perspectives are not uncommon in Calvinist writings.
Maurice Roberts, for example, exhorts his readers to hold two contradictory notions in their minds at the same time: "We may cling tenaciously to the doctrine of Final Perseverance and yet at the same time we may legitimately view our own personal profession of faith with something akin to uncertainty."5 So we are to believe in the Reformed doctrine of perseverance in a general sense but doubt that we in particular are necessarily saved! Roberts finds justification for this travesty of grace in the apostle Paul’s statement that he worries that he himself should be a castaway (1 Cor 9:26–27). Yet the word translated "castaway" (Gk. adokimos) in the King James Version does not mean castaway in modern English. That is why other translations render adokimos in 1 Cor 9:27 as "disqualified" (nasb, nkjv, niv, rsv). Paul feared what every believer should fear, being disqualified for the prize of ruling with Christ.6 But then Roberts makes it worse:
More positively we may say that this fear of being adokimos or castaway is one of the great hallmarks of those who are elect and who finally do persevere. All who lack it are possessed of a sickly presumption which needs correcting from the pulpit or which—may God forbid—they will have to unlearn by the sad experience of falling.7
Biblical Assurance Promotes Gratitude and Godliness
For most, however, the certainty of their eternal salvation is not presumption. On the contrary, it leads to a wonderful security and sense of gratitude that promotes true religion and godliness. Is it not indisputable that our children are more likely to behave well in an atmosphere of unconditional parental acceptance than in an atmosphere of uncertainty? Is it presumptuous for a child to accept their parents’ acceptance of them? Can it ever be "healthy" for a child to cherish doubts about his parents’ long-term acceptance? If it is true that earthly parents must strive to communicate unconditional and permanent acceptance regardless of failure, would it not be even more true of our heavenly parent?
To teach that a "hallmark" of the saved man is that he carries about the "fear of being castaway" is absurd and obviously contradictory to the promises of assurance found in the NT. Roberts is simply taking the Reformed view to its logically ridiculous conclusion: there is no real certainty of perseverance, but to have such certainty is a "sickly presumption." Few thoughtful readers of the NT would ever glean such a view from the apostles’ letters!
1This article, which has been slightly modified, was printed originally in The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 258–60, and is used by permission.
2Charles Hodge, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1860, reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 212, on Rom 8:29-30.
3See C. G. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), p. 110.
4Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass (London: MacMillian Publishing, 1880), p. 100.
5Maurice Roberts, "Final Perseverance," The Banner of Truth Trust 265 (October 1985): 10.
6Cf. 2 Tim 2:12.
7Roberts, p. 11, italics added.