The Reformers and the Doctrine of Assurance

by William Cunningham

Excerpt from The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation

Sir William Hamilton, in the course of his attack upon Archdeacon Hare, introduces a lengthened and elaborate historico-theological statement, chiefly upon the subject of Assurance. We quote the passage, as it is the text of our present discourse: -

“Assurance, Personal Assurance, Special Faith (the feeling of certainty) that God is propitious to me, that my sins are forgiven, - (Fiducia, Plerophoria Fidei, Fides Specialis), - Assurance was long universally held in the Protestant communities to be the criterion and condition of a true or saving faith. Luther declares that ‘he who hath not assurance spews faith out;’ and Melancthon, that ‘assurance is the discriminating line of Christianity from Heathenism.’ Assurance is, indeed, the punctum saliens of Luther’s system; and an unacquaintance with this, his great central doctrine, is one prime cause of the chronic misrepresentation which runs through our recent histories of Luther and the Reformation. Assurance is no less strenuously maintained by Calvin; is held even by Arminius; and stands, essentially, part and parcel of all the confessions of all the churches of the Reformation, down to the Westminster Assembly. In that synod assurance was, in Protestantism, for the first, indeed only time, formally declared ‘not to be of the essence of faith;’ and, accordingly, the Scottish General Assembly has subsequently, once and again, condemned and deposed the holders of this, the doctrine of Luther, of Calvin, of all the other churches of the Reformation, and of the older Scottish church itself. In the English, and more articulately, in the Irish Establishment, assurance still stands a necessary tenet of ecclesiastical belief. (See Homilies, Book I. Number iii. Part 3, specially referred to in the eleventh of the Thirty-nine Articles; and Number w. Parts 1 and 3; likewise the sixth Lambeth Article.) Assurance was consequently held by all the older Anglican churchmen, of whom Hooker may stand for the example; but assurance is now openly disavowed without scruple by Anglican churchmen, high and low, when apprehended; but of these, many, like Mr. Hare, are blissfully incognizant of the opinion, its import, its history, and even its name.

“This dogma, with its fortune, past and present, affords, indeed, a series of the most curious contrasts. For it is curious that this cardinal point of Luther’s doctrine should, without exception, have been constituted into the fundamental principle of all the churches of the Reformation; and, as their common and uncatholic doctrine, have been explicitly condemned at Trent. Again, it is curious that this common and differential doctrine of the churches of the Reformation should now be abandoned virtually in, or formally by, all these churches themselves. Again, it is curious that Protestants should now generally profess the counter doctrine, asserted at Trent in condemnation of their peculiar principle. Again, it is curious that this, the most important variation in the faith of Protestants, as, in fact, a gravitation of Protestantism back towards Catholicity, should have been overlooked, as indeed, in his days, undeveloped, by the keen-eyed author of ‘The History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.’ Finally, it is curious that, though now fully developed, this central approximation of Protestantism to Catholicity should not, as far as I know, have been signalized by any theologian, Protestant or Catholic; whilst the Protestant symbol (‘Fides sola justificat' - ‘Faith alone justifies’), though now eviscerated of its real import, and now only manifesting an unimportant difference of expression, is still supposed to mark the discrimination of the two religious denominations. For both agree that the three heavenly virtues must all concur to salvation; and they only differ, whether faith, as a word, does or does not involve hope and charity. This misprision would have been avoided had Luther and Calvin only said, ‘Fiducia sola justificat,'________ ‘Assurance alone justifies;’ for on their doctrine assurance was convertible with true faith, and true faith implied the other Christian graces. But this primary and peculiar doctrine of the Reformation is now harmoniously condemned by Catholics and Protestants in unison.”

We hope to be able to prove that this elaborate statement contains about as large an amount of inaccuracy as could well have been crammed into the space which it occupies; and if we succeed in doing this, we may surely expect that Sir William’s authority upon theological subjects will henceforth stand at least as low as zero.

It may help us to form an estimate of the accuracy of Sir William’s history of this subject, if we begin with a brief statement of what were the views of the Reformers and the Romanists upon this point, and of what was the general course which the discussions regarding it followed. That the Reformers generally held very high views upon the subject, - that they were in the habit of speaking very strongly of the importance and necessity of men being personally assured about their own salvation, - is of course well known to every one who has the slightest acquaintance with their history and writings. The causes that tended to produce a leaning towards what may be regarded as exaggerated views and statements upon this subject, were chiefly these two: - 1st, Their own personal experience as converted and believing men; and 2d, The ground taken by the Romanists in arguing against them.

The Reformers, speaking of them generally as a body, and with reference to their ordinary condition, seem to have enjoyed usually an assurance of being in a state of grace, and of being warranted to count upon salvation. God seems to have given to them the grace of assurance more fully and more generally than He does to believers in ordinary circumstances. And this is in accordance with the general course of His providential procedure. The history of the church seems to indicate to us two positions as true, with reference to this matter, - viz. lst, That assurance of salvation has been enjoyed more fully and more generally by men who were called to difficult and arduous labours in the cause of Christ, than by ordinary believers in general; and 2dly, That this assurance, as enjoyed by such persons, has been frequently traceable to special circumstances connected with the manner of their conversion as its immediate or proximate cause. So it certainly was with the Reformers. The position in which they were placed, and the work they were called upon to do, made it specially necessary that they should enjoy habitually the courage and the strength which spring from a well-grounded assurance of salvation. This, accordingly, God gave them; and He gave them it in many cases, as He has often done in subsequent times, by so regulating the circumstances which preceded and accompanied their conversion, as to satisfy them, almost as if by a perception of their senses, that they had passed from death unto life. The Reformers having been in general, for these reasons and by such processes, assured ordinarily of their own salvation, were not unnaturally led, from this cause, to give great prominence to the subject of assurance, and to regard and to represent it as in some way or other necessarily connected with the Christian faith, and as an indispensable constituent element of the Christian character.

But, in the second place, the Reformers were the more induced to adhere to this view, and to exert themselves to establish and defend it, in consequence of the ground that was taken up by their Popish antagonists. The Romanists then, as well as now, were accustomed to allege that it was impossible for Protestants to have any certainty of the soundness of their views, or of the safety of their position, - that though they might be able to produce plausible and apparently satisfactory pleadings in support of what they taught, they could have no adequate ground for perfect assurance of its truth; while Romanists had a firm ground for absolute certainty in the testimony or authority of the church. There were three important subjects to which chiefly the Romanists were accustomed to apply this alleged point of contrast between their position and that of the Reformers. They were accustomed to allege that Protestants, upon Protestant principles, could have no certainty, and nothing more than a probable persuasion, 1st, That the books generally received, or any particular books specified, were possessed of divine authority; or 2d, That this and not that was the meaning of a scriptural passage, or the substance of what Scripture taught upon a particular topic; or 3d, That any particular individual was now in a state of grace and would be finally saved. The more reasonable Romanists did not deny that there were rational considerations bearing upon the establishment of the divine authority of the books of Scripture, sufficient to silence and confute infidels; or that, by the ordinary rules and resources of exegesis, something might be done towards settling the meaning of many scriptural statements; or that men, by a diligent and impartial use of scriptural materials, combined with self-examination, might attain to good hope with respect to their ultimate salvation. But they denied that Protestants could ever attain to full and perfect certainty upon any of these points, - could ever reach such thorough and conclusive assurance as the authority of the church furnished to those who received it. Protestants, in dealing with this allegation, were not unnaturally led to maintain, that upon all these subjects they had, or might have, not merely a probable persuasion, but a strict and absolute certainty, and to labour to unfold the grounds of the certainty to which they laid claim. It was here that many of the Reformers were led to propound views which appear to have been somewhat extreme and exaggerated, both in regard to the kind and degree of the certainty they contended for, and the grounds on which they professed to establish its reality and legitimacy. Protestants are not infallible any more than Papists. Neither the great Reformers of the sixteenth century, nor the great systematic divines of the seventeenth, are to be implicitly followed. The truth is, that God has never yet given to any body of uninspired men to rise altogether, and in every respect, in their mode of dealing with the doctrines of His word, above the influence of their circumstances. There has never been any uninspired man, or any company of uninspired men, that has not given some indication of the imperfection of humanity, in their mode of dealing with some portion or other of divine truth. The Reformers, as a body, are unquestionably more entitled to deference in matters of theological doctrine than any other body of men who have adorned the church since the apostolic age. But there can be no reasonable doubt that there are some doctrinal points on which many of them have gone astray, either from retaining something of the corruption of the Popish system which they had abandoned, or, what is about equally natural and probable, in consequence of the imperfection of human nature, from running into an extreme opposite to that which they had forsaken.

