Assurance Made Possible

Anthony Burgess (d. 1664) was a "sound and orthodox divine," distinguished for both his theological prowess and personal piety. Like many Protestants in his day, Burgess highly esteemed the doctrine of assurance, particularly as it played-out in the local church.[1]  Here are four of reasons he gave for why we can know assurance of salvation is possible:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith — 2 Corinthians 13:5

This Text is a sure foundation of that profitable and necessary Doctrine, viz. The Certainty that a godly man may have of that Grace which is wrought in him... . Before we come to the practical Questions about this Assurance of Grace, we will consider... The Possibility of it.

First, The Possibility of it is seen, in that the people of God have enjoyed it.

When David doth so often call God his God and his Portion, acknowledging with joy and thankfulnesse that he had forgiven his sins, doth not this suppose a Certainty? When that man said, O Lord, I believe, Did he speak he knew not what? And Paul, how often doth he manifest such an Assurance! and lest it should be thought he had it by some special Revelation, he doth Rom. 8. inferre this Assurance from those grounds, which are common to all the people of God, do not therefore think it impossible, saying, Who will go up to Heaven and bring a Revelation for me, that God is my God? for thou hast the same wayes to obtain it, as the people of God have had heretofore.

Secondly, The Possibility of it is seen in that a man may be assured of his dogmatical Faith;

That is, a man may be assured that he doth believe such Principles of Religion upon a divine ground; and if so, why not also that he loveth God and his children upon true Motives; as also that his Repentance hath all true Ingredients into it. And indeed if a man could not tell whether he did believe upon supernatural grounds, he could not truly but upon a bold venture say, he did believe in God in deed, that there is a Church of God, or a Resurrection of our bodies.

Thirdly, The Possibility of it appeareth from the Institution of Sacraments, as Signs and Seals particularly to witnesse Gods love to us;

So that as the appointing of Seals among men doth argue an intent of making bargains and contracts sure: Thus God appointing Sacraments in a visible particular Application, doth hereby declare his Will, that his Children should be sure; so that to overthrow Assurance is to take away the Sacraments; As a man doth prize that wax which is made up in a seal to confirm his inheritance to him, more then all the wax in the world; so do Christians look upon bread and wine consecrated and set apart for that use of signification and obsignation of the benefits of Christ, more then all other bread and wine.

Lastly, If Assurance were not possible, the defect would be either in the Object, or in the Means to attain it, or in the Subject.

In the Object there can be no defect, as all say, for Gods Promises are in Christ Yea and Amen; and no iota or tittle of Gods Word in the promising part of it, can any more passe away, then in the preceptive or threatning part of it. Then there can be no defect in the means to obtain it; for there is the Spirit of God efficiently to work it; There are the Sacraments appointed on purpose to confirm us; There are Ministers to instruct and inform about it. Neither is there any defect in the subject, for although the heart of a man be naturally deceitfull and full of crafty wickedness, so that the Scripture calls him a fool who trusteth in it; yet being now renewed by Gods Spirit, that guile and hypocrisie is in a great measure removed, and he doth not see and discern by his own strength meerly, but by the Spirit of God enabling and guiding of him; So that as Gods Spirit working by the Law, doth convince a man in particular of his sins, filleth him with despair of himself and every thing he doth, makes him to see he is an undone and a lost man; so the same Spirit through the Promise of the Gospel, doth perswade us of Gods love, revealing it outwardly in the Word, and shedding it abroad inwardly in our hearts.[2]

[1] Jonathan Master, "Assurance and the Means of Grace," On Reforming Worship, ed. by David Hall and Jonathan Master (The Covenant Foundation, 2018), 154-5.

[2] From Spiritual Refining: OR a Treatise of Grace and Assurance, (London: A. Miller, 1652), 22-24. 

Related Links:

  1. Assurance series by Joel Beeke ( Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  |  Part 4 )
  2. "Christian Assurance: Rome and Thomas Goodwin" by Ian Hamilton
  3. "Assurance: How do I know I am a Christian?" by Mark Jones 
  4. The Assurance of Salvation by Derek Thomas ( MP3 Disc  |  MP3 Download )
Ben Ciavolella