In a previous post we discussed Wilhelmus á Brakel’s assertion that “assurance of salvation” is something that children of God can and should have. Yet this assurance does not come from believing in assurance. That quote was concluded with these words, “Rather, one obtains this assurance from the Word of God wherein is found a clear description of those who are elect. If these characteristics are discerned within, he may draw the conclusion that he is one of the elect.”
On their own, these words could lead to disastrous consequences. Assurance is important, but it needs to be handled carefully. Having a false assurance could be more dangerous than not having assurance at all. Or, it is more dangerous to know the wrong thing than to not know. Assurance is not a Scripture scavenger hunt. The person who is seeking assurance should not be given a check-list. Not even a biblical one. The mention of “description” and “characteristics” might lead one to believe that assurance is not much more than a grocery list. Assurance of salvation must not be reduced to legalism.
Wilhelmus á Brakel deftly avoids this trap in offering three indications of salvation. Their potency lies in the fact that they are indications that do not point to the seeker of assurance or to themselves but to the Lord Himself.
The first characteristic is the calling. God calls internally and efficaciously only those whom He has chosen. This is a well-established truth. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, then He also called” (Rom. 8:30); “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). If, while bringing yourself into the omniscient presence of the Lord and examining yourself in truth, you may perceive that your mind has been illuminated to enable you to discern the spiritual dimension of the spiritual benefits of the covenant of grace; if you perceive within yourself a love and desire for spiritual frames within your soul such as the love and fear of God, willingness and obedience, spiritual liberty, and joy in the Lord; if you perceive within yourself a recurring stimulus, stirring you up to think upon God, to pray, to repent after backslidings, to walk in a way pleasing to God; and if you perceive that the nearness of the Lord is your life and His absence your grief—if all these things are to be found in you, then you may be assured of being called and drawn.
If assurance of salvation is to be found it must be found in the same place as salvation itself. The relation the Bible has with assurance is the same relation it has to salvation. No one has or ever will be saved by the Bible. Yet no one has or ever will be saved without the revelation the Bible offers (Rom. 10:13-17; 1 Peter 1:22-25). Similarly, we do not gain assurance of salvation from the Bible, but we do find it in the Bible’s revelation.
In this discussion of calling the objective and external witness of biblical truth is wonderfully balanced with the internal objective witness of the inner man. Both are needed. If assurance is to be had, the personal soul must have it. If assurance is to be had, there must be an identifiable “it” to have. “Calling” is the first objective subjective.
It is easy to point to Moses or Paul and make the claim that they had solid ground for assurance because the Lord came to them in a special way. But this is to give the subjective a greater role than it deserves. What does your assurance rest on: the Lord who calls, or the way the Lord calls?
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… (Romans 8:16)
This is the normal operation of the Lord. To seek assurance from a miraculous experience is just as misguided as seeking it in a list of do’s and don’ts. Has the Lord called you? Where is such assurance of his calling found? Read again the words of á Brakel and note terms like: presence of the Lord, illuminated, spiritual benefits, spiritual dimension, love and desire, spiritual frames, joy in the Lord, think upon God, pleasing to God, nearness of the Lord is your life and His absence your grief, etc.
Salvation is of the Lord. And so is assurance. Perhaps the secret to assurance is to know that it cannot be found in anything other people can identify in you. I cannot give you assurance of salvation. I cannot even tell you if you should have assurance of salvation. The only thing I can do is to tell you where you can find it: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved…For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:21, 39). Have you called out to the Lord for salvation? It is only because he called out to you first.