It is pretty evident that the Papists, by taunting the Reformers with their want of certainty on the three points to which we have referred, drove them into the assertion of extreme and untenable positions. The Reformers claimed for their convictions and conclusions on these questions a kind and degree of certainty which the nature of the subject did not admit of, and they fell into further errors in endeavouring to set forth the grounds or reasons of the certainty or assurance for which they contended. They contended that they had, or might have, a perfect and absolute certainty in regard to all those matters, - a certainty resting not only upon rational grounds and a human faith, as it was called, but upon supernatural grounds and a divine faith, such as their Popish opponents were accustomed to ascribe to the authority of the church when it set forth any doctrine and called upon men to believe it as revealed by God. And as a substitute for the authority of the church, the Popish ground for an absolute assurance and divine faith, the Reformers were accustomed to bring in the agency of the Holy Spirit, as producing certainty or assurance; and they did this not unfrequently in a way that seemed to be liable to the charge at least of confusion and irrelevancy.

The Reformers ought not to have allowed the Romanists to drag them into perplexed metaphysical discussions as to the nature and grounds of the certainty with which they held then convictions upon the important topics to which we have referred. They would thus have escaped the temptation to which, we think, it must be admitted they sometimes yielded, of straining matters in order to get something like a ground for a kind and measure of certainty which the nature of the case did not admit of.

It was enough that they could produce adequate rational grounds for all their convictions, - grounds which fully satisfied their own minds, and which they could defend conclusively against the objections of gainsayers, as being sufficient and satisfactory reasons of assent. This was all that their opponents had a right to demand; and this was all that could legitimately come into a controversial discussion. The vividness and efficacy of these convictions might be somewhat affected by the kind and degree of evidence bearing upon the particular topic under consideration, or by the qualities of their mental constitution and habits, or by other collateral and adventitious influences. But a real conviction or assent, based upon rational grounds, which were perfectly satisfactory to their own minds, and the relevancy and validity of which they could triumphantly defend against all opponents, was quite sufficient, whether this might be called a certainty of faith or not; and if this conviction did not produce in their minds such a sense or feeling of assurance as they desired, if it did not prove so practically efficacious as they wished, it would be quite reasonable that they should ask the special blessing of God, the agency of the Holy Spirit, to bring about these results. And their prayers might be answered, the Spirit might be given, and the strongest, the most vivid, and the most efficacious certainty or assurance might be produced, without anything like a special revelation, and without the introduction of any new or additional grounds or reasons for the conviction. The Reformers, however, in their eagerness to claim for their convictions the very highest certainty or assurance, and to assign an adequate cause for this, by substituting the Holy Spirit instead of the church, went sometimes to the unwarrantable extreme of ascribing to the Holy Spirit not merely a subjective influence upon men’s understandings and hearts, but an objective presentation of new and additional grounds and reasons for belief.

These general observations apply to the way in which the Reformers met the allegations of the Romanists, about their want of certainty or assurance in regard to all the three subjects formerly mentioned, viz. the divine authority of the books of Scripture, the meaning of scriptural statements, and the certainty of personal salvation. In order to have a sure and at the same time a compendious way of getting the highest assurance, even the certainty of faith, upon all these subjects, they substituted the Holy Spirit instead of the church; and to make this serve the same purpose in argument as the church does among Romanists, they were led to employ some modes of statement about the Spirit’s operation which are not sanctioned by Scripture, though exhibiting perhaps rather confusion of thought than positive error. But we cannot dwell upon this general topic, and must return to the special subject of the assurance of personal salvation, with which alone we have at present to do.

The Reformers in general enjoyed ordinarily the assured belief that they were in a state of grace, and would be finally saved. They felt the importance of this grace in the arduous work in which they were engaged. They saw abundant ground in Scripture for the general position, that believers might be and should be assured of their own salvation. They inculcated this position upon their followers, persuaded that personal assurance would at once tend to preserve them from the perverting influence of Popish sophists, and fit them for doing and bearing all God’s will concerning them. The Romanists, on the other hand, laboured to show that believers could have no full and well-grounded assurance that they had attained to a condition of safety, except either by special revelation or by the testimony of the church; their object of course being to make men feel themselves entirely dependent upon the church for security or certainty on all subjects of interest and importance, and to deprive them of the energy and confidence which a well-founded assurance of personal salvation was fitted to produce, in contending against the prestige of ecclesiastical authority and influence. The Reformers, in order to show that the assurance which might be attained without either a special revelation or the testimony of the church was full and perfect, were led to identify it with our belief in the doctrines of God’s word, and to represent it as necessarily included or implied in the act or exercise of justifying and saving faith; nay, even sometimes to give it as the very definition of saving faith, that it is a belief that our own sins have been forgiven, and that we have been brought into a state of grace. This seemed to be an obvious and ready method of giving to the belief of our personal safety for eternity the very highest degree of certainty, and hence many of the Reformers were tempted to adopt it.

This view was certainly exaggerated and erroneous. It is very evident that no man can be legitimately assured of his own salvation simply by understanding and believing what is contained or implied in the actual statements of Scripture. Some additional element of a different kind must be brought in, in order to warrant such an assurance; something in the state or condition of the man himself must be in some way ascertained and known in order to this result. It may not, indeed, always require any lengthened or elaborate process of self-examination to ascertain what is needful to be known about men themselves, in order to their being assured that they have been brought into a state of grace. The circumstances that preceded and accompanied their conversion may have been such as to leave them in no doubt about their having passed from darkness to light. Their present consciousness may testify at once and explicitly to the existence in them of those things which the Bible informs us accompany salvation. But still it is true, that another element than anything contained in Scripture must be brought in as a part of the foundation of their assurance. And when they are called upon to state and vindicate to themselves or to others the grounds of their assurance, they must of necessity proceed in substance in the line of the familiar syllogism, “Whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved; I believe, and therefore,” etc.

There is no possibility of avoiding in substance some such process as this; and while the major proposition is proved by Scripture, the minor can be established only by some use of materials derived from consciousness and self-examination. There are no positions connected with religion which can be so certain as those which are directly and immediately taught in Scripture, and which are usually said to be believed with the certainty of faith or of divine faith. The introduction of an element, as necessary to the conclusion, derived from a different source, viz. from the knowledge of what we ourselves are, must be admitted in fairness to complicate the evidence, and to affect the kind if not the degree of the certainty or assurance that may result from it. It is unwarrantable to give as the definition of saving faith, the belief that my sins are forgiven; for it is not true that my sins are forgiven until I believe, and it holds true universally, that God requires us to believe nothing which is not true before we believe it, and which may not be propounded to us to be believed, accompanied at the same time with satisfactory evidence of its truth; and if so, the belief that our sins are forgiven, and that we have been brought into a state of grace, must be posterior in the order of nature, if not of time, to the act of faith by which the change is effected, and cannot therefore form a necessary constituent element of the act itself, cannot be its essence or belong to its essence.

It is not very surprising that Luther should have made rash and exaggerated statements upon this subject as he did upon others. But it is certainly strange, that a man of such wonderful soundness and penetration of judgment as Calvin should have said, as he did say, “We shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds and confirmed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit;” and that this in substance should have been pretty generally, though not universally, received as a just definition or description of saving faith, both by Lutheran and Calvinistic divines, for the greater part of a century. We cannot but look upon this as an illustration of the pernicious influence of men’s circumstances upon the formation of their opinions, - a view of the matter decidedly confirmed by the fact, that neither Luther nor Calvin, nor the other eminent divines who have sanctioned this notion of the nature and import of faith, have been able to carry it out in full consistency, but have become entangled in contradictions. Luther, indeed, contradicted himself very explicitly upon this point; for while there are passages in his works which very unequivocally represent personal assurance as necessarily involved in saving faith, and while this doctrine is taught in the Confession of Augsburg, and in the Apology for it3f - both which works are symbolical in the Lutheran church, - it is easy enough to produce from his writings passages in which a broader and more correct view is given of the nature of saving faith, as having respect directly and primarily only to truths and promises actually contained in Scripture, and of course only secondarily and inferentially to anything bearing upon our personal condition and prospects. Calvin never contradicted himself so plainly and palpably as this. But in immediate connection with the definition above given from him of saving faith, he has made statements with respect to the condition of mind that may exist in believers, which cannot well be reconciled with the formal definition, except upon the assumption that the definition was intended not so much to state what was essential to true faith and always found in it, as to describe what true faith is or includes, in its most perfect condition and in its highest exercise. As the passage is valuable in itself, and is well fitted to throw light upon the real views of the Reformers, and to illustrate the danger of judging of what these views were from a superficial examination of their writings or of isolated extracts from them, we shall quote it at some length, though we fear most men will-be of opinion that Calvin has not very fully solved the difficulty which he started: -

"But some one will object that the experience of believers is very different from this; for that, in recognizing the grace of God towards them, they are not only disturbed with inquietude which frequently befalls them, but sometimes also tremble with the most distressing terrors. The vehemence of temptations to agitate their minds is so great, that it appears scarcely compatible with that assurance of faith of which we have been speaking. We must therefore solve this difficulty, if we mean to support the doctrine we have advanced.

