WCF 18 Infallible assurance of faith in light of those who fall away

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Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
I understand how a believer can have an assurance of salvation, but I don't understand how a believer can have an infallible assurance of salvation if it is possible for people to fall away. It could be stated categorically that a person who does fall away, therefore, must lack infallible assurance, but then it does not make sense how a person could distinguish between "assurance" and "infallible assurance" if both are achieved by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.

What is biblical? How do we understand it in light of the experience of knowing people who fall away, even if they seemed solid at one point?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What does the phrase, "infallible assurance" mean? Do you think it means something objective about the person who asserts he is infallibly assured? Or about the quality (true or false) of the assurance? Or that it is the kind of assurance that cannot be lost?

"Infallible assurance" is what the Confession assigns as fully possible for such as truly believe savingly in the Lord Jesus. WCF 18.1 asserts a distinction between the vain deceptions of false hope and carnal presumption of an unregenerate person, and the confidence of a believer. This is an objective distinction, which is based not on individual experience, but on what the Bible teaches.

There is another objective distinction: that which obtains between true believers who are but weakly assured, and those who are strongly--even infallibly--assured. Again, these forms of assurance are what the Bible teaches men may have, but does not tell us if they actually have it, or when one having it may lose it.

My feelings of assurance are variable. The causes of this variability may be several. Whence, paragraphs 3 & 4 explain both the factors that strengthen and increase assurance to the attaining of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; and factors that may diminish and vitiate it.

To say I am "infallibly assured" is simply for me to claim that, to my own self-impression, today I am unshakably certain that I am Christ's and he is mine. Now, whether I am delusional or not is one sort of question; another sort of question is whether the assurance I have is true or false. These questions can be related to one another; but it is important to realize that I may have but a weak assurance, that is nonetheless true.

So, the truth or falsity of my assurance is not a factor of "how strong it feels" to me, or how unshakable it seems until the day I die. That which is actually "infallible assurance" (not capable of error) is just an excellent conviction of the truth of it. In a non-salvific matter, consider the excellent conviction you have that 1+1=2.

Or, perhaps (solely on the basis of some authority) you have the excellent conviction that those persons who reared you were in fact your biological parents (as they claimed to be). If such convictions are just the simple truth, your believing them so does not make them so. But, as it turns out your unshakable conviction was exactly comparable to reality.

The whole business turns on the reliability--not of the person claiming--but on the reality. Whether of a non-salvific (trivial) matter, or of salvation of one's soul--most non-trivial.
 

Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
What does the phrase, "infallible assurance" mean? Do you think it means something objective about the person who asserts he is infallibly assured? Or about the quality (true or false) of the assurance? Or that it is the kind of assurance that cannot be lost?

"Infallible assurance" is what the Confession assigns as fully possible for such as truly believe savingly in the Lord Jesus. WCF 18.1 asserts a distinction between the vain deceptions of false hope and carnal presumption of an unregenerate person, and the confidence of a believer. This is an objective distinction, which is based not on individual experience, but on what the Bible teaches.

There is another objective distinction: that which obtains between true believers who are but weakly assured, and those who are strongly--even infallibly--assured. Again, these forms of assurance are what the Bible teaches men may have, but does not tell us if they actually have it, or when one having it may lose it.

My feelings of assurance are variable. The causes of this variability may be several. Whence, paragraphs 3 & 4 explain both the factors that strengthen and increase assurance to the attaining of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; and factors that may diminish and vitiate it.

To say I am "infallibly assured" is simply for me to claim that, to my own self-impression, today I am unshakably certain that I am Christ's and he is mine. Now, whether I am delusional or not is one sort of question; another sort of question is whether the assurance I have is true or false. These questions can be related to one another; but it is important to realize that I may have but a weak assurance, that is nonetheless true.

