Thursday, February 04, 2010

Rightly using the ordinary means of grace

Edward Reiss: “What did I lie about? Apparently I set up a ‘dichotomy’ because subjective assurance is a guarantee.”

i) This is so confused. Assurance is a psychological state. So, by definition, the sense of assurance is subjective.

ii) That’s not the issue. The issue is whether the basis of assurance is subjective. In addition, whether the basis of assurance are purely subjective, purely objective, or a combination of both subjective and objective factors.

“From the WCF. Notice the bolded parts. The word ‘may’ appears in section I, while Steve says there is such a promise in Calvinism. This means that not all will, but some may receive assurance by looking within themselves. As I have said a few times, I don;t know why this is even controversial, this self examination to prove to one's self one is elect is baked right into Calvinism. But the writers of the WCF disagree with Steve, so I suppose the writers of the WCF lie about Calvinism, too.”

Does Reiss suffer from a mental block? How did he possibly get that from the passage he quoted?

i) To begin with, the fact that not everyone appropriates a promise doesn’t negate the promise. Doesn’t Reiss know the difference between a conditional promise and an unconditional promise?

ii) Moreover, the chapter doesn’t say they receive assurance by “looking within themselves,” simpliciter. Rather, it gives three grounds for assurance: “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.”

Why does Reiss feel the need to dissemble about what the Confession explicitly states? Does the Confession reduce the grounds of assurance to “looking within yourself?” No. It also mentions the “promises of salvation.” That’s external to the believer, not internal to the believer.

iii) Furthermore, there’s an obvious difference between what grounds a state of mind and conscious awareness of such grounds. It’s quite possible to have a certain mental state without having any consciousness of what grounds that mental state. Doesn’t Reiss know the difference?

iv) Apropos (iii), the Confession doesn’t say that every Christian must be aware of what grounds the assurance of salvation to have the assurance of salvation. Rather, it’s dealing with cases in which, for whatever reason, a Christian lacks the assurance of salvation.

“Also see the bolded part of section II. Notice there is ‘inward evidence’. Now, inward evidence is by definition not ‘extra nos’, outside of us. So once again the Calvinist is pointed to himself for assurance he is one of the elect.”

So, once again Reiss misrepresents the Confession by isolating the internal grounds from the external grounds. He can’t bring himself to honestly state or summarize what the Confession actually states. Instead, we’re always treated to his deceptive half-quotes and deceptive summaries. Why does he feel it necessary to indulge in blatant falsehoods about Calvinism?

“Notice the bolded part of section III. The Christian is called to make his election sure to himself by dilligence. And how does one know one is diligent? By looking for the ‘inward evidence’ plus the outward works of a true believer.”

i) Did you catch that? “Plus outward works.” So it’s not reducible to subjective grounds.

ii) Moreover, the ordinary means of grace are external to the practioner. When the Confession, in the very passage he quotes, refers the reader to “right use of the ordinary means,” that’s not the same thing as “inward evidence.” Why can’t Reiss even register these elementary distinctions?

“What about his contention that there is a difference between th eelect and the non-elect? Please see the bolded part of section IV. Since the subjective assurance may be revived, by definition the subjective assurance was lost. I didn't make any of this up, I just read the Calvinist confessional documents. Steve Hays seems to argue by vigorous assertion, along with taking what his opponent says and extrapolating it to a point his opponent never meant”

i) To begin with, Reiss says that “subjective assurance” may be “lost,” as if that somehow disproves what I said. Really? What did I say in my previous reply to him, to which he is allegedly responding?

I quoted his statement: “Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.” To which I replied:

That confuses two distinct issues:

i) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their salvation.

ii) Under no circumstances can the elect/regenerate lose their assurance of salvation.

But (i) is true whereas (ii) is false.

Notice in my reply to him that I said it was possible for the elect to lose the assurance of salvation.

So why does Reiss act as if he’s disproven my contention when he says that assurance can be lost? What was he thinking?

ii) In addition, how does the fact that, in some cases, the elect can lose the assurance of salvation, become equivalent to “self-deception”? By what fallacious logic does Reiss draw that inference?

The lack or loss of a given belief is not equivalent to misbelief. To say I don’t entertain a certain belief doesn’t mean I thereby entertain a false belief.