When we inculcate that faith ought to be certain and secure, we conceive not of a certainty attended with no doubt, or of a security interrupted by no anxiety; but we rather affirm that believers have a perpetual conflict with their own diffidence, and are far from placing their consciences in a placid calm never disturbed by any storms. Yet, on the other hand, we deny, however they may be afflicted, that they ever fall and depart from that certain confidence which they have conceived in the divine mercy. The Scripture proposes no example of faith more illustrious or memorable than David, especially if you consider the whole course of his life. Yet that his mind was not invariably serene appears from his innumerable complaints, of which it will be sufficient to select a few.............To render this intelligible, it is necessary to recur to that division of the flesh and the spirit which we noticed in another place, and which most clearly discovers itself in this case. The pious heart therefore perceives a division in itself, being partly affected with delight through a knowledge of the divine goodness, partly distressed with sorrow through a sense of its own calamity; partly relying on the promise of the gospel, partly trembling at the evidence of its own iniquity; partly exulting in the knowledge of life, partly alarmed by the fear of death. This variation happens through the imperfection of faith; since we are never so happy during the present life as to be cured of all diffidence, and entirely filled and possessed by faith. Hence those conflicts, in which the diffidence which adheres to the relics of the flesh rises up in opposition to the faith formed in the heart. But if in the mind of the believer assurance be mixed with doubts, do we not always come to this point, that faith consists not in a certain and clear, but only in an obscure and perplexed knowledge of the divine will respecting us? Not at all. For if we are distracted by various thoughts, we are not therefore entirely divested of faith; neither, though harassed by the agitations of diffidence, are we therefore immerged in its abyss; nor if we be shaken, are we therefore overthrown. For the invariable issue of this contest is, that faith at length surmounts those difficulties from which, while it is encompassed with them, it appears to be in danger.”

Other proofs might be adduced that the Reformers, when judged of as they should be, by a deliberate and conjunct view of all they have said upon the subject, did not carry their doctrine of assurance to such extremes as we might be warranted in ascribing to them because of some of their more formal statements, intended to tell upon their controversies with Romanists regarding this matter. And more than this, the real difference between the Reformers and the Romanists upon the subject of assurance, when calmly and deliberately investigated, was not quite so important as the combatants on either side imagined, and did not -really respect the precise questions which persons imperfectly acquainted with the works on both sides might naturally enough regard it as involving.

With respect to the nature of saving faith the principal ground of controversy was this, that the Romanists held that it had its seat in the intellect, and was properly and fundamentally assent (assensus); while the Reformers in general maintained that it had its seat in the will, and was properly and essentially trust (fiducia). The great majority of eminent Protestant divines have adhered to the view+s of the Reformers upon this point, though some have taken the opposite side, and have held faith, properly so called, to be the mere assent of the understanding to truth propounded by God in His word; while they represent trust and other graces as the fruits or consequences, and not as constituent parts and elements, of faith. This controversy cannot be held to be of very great importance, so long as the advocates of the position, that faith is in itself the simple belief of the truth, admit that true faith necessarily and invariably produces trust and other graces, - an admission which is cheerfully made by all the Protestant defenders of this view, and which its Popish advocates, though refusing in words, are obliged to make in substance in another form. There is an appearance of greater simplicity and metaphysical accuracy in representing faith as in itself a mere assent to truth, and trust and other graces as its necessary consequences. But the right question is, What is the meaning attached in Scripture to the faith which justifies and saves? Upon this question we agree with the Reformers in thinking, that in Scripture usage faith is applied, in its highest and most important sense, only to a state of mind of which trust in Christ as a Saviour is a necessary constituent element. This question about the nature of justifying faith is not determined in the Westminster Confession, the leading symbol of the great body of Presbyterians throughout the world; and it is well that it is left in that condition, for if it had been settled there in accordance with the views of the Reformers and the compilers of the Confession, this would have excluded from the Church of Scotland Dr. John Erskine and Dr Thomas Chalmers.

There was not among the Reformers, and there has not been among modern Protestants, unanimity as to what is involved in the fiducia which is included in justifying faith. The generality of modern divines and some of the Reformers held that this fiducia was just trust or confidence in Christ’s person, as distinguished from mere belief of the truth concerning Him, and as involving some special application or appropriation to ourselves of the discoveries and provisions of the gospel, but not, directly and immediately, any opinion or conviction as to our actual personal condition; while the generality of the Reformers, and some modern divines, especially those known in Scotland as Marrow-men, have regarded it as comprehending this last element also, and have thus come to maintain that personal assurance is necessarily and directly included in the exercise of saving faith, or belongs to its essence.

But though a considerable number of the Reformers held this view, and although, as we have explained, they were probably led into the adoption of it by their controversy with the Romanists, yet the truth or falsehood of this view did not form the real or main subject of controversy between them. The leading topic of discussion was this, Whether, without any special revelation, believers could and should (possent et deberent) be assured of their justification and salvation. This was practically the question that was controverted. It is one of great practical importance, and orthodox Protestant divines, in general, have continued ever since to concur with the Reformers in answering it in the affirmative. But though this was practically the real point controverted, - though the Papists were most anxious to persuade men that they could attain to no certainty upon this point, except either by a special revelation or by the testimony of the church, - yet this was not just the precise form which the question assumed in the controversy; and the reason of this was one which we have already hinted at, viz. that the more reasonable Romanists shrank from meeting the question, as thus put, with a direct negative, and fell back upon the topic of the kind or degree of the assurance or certainty that was ordinarily attainable by believers. Into this discussion of the nature and grounds of the certainty that might attach to this matter, the Reformers were unfortunately tempted to follow their opponents. In the heat of controversy many of them were led to lay down the untenable position, that the certainty or assurance ordinarily attainable by believers was of the highest and most perfect description, - that it was the certainty of faith, or, as they sometimes expressed it, the certainty of divine faith, the same certainty with which men believe in the plainly revealed doctrines of God’s word. And then, again, it was as an argument or proof in support of this extreme and untenable position as to the hind or degree of certainty, that they were led on to assert, that this personal assurance was necessarily involved in justifying faith, - nay, was its distinguishing characteristic, and belonged of course to its essence.

That the account now given of the subordinate, and as we might call it accidental place held in the doctrinal system of the Reformers by their extreme views of the nature of the certainty or assurance which they asserted, and of the argument which they advanced in support of it, is well founded, may be shown by the important fact, that while many of them taught these views in their private writings, and in some of their polemical and practical treatises, they did not introduce them into their confessions of faith, into compositions intended to be symbolical and to define the terms of ministerial communion. They are taught, indeed, as we have mentioned, in the Confession of Augsburg, and the Apology for v it. They are also set forth pretty explicitly in the Saxon and Wurttemberg Confessions, which are both Lutheran documents, - the first having been composed by Melancthon, and the second by Brentius. But they are not taught in the confessions of the Reformed or Calvinistic churches. The earliest confessions of the Reformed churches are the two Confessions of Basle, and there is no statement of them to be found there. Calvin had undoubtedly taught in his “Institutes,” and also in his i( Catechism” of Geneva, that saving faith necessarily includes or implies personal assurance. But he did not introduce any statement to this effect into the Confession of the French Protestant Church. It is doubtful, indeed, whether Calvin composed the French Confession, or only revised and sanctioned it. But this latter view is enough for our present purpose; and besides, if the Confession was not originally composed by Calvin, it was composed by Antony Chandieu or Sadeel, and he had taught in his own writings the same views as Calvin upon this subject, though neither he nor Calvin seems to have thought of introducing them into the Confession. In the Palatine or Heidelberg Catechism, which was not originally intended to be symbolical, but was rather adapted for popular instruction, faith is described as necessarily comprehending assurance. The Belgic Confession, composed in 1563, contains no assertion of these views, though its authors probably believed them, as they afterwards added the Heidelberg. Catechism to their Confession as symbolical. The later Helvetic Confession, composed in 1566, and approved of by most of the Reformed churches, gives no countenance to these peculiar opinions. And lastly, the Synod of Dort, in 1618, representing almost all the Reformed churches, not only gave no sanction to these views, but made statements which can scarcely be reconciled with them, and which form part of the evidence by which it may be shown, that a more careful and exact analysis of these matters was leading men’s minds rather in a direction opposite to the views of the Reformers upon this subject, and thus paving the way for the more explicit rejection of them by the Westminster Assembly.

Now, let it be remembered that we do not assert that the authors of these documents did not hold the same views as Luther and Calvin upon the subjects of faith and assurance, and the relation subsisting between them. We concede that, generally speaking, they did hold the same views as these leading Reformers. We concede, too, that in some of these confessions there are expressions employed which indicate plainly enough, to competent judges, that they held these views. But these concessions being made, we still think it a consideration of great importance, that they did not distinctly embody them in their confessions of faith, as this proves that they did not really occupy any such place in their system of theology as some of their statements, made in the heat of controversy, might lead us to suppose.

The account we have given of the views of the Reformers and the Romanists upon the subject of faith and assurance, and of the course which the discussion regarding it took, is sufficient, at once and of itself, if it be well founded, to overturn some of Sir William’s leading positions in his history of this matter. But we must now look at his statements more closely and directly. His first leading position is this: -

“Assurance, Personal Assurance, Special Faith (the feeling of certainty that God is propitious to me, that my sins are forgiven, - Fiducia, Plerophoria Fidei, Fides Specialis), - Assurance was long universally held in the Protestant communities to be the criterion and condition of a true or saving faith” Here the first thing to be noted is the assumption, that “personal assurance, special faith, - fiducia, plerophoria fidei, fides specialis,” do, in the writings of the Reformers, all mean one and the same thing; and that this one thing is “the feeling of certainty that God is propitious to me, that my sins are forgiven.” We could easily show that this assumption involves great ignorance of the usus loquendi of the Reformers, that the different words are used in different senses, and that the same word is used in different senses by different authors. But it is not worth while to dwell upon this point. The statement, that “assurance was long universally held in the Protestant communities to -be the criterion and condition of a true and saving faith,” is not correct. For it has been proved that i Peter Martyr, Musculus, and Zanchius, three of the most eminent! divines at the period of the Reformation, did not hold this view of the nature of saving faith. The allegation that “assurance is the punctum saliens of Luther’s system” is one which no man acquainted with Luther’s writings can believe. The assertion that “assurance stands, essentially, part and parcel of all the confessions of all the churches of the Reformation down to the Westminster Assembly,” is utterly untrue. We have already explained how this matter stands as a question of fact, in regard to the earliest and most important confessions. If Sir William’s assertion had any foundation in truth, the passages teaching the doctrine of assurance might easily be produced. But no such passages have been or can be produced, because they have no existence.

Sir William is in substance right in saying, that in the Westminster Assembly assurance was formally declared not to be of the essence of faith; and he is right also in saying, that this was then done for the first time by an ecclesiastical synod, though, as we have already remarked, the Synod of Dort paved the way for it. It is of more importance to remark, that this decision of the Westminster Assembly has been generally acquiesced in ever since by the great body of Calvinists and Presbyterians over the world.

Sir William’s next statement, viz. that on the ground of this deliverance of the Westminster Assembly, “the Scottish General Assembly has once and again deposed the holders of this, the doctrine of Luther and Calvin, of all the other churches of the Reformation, and of the older Scottish church itself,” is a curious mixture of truth and error, though the error preponderates. If the doctrine that assurance is not of the essence of faith be plainly asserted in the standards of a church, and be thus explicitly assented to by every minister as a condition of his ordination, it does not appear why it should be held up as something monstrous, that men who may come afterwards to reject this doctrine should forfeit their office as ministers in that church, though it would no doubt be a very painful thing to have to cut off a brother who held no erroneous views except upon this one point. Sir William’s statement is plainly fitted and intended to convey the impression that cases of this kind have occurred in the Church of Scotland; or, that men have been deposed merely because they held the views of the Reformers upon this point, while they were not charged with any other doctrinal errors. This impression is erroneous. No such cases have ever occurred. In the only instances, and they have been very few, in which ministers holding that assurance is of the essence of saving faith have been subjected to ecclesiastical discipline, this error was held in conjunction with the much more serious one of universal atonement, or universal pardon, which it naturally tends to introduce; and it was no doubt the maintenance of this second and more serious error that reconciled the heart and conscience of the church to the infliction of censure.

Sir William’s assertion, that the doctrine of assurance being of the essence of faith was that “of the older Scottish church itself,”

has an appearance of truth about it, but it is fitted likewise to convey a false impression of the facts of the case. There is sufficient evidence that the older Scottish church, or the first generation of Protestant ministers in Scotland, held in general the same views of faith and assurance as were taught by Luther and Calvin. But they had not embodied these views in any public symbolical documents, or required the belief of them as a term of ministerial communion; and yet this is plainly the impression which Sir William’s statement is fitted to produce. In the old Scottish Confession of Faith, prepared by John Knox, and adopted by the General Assembly in 1560, these views are certainly not asserted. It contains nothing on this or any other subject, which might not be assented to by men who had subscribed the Westminster Confession. The only thing bearing upon these views that can in any sense be regarded as a deliverance of the church, is, that the National Covenant of 1581 contains a condemnation of the “general and doubt some faith of the Papists;” - a statement which, whatever we may know otherwise of the opinions of its authors, is far too vague to commit the church, or any who subscribed the document, to the. definite doctrine, that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.

Sir William’s next statement is an astounding one: “In the English, and more articulately in the Irish Establishment, assurance still stands a necessary tenet of ecclesiastical belief This, we presume, will be a piece of news to the clergy of the English and Irish Establishments. We venture to assert, that not one of the 18,000 or 20,000 clergymen who represent the United Church of England and Ireland, has ever imagined that he had come under an obligation to believe and to teach “assurance;” - by which of course Sir William means, as the whole scope of the passage shows, notwithstanding the obscurity and confusion of his language, the doctrine that assurance of personal salvation is essential to, and is necessarily included or implied in, justifying faith. But Sir William has referred to proofs and authorities upon this point, and what are they? He gives them thus: - “See Homilies, Book i. Number iii. Part 3, specially referred to in the eleventh of the Thirty-nine Articles; and Number w. Parts 1 and 3; likewise the sixth Lambeth Article.” The authorities here referred to are two, viz. the first Book of the Homilies, and the Lambeth Articles.

Now, in regard to the Books of the Homilies, we think it can be shown, 1st, That they are not properly symbolical books of the Church of England, so that the clergy are to be held bound to maintain and teach everything contained in them; and 2d, That though the Homilies contain plain enough indications that the views entertained by most of the Reformers were held also in the Church of England, they do not exhibit distinct and definite statements of these peculiar opinions.

The extent to which the Church of England is committed to the Homilies is this, that in her 35th Article she has declared that “the second Book of Homilies doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies; and therefore we judge them to be read in churches by ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understood by the people,” - and that the 11th Article refers to one of the Homilies for a fuller setting forth of the doctrine of justification. Now this does not necessarily imply, and has never been regarded as implying, that the Church of England took her ministers bound to believe and to teach everything contained in these books. The Homilies were intended to furnish materials for popular instruction, and not to regulate the terms of ministerial communion. A conscientious man, who had subscribed the Articles, would not, indeed, consider himself at liberty, without first renouncing his position, to oppose the general scope and main substance of the views of doctrine and duty contained in the Homilies; for, by subscribing the Articles, he has declared this to be godly and wholesome: but the most conscientious men would deny that they were committed to all and everything contained in the Homilies. And they would take this ground, not from loose views of what subscription to symbols implies, but because they have never subscribed the Homilies, or done anything equivalent to this. In short, what is said in the Articles about the Homilies does not make the Homilies Articles, does not raise them to the same level, does not incorporate them with that primary and fundamental symbol. The statement in the 7th Article, that “the three Creeds ought thoroughly to be received and believed, for they may be proved by, most certain warrants of holy writ,” no doubt incorporates the Creeds with the Articles, and makes them equally binding; but nothing like this is said about the Homilies, and therefore they stand upon a different footing. On these grounds we contend, that an incidental statement of the doctrine of assurance in the Homilies, would not have afforded an adequate ground for Sir William’s allegation, that this doctrine “still stands a necessary tenet of ecclesiastical belief.”

We have now to remark, in the second place, that anything said about this doctrine in the Homilies is not only incidental, but indefinite. The principal passages bearing upon the point are these: - “For the right and true Christian faith is, not only to believe that the Holy Scriptures and all the foresaid articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence in God’s merciful promises, to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ; whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey His commandments.” And again: “And this [a quick or living faith] is not only the common belief of the articles of our faith, but is also a true trust and confidence of the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and a steadfast hope of all things to be received at His hands.” While these statements are quite explicit in rejecting the idea that saving faith is the mere belief of the truth, they do not definitely decide in favour of any one precise view of the nature, object, and grounds of the fiducia, or trust, which they describe. When these matters came to be more exactly and elaborately discussed in the seventeenth century, distinctions were introduced and applied, which tended to throw much light upon the subject, and which now require to be known and kept in view, in order that we may form a right estimate of the true import even of the vague and indefinite statements of former writers. It may be proper to illustrate this point by a specimen or two, as it admits of extensive application. Le Blanc, Professor of Theology at Sedan to the French Protestant Church, of whom we shall have afterwards occasion to speak more fully, gives the following statements of the differences which have been exhibited among Protestant divines upon this subject: -

“Hie observandum est, fiduciam apud doctores Reformatos pluribus modis sumi, adeoque plures eorum qui hac in parts diverse loquuntur, idem reapse inter se sentire; alios vero qui videntur eodem modo loqui, revera tamen quoad sensum inter se discrepare.”

If this be so, it would require a great deal more of careful and patient research than Sir William ever gave to this or to any other theological subject, to enable him to thread his way through its intricacies, and to entitle him to speak with confidence of his success in doing so. Again, Le Blanc says, more particularly: -

“Prsecipui vero scholse Reform atse theologi de fiducia varie loquuntur, dum quidam dicunt fiduciam esse partem fidei primariam, et proprium illius actum, alii vero istud negant et docent fiduciam esse quidem fidei prolem atque effectum, sed non tamen actum ejus proprie dictum; ac prseterea fiducise nomine, alii quidem istud, alii vero aliud, intelligunt.”

He then mentions four different senses in which this fiducia, trust or confidence, has been understood by Protestant divines, the first two of which are thus described: -

“Primum ergo, fiducise nomine intelligitur actus ille per quem in Deum recumbimus, illi innitimur, et ei adhaeremus, tanquam fonti et authori salutis, ut vitam et salutem ab eo consequamur. Secundo, fiducia apud multos designat firmam persuasionem de gratia et venia a Deo impetrata et de nostra cum eo reconciliatione.”

Turretine explains the distinctions applicable to this matter with his usual masterly ability, in this way: -

“Diversitas quae inter orthodoxos occurrit oritur ex diversa acceptione fiducise, quae trifariam potest sumi. 1. Pro fiduciali assensu seu persuasione quae oritur ex judicio practice intellectus de veritate et bonitate promissionum evangelicarum, et de potentia, voluntate, ac fidelitate Dei promittentis. 2. Pro actu refugii et receptionis Christi, quo fidelis, cognita veritate et bonitate promissionum, ad Christum confugit, ilium recipit et amplectitur et in illius meritum unice recumbit. 3. Pro confidentia seu acquiescentia et tranquilli-tate animi quae oritur ex refugio animae ad Christum et ejus receptione. Primo et secundo significatu fiducia est de essentia fidei et bene a theologis dicitur ejus forma; sed tertio, recte ab aliis non forma sed effectus fidei dici-tur, quia nascitur ex ea, non vero earn constituit.” We have made these quotations chiefly for the purpose of illustrating the position, that as these distinctions were not present to the minds of the Reformers, but were the growth of later speculation, we should not attribute to them any one of these distinct and definite opinions, without specific evidence bearing upon the precise point to be proved, and should not allow ourselves to be carried away by the mere words, trust and confidence, certainty and assurance, without a full and deliberate consideration of the whole evidence bearing upon the meaning of the statements. The statements may be so definite as to indicate what of the views that were subsequently developed were held by the parties under consideration, or they may not. The statements of the Catechisms of Geneva and Heidelberg are so expressed, as to convey the doctrine that personal assurance is of the essence of saving faith; the confessions of the Reformed churches do not in general teach this doctrine; and the Homilies of the Church of England resemble more the confessions than the catechisms. Even if they were symbolical and authoritative, they would not make “assurance,” in the precise and definite sense in which Sir William here uses the word, “a necessary tenet of ecclesiastical belief.”

Sir William’s second proof of his position is the “sixth Lambeth Article.” The history of the Lambeth Articles affords an irrefragable proof that Calvinism was the generally received doctrine of the great body of the highest authorities in the church and universities of England, and of the mass of the English clergy, in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth and of the sixteenth century: while nothing is more certain and notorious than that they never received the sanction of the church in its public official character; that they never were imposed by any authority, civil or ecclesiastical; and that there is not a shadow of ground for alleging, that any Anglican clergyman is, or ever was, under any appearance of obligation to believe or teach anything contained in them, the sixth Article or any of the other eight.

But even if the Lambeth Articles were symbolical and authoritative, they would not impose an obligation to teach the precise and definite doctrine which is the subject of Sir William’s allegation. The sixth Article is in these words: - u Homo vere fidelis, id est, fide justificante praeditus, certus est plerophoria fidei, de remissione peccatorum suorum et salute sempiterna sua per Christum.” It would manifestly require something much more definite than this, to tie down men to the maintenance of the position, that personal assurance is necessarily included in saving faith and belongs to its essence. It simply says, “A true believer is certain with the assurance of faith.” It does not say that every believer is so, at all times; it defines nothing about the nature of the process by which the certainty is produced, or the ground on which it rests; it specifies nothing of the relation subsisting between faith and assurance: and on these grounds it is totally unfit for the purpose for which Sir William referred to it. The truth is, that a man might honestly subscribe this Lambeth Article, without being thereby committed to more than the position which, as we have explained, formed, the real subject of controversy between the Reformers and the Romanists, viz. that the believer may and. should, be assured of his forgiveness and salvation.

Sir William, however, not only asserts that assurance, in the sense in which it has been so often explained, “still stands a necessary tenet of ecclesiastical belief” in the English Establishment, but he further says, that it does so “more articulately” in the Irish. He gives no other references than those we have examined, to the Homilies and the Lambeth Articles, and of course none bearing upon the alleged greater “articulateness” of the Irish Church in this matter. The truth probably was this: Sir William must have known that the Lambeth Articles are not, and never were, of any authority in the Church of England; and he Would scarcely have ventured to refer to them as establishing anything about the obligations of the clergy of that church. But he had probably read somewhere that the Lambeth Articles, though never imposed upon the Church of England, were, through Archbishop Usher’s influence, sanctioned and adopted in the Church of Ireland, - a statement which is true in substance, though not strictly correct; and this was probably the whole of the knowledge on the ground of which he thought himself entitled to assert the greater articulateness of the Irish Church, and to refer to the sixth Lambeth Article. In “the Articles of Religion agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops, and the rest of the clergy of Ireland, in the Convocation holden at Dublin in the year of our Lord God 1615,” the whole of the Lambeth Articles are embodied, though with some additions and verbal alterations. The subject of assurance is thus stated in No. 37, under the head “Justification and Faith:” -

“By justifying faith, we understand not only the common belief of the articles of Christian religion, and a persuasion of the truth of God’s word in general, but also a particular application of the gracious promises of the gospel to the comfort of our own souls; whereby we lay hold on Christ with all His benefits, having an earnest trust and confidence in God, that He will be merciful to us for His only Son’s sake. So that a true believer may be certain by the assurance of faith of the forgiveness of his sins, and of his everlasting salvation by Christ.”

It is somewhat difficult to say whether this could, with truth, be said to be more “articulate” than the statements quoted from the “Homilies.” The first sentence does seem to embody rather more of the tone and spirit of the Catechisms of Geneva and Heidelberg, though it is very far from being explicit in declaring their peculiar views upon this point. But then, in the second sentence, which is in substance a translation of the sixth Lambeth Article, there is an alteration which rather tells on the other side, - “may be certain,” instead of “certus esta change which confirms the view above given of the real meaning of the Article, and brings it nearer to the great fundamental Protestant position, vere fidelis potest et debet certus esse. There is nothing, then, in these Irish Articles of 1615 to commit any one who may receive and adopt them, to the doctrine that assurance is of the essence of faith. Sir William, however, probably meant the greater articulateness, which he predicated of the Irish Church, to refer to the more formal ecclesiastical sanction given to these statements in the Irish than in the English Establishment; and our answer to this is, that for two centuries past neither the Irish Church nor any of its bishops or clergymen, have furnished any ground whatever for the allegation, that they were under any obligation to teach the doctrine of assurance, beyond what is implied in subscription to the English Articles. There was a period, indeed, when the Irish Articles, and, of course, the Lambeth Articles, were invested with some authority in Ireland, but that period was brief, and has long since gone by. An investigation into the history and standing of the Irish Articles can now possess a merely historical value, and determines no question of present duty. It is curious and interesting, however; and we would refer those who desire full information upon this subject to Hardwick’s “History of the Articles of Religion,” - a book which, notwithstanding its strong anti-Calvinistic prejudices, we cannot but commend most highly for ability and learning and general fairness. We must again request our readers to notice and remember what is suggested by the fact, that Sir William made this assertion about the Churches of England and Ireland.

But perhaps Sir William’s grandest display is to be found in the second paragraph of the passage on which we are commenting, where he brings out the “series of the most curious contrasts” which “this dogma, with its fortunes, past and present, affords.”

He swells the number of these curious contrasts, by repeating what is really one and the same idea, in two or three different forms. He gives five “curious contrasts,” but the first three turn upon a single point, and the substance of them may be embodied in one position, which, indeed, is the sum and substance of what Sir William is most anxious to establish, viz. that the whole of the Reformed churches have not only abandoned the doctrine of assurance, the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation, but have all adopted the opposite Popish doctrine, which was taught by the Council of Trent when it condemned the doctrine of the Reformers.