So, the truth or falsity of my assurance is not a factor of "how strong it feels" to me, or how unshakable it seems until the day I die. That which is actually "infallible assurance" (not capable of error) is just an excellent conviction of the truth of it. In a non-salvific matter, consider the excellent conviction you have that 1+1=2.

Or, perhaps (solely on the basis of some authority) you have the excellent conviction that those persons who reared you were in fact your biological parents (as they claimed to be). If such convictions are just the simple truth, your believing them so does not make them so. But, as it turns out your unshakable conviction was exactly comparable to reality.

The whole business turns on the reliability--not of the person claiming--but on the reality. Whether of a non-salvific (trivial) matter, or of salvation of one's soul--most non-trivial.

I am not sure I understand. The salvation status is what it is regardless of the degree of assurance. You could have only a tiny sliver of assurance, or no assurance at all and still be saved. Functionally, if you are under a strong delusion, you would probably think yourself well-assured.

When I think of my own assurance of salvation, if you asked me if I was confident that I am saved I would say yes. If you asked me if I was infallibly assured that I am saved, I don't know how to even judge what that means.

(My main reason for the thread is so that I can work through my understanding of the WCF, not because I am lacking in personal assurance).
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
So, if I understand you, the question seems to be: Can I describe the assurance I have as infallible?

I used two illustrations, one a sort of empirically acquired assurance (the math problem); the other one of authoritatively acquired (knowledge of your parents).

If one-and-one is two, really; and you also happen to think it is so, with a sort of foundational certainty... And if those really are your parents; and you also happen to entertain not the least doubt about it... Then the confidence you actually have may be fairly described as: "infallible assurance." There is, objectively, no chance whatsoever that you are wrong.

You aren't wrong (on the questions), even if for some reason later on you reserved your confidence a bit on those same questions. The "infallibility" is not a factor contingent on your confidence itself. "Infallible assurance" is not the same thing as "indefectible assurance."

So also, as assurance is related to salvation. There are both reasons for and authoritative utterance you have credited for the assurance or confidence you have. These are all you have; and for this cause we call our confidence "faith."

Comparatively, a hypocrite or unregenerate person has misplaced assurance; which is why his assurance can never (unless the misplaced be replaced) be accurately described as "infallible." His self-conceit has no bearing whatsoever on the zero-truth-value of the (false) object of his assurance. Even a formal accuracy in his answers to vital questions is insufficient. Think of the mathematician who gets the "right" answer for the "wrong" reason.

Perhaps this makes things clearer?
 

Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
So, if I understand you, the question seems to be: Can I describe the assurance I have as infallible?

I used two illustrations, one a sort of empirically acquired assurance (the math problem); the other one of authoritatively acquired (knowledge of your parents).

If one-and-one is two, really; and you also happen to think it is so, with a sort of foundational certainty... And if those really are your parents; and you also happen to entertain not the least doubt about it... Then the confidence you actually have may be fairly described as: "infallible assurance." There is, objectively, no chance whatsoever that you are wrong.

You aren't wrong (on the questions), even if for some reason later on you reserved your confidence a bit on those same questions. The "infallibility" is not a factor contingent on your confidence itself. "Infallible assurance" is not the same thing as "indefectible assurance."

So also, as assurance is related to salvation. There are both reasons for and authoritative utterance you have credited for the assurance or confidence you have. These are all you have; and for this cause we call our confidence "faith."

Comparatively, a hypocrite or unregenerate person has misplaced assurance; which is why his assurance can never (unless the misplaced be replaced) be accurately described as "infallible." His self-conceit has no bearing whatsoever on the zero-truth-value of the (false) object of his assurance. Even a formal accuracy in his answers to vital questions is insufficient. Think of the mathematician who gets the "right" answer for the "wrong" reason.

Perhaps this makes things clearer?
I've read this three or four times but I am still having trouble understanding. I think that when talking about the reality of salvation, we are talking about something that may or may not be properly apprehended by the Christian, but when we are talking about the assurance of the Christian, we are talking about the apprehension itself.

