Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 80-82. Here is a brief review.
WLC 80 Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavour to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.
It would be safe to say that all true believers wrestle with doubt and assurance of salvation at one point in their lives. In fact, many believers have a continual struggle with doubt and assurance of salvation. So, catechism question, which affirms that true believers may be “infallibly assured that they are in a state of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation,” is of great pastoral and spiritual help. This question is very practical and extremely relevant to the life of the believer as it lists three pillars of assurance. That is to say, assurance of salvation is based upon three things:
(1) Objective (God’s Word) “the truth of God’s promises”
The first pillar of assurance of salvation is completely objective and never changing. God’s Word declares the truth of His promises. The veracity of God’s promises is based upon His character and oath (Hebrews 6:17-18). He will never desert nor forsake those who are His (Hebrews 13:5). God is the one who began a good work in the believer, and He promises to perfect that work until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
(2) Objective-Subjective – (Loving Obedience) “the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made”
The second pillar of assurance of salvation is both objective and subjective: good works or loving obedience. First, good works are objective in that other people may see and testify to those good works. This objective nature of good works seems to be what James is talking about when he gives the examples of Abraham and Rahab being justified by their good works in the eyes of man (James 2:21-25). At the same time, good works can also be seen to be subjective in that only that person doing the good works may know whether or not those works are done in from a sincere heart of love (Hebrews 6:10). So, the testimony of our conscience is manifested in our good works and assures us that we have passed from death into life (2 Corinthians 1:12; 1 John 2:3; 3:14).
(3) Subjective (Holy Spirit’s Witness) “the Spirit bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God”
The third pillar of assurance of salvation is purely subjective. It is an internal sense of the work and testimony of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Every believer is sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit of promise; God’s Spirit indwells all those who have been born again (Ephesians 1:13-14). And, God’s Spirit testifies with the spirit of the believer that he or she is a child of God; this is the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15-16).
It is important to note that these are not the three pillars of justification. As we’ve already studied in the catechism, justification is by faith alone (WLC 70). Here, we are talking about the three pillars of assurance of salvation. In our Sunday school class, we also discussed the dangers of relying on only one pillar of assurance to the exclusion of the other two. If the believer were to rely solely on the pillar of the objective promises of God in His Word, that would lead to gnostic tendencies in the Christian life and a cold intellectualism. If the believer were to rely solely on the pillar of the objective-subjective good works that he does, that would lead to legalism and a haughty spirit. And, if the believer were to rely solely on the pillar of the subjective work of the Holy Spirit inside him, that would lead to mysticism and a maudlin emotionalism. All three pillars are necessary to obtain true assurance of salvation.
WLC 81 Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?
A. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.
This catechism question provides two further descriptions of assurance of salvation, specifically with regard to its relationship to saving faith and the means by which true assurance may be obtained. First, it is important to recognize that assurance of salvation is not of the essence of faith. That is to say, a person may lack assurance of salvation but be a true believer because we are justified by faith alone – not according to our works or according to our feelings (Galatians 2:16). Even when our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things (1 John 3:19-20). That fact that the Apostle John wrote his first epistle with the specific purpose of giving assurance of salvation to believers (1 John 5:13) teaches us that one may have faith and yet not have assurance of that faith.
Second, it is important to recognize that though the believer’s assurance of salvation may be absent, weak, or intermittent due to various reasons, we may attain assurance of salvation by the presence and support of the Spirit. And, as we are reminded in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Spirit works to provide and grow our assurance of faith “in the right use of the ordinary means” (WCF 18.3). These ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to His church the benefits of His mediation are the word, sacraments, and prayer (WLC 154).
Practically, what this means, then, is that if we wish to gain assurance of salvation, or grow in it, then we need to diligently attend to God’s Word, regularly partake of the sacraments of the church, and seek the Lord in prayer. And, the best way to partake of these ordinary means of grace is to participate in the worship of God’s people regularly, week in and week out. A wonderful example of the necessity of corporate worship for the attainment of assurance of salvation is found in Psalm 73. In this Psalm, Asaph begins by confessing his faith in the God of Israel (Psalm 73:1). But then, he describes how he sees the wicked and godless people of this world are living their lives and this causes him to stumble and doubt (Psalm 73:2-16). But then, in the turning point of this Psalm, Asaph enters into the corporate worship of God’s people: “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end” (Psalm 73:17). The remainder of the Psalm tells of the truths that Asaph saw and embraced in corporate worship, and how those truths have driven him to find refuge and solace in God (Psalm 73:18-28).
WLC 82 What is the communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in glory which the members of the visible church have with Christ, is in this life, immediately after death, and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment.
We are presently in a large section which deals with the special benefits which members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ. These benefits are broken up into two broad categories: the benefits in this life (communion in grace) and the benefits in the life to come (communion in glory). Here is an outline of this section thus far, which has mostly dealt with the benefits in this life, or communion in grace:
WLC 65 – The two states of communion with Christ for the invisible church: grace and glory
WLC 66 – Union with Christ
WLC 67-68 – Effectual Calling
WLC 69 – The several elements of communion in grace (or benefits in this life)
WLC 70-73 – Justification
WLC 74 – Adoption
WLC 75-78 – Sanctification
WLC 79 – Perseverance
WLC 80-81 – Assurance
Here in WLC 82, we transition to the benefits which members of the invisible church enjoy in the life to come, or communion in glory. WLC 82 divides benefits of communion in glory under three broad headings: the benefits of communion in glory which members of the invisible church receive in this life, immediately after death, and at the resurrection and the day of judgment. Thus, the following questions in the catechism follow this three-fold outline:
WLC 83 – Benefits of communion in glory in this life
WLC 84-86 – Benefits of communion in glory at death, and immediately thereafter
WLC 87 – Benefits of communion in glory at the resurrection
WLC 88-90 – Benefits of communion in glory at the day of judgment
So, in the coming weeks, we will study and meditate upon those future benefits and blessings which all believers may look forward to. Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we continue our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch