menu

Westminster vs. Bible #1: Assurance of Salvation

Westminster vs. Bible #1: Assurance of Salvation May 19, 2021

This is a series of replies to the historically and theologically influential Calvinist Westminster Confession (1647; see background and info. on the authors). I will be particularly concentrating on the many Bible passages that it lists in supposed “proof” of its distinctively Calvinist or Protestant claims that are (from the Catholic — and we would say, biblical — perspective) false. Its words will be in blue. I use RSV in my Bible quotations.

*****

The anonymous Calvinist to whom I replied regarding “perseverance of the saints” (the “P” in the famous Calvinist acronym “TULIP”) cited Chapter XVIII: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation: sections I and II (out of four total). I then offered a Catholic counter-exegesis and interpretation of the many Bible passages set forth. This formed the framework for my present project, and I shall begin by continuing my analysis of that section.

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it:(k) yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto.(l) And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure;(m) that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance:(n) so far is it from inclining men to looseness.(o)

(k) I John 5:13; Isa. 50:10; Mark 9:24; Ps. 88 throughout; Ps. 77 to ver. 12.
(l) I Cor. 2:12; I John 4:13; Heb. 6:11, 12; Eph. 3:17, 18, 19.
(m) II Pet. 1:10.
(n) Rom. 5:1, 2, 5; Rom. 14:17; Rom. 15:13; Eph. 1:3, 4; Ps. 4:6, 7; Ps. 119:32.
(o) I John 2:1, 2; Rom. 6:1, 2; Tit. 2:11, 12, 14; II Cor. 7:1; Rom. 8:1, 12; I John 3:2, 3; Ps. 130:4; I John 1:6, 7.

Isn’t it interesting, first of all, that, having forsaken the apostolic, Catholic, biblical teaching of an infallible teaching Church and an infallible tradition (but not an infallible Scripture), Calvinists now fall back on essentially binding (what I would classify as “de facto infallible”) Confessions and a supposed “infallible assurance” of salvation? Ironies abound there; but I digress.

It’s good at least that such “assurance” is thought to to not belong “to the essence of faith”. I take this (semi-cynic that I am) as a subtle acknowledgment that the issue is not so clear-cut after all. And so Mark 9:24 is cited (“I believe; help my unbelief!”) and the almost despairing, existential doubts of Psalm 88 the first half of Psalm 77, as indicative of the “difficulties” of the journey to assurance. I do appreciate the nuance. Despite these barriers the believer nevertheless can and (in Calvinism) inevitably does “attain” this “infallible assurance.” Then we are given passages which supposedly indicate such attainment:

1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Understanding God’s gifts is one thing, but it doesn’t follow that we “infallibly” know the future (re our final salvation). The same Paul states in the same epistle:

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 13:9, 12 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; . . . [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.

He certainly doesn’t appear to know the future: including details of his own eternal fate. But Calvinists are not renowned for their uncertainty about anything.

1 John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in him an

d he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

Absolutely, and praise God for it. But this says nothing about unending duration of the indwelling in us, or of eschatological salvation. Hebrews specifically warned of those who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless fell away:

Hebrews 6:4-8 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, [5] and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, [6] if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. [7] For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. [8] But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.

Ironically, the Confession then cites a passage from five verses later:

Hebrews 6:11-12 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, [12] so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Things must be read in context. This was obviously a continuation of what came before (and the original Bible did not have verses, either), though there is the qualification of 6:9: “in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation.” But 6:12 uses the terminology of “may not” rather than “will not” or “will never be”: which would be the language of absolute assurance and impossibility of a counter-eventuality. The author issues stern warnings against apostasy later in the book, too:

Hebrews 10:26-29, 36, 39 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. [28] A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? . . . [36] For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . . [39] But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

What is impossible [loss of salvation, according to Calvinists] is not warned about as a possibility. That would be logically nonsensical.

Ephesians 3:17-19  and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God.

The not-absolute term “may” occurs three times: once in each verse. It’s conditional language, as in the Old testament:

Deuteronomy 19:13  Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you. (cf. 19:10; 21:8-9)

Of course, the Israelites didn’t always do as they were commanded, and so

in those instances they were judged rather than blessed:

2 Kings 24:4 and also for the innocent blood that he [Manasseh] had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon. (cf. 21:16; Ps 106:38)

Paul discusses (or so it sure seems) the possibility of falling away in Ephesians 4 and 5, as I discussed at some length in my previous paper on perseverance. I also discussed there, 2 Peter 1:10 and Romans 5:2, 5. We have no disagreement on the importance of “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17; cf. 15:13), nor with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3), nor with being “holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4), nor with “joy in my heart” (Ps 4:7), nor with following the “commandments” due to more “understanding” from the Lord (Ps 119:32). No need to argue about what we agree upon. And Catholics and Calvinists fully agree about the wrongness of antinomianism (the topic of the last section of XVIII. 3).