If we are agreed up to this point that when we are talking about assurance we are talking about the personal apprehension of the genuineness of faith, we can either apprehend our status accurately or inaccurately, and with degrees of certainty ranging from completely uncertain to completely certain.

One of the key verses that seems to be driving the conclusion of the WCF is Romans 8:16, that the presence and internal witness of the Spirit gives us assurance of adoption.

If we have the witness of the Holy Spirit, that testimony is infallible. However, we also do not hear the audible voice of God. So this is very confusing to me.

Even more confusing is that WCF 18 says that the assurance of true Christians can be shaken. How does the variance of a Christian's assurance mesh with the fact that there is an infallible testimony? Romans 8:16 does not imply that it is the experience of only some Christians.

I would think that if you base your assurance on an apprehension of your faith and its fruits and under the examination of others, you could arrive at a confident, but not infallible, assurance. But if it is based on the testimony of the Holy Spirit it would seem to be 100% infallible, perfectly apprehended by our spirits if we are his children.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There's assurance, and there's the feeling of assurance--what you may be calling "apprehension." These are not the same thing, unless one is conflating either intentionally or unintentionally. There may be a good reason one wishes to do the latter; but that doesn't change the distinction.

The first thing I think you should be doing is figuring out what "assurance" is. Start with that. When I tell you the sky is blue, I aim to assure [a verb] you of that fact; I'm creating assurance [a noun]. The quality or reliability of that assurance is dependent on 1) the real truth value of what I claim; and 2) whether I'm trustworthy as a source.

I can hand the assurance to you, but you have to take it. The assurance is what it is. You decide what to do with it. How much weight are you going to place in it? What do you feel about the assurance I gave? Would you bet your life on it? Why or why not? You can be assured or not, but this kind of assurance is not something YOU produced; but rather were given.

Self-assurance is when you are producing some or all of the assurance yourself. The math problem illustration is nearer to self-assurance, but because presumably you acquired tools for evaluating the claim 1+1=2. You could argue that the rules of math (now internalized) supply you with assurance of the correct answer. Anyway, the more assurance you produce within, the less you accept from without.

What I'm alleging is that to understand biblical assurance of oneself being in "a state of grace," one has to begin with the source of this assurance, and the content. There's no point in discussing the "apprehension" or reception of it before that, because if the person's feeling ever takes priority: then there can be no "infallible assurance." Has there ever been a infallibly self-assured person who wasn't a fool?

The Spirit, as an infallible, external Source of assurance ALWAYS gives perfect reliable assurance (Content). That's what Rom.8:16 is saying. That verse is not saying that "our spirit" is always listening to Him with appropriate confidence, though He is UTTERLY trustworthy.

What makes your apprehension of his assurance infallible is when, by grace, you believe him, "nothing wavering" (Heb.10:23; Ps.26:1; 1Tim.2:8). Now, none should be so deluded as to think this infallible assurance felt has at the end to do with the power of his own grasp on what he's received. It isn't our grasp on Christ that finally assures "I have hold of salvation," but his grasp on me, Jn.10:28-29.

I end as I began: don't start by thinking of assurance of salvation as your feelings about it. You start by thinking of the Source and the Content. If God assured you the sky is blue, would you go out, look up and check to be sure? If he told you 1+1=2, would you check his figures? Do either one, and it's self-assurance that's in your driver's seat.
 

Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
There's assurance, and there's the feeling of assurance--what you may be calling "apprehension." These are not the same thing, unless one is conflating either intentionally or unintentionally. There may be a good reason one wishes to do the latter; but that doesn't change the distinction.

The first thing I think you should be doing is figuring out what "assurance" is. Start with that. When I tell you the sky is blue, I aim to assure [a verb] you of that fact; I'm creating assurance [a noun]. The quality or reliability of that assurance is dependent on 1) the real truth value of what I claim; and 2) whether I'm trustworthy as a source.