Before adverting to this leading position, we must notice his fourth and fifth specimens of “curious contrasts.” He states them thus: -

“Again, it is curious, that this, the most important variation in the faith of Protestants, - as, in fact, a gravitation of Protestantism back to Catholicity, - should have been overlooked, as, indeed, in his days undeveloped, by the keen-eyed author of4 The History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.’ Finally, it is curious, that, though now fully developed, this central approximation of Protestantism to Catholicity should not, as far as I know, have been signalized by any theologian, Protestant or Catholic.”

If this variation was “undeveloped n in Bossuet’s time, it does not seem “curious” that it should have been overlooked by him, even though he was “keen-eyed;99 while we admit that it is “curious,” if true, that “it should not have been signalized by any theologian, Protestant or Catholic,” until Sir William Hamilton discovered and promulgated it. But the truth is, that this variation - for there was a doctrinal variation upon this point, though certainly it was not of such magnitude as Sir William alleges - was developed in Bossuet’s time, and was not overlooked by him, but was distinctly set forth, though not much enlarged upon, in his “History of the Variations.” Indeed, all Sir William’s assertions upon these points are wholly untrue. That this variation was not overlooked by Bossuet, is proved by the following extract from his “History of the Variations”

“Les ministres qui ont ecrit dans les derniers tems, et entr’autres, M. de Beaulieu (Le Blanc), que nous avous vu a Sedan, un des plus savans et des plus pacifique de tous les ministres, adoucissent le plus qu’ils peuvent le dogme de rinamissibilite de la justice et meme celui de la certitude de salut: et deux raisons lesy portent: la premiere est I’eloignement qu’en ont eules Lutheriens, a qui ils veulent s’unir a quelque prix que ce soit: la seconde est 1’absurdite et l’impiete qu’on decouvre dans ces dogmes, pour peu qu’ils soient penetres. .... Toutes les fois que nos Reformes desavouent ces dogmes impies, louons-en Dieu, et, sans disputer da vantage, prions les seulement de considerer que le Saint Esprit ne pouvait pas etre en ceux qui les ont enseignes, et qui ont fait consister une grande partie de la Reforme dans de si indignes idees de la justice Chretienne.”

So far from this variation not having been signalized before, it actually formed one leading subject of a controversy that was carried on between theologians of distinguished eminence, both Protestant and Romanist, before the publication of Bossuet’s “History of the Variations;” and as this topic not only conclusively disproves Sir William’s assertions, but is fitted to throw light upon the general subject under consideration, we will give a brief notice of the controversy referred to.

In 1665, Louis le Blanc, Lord of Beaulieu, Professor of Theology in the College of the French Protestant Church at Sedan, a man of great ability and learning, published “Theses Theologicse de Certitudine quam quis habere possit et debeat de sua coram Deo justificatione.” In these Theses, he described it as a misrepresentation of Papists, to allege that Protestants held, among other things, that personal assurance was necessarily comprehended in justifying faith and belonged to its essence; and explained what he held to be the doctrine generally taught by Protestants upon this subject. He represented their doctrine as being substantially this, that believers can and should be assured of their being forgiven and being in a state of grace, and that the want of this assurance was faulty and sinful; but that this assurance was not the proper act of justifying and saving faith, and did not belong to its essence, since faith might exist for a time without it; that it was a result or consequence of faith, posterior to it in the order of nature, and frequently also of time; that though this assurance might be called an act of faith, it was but a secondary and reflex, not a primary and direct act of faith; and that while the certainty attaching to this personal assurance might be called a certainty of faith, it was so named in an improper sense, since it did not rest immediately and exclusively upon what was actually contained in God’s word, but partly also upon a reflex act concerning ourselves. These are in substance the views in regard to faith and assurance which are set forth in the Westminster Confession, prepared twenty years before; and Le Blanc, without any parade of proofs or authorities, declared them to be then generally prevalent among Protestants. The prevalence of these views of course implied, and was seen and admitted to imply, a variation, or a departure from those held by the generality of the Reformers.

About seven years after, in 1672, the famous Antony Arnauld, Doctor of the Sorbonne, the friend and associate of Pascal and Nicole, published his work entitled, “Le Renversement de la Morale de Jesus Christ, par les Erreurs des Calvinistes touchant la Justificationand as he meant to make the doctrine of assurance play an important part in proving that the Calvinists overturn the morality of Jesus Christ, he adduced at length the evidence that Calvinists teach that “every believer is assured with the certainty of divine faith of his own justification and salvation and he gives “a refutation of a professor of Sedan, who had abandoned the common sentiments of his sect, concerning the certainty of divine faith, which they think that every believer has of his justification and salvation.” Arnauld’s evidence in support of the ascription of this opinion to Protestants is derived chiefly from the writers of the sixteenth century, and terminates with the Synod of Dort in 1618, which, he alleges, sanctioned it: and as Le Blanc in his Theses had not produced any authority, Arnauld, in refuting him, just referred to the evidence he had already adduced. In 1674, Le Blanc published “Theses Theologicas de fidei justificantis natura et essentia, in quibus valise Protestantium sententise referuntur et expenduntur, et breviter refelluntur quas super ea re quidam liber recens Scrip-tori harum Thesium imputat.” These Theses, as well as the former ones, were afterwards embodied in his great work commonly called “Theses Sedanenses,” of which the third edition was published at London in 1683. In these Theses concerning the nature and essence of justifying faith, he goes very fully into the whole subject, examines the authorities bearing upon it, and defends himself from the charges which Arnauld, in his “Renversement,” had brought against him, of abandoning the common views of Protestants, and of concealing and misrepresenting their true doctrines. Le Blanc, of course, did not deny that there had been many eminent Protestant divines who taught that personal assurance was necessarily included in saving faith. But he contended and proved, that from the time of the Reformation downwards, there had always been some eminent Protestant writers who had taken a broader and more correct view of the nature of saving faith and of the relation between it and assurance, - that in recent times the number of divines who held this view had •been progressively increasing, - that nearly thirty years before this it had obtained a great triumph, by being distinctly set forth in the Westminster Confession, whose sentiments upon this point had been generally approved of by Protestant writers; and that, on all these grounds, Arnauld and the Papists were acting unwarrantably in asserting that the opposite view was that which had always been and still was held by Protestants. He claims in support of his views the concurrence of Zanchius, Peter Martyr, Musculus, Perkins, Bishop Davenant, and the other English divines who attended the Synod of Dort, Ames, Du Moulin, Walseus, Wittichius, Mestrezat, etc. He expresses his concurrence in the statements of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and repeatedly refers to it in disproof of the allegation of the Romanists, that opposite views had up till that time been generally maintained among Protestants. Le Blanc admitted that, in the earlier period, views different from his and from those of the Westminster Confession, were more generally prevalent; but he contended that, in later times, matters had changed, and the balance had turned to the other side. He, of course, did not deny that there had been a variation here in the history of Protestant doctrine, though he did not think the change which had been brought about was one of great intrinsic importance, and maintained that, from the beginning, there had been some Protestants who held the views which had ultimately gained the ascendency.

This elaborate dissertation of Le Blanc was not only approved of in general by Protestant divines, but it convinced an eminent Romish theologian of that period, Le Fevre, a doctor of theology of the Faculty of Paris, that Arnauld had misrepresented Protestants, in ascribing to them generally the doctrine of assurance. He expressed this opinion in a work written against Protestantism; and this again called forth the redoubtable Jansenist, who published, in 1682, “Le Calvinisme Convaincu de nouvean de Dogmes Impies contre ce qu’en on ecrit, M. Le Fevre, etc., et M. Le Blanc,” etc. In this work Arnauld wrent over the ground again without throwing much additional light upon it, or shaking any of Le Blanc’s main positions.

In the meantime a new combatant had entered the field. This was the famous Peter Jurieu, a man of singular talents and activity, who had formerly been professor at Sedan. In 1675 he published his “Apologie pour la Morale des Reformes, ou Defense de leur doctrine touchant la Justification, la perseverance des vrais saints, et la certitude que chaque fidele peut et doit avoir de son salut,” in reply to Arnauld’s “Renversement.” This work Claude, the most distinguished defender of Protestantism in France, pronounced to be “one of the finest books that had appeared since the Reformation.” The first two books of it treat of justification and perseverance, and the third and last of certitude or assurance. He takes very much the same ground as Le Blanc, denying that Arnauld was entitled to charge upon Protestants in general the doctrine that assurance is of the essence of faith, though admitting ' that this doctrine was extensively taught among them in the sixteenth century. He adduces a portion of the evidence of this, referring to Le Blanc’s Theses for additional testimonies, and shows very ably and ingeniously, that neither the earlier nor the later doctrine was chargeable with the odious consequences which Arnauld had laboured to fasten upon them. He takes some pains to bring out the difference between the belief men have in articles of faith, and the assurance they have of their own forgiveness, and to show that men might doubt about their salvation without ceasing to be true believers. He exposes very ably and conclusively the futility of the attempt of Arnauld to draw an argument in favour of Popery from the concessions made by Le Blanc and others, as to the variations in the doctrine of Protestants, and even an approximation again in some minor doctrinal matters to the Church of Rome; and points out the folly of making so much ado about differences of so little intrinsic importance as those which had been exhibited, or might still subsist, among Protestants on the subject of assurance.

