Infallible assurance of faith

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Mr. Bultitude

Puritan Board Freshman
The Westminster Confession (chapter 18) speaks of an "infallible assurance" of faith. However, that infallible assurance does not seem to always be "infallibly" grasped even by the elect:

This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. ... This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith. ... True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted.

Calvin writes in the Institutes (3.2.11) of reprobate who believe themselves to have assurance of salvation:

For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts — and Christ, faith for a time; not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption.

On another forum, discussing assurance, a non-reformed fellow said to me:

The difficulty is how someone could really have an infallible assurance of salvation if the reprobate can fallibly believe that they also have the infallible assurance of salvation. Calvin says basically that although their experiences are very similar, the elect experience something that is somehow qualitatively greater. I don't think this reply is satisfactory because even if the elect know for sure, the reprobate don't know that they don't know for sure.

How would you answer this?
 

mgkortus

Puritan Board Freshman
Calvin is clearly drawing from Hebrews 6:5-6 in his use of the word "taste." I believe the difference is closely connected to that word. The elect not only taste, but also swallow and digest the living bread of Jesus Christ. Thus, we "partake" of Jesus Christ.
The reprobate merely taste… They do not partake of Christ (i.e. swallow and digest) and therefore receive no spiritual nourishment.
Therefore, I believe this "non-reformed fellow" misrepresents Calvin who likely was very deliberate in using the same language as Hebrews 6. The experiences are not "very similar." No more similar than two people sitting down at a meal: one partakes of the meal, the other tastes and then spits the food back out.
 

Mr. Bultitude

Puritan Board Freshman
I think I found a satisfying answer in Hodge's commentary on the confession:

True assurance, however, may be distinguished from that which is false by the following tests:

1. True assurance begets unfeigned humility; false assurance begets spiritual pride. 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 6:14.
2. The true leads to increased diligence in the practice of holiness; the false leads to sloth and self-indulgence. Psalm 51:12-13,19.
3. The true leads to candid self-examination and to a desire to be searched and corrected by God; the false leads to a disposition to be satisfied with appearance and to avoid accurate investigation. Psalm 139:23-24.
4. The true leads to constant aspirations after more intimate fellowship with God. 1 John 3:2-3.
 
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