I can hand the assurance to you, but you have to take it. The assurance is what it is. You decide what to do with it. How much weight are you going to place in it? What do you feel about the assurance I gave? Would you bet your life on it? Why or why not? You can be assured or not, but this kind of assurance is not something YOU produced; but rather were given.

Self-assurance is when you are producing some or all of the assurance yourself. The math problem illustration is nearer to self-assurance, but because presumably you acquired tools for evaluating the claim 1+1=2. You could argue that the rules of math (now internalized) supply you with assurance of the correct answer. Anyway, the more assurance you produce within, the less you accept from without.

What I'm alleging is that to understand biblical assurance of oneself being in "a state of grace," one has to begin with the source of this assurance, and the content. There's no point in discussing the "apprehension" or reception of it before that, because if the person's feeling ever takes priority: then there can be no "infallible assurance." Has there ever been a infallibly self-assured person who wasn't a fool?

The Spirit, as an infallible, external Source of assurance ALWAYS gives perfect reliable assurance (Content). That's what Rom.8:16 is saying. That verse is not saying that "our spirit" is always listening to Him with appropriate confidence, though He is UTTERLY trustworthy.

What makes your apprehension of his assurance infallible is when, by grace, you believe him, "nothing wavering" (Heb.10:23; Ps.26:1; 1Tim.2:8). Now, none should be so deluded as to think this infallible assurance felt has at the end to do with the power of his own grasp on what he's received. It isn't our grasp on Christ that finally assures "I have hold of salvation," but his grasp on me, Jn.10:28-29.

I end as I began: don't start by thinking of assurance of salvation as your feelings about it. You start by thinking of the Source and the Content. If God assured you the sky is blue, would you go out, look up and check to be sure? If he told you 1+1=2, would you check his figures? Do either one, and it's self-assurance that's in your driver's seat.
Thank you for your patience. Now I think I finally understand. There are THREE factors here.
1. The truth of the matter.
2. The testimony of the matter.
3. The apprehension of the testimony.

#1 is in the mind of God now and will be ultimately realized on the Day that the Lord has appointed.
#2 is the Spirit of adoption that bears witness with our spirit.
#3 is the believer's apprehension of assurance (which may waver but may also grant us the ability to cry Abba).

The infallible assurance of WCF 18 is of #2 variety. The wavering assurance of WCF is apprehension is #3 variety.

This also makes sense of your parent analogy... it's right there in Romans 8.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
#1 is also written in Scripture's gospel promises: "the mind of God revealed." When you say of that Word, "for me," you are professing your faith in him.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
The 16th-century Reformers tended to conflate faith and assurance, arguing that it was an ordinary part of saving faith to be convicted that one had such faith and thus the joy that attended such confidence.

Rome had taught that this was the basest presumption, that no one could know that they had true faith and would persevere in such except by a direct divine revelation of some sort (angelic messenger, stigmata, or other "miracles").

Rome continued to teach such in response to the Reformers' assertion that assurance accompanied true faith, specifically challenging the notion of such "infallible" certainty at The Council of Trent, Sixth Session:

CANON XVI.-If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end,-unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.

In years subsequent to the theology of the 16th c. Reformers, theologians begin to distinguish faith and assurance, recognizing that having true saving faith and knowing that one has true saving faith could properly be distinguished. At the same time, they did not wish to destroy the certainty of faith gained by the earlier Reformers, so at Westminster, while making it clear that assurance is not of the essence of faith, the divines not only made clear that one can and should have assurance (and should endeavor after it if lacking it), they were also keen to affirm that this could indeed be an infallible assurance (apart from any special revelation), that which Rome had denied before and in the Reformation and continued to deny afterwards (and to this day).

Infallible assurance in this context means that one can be certain that he belongs to Christ and will persevere to the end. It's the opposite of what Rome was setting forth in Canon XVI.

Peace,
Alan
 
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