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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
The sense in which this term is used theologically is that of a firm persuasion of our being in a state of salvation. The doctrine itself has been matter of dispute among divines, and when considered as implying not only that we are now accepted of God through Christ, but that we shall be finally saved, or when it is so taken as to deny a state of salvation to those who are not so assured as to be free from all doubt; it is in many views questionable. Assurance of final salvation must stand or fall with the doctrine of personal unconditional election, and is chiefly held by divines of the Calvinistic school; and that nothing is an evidence of a state of present salvation but so entire a persuasion as amounts to assurance in the strongest sense, might be denied upon the ground that degrees of grace, of real saving grace, are undoubtedly mentioned in Scripture. Assurance, however, is spoken of in the New Testament, and stands prominent as one of the leading doctrines of religious experience. We have "full assurance of understanding;" that is, a perfect knowledge and entire persuasion of the truth of the doctrine of Christ. The "assurance of faith," in Hebrews 9:22 , is an entire trust in the sacrifice and priestly office of Christ. The "assurance of hope," mentioned in Hebrews 6:11 , relates to the heavenly inheritance, and must necessarily imply a full persuasion that we are "the children of God," and therefore "heirs of his glory;" and from this passage it must certainly be concluded that such an assurance is what every Christian ought to aim at, and that it is attainable. This, however, does not exclude occasional doubt and weakness of faith, from the earlier stages of his experience.
A comforting and abiding persuasion of present acceptance by God, through Christ, we may therefore affirm, must in various degrees follow true faith. In support of this view, the following remarks may be offered:—
If it is the doctrine of the inspired records, that man is by nature prone to evil, and that in practice he violates that law under which as a creature he is placed, and is thereby exposed to punishment;—if also it is there stated, that an act of grace and pardon is promised on the conditions of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;—if that repentance implies consideration of our ways, a sense of the displeasure of Almighty God, contrition of heart, and consequently trouble and grief of mind, mixed, however, with a hope inspired by the promise of forgiveness, and which leads to earnest supplication for the actual pardon of sin so promised, it will follow from these premises—either,
1. That forgiveness is not to be expected till after the termination of our course of probation, that is, in another life; and that, therefore, this trouble and apprehension of mind can only be assuaged by the hope we may have of a favourable final decision on our case;—or,
2. That sin is, in the present life, forgiven as often as it is thus repented of, and as often as we exercise the required and specific acts of trust in the merits of our Saviour; but that this forgiveness of our sins is not in any way made known unto us: so that we are left, as to our feelings, in precisely the same state as if sin were not forgiven till after death, namely, in grief and trouble of mind, relieved only by hope;—or,
3. The Scriptural view is, that when sin is forgiven by the mercy of God through Christ, we are, by some means, assured of it, and peace and satisfaction of mind take the place of anxiety and fear.
The first of these conclusions is sufficiently disproved by the authority of Scripture, which exhibits justification as a blessing attainable in this life, and represents it as actually experienced by true believers. "Therefore being justified by faith." "There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus." "Whosoever believeth is justified from all things," &c. The quotations might be multiplied, but these are decisive. The notion that though an act of forgiveness may take place, we are unable to ascertain a fact so important to us, is also irreconcilable with many scriptures in which the writers of the New Testament speak of an experience, not confined personally to themselves, or to those Christians who were endowed with spiritual gifts, but common to all Christians. "Being justified by faith we have peace with God." "We joy in God, by whom we have received the reconciliation." "Being reconciled unto God by the death of his Son." "We have not received the spirit of bondage again unto fear, but the spirit of adoption, by which we cry, Abba, Father." To these may be added innumerable passages which express the comfort, the confidence, and the joy of Christians; their "friendship" with God; their "access" to him; their entire union and delightful intercourse with him; and their absolute confidence in the success of their prayers. All such passages are perfectly consistent with deep humility, and self-diffidence; but they are irreconcilable with a state of hostility between the parties, and with an unascertained and only hoped-for restoration of friendship and favour.
An assurance, therefore, that the sins which are felt to "be a burden intolerable" are forgiven, and that the ground of that apprehension of future punishment which causes the penitent to " bewail his manifold sins," is taken away by restoration to the favour of the offended God, must be allowed, or nothing would be more incongruous and impossible than the comfort, the peace the rejoicing of spirit, which in the Scriptures are attributed to believers.
Few Christians of evangelical views have, therefore, denied the possibility of our becoming assured of the favour of God in a sufficient degree to give substantial comfort to the mind. Their differences have rather respected the means by which the contrite become assured of that change in their relation to Almighty God, whom they have offended, which in Scripture is expressed by the term justification. The question has been, (where the notion of an assurance of eternal salvation has not been under discussion,) by what means the assurance of the divine favour is conveyed to the mind. Some have concluded that we obtain it by inference, others by the direct testimony of the Holy Spirit to the mind. See.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Assurance'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/a/assurance.html. 1831-2.