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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Assurance (2)

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ASSURANCE.—This term stands for the fact and the doctrine of personal fellowship with God in Jesus Christ, made certain to the consciousness of the believer by the direct witness of the Holy Spirit. The prophetic ