LOOKING TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP JESUS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. 18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known].

Friday, July 31, 2009

An Email Chat With Pastor Reid Ferguson

Sir,

In talking to some free gracers via the blogs I have encountered two who claim that Puritan theology landed them in the emergency room at the hospital. They claim that said theology brought them to such a point of despair as far as assurance was concerned that they ended up being stressed so badly that a trip to emergency was necessary. Is it possible that their claims should be considered? Did the Puritans go too far? Were they really THAT bad as far as assurance in salvation was concerned? No, I'm not about to embrace classic dispy soteriology, but I DO wonder about whether or not time should be given to consider the possibility that the Puritans had gone too far in some areas.

Mark

Pastor Reid's response -

You are quite correct Mark. It is often true that those "serious" about their spirituality, begin the slide into pietism - a kind of self-imposed legalism over oneself, rooted in the exercise of ruthless, regular, self-examination. And, their sense of standing with God flows from how they feel about these self-examinations. While there is a certain measure of self-examination which is OK - especially when one is brought to see there might be an issue below the surface which needs attention - the most regular result is depression. Ones eyes have been turned from Christ as our only righteousness, to preoccupation with remaining sin. The Puritans in some cases drove this pious sounding activity to a tortuous art form. Everyone's assurance of salvation was connected to these exercises. And so precious few of them had any assurance at all. If they did, it was in thinking "at least I'm not as bad as THAT guy".

Calvin on the other hand took an entirely different approach. He told those troubled about their salvation status that the only safe course was to go back and look at the Cross - not at their own "progress". Am I trusting Christ alone? Or am I trusting the progress I think I should have made, or should be making, or that others tell me I have made? So he told them all - just go back and look at the Cross. There is your salvation.

Bunyan's trials over assurance were not resolved (and he suffered excuciatingly for years) until it dawned upon him that his righteousness was not to be detected in his own heart - for he was still full of sin, but was a justified - sinner. Thus he concluded, his righteousness was in Heaven, not in his own heart and mind. He (like Luther) was saved by an alien righteousness, not his own.

This is why Luther's central thesis that the Christian is "simul iustice et peccatore" (simultaneously sinner and saint) is essential. We DO NOT GET RID OF ANY SIN IN THIS LIFE. We do gain ground over some sins - the expression of our sinfulness - but the sin principle remains in us and always looking for ascendancy. Our only hope is in Christ's righteousness IMPUTED to us, not INFUSED within us. Yes, the Spirit has taken up residence and is in the process of freeing us from sin's bondage, but its presence is not one whit lessened until we leave these bodies. It is like we have a cancer of the soul When we were justified, the cancer's spread stopped. It can no longer continue its forward march to consume us. However, it has not been excised. It remains. And the damage it has already done - while in the process of being healed - is not healed all at once. And, its propensity to break out given even the slightest chance is always present. What he have though, is a pronouncement now of our FINAL diagnosis.

The object in this is that we can be JOYFUL as we set about the lifelong work of co-laboring with the Spirit in attacking the strongholds of sin within us. Sometimes, we will suffer great wounds in that battle - but ultimate victory is promised. Sometimes, we suffer "fatal" wounds in the battle, but because we have eternal life - not temporary eternal life" - after we suffer a death blow, we rise up yet again to fight until at last we conquer.

The Believer HAS to live in the full knowledge that a. Sin will be with him to the end, and b. That God has promised when this is over - we WILL be conformed to Christ's image. He cannot fail, even though we fail constantly. Christ is our ONLY righteousness, we have none of our own. We rest in His, and do not plunge ourselves into the terrifying depths of our own remaining sin.

In this regard, the Puritans, the Pietistic Lutherans, the Perfectionistic theology of Methodism and the Salvation Army and Pentecostal Holiness and other ALL went too far.

