The Gift of Assurance. David J. Engelsma. South Holland, IL: Protestant Reformed Church, 2009. 61 pp. Paper, free upon request ($1.00 each suggested donation for additional copies).
Engelsma is a five-point Calvinist. For 25 years he pastored two different Protestant Reformed Churches (1963-1988). Then he taught theology and Old Testament for 20 more years at Protestant Reformed Seminary (1988-2008).
In spite of all this, or possibly because of it, Engelsma sees a tremendous need among modern Calvinists to return to a Biblical understanding of assurance of everlasting life.
The positives of this booklet are many. First, the simple fact that Engelsma points out that lack of assurance is a problem is terrific. Second, he defends the position that assurance is certainty. Third, he shows that assurance is of the essence of saving faith from Scripture (pp. 20-39) and from Calvin and the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 15-18). Fourth, he calls the Puritan doctrine of assurance “unbiblical” (p. 25), “wretched” (p. 31), “heretical mysticism and spiritual rubbish” (p. 41), “illusory, deceiving, and perilous” (p. 42), and “forever instilling doubt” (p. 53).
There are a few minor negatives. First, the verses which Engelsma uses to prove that assurance is certainty and is of the essence of saving faith are not always the best ones to prove the point (e.g., Rom 8:16). It would have been better if he had primarily used passages from John’s Gospel. However, he does cite many verses on justification by faith alone, which proves his point well. Second, while he rejects seeking for feelings or looking at one’s works for assurance, he does suggest that lack of assurance may result if a believer is “not living a holy life, because of worldliness, or yielding to some temptation to sin” (p. 51).
I love this quote: “Assurance of salvation, therefore, is the expected, normal spiritual condition and state of mind of every regenerated, believing child of God. Assurance is not unusual, extraordinary, or remarkable in the congregation of believers and their children” (p. 19).
I also found this to be excellent: “It is no more possible for a sinner to be justified by faith without assurance of justification, salvation, and the love of God than it would be for a condemned criminal to depart the courtroom in which he had just heard a favorably disposed judge acquit him without knowing that he was acquitted and that the judge was gracious” (p. 35).
I highly recommend this booklet.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society