By Anthony Hayden
Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace. Parsons, Burk ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006. Hardback, 224 pages. $ 18.00
(Review copy courtesy of P&R Publishing)
Purchase: P&R; WTS; CBD; Amazon
Special Features: Notes, Index of Scripture, Index of Subjects
ISBNs: 1596380292 / 9781596380295
Subjects: Perseverance of the Saints; Eternal Security; Assurance in Salvation
Authors: Burk Parsons; Philip Ryken; Al Mohler; Richard Philips; Sinclair Ferguson; Joel Beeke; John MacArthur; Keith Mathison; Jerry Bridges; and R.C. Sproul
Burk Parsons is minister of congregational life at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He is also editor of Tabletalk, a monthly magazine from Ligonier Ministries. He received a degree in Biblical Studies from Trinity College and Masters of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary.
“It is dubious to doubt the indubitable”—Sproul (p. 178).
Almost every Christian will struggle with doubts about his personal salvation at some point in his Christian walk. Doubt can come from within or without and can come as a nagging drip or a flood of despair. Assured by God seeks to emphasize the promises from God and the character of God as the surest foundation for a strong assurance of salvation. This book provides ample supply to the soul that longs to know the lasting peace that is available in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Assured by God is a collection of essays from some of today’s most respected, reformed theologians. Men such as Philip Ryken, Sinclair Ferguson, Jerry Bridges, and John MacArthur expertly handle different primary passages concerning the assurance of salvation. The contributors also use the doctrines of grace as an environment in which to address some of the specifics of the assurance issue. Article 18 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is an important starting point for many of these authors. The ultimate goal of the book is “to help Christians understand the true nature of the assurance of salvation so that they might grow in their confidence of what God has wrought in them” (p 8).
In the first essay, “Our Sure Foundation,” Burk Parsons draws our attention to the Reformed doctrine known as the perseverance of the saints. He makes a strong, biblical case for the fact “that just as our salvation is a gift from God, so our perseverance is a gift from God” (pp. 19-20). Perseverance is not a work of our own. Perseverance must always be balanced with preservation. “If it is God who accepts us, it is God who keeps us” (p. 27). We are called to persevere, but God promises to preserve.
Philip Ryken gives a beautiful exposition of Ephesians 1:3-14 in his chapter, “Assured from Beginning to End.” This chapter alone makes the whole book a worthy read. The grandeur of the gospel was revealed in stunning language, and the gospel is summarized in one Word: Christ. Ryken focuses on assurance as the logical end of the doctrine of election. Since Christ is the center and focus of the gospel, the Holy Spirit steps in as the guarantee of the gospel. In Ephesians 1, the Spirit is both Seal and Earnest (down payment) of our salvation. To doubt one’s salvation is to doubt the decision of the Father, the work of the Son, and the guarantee of the Spirit.
The faithfulness of God and the faith of a believer are foundational to the doctrine of assurance according to Dr. Mohler’s essay, “Guarded Through Faith.” One of the most helpful aspects of this chapter was the brief overview of assurance in church history. The bulk of his essay tries to give better understanding to Hebrews 6:4-8. In the end, Mohler says, “The gift of assurance rests on the biblical doctrine of perseverance” (p. 64), and assurance and perseverance “take us back to the very essence of the gospel—we are saved by grace through faith—nothing more, nothing less” (p. 67).
Next, in the chapter titled “Assured in Christ” Richard Phillips approaches the assurance issue through the doctrine of particular redemption. The cross work of Christ accomplishes redemption, and the regenerating work of the Spirit applies redemption. A short summary of the tests of faith from 1 John rounds out the chapter.
Justification is the theme of Fergusson’s chapter, “Assurance Justified.” He explains that justification is a term that describes one’s legal standing in Christ right now. Justification is not something that will eventually happen, but it is something that has already been declared and settled. Case closed! Fergusson scratches the surface of such passages as Romans 3-4, James 2, and Romans 6.
“The Fullness of Grace,” written by Joel Beeke, once again emphasizes the need for faith in order to bolster assurance. This chapter presents a wonderful theology of faith that walks its way through Scripture from Abraham in Genesis 15 to the Apostle John in his first epistle. Beeke’s conclusion is that “Assurance is covenantally based, sealed with the blood of Christ, and grounded ultimately in eternal election” (p. 123).
Next, John MacArthur writes concerning “The Glory of True Repentance.” He answers the question “What is repentance?” and seeks to clarify the fruits of repentance. His key point throughout is that “self-examination [is] an essential prerequisite for authentic assurance…self examination is a necessary aspect of gaining true assurance” (p. 134).
“God’s Means of Assurance” serves as a commentary on the answer to question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Keith Mathison fleshes out the three main means of assurance, which are the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. By sufficiently attending to these three exercises of faith, assurance will grow by degrees. The chapter lacked a conclusion, but the imperative to practice these means was evident.
The last actual chapter is “The Blessing of Discipline” by Jerry Bridges. It did seem a bit odd to have a chapter on discipline in a book about assurance, but the argument to have it included was adequately made as Hebrews 12:1-11 was expounded. Bridges does a masterful job of revealing discipline and chastisement as a proof of sonship. He goes on to say that is it proof not only of sonship but also of fatherly love. There is also profit to be gained in adversity. We are not only punished for sin but also molded to perfection. Discipline and adversity are inevitable parts of the life of every truly born-again believer.
R.C. Sproul concludes the book with an epilogue on “The Anatomy of Doubt and Assurance.” Sproul removes emotion and makes “doubt and assurance . . . matters of the mind” (p. 173). He gives a brief overview of the philosophy of Descartes and his concept of doubt. Sproul’s philosophical approach to assurance soundly answers potential questions from those who let their intellect get in the way of faith. Doubt must always lead us back to the “first principles” (p. 177).
This book is an excellent resource for all who have struggled, are struggling, will struggle, or deal with those who are struggling with this issue of assurance. It was an easy read that was intended for the lay reader; however, some of the theology might be hard to swallow for a reader who might not be fully persuaded of a Reformed position. But overall it is a thorough handling of the topic. The format of the book presents a slight weakness in the area of redundancy. Some authors cover the same introductory material before they get to their specific topic. There are also some unity issues but no glaring contradictions.
My time in this book was extremely profitable on a personal level (especially Ryken’s essay). It was truly an encouragement to know that one does not have to be alone in times of doubting. Each chapter begins with a quote from church history addressing assurance. Those quotes are a highlight of the book, and they reveal that doubt has been around for at least a couple of centuries. With the right foundation and proper thinking, doubt should have no place in the life of a believer. Doubters should read this book with an open Bible and an open heart. The blessings of salvation are wide and varied, and the peace of full assurance is beyond words yet still attainable.
In closing, Sproul quotes these words sewn into the doublet of Pascal (p. 179): Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
|Anthony Hayden currently serves as the music director of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church (Lebanon, IN). Prior to his present ministry, he and his wife, Mary, taught for two years at a Christian school on the island of Saipan in the western Pacific. Anthony graduated from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) in 2000 with a B.Mus. in Church Music and an M.A. in Teaching Bible in 2002. Anthony and Mary have a one-year-old daughter, Mercy.|