Doesn’t Reiss know the difference? Is he even trying?

iii) Moreover, in one of the very passages he quoted, the Confession specifically limits delusive assurance to “hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions.” So it’s only the reprobate, not the elect, who are liable to delusive assurance.

Reiss seems to be too blinded by his reflexive hostility towards Reformed theology to even make sense of the passages he cites to prove his point.


  1. Ed, put down the shovel, it's working and the hole is enlarged with every heave!

    "....I just read the Calvinist confessional documents. Steve Hays seems to argue by vigorous assertion, along with taking what his opponent says and extrapolating it to a point his opponent never meant”..."

    This line of rationale reminds of the Ethopian Eunuch who "read" the Scriptures and wasn't getting it.

    What did God do? He sent him Philip.

    Here, in a parallel phenomenon, Ed reads the WFC and doesn't get it. And God mercifully has a divine appointment whereby Steve, and really any Spirit Filled Believer could open their mouth and enlighten him. But, again, sadly, there seems to be dissimulation to prove a point, not well taken? Instead, what is wrong with humility and honesty in dialogue? Instead, there seems to be more of a tone of accusation not honest debate for the purpose of edification. Albeit the tart responses to some points have affected the tone more sharply.

    Here is one example, IMO, where I see dissembling:

    ".... As I have said a few times, I don;t know why this is even controversial, this self examination to prove to one's self one is elect is baked right into Calvinism. But the writers of the WCF disagree with Steve, so I suppose the writers of the WCF lie about Calvinism, too.”

    I am not sure either Luther or Calvin dissembled. I do believe each one, the German and the Frenchman, from their world of experiences saw aspects of the aged fight against all mankind. To lower to that level of implication, seems unjust and unwarranted.

    Now, let me ask you Ed, you really don't believe Calvin lied or the men who were used by the Holy Spirit to produce the WCF lied, now do you?

  2. Steve is right. Assurance is a psychological state and therefore, by definition, subjective.

    There's 1. subjective psychologial *Assurance*, and there's 2. objective ontological (and/or theological) *Security*.

    Just because someone has one, doesn't mean he has the other. A genuinely regenerate Christian can be secure in the permanence of his salvation, yet have doubts about his gracious state (hence a lack of assurance).

    Conversely, an unregenerate (and therefore false) professing Christian can have the psychological assurance that he IS saved even though he's not. Sometimes because of the false (usually Dispensational) Non-Lordship Salvation view of justification and the virtual optionality of sanctification.

    Here are the possibilities from a normative Calvinistic perspective:

    1. Genuine Christian With Assurance

    2. Genuine Christian Without Assurance

    3. False Christian With Assurance

    4. False Christian Without Assurance

    5. Non-Christian With Assurance of getting into some kind of paradise (say on the basis of some other religion or on a universalistic "Mere Theism" (John Hick-style))

    6. Non-Christian without Assurance

  3. While I believe that Calvinism does provide an overall correct Biblical answer to how one attains assurance, that doesn't mean that it's always easy to attain. While CalvinISM (the theology) clearly teaches that assurance should be sought after (even if it's not a necessary condition for salvation), practically (that is, putting it into practice) CalvinISTS sometimes have (historically) struggled with attaining assurance. As well as dealing with fears of having committed the "Unpardonable Sin". Or worse, dealing with fears of being reprobate from all eternity(!!!). This last problem admittedly is a difficulty that occurs only in strongly predestinarian religions like Calvinisms or (varieties of) Islam.

    It doesn't occur in Pelagian-like or Arminian/Wesleyan-like theologies because ultimately (in the final analysis) one's salvation depends on oneself. Though, even in those perspectives one has to deal with the problem of commiting the Unpardonable Sin. I don't know if the story is true, but I've read that even on his deathbed John Wesley wasn't sure whether he'd enter heaven. He was always struggling with assurance in his life. It makes sense because in his view, one can virtually convert and deconvert (i.e. become a Christian then cease being Christian) over and over and over and over and over again. You might have been saved yesterday, but you might not be today or tomorrow.

