Assurance: a Pastoral Conversation

“Do you believe that man’s condition is such that he is in need of salvation?”  The man responded promptly, “Well, yes, of course.”  The minister leaned even further toward the man making him a bit uncomfortable.  “But,” said the minister, “do you believe that God has promised to save men and that this plan is revealed in the pages of God’s holy Word?”  Again, the answer was released as on a spring, “Yes, of course I do.  But, Pastor, my problem is not that!”  The pastor looked intently as if to say, “Well?”

 

The best doctors are diagnosticians.  Those who have hidden the taxonomy of pathogens in their cerebral cortex and are able to ply their knowledge to the often distorted complex of a patient’s woes – that, is a doctor indeed.  The best of the Puritans were the best of spiritual doctors.  Let’s imagine that the year is 1735 and a farmer slogged the eight miles to the church on a Monday morning in late fall.  Cold and a bit agitated he finally found himself seated on an uncomfortable chair in the pastor’s study. His words came haltingly, “Pastor, I’ve been coming to church ever since I’ve been an infant in my mother’s arms.  But after your sermon yesterday, and a few before that, I don’t have any assurance of my salvation.”

With that the man’s spiritual doctor leaned forward.  In the light of the study the man looked fierce and kind all at once.  After a brief pause, the pastor asked, “Do you believe that man’s condition is such that he is in need of salvation?”  The man responded promptly, “Well, yes, of course.”  The minister leaned even further toward the man making him a bit uncomfortable.  “But,” said the minister, “do you believe that God has promised to save men and that this plan is revealed in the pages of God’s holy Word?”  Again, the answer was released as on a spring, “Yes, of course I do.  But, Pastor, my problem is not that!”  The pastor looked intently as if to say, “Well?”

With that the man explained.  I went to hear Mr. Jonathan Edwards preach not long ago and he helped me to frame my anxieties.  I know what he said, because I said it over and over until I had it committed to memory.  He said, “Faith is belief, in its general sense, of what God has revealed to us in the Gospel.  He has revealed to us that all who believe will be saved, and we must believe that on the ground of the Gospel assertion: but He has not revealed to us in the Gospel that I, Jonathan Edwards, of Northampton, shall be saved,….”[1]  The man slumped.  “That is my problem, Pastor.  My name, like Mr. Edwards, is not in that most holy Book.”

With that the Pastor took out some loose pages.  He told the man about an assembly which had met in England in 1643.  He even had a copy of the Confession which the assembly had produced, which was written on the pages he uncovered from his desk.  The man was aware of it and had heard the pastor speak of it but since he was unable to read himself he had never seen a copy.

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