Ron Rosenbladt tells of Professor Mansky who used to start a freshman course in Christianity every year with this digest of Christian thought:

Rome = Law
Lutheranism = Law/Gospel
Evangelical & Wesleyanism = Law/Gospel/Law

In other words, salvation in Rome consists all in law. In Luther's theology, it began in Law bringing us to and end of our selves, despairing of hope - and then Gospel turning us to trust in Christ and staying there. Evangelicalism & Wesleyanism said: Yes, the law drives us to Christ in despair, then we are saved by believing the Gospel, and then we go back to the Law for help in sanctification. THAT is the error. Not remaining in the Gospel. The Believer must live there, not simply begin there. In fact, if I might improve on Luther's thought - it should be Law - and when the Law has done its work - Gospel - and then Spirit. Actually trusting the indwelling Spirit to hold sin at bay, and gradually bring us to Christ's likeness. Anything else will always find either ourselves as individuals, or the Church trying to take the role of the Holy Spirit and produce the results by other means. It is a deadly deception.

We are holy IN Christ - and thus FREE in Him - and so we can go on seeking to walk with Him without any fear of condemnation ever again. This is what it means to believe the Gospel. And precious few of us really live there anymore.

Pastor Reid's blog can be found here, http://responsivereiding.com/

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9 Comments:

Blogger mark pierson said...

WONDERFUL!!!

And since I am not even a fraction as articulate as Reid I shall now "adopt" his email response to me as my own position paper on assurance.

Always reforming,
Mark

July 31, 2009 11:44 AM

 
Blogger mark pierson said...

The following is from my posting on this blog back in 2006 -

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Spurgeon on Assurance

"The Holy Spirit, who enabled me to believe, gave me peace through believing. I felt as sure that I was forgiven as before I felt sure of condemnation. I had been certain of my condemnation because the Word of God declared it, and my conscience bore witness to it, but when the Lord justified me, I was equally certain by the same witness. The Word of the Lord in scripture saith, "He that believeth on Him is not condemned," and my conscience bore witness that I believed, and that God in pardoning me was just. Thus I had the witness of the Holy Spirit and also my own conscience, and these two agreed in one."

Taken From C.H.Spurgeon Autobiography: Vol.1 "The Early Years" page 92

In this same paragraph Spurgeon goes on to put down the teachings of a certain Dr. Johnson who held to the idea that no man could have assurance of faith. Spurgeon said that such a man was no reliable judge of theology. He added that Dr. Johnson should have studied his Bible a little more, and have a little more enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, then he too would have come to know his own pardon.

I whole heartedly agree!

I am sick of these super-spiritual people, who claim to be Calvinist, running around Christendom claiming that no man can have assurance. What a lie!

posted by mark pierson at 12:14 PM | 8 comments links to this post

July 31, 2009 12:25 PM

 
Blogger jazzycat said...

Mark,
Very good post. Pastor Reid really made some great points.....

August 04, 2009 11:43 AM

 
Blogger mark pierson said...

Wayne,
Over the past couple of years I've seen on the web accounts from scholarly men of how Calvin's views of assurance differed greatly from those of the Puritans - Calvin relying more so on "objective" assurance, that derived from the promises of God's word. That, as opposed to "subjective" assurance, that derived through self-examination, or, as it is also known as "experimental" assurance. In my humble opinion, that which I arrived at just two short years ago, "subjective" or "experimental" assurance is unscriptural.

August 04, 2009 12:06 PM

 
Blogger mark pierson said...

The moment one's eyes leave focus on Christ THAT is the moment one's eyes are in the wrong place. The saints should not take their eyes off of Christ for even a second.

2 Cor. 3:18

August 04, 2009 12:12 PM

 
Blogger jazzycat said...

Mark,
I agree. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. as Rom. 8:1 states.

If one's assurance is based on works, I think this is an indication that he is basing his justification on those same works even though he professes justification by faith alone! That is what your pastor expressed so well in this post.

Please tell him how much I appreciated hearing him give this message!

August 04, 2009 10:15 PM

 
Blogger jazzycat said...

Mark,
I think I am going to post a series of short posts at our True Free Grace blog that points to Christ.

August 05, 2009 6:11 PM

 
Blogger Looker4522 said...

A direct and interesting question and a plain response. Beautiful! Quite a few years ago I purchased No Condemnation: A New Theology of Assurance by Michael Eaton. It addresses this issue and if I remember correctly it is in agreement with what has been written here. Thanks Mark.

August 28, 2009 10:26 PM

 
Blogger mark pierson said...

Thanks for your comment, looker!

August 28, 2009 11:37 PM

 

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