    It's a well known fact that difficulties attaining assurance or dealing with fears of reprobation have been endemic in Calvinistic circles. That's why books like The Christian's Great Interest by Guthrie, or Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices or Heaven On Earth by Brooks (et al.) have had to be written.

    My point is that there are peculiar difficulties to overcome in Calvinism just as there are in other theological systems. Whether it be "Christian" Easy Believism, or Arminianism, or Lutheranism etc. HOWEVER, the greater the truth of a system, then it follows that the greater the responsibility. The greater the precision and accuracy of a theology, the greater the need of precision in the application of it.

    To Be Continued...

  4. It might be easier to attain assurance in Easy Believism when compared to Calvinism, but the problem is that it can also *Easily* (pun intended) lead to false assurance. In a similar way, it might be the case that Arminianism doesn't have the problem of believers having to deal with the fear of reprobation where people can (wrongly) conclude that whatever they do, they will either be saved or not. The advantage of Calvinism to Easy Believism is that it's true and will tend to lead people to actual salvation (even if with doubts of assurance) than to a false assurance of salvation. The advantage of Calvinism over Arminian-like (or worse Pelagian-like) systems is that Calvinism provides the better (read "best") foundation and source of assurance; namely in God's faithfulness and power rather than in one's own will power (and native intelligence, disposition/personality etc.) for perseverance. Especially since, among the three mortal enemies a Christian faces (the World, the Flesh and the Devil), the Flesh and Self can be more challenging. The Devil might be stronger, but the Flesh has the advantage of being inextricably inside the walls of the Castle. An assassin with a .22 pistol inside the Castle can do more damage than someone with a bazooka outside.

    It's TRUE that under Calvinism, your works don't play a part in your election or non-election. You are either elect or non-elect. But it's FALSE to think that whatever you do (or don't do), you'll be saved or not. This is the mistake that both Calvinists (who are struggling with assurance) and non-Calvinists (who are critical of Calvinism) make. That's because election isn't equivalent to salvation. We cannot change God's decree, but we can nevertheless affect the outcome of our destiny because God not only ordains the "ENDS" but also the "MEANS" (to those ends). That is, not only *what* will happen, but *how* they will happen. And God has ordained that those who will be saved will willingly believe in Christ and continue believing (persevere to the end) because He will preserve them by continually (not continuously, there's a difference) giving them sanctifying grace. (Normatively speaking of course. Since we're not discussing the fate of infants who die, the mentally challenged, or the unevangelized dead).

  5. So, in response to (I believe) Lutheran Edward Reiss, I would lovingly quote to him Luther Himself:

    As to myself, I openly confess, that I should not wish "Free-will" to be granted me, even if it could be so, nor anything else to be left in my own hands, whereby I might endeavour something towards my own salvation. And that, not merely because in so many opposing dangers, and so many assaulting devils, I could not stand and hold it fast, (in which state no man could be saved, seeing that one devil is stronger than all men;) but because, even though there were no dangers, no conflicts, no devils, I should be compelled to labour under a continual uncertainty, and to beat the air only. Nor would my conscience, even if I should live and work to all eternity, ever come to a settled certainty, how much it ought to do in order to satisfy God. For whatever work should be done, there would still remain a scrupling, whether or not it pleased God, or whether He required any thing more; as is proved in the experience of all justiciaries, and as I myself learned to my bitter cost, through so many years of my own experience.

    But now, since God has put my salvation out of the way of my will, and has taken it under His own, and has promised to save me, not according to my working or manner of life, but according to His own grace and mercy, I rest fully assured and persuaded that He is faithful, and will not lie, and moreover great and powerful, so that no devils, no adversities can destroy Him, or pluck me out of His hand. "No one (saith He) shall pluck them out of My hand, because My Father which gave them Me is greater than all." (John x. 27-28). Hence it is certain, that in this way, if all are not saved, yet some, yea, many shall be saved; whereas by the power of "Free-will," no one whatever could be saved, but all must perish together. And moreover, we are certain and persuaded, that in this way, we please God, not from the merit of our own works, but from the favour of His mercy promised unto us; and that, if we work less, or work badly, He does not impute it unto us, but, as a Father, pardons us and makes us better.—This is the glorying which all the saints have in their God!
    - The Bondage of the Will

    Notice how while our brother Reiss would trust in the promises of God, Luther rests God's promises on the predestinating and providential power of God. Blessing to you all. I won't post anymore because I've "hogged" this post. :)

  6. Sorry, but I've gotta post again to clarify what I meant when I said, "He will preserve them by continually (not continuously, there's a difference) giving them sanctifying grace."