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light:(p) yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived;(q) and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.(r)

(p) Cant. 5:2, 3, 6; Ps. 51:8, 12, 14; Eph. 4:30, 31; Ps. 77:1 to 10; Matt. 26:69, 70, 71, 72; Ps. 31:22; Ps. 88 throughout; Isa. 50:10.
(q) I John 3:9; Luke 22:32; Job 13:15; Ps. 73:15; Ps. 51:8, 12; Isa. 50:10.
(r) Mic. 7:7, 8, 9; Jer. 32:40; Isa. 54:7, 8, 9, 10; Ps. 22:1; Ps. 88 throughout.

We also have no disagreement about Christians too often being guilty of spiritual “negligence” or “falling into some special sin” or succumbing to “vehement temptation”. But the next section contends that such setbacks never succeed in taking away grace and/or salvation. This is where the Divines ignore the best biblical arguments referring to falling from grace. Let’s see what they propose.

I dealt with 1 John 3:9 last time. It must be understood in the context of the book, which alternates between non-literal hyperbole (which is what 1 Jn 3:9 is) and literal statements. Once that is understood, it offers no warrant at all for a scenario whereby no one can fall from grace, once attained. 

Luke 22:32 “but I have prayed for you [Peter] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

Why is Jesus praying for something that can’t possibly happen, anyway? Calvinism says that Peter’s faith cannot ultimately fail; that he can’t possibly fall away. Jesus wouldn’t, for example, pray that Peter would spend eternity in both heaven and hell, because that is impossible by the laws of logic and according to the revelation of theology. Therefore, this verse and saying of Jesus shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t be enshrined in the inspired Bible, according to the logic of Calvinism. Nor does it follow that no one’s faith can ever fail, because the faith of Peter: chosen by Jesus to lead His disciples and His new Church, did not fail to the extent of losing his salvation.

Job 13:15 Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; yet I will defend my ways to his face. 

Job could do that and be saved in the end because God had already stated about him, that “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). Job could spiritually survive the horrors that he experienced. But not all can, with far less suffering. The Bible also talks about kings like Saul, Solomon, and others who fell away from grace. By ignoring those examples, the Divines are telling half-truths; only half the story.

Psalm 73 likewise describes a Job-like experience. This person, too, survived it, but the text doesn’t deny that others won’t persevere. Thus, so far, we are presented with examples of three holy men: Peter, Job, and Asaph, a Psalm-writer. That doesn’t represent the entire human race, and ignores the “counter-cases.”

King David (citation of Ps 51:8, 12) perseveres because God had made an eternal covenant with him, and because he was the “man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). Now that’s a fourth extraordinary man, made out to represent the eternal salvation of all who follow God for any length of time, in denial that they could possibly fall away. This is what David said about his son Solomon:

1 Chronicles 28:20 . . . the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.

1 Chronicles 29:1 . . . Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen . . . 

God greatly blessed Solomon:

1 Kings 4:29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore,

Solomon loved God, but wasn’t fully obedient:

1 Kings 3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places.

He later fell into even greater sin:

1 Kings 11:1-9  Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, E’domite, Sido’nian, and Hittite women, [2] from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. [3] He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. [4] For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. [5] For Solomon went after Ash’toreth the goddess of the Sido’nians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. [6] So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. [7] Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. [8] And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. [9] And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,

Baptist preacher Alexander Maclaren wrote about Solomon:

Did he himself take part in idolatrous worship, or simply, with the foolish fondness of an old sensualist, let these foreign women have their shrines? The darker supposition seems correct. The expression that he ‘went after other gods’ is commonly used to mean actual idolatry; and his wives could scarcely have been said to have ‘turned away his heart,’ if all that he did was to wink at, or even to facilitate, their worship. But, on the other hand, he does not seem to have abandoned Jehovah’s worship. The charge against him is that ‘his heart was not perfect,’ or wholly devoted to the Lord, or, as verse 6 puts it, that he ‘went not fully’ after the Lord. His was a case of halting between two opinions, or rather, of trying to hold both at once. He wanted to be a worshipper of Jehovah and of these idols also.

Was his apostasy final? Yes, so far as we can gather from the narrative. Not only is there no statement of his repentance, but the silence with which he receives the divine announcement of retribution is suspicious; and the prophecy of Ahijah to Jeroboam, which obviously comes later in time than the threatenings of the text, treats the idolatry as still existing (verse 33). Further, we learn from 2 Kings xxiii.13 that the shrines which he built stood till Josiah’s time. If Solomon had ever abandoned his idolatry, he would not have left them standing. So we seem to have in him a case of a fall which knew no recovery, an eclipse which did not pass.

Judaism appears to take a dim or mixed view as to Solomon’s salvation:

His Final Fate.

The disagreement among the Rabbis with regard to the personality of Solomon extends also to his future life (“‘olam ha-ba”). According to Rab, the members of the Great Synagogue purposed including Solomon among those denied a share in the future life, when the image of David appeared, imploring them not to do so. The vision, however, was not heeded; nor was a fire from heaven, which licked the seats on which they sat, regarded until a bat ḳol forbade them to do as they had purposed (Sanh. 104b; Yer. Sanh. x. 2; Cant. R. i. 1). On the other hand, Solomon is considered to resemble his father in that all his sins were forgiven by God (Cant. R. l.c.). Moreover, David is said to have left a son worthy of him (B. B. 116a). When R. Eliezer was asked for his opinion of Solomon’s future life, he gave his pupils an evasive answer, showing that he had formed no opinion concerning it (Tosef., Yeb. iii. 4; Yoma 66b; comp. Tos. ad loc.). (Jewish Encyclopedia: “Solomon”)

Micah 7:7-9 refers to the prophet’s own deliverance. Of course! He was a prophet! This tells us nothing as to the impossibility of all who ever wholeheartedly followed Christ at any time to ever fall away.

Jeremiah 32:40 and Isaiah 54:7-10: whatever it means for all Israel to be saved or redeemed in the millennial kingdom or whatever one thinks is being referred to, doesn’t tell us anything about whether anyone can ever fall away from grace and salvation.

Conclusion: these passages, collectively, do not prove that no one can ever lose salvation and fall out of grace (i.e., absolute assurance of salvation), and the Divines ignored a host of passages that clearly contradict their false doctrine. I’ve observed over and over again that distinctively Protestant apologetics is largely about avoiding like the plague Bible passages that plainly teach Catholic doctrines, and only utilizing ones that at first glance, appear to support a Protestant position, when it disagrees with received apostolic / patristic / Catholic tradition and orthodoxy (but upon close examination do not).

***

Related Reading

*
*
*
*
Dialogue on Luther’s “Getting to a Gracious God” (vs. Lutheran historian “CPA”) [6-4-06]

St. Paul: Two-Faced Re Unbelief? (Romans 1 “vs.” Epistles) [7-5-10]

Absolute Assurance of Salvation?: Debunking “Prooftexts” [Oct. 2010]

Salvation, Eternal Security, & Grace: Dialogue w Bethany Kerr [4-13-15]

“Once Saved, Always Saved”: Is it Biblical? Antinomian? [8-18-15]

“Reply to Calvin” #1: The Elect [3-3-17]

“Reply to Calvin” #3: Synergism, Grace Alone, & the Elect [4-3-17]

Vs. James White #4: Eternal Security of Believers? [9-19-19]

Vs. James White #7: My Refutations of Calvinism & His Non-Replies [11-12-19]

Reply to Protestant Challenges Re Eternal Security (vs. Jason Engwer) [7-26-20]

Defense of Bible Passages vs. Eternal Security & Faith Alone (vs. Jason Engwer) [8-12-20]

The Bible is Clear: ‘Eternal Security’ is a Manmade Doctrine [National Catholic Register, 8-17-20]

Eternal Security vs. the Bible [National Catholic Register, 8-23-20]

***

Photo credit: title page of the first published edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

Summary: The Westminster Divines don’t prove absolute assurance of salvation from Scripture, & ignore a host of passages that refute that. Protestants can’t be too careful what to ignore in the Bible!

***

"A while back I was following Taylor Marshall online but I stopped. His form of ..."

Skojec Loathes Traditionis; Illustrates Why it ..."

Browse Our Archives