Le Blanc and Jurieu were both men of very fine talents and of extensive learning. Both have rendered important services to the cause of truth, and both have also done it some injury. Le Blanc had a great desire to reconcile the differences of contending sects and parties, and laboured to show that the points of difference among them, when calmly and deliberately examined, were not of great importance, and resolved many of them into mere logomachies. He applied this principle to some of the topics controverted between Protestants and Papists, and not merely to topics so unimportant, comparatively, as assurance, but even to some branches of the great doctrine of justification, - a circumstance of which Nicole has skillfully availed himself in his work entitled, “Prejuges Legitimes contre les Calvinistes.” As Le Blanc brought extensive theological learning, and a singularly ingenious and discriminating mind, to bear upon this subject, his “Theses Sedanenses” must be regarded as a dangerous book for the young student of theology, who might be in danger of being misled by it into an under-estimate of the importance of having clear view7s and definite convictions upon many topics usually discussed in polemic divinity; while it is certainly a work of the very highest value to the more mature theologian.

Jurieu is probably very much under-estimated by those whose knowledge of him has been derived, not from the perusal of his own writings, but from other sources. His reputation has suffered greatly in consequence of his having quarrelled with Bayle, who, after having formerly praised him and his writings in the highest terms, pilloried him through the whole of his Dictionary, making frequent occasions for assaulting him. Jurieu had some qualities which laid him open to such assaults. With great ability and penetration, and great mental energy and activity, he had a rashness and recklessness about him that often led him into scrapes, and afforded many a handle to his enemies, - to personal enemies, as Bayle, - or to opponents in controversy, as Bossuet. He threw himself with such eagerness into every one of the many controversies in which he engaged, that he seemed for the time to see everything through that medium, appeared to contend for victory quite as much as for truth, and was ever anxious to turn everything to the account of the present controversial occasion. All this produced sometimes a carelessness and rashness both in the statement of facts and in the employment of arguments, which his friends could not defend, and which his enemies skillfully improved.

This was just the kind of man whom Bayle was peculiarly qualified to expose; and he has done his best to turn his opportunities to good account. But all who are acquainted with Jurieu s works, know that he was a man of very fine powers, that he has rendered very valuable services to truth in the discussion of some important questions, and has inflicted some deadly wounds even upon such opponents as Bossuet, Arnauld, and Nicole. Though his reputation has been damaged by Bayle’s Dictionary, yet the mischief has been in some measure repaired by a very full, elaborate, and interesting life, in which justice is done him, in Chauffepie’s Supplement to Bayle.

Arnauld, Le Blanc, and Jurieu, are all first-class names in theological literature. Their labours ought to have been known to a man of Sir William’s pretensions; and yet we have seen that he has asserted, that a topic which formed a subject of formal and lengthened controversy between them, was unnoticed and unknown until it was “signalized” by himself. We could easily prove that this variation has been “signalized” by many theologians. But it is unnecessary to dwell upon this point. We shall quote one specimen, as it embodies at the same time a good summary of the chief reasons that tended to produce the change. It is taken from a common work of an eminent divine, published in the latter part of the seventeenth century, “Marckii Compendium Theologias.”

“Non diffitendum interim, de hac ipsa fiduciali applicatione diversum sen-tire quoque nostros. Dum antiquiores juxta catachesim nostram faciunt hunc Actum fidei essentialem, ad justificationem et salutem necessarium, sed non absque antecedenti amplexu et connexa resipiscentia concipiendum; Recentiores vero plures volunt potius esse earn fidei ipsius et justificationis consequens, quod abesse possit, fide et salute manente, 1. Turn ob multorum vere Christum apprehendentium perpetuas dubitationes; 2. Turn ad yitandas magis Pontificiorum, Arminianorum, et schismaticorum strophas, qui vel homines ad securitatem hoc fidei actu duci, vel obligari ad falsum credendum cum remissio fidem sequatur, vel pro omnibus juxta hoc officium credench mortuum esse Christum, clamant; 3. Turn denique, quod hsec fiducia magis Dei beneficium speciale paucioribus proprium, quam officium commune sit.”

We should now proceed to the more formal consideration of the leading position which, as we have seen, forms the substance of Sir William’s first three “curious contrasts,” - viz. that the whole of the Reformed churches have not only abandoned the doctrine of assurance, the fundamental doctrine of the Reformation, but have all adopted the Popish doctrine which was taught by the Council of Trent, when it condemned the doctrine of the Reformers. But we are prevented from going so fully into the discussion of this position as we would have liked to have done, and had collected materials for doing. We have now only space for a few hints.

Sir William calls the doctrine of assurance - that is, of course, the doctrine that assurance of personal salvation is necessarily included in saving faith - the “fundamental principle of all the churches of the Reformation,” “the common and differential,” “the primary and peculiar,” doctrine of the Reformation. Some of the Reformers made strong and exaggerated statements about the importance of their peculiar opinions upon this point; and Nicole, and other old Popish controversialists, in dealing, as with a known and familiar thing, with that variation, which was unknown to all theologians until Sir William “signalized” it, have endeavoured to show that a change upon a topic so important should have led men to return to the Church of Rome. Yet neither Reformers nor Romanists, even in the heat of controversy, have ever put forth such extravagant exaggerations upon this point as those we have quoted from Sir William. To represent the doctrine of assurance as “the fundamental principle of all the churches of the Reformation,” carries absurdity upon the face of it. From the very nature of the case, no doctrine upon such a subject could be the fundamental principle of the Reformed churches. If the Reformers had been contented, as they should have been, with asserting the general position that believers can and should be assured of their own salvation, and if the Romanists had ventured to meet this general position with a direct and unqualified negative, even in that case no sound-minded man, whatever he might have been tempted to say in the heat of controversy, could have deliberately regarded this difference as fundamental. But while this was really and practically the controversy between them, yet, as we have explained, the formal or technical ground of contention was reduced within still narrower limits, - the Papists professing to deny the doctrine of their opponents only with this explanation, that by assurance they meant the infallible certainty of divine faith, by which men believed the great doctrines of religion; and many of the Reformers, injudiciously and incautiously accepting this explanation, and bringing forward the notion that personal assurance is necessarily included in saving faith, as an argument in support of it. The controversy thus turned in form upon the kind or measure of the certainty attaching to men’s convictions on the subject of their own state and prospects, and the grounds on which the actual certainty contended for might be established. It is impossible that any particular doctrine upon such points as these could “have been constituted into the fundamental principle of all the churches of the Reformation;” and therefore Sir William’s position might be safely and reasonably rejected, even by those who have no great knowledge of these matters.

Sir William plainly asserts, that a precise and definite doctrine upon this subject was, in opposition to the Reformers, laid down by the Council of Trent, and that this Popish doctrine has now been adopted by all the Protestant churches. But this notion, though not altogether destitute of an apparent plausibility, has no real foundation in truth. It is no doubt true that in so far as there has been a deviation from the views generally held by the Reformers, it has proceeded in a direction which tends to diminish the differences between Protestants and Papists. But, indeed, it can scarcely be said with truth, that either the Reformed churches or the Church of Rome were formally arid officially committed to any very definite doctrine upon this subject. There is nothing, as we have seen, precise and definite upon this topic in the confessions of the Reformed churches. There is nothing so definite in any of the Calvinistic confessions of the sixteenth century, in favour of assurance being of the essence of saving faith, as there is in the Westminster Confession on the other side. With respect to the deliverances of the Council of Trent upon this subject, we have to remark, 1st, That they condemned several positions which had not been laid down by the Reformed churches, but merely put forth by individual Reformers, and which Protestants, both at the time and since, have thought untenable and exaggerated; 2d, That a difference of opinion existed in the council itself, and that this prevented their giving any very definite, positive deliverance. Catharinus, one of the most eminent divines of that period, maintained in the council views upon the subject of assurance substantially the same as those held by the generality of the Reformers; he continued to hold these views; and after all the deliverances of the council had been passed, he maintained that none of his positions had been condemned, and that he was still at liberty to profess them. Indeed, while the whole tone and spirit of the deliverances of the council upon this subject is adverse to the views of the Reformers, its chief formal deliverance is just this, “Nullus scire valet certitudine fidei, cui non potest subesse falsum, se gratiam Dei esse consecutum;” where the matter is thrown back very much upon the point, that the certainty claimed is the certainty of faith, and where some additional materials for metaphysical speculation are provided, by the class we have put in italics.

The view we have given of these points, in their bearing upon the state of the question, is fully confirmed by what we find in Cardinal Bellarmine when treating of this topic. After admitting the existence of different opinions on the subject in the Council of Trent and in the Church of Rome, he gives this as the doctrine held by the great body of Romish theologians in opposition to the errors both of Protestants and Romanists, “Non posse homines in hac vita habere certitudinem fidei de sua justitia, us exceptis quibus Deus speciali revelatione hoc in dicare dignatur;” and in giving more formally the state of the question, he puts it in this way, “Utrum debeat aut possit aliquis sine speciali revelatione, certus esse certitudine fidei divinae, cui mdlo modo potest subesse falsum, sibi remissa esse peccata.” Here we see the controversialist stands intrenched behind the “certitudo fidei divinae cui nullo modo,” etc., and calls upon his opponent to prove that the certitude or assurance to which he lays claim, is possessed of such qualities, and is based upon such grounds, as these phrases are understood to indicate. But while the great Popish controversialist takes care at first to intrench himself behind these safeguards, he afterwards brings out somewhat more fully and freely, though still not without precaution, what he and Romish writers in general have inculcated upon this point. { He lays down and undertakes to prove the four following positions: - “1. Non posse haberi certitudinem fidei de propria justitia,” - a denial of the Protestant “potest;” 3. “Neminem teneri ad illam habendam etiamsi forte posset haberi,” - a denial of the Protestant “debet;” 3. “Non expedire utordinarie habeatur;” 4. “Reipsa non haberi nisi a paucis, quibus a Deo specialiter justificatio propria reve-latur.” These positions formed then, and in substance they form still, the real points of divergence between Protestants and Papists upon the subject of assurance. The technicalities of the controversy are somewhat altered, while its substance remains the same. The grand question still is, as it has always been, Is it practicable, obligatory, and expedient, that believers should be assured of their justification and salvation? Upon this question the Reformed churches have always maintained, and still maintain, the affirmative; while the Romanists, for obvious reasons, have always taken the other side. Modern Protestants, as the result of a more careful, deliberate, and unembarrassed examination of the subject than the Reformers were able to give to it, have become indifferent about the question, whether this assurance should be called the certainty of faith, or have plainly admitted that this designation was an improper one; and they have modified also an extreme view about the precise relation subsisting between assurance and saving faith, - a view which seems to have been suggested by a desire to establish the warrantableness of this designation. This is really the sum and substance of the variation, - of the change which has taken place.

We are confident that no one who is competently acquainted with this subject, and who surveys the history of the discussions regarding it with calmness and deliberation, can fail to see that this is the true state of the case. And if this, or anything like this, be indeed the true state of the case, what an extraordinary misrepresentation must be the view given of the matter by Sir William Hamilton! His view is to be exposed and overthrown by establishing these two positions: - 1st, That, from the nature of the case, no doctrine upon the subject of assurance could have been the fundamental principle of the Reformers; and 2d, That the difference between the Reformers and the generality of modern Protestant divines is not one of fundamental importance, even when regarded merely in its relation to this non-fundamental subject, and of course sinks into insignificance when viewed in its relation to the general system of Protestant doctrine.

Sir William seems to have been half conscious of this; and therefore he makes an attempt, in conclusion, to involve the great Protestant doctrine of justification in one common ruin with the comparatively small doctrine of assurance. He represents it as a consequence of the change which he alleges has taken place in the views of Protestants in regard to assurance, that “the Protestant symbol (‘Fides sola justificat, - Faith alone justifies’), though now eviscerated of its real import, and now only manifesting an unimportant difference of expression, is still supposed to mark the discrimination of the two religious denominations. For both agree that the three heavenly virtues must all concur to salvation, and they only differ whether faith, as a word, does or does not involve hope and charity.” This would be the most dangerous of all Sir William’s misrepresentations, were it not rendered innocuous by its extravagance. Even if the deviation from the views of the Reformers, and the return to Popish notions upon the subject of assurance, had been as great as Sir William represents it, this would not have affected the differences between Protestants and Romanists upon anything really involved in the doctrine of justification. Sir William’s statement, though applied only to the doctrine that faith alone justifies, seems fitted and intended to convey the impression, that the whole Protestant doctrine of justification has been exploded and abandoned; and, therefore, the first remark we have to make upon it is this, - that there are some important differences between Protestants and Romanists on the subject of justification, which are not directly touched even by the position, that faith alone justifies. We refer, of course, to the vitally important questions, lst, as to the meaning and import; and 2d, as to the cause, or ground, or foundation, of justification. Even though the doctrine that faith alone justifies were “eviscerated,” Protestants might and should maintain their whole controversy with Romanists upon these fundamental points. We remark, in the second place, that all that is important in the Protestant doctrine, as comprehended under the head that faith alone justifies, is untouched by any change that has taken or could take place in regard to assurance. The two main questions usually discussed between Protestants and Romanists under this head are these: - lst, Is there anything else in men themselves which stands in the same relation to justification as faith does? - Protestants answering this question in the negative, and Papists contending that there are six other virtues, as they call them, including, of course, hope and charity, which stand in the very same relation to justification. Protestants admitted that all these virtues do and must exist in justified men, and might thus, in a sense, be said, to use Sir William’s phrase, “to concur to salvation;” but they wholly denied that they have any such bearing as faith has upon the justification of a sinner. 2nd, In what capacity or respect is it that faith justifies? Is it as an instrument, or as a condition, or as a meritorious cause? Surely it is quite plain, that, even if a man had come to believe all that is taught by the Council of Trent upon the subject of assurance, he might still, without any inconsistency, maintain all the doctrines of the Reformers upon these important points.

Sir William adverts to the fact, that the deviation from the views of the Reformers upon the subject of assurance, which he represents as an abandonment of “the fundamental principle of all the Reformed churches,” is embodied in the Westminster Confession; and yet there can be no doubt that the whole doctrine of the Reformers upon the subject of justification is set forth with most admirable fullness and precision in the eleventh chapter of that document, while no ingenuity, however great, could devise even a plausible pretence for alleging that there is any inconsistency in this.

We have some apprehension that the controversial spirit is rising and swelling in our breast, and therefore we abstain from making any reflections upon the extraordinary inaccuracies which we have considered it our duty to unfold. But we would like to attempt something in the way of expounding and inculcating the great truth taught in Scripture, and set forth in the Westminster Confession, upon the subject of assurance. That it is practicable, obligatory, and expedient, that believers should be assured of their justification and salvation, was, not certainly, “the fundamental principle of all the Reformed churches,” but the fundamental principle of the teaching of the Reformed churches on the subject of assurance. It is fully and clearly declared in the Westminster Confession. It has been held professedly by the whole body of Calvinistic divines, both before and since the variation which Sir William has signalized. And yet we fear it has at all times been too much neglected, both theoretically and practically, viewed both as declaring a truth and enforcing a duty. We believe that the prevailing practical disregard of the privilege and the duty of having assurance, is, to no inconsiderable extent, at once the cause and the effect of the low state of vital religion amongst us - one main reason why there is so little of real communion with God as our reconciled Father, and so little of real, hearty devotedness to His cause and service. Some sense of the sin and danger of neglecting this subject occasionally arises in men’s minds, and is, from time to time, pressed upon the notice of the church; but in many cases such attempts have only led to controversial discussions, and have failed in producing any beneficial practical results. It is not easy to keep the exact high road of truth; and men, filled with some one important idea or object, are very apt to run into exaggerations and extremes. Upon no subject has this been more conspicuously the case than on that of assurance; partly, perhaps, because of the influence of Luther, Calvin, and their associates. It has happened repeatedly in the history of the church, that pious and zealous men, impressed with the importance of getting a larger share of attention to the subject of assurance, have been led into the adoption of untenable and erroneous positions concerning it. Then the champions of orthodoxy have buckled on their armour, and have demonstrated by irrefragable logic, that these positions are characterized by, it may be, confusion, inconsistency, and error; and then men, satisfied upon this point, settle down again upon their lees, and think no more of the importance of coming to a decisive adjustment upon the question as to what is their present relation to God, and what are their future prospects. This is the abuse, not the use of controversy. The uses of theological controversy are, to expose error, and to produce and diffuse clear and correct opinions upon all points of doctrine. It is the church’s imperative duty to aim at these objects, and controversy seems to be as indispensable with a view to the second as to the first of them. But it is an evil and an abuse, when the exposure of error is made to serve as a substitute for the realization and application of what is admitted to be true. This has repeatedly, in the history of the church, taken place in regard to the subject of assurance; and this result, again, has, we are persuaded, been productive of injurious consequences to the interests of true religion, and tended to keep the church at a low point in the scale of devotedness and efficiency.


Excerpt from The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links