    I said what I said because clearly God's graciousness (in one sense) towards us cannot be continuous. My understanding (rightly or wrongly) is that the word "continually" and "continuously" have two different meanings, though often confused. Here's a quote from a random website I found that explains the difference.

    "Continually" means happening frequently, over and over again, but with [discernable] intervals between the occurrences.

    Example: I continually answer questions from readers who want more information about topics discussed in JOE articles.

    "Continuously" means happening always, uninterruptedly, with no intervals at all.

    Example: The rain fell continuously for three solid days. Needless to say, the same difference holds true for "continual" and "continuous."

    Now, in another sense God's special salvific grace must be continuous towards the Christian, even a backsliding Christian. Otherwise, he would revert back to an unregenerate state. But above and beyond that bare minimum grace, is that wavering grace that God in His providence causes to fluctuate and which accounts for the possibility of backsliding or (more normally) of having "good" and "bad" days as a Christian.

    For example, God might have sanctified you to the degree that you now normally pray for someone who cuts you off while driving to work. Yet, it might so happen that today you're tempted to show him the one finger salute (if you catch my drift).

    While there are other factors, one account for that is that God's santifying grace has diminished in your life. Possibly because you haven't been doing your daily devotions and God's response has been to diminish grace (or a more neutral word might be "withdraw") because:

    1. you stopped asking for grace (and as Spurgeon said, as vessels of God's grace, we need constant refillings because we "leak")

    2. as a slight disciplinary consequence to your not availing yourself to God's means of grace.

    Now while such instances are genuine responses from God to your faithfulness or unfaithfulness, that doesn't mean that you're the ultimate source (and determiner) of the release of God's grace in your life, since both your faithfulness/unfaithfulness and His responses are equally foreordained by God.

    It is in that SENSE that I said that God's grace is continual rather than continuous. Because if it were continous and equal in every way, there would be no possibility of backsliding. And backsliding was the context of my original statement.

    Finally, it's obvious that in one sense I'm (and we're all) using metaphors adapted to our mode of existence and experience. Since, we don't know how all this *really* happens metaphysically. For example, all of our discussions use temporal language, and language of quantity and quality even though the classic view of God's eternality would seem to require that the A-Theory of Time (ala McTaggart) is false.

  7. "The Bondage of the Will"

    I've never read that, but now I feel that I will.

    Thanks for shaing those excellent quotes. Powerful thoughts from the once religious monk of good works, converted and turned saint and thelogian extraordinaire, by the grace of God alone.

  8. donsands, I copied and pasted from a free online version here (Atherton's trans.). I recommend the paperback translation by Packer and (I think) Johnston. Mine has MANY passages underlined. That's how good of a book it is.
    However, in some ways it's theologically antiquated (cf. Catholic theologian H. J. McSorley's book Luther: Right or Wrong after you read Luther's book). Nevertheless, I still HIGHLY recommend the book because it not only corrects doctrinally, but also encourages the heart.

  9. Steve, would you mind providing your exegesis of the following passage? Thanks.

    Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5; ESV)

  10. Wheat said:

    Steve, would you mind providing your exegesis of the following passage? Thanks.

    Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5; ESV)

    Hi Wheat,

    I'm not Steve, but if it's not too presumptuous of me, here's the New Bible Commentary on the verse:

    "The Corinthians may have in mind to bring charges against him, and to test his claims to be a true apostle, but here Paul tells them to examine themselves, to ensure that they are in the faith. He reminds them that Christ Jesus indwells them (with all the moral implications of that fact; cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19–20), that is, unless they fail the test! Paul then says, I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. This is somewhat surprising, for the context leads us to expect that Paul’s hope would be that the Corinthians would be the ones to pass the test. The explanation is that by testing themselves and reaching the conclusion that they do hold to the faith, the Corinthians will at the same time be acknowledging that Paul has not failed the test. If they hold the faith and Christ indwells them, that is so because of what they received through the ministry of Paul, and that in turn proves that he is a true apostle, one who has passed the test."

    Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. 2 Co 13:1

  11. Pinoy, maybe your ethnicity is filipino?

    In any event and it doesn't really matter, I believe this is a bit to elitist for God and man, man being the Elect and Called out of this world among men; and God, Who is Triune and Eternal sending Christ to be the son of Adam to save His people from their sins:::>

    "....CalvinISTS sometimes have (historically) struggled with attaining assurance....".

    Why limit your historicity only to CalvinISTS? How about all True Believers from the beginning of mankind believing in God until now?


    Yes, I'm Filipino. I wasn't being elitist when I choose "Annoyed Pinoy" as one of my google accounts. I just thought it was a funny google account name/nick because it rhymes. I choose it tongue-in-cheek. Plus there's nothing wrong with affirming one's ethnicity. We aren't Platonists who think the body is a prison we should be seeking to escape. God created the various ethnicities for a reason and for his glory. When we receive our glorified bodies at the resurrection, we won't cease having the ethnicities we had before we died (or before our "rapture"). We won't all be one neutral ethnicity. When I was a young person, even as a young Christian when people (Christian or non-Christian) made mention of their ethnicity it irritated me because they seemed to be denying the unity of mankind that the Bible teaches and to be exalting one race over another. It offended my uninformed (young) Christian sensibilities.

    But I didn't realise that to affirm an ethnicity is not to deny or denigrate other ethnicities. We're all so influenced by political correctness that we can no longer affirm the dignity of our own race. You want proof? Have any caucasian person affirm and glory in his/her race and/or ethnicity in public in America and many people will cringe (if not something worse).

    Notice the recent uproar over the all-white selection of up and coming Holywood actresses on the cover of Vanity Fair. It's hard for me to believe that all of the "freshest faces" of Hollywood actresses are white. But if it happened to be the case, then there should be nothing wrong with pointing it out. Though, admittedly, it's a subjective criteria. What exactly do they mean by "freshest"? But what if it was supposed to be a cover with a picture of the top ten athletes in the world. If they happened to all be black, is that automatically racist? I don't think so. As Christians (a fortiori Calvinists) we shouldn't be afraid of diversity.

    God calls to glory in every ethnicity including one's own. In heaven there will be polychromatic rainbows, not monochromatic shadows. In the same way, we don't denigrate the majesty of the other two persons of the Trinity when we exalt in one of the persons at a particular time or situation/context.

    Besides, if I was being elitist, why would I use the word "Annoyed". It usually has a negative connotation. Like the word "irritable" (how much more now that the phrase "Irritable Bowel Syndrome" has been coined (heh)). Though, I hate and am annoyed by (and by God's grace will continue) error, heresy, demonic lies, ignorance, sin and attacks on the Christian faith. So, in another sense it's appropriate.

    Btw, there's at least one other person using the nick "Annoyed Pinoy" on the web (which makes sense since not many words rhyme with "pinoy"). Whether he/she is Christian or not, I don't know. So, not everyone on the net who uses that nick is me.


    You said, "Why limit your historicity only to CalvinISTS? How about all True Believers from the beginning of mankind believing in God until now?"

    I thought I made that clear in my posts. I didn't want people like our brother Reiss who are critical of Calvinism to think that we're in denial of (or ignorant of) the difficulties of applied Calvinism. Moreover, I pointed out that every [other] theological position has difficulties too. I also gave a summary refutation of some of the top possible criticisms of the negative implications
    of Calvinism on the issue of "Assurance" (which is the topic that Steve and Edward were discussing), and then showed how Calvinism faired better than the other theological positions revelvant to this blog.

  14. Annoyed,

    thanks for your not so annoying replies.

    I have been to the Philippines many times and in fact I have a home over there on Bohol.

    I could carry on about that, but I won't.

    I have to retrack my quest, as now, with some grateful humiliation, I realize I misunderstood you for being a bit more elitist. It has now been and I extend my apologies instead.

    As for Ed, I would to God he would come by with a bit more ordinary means of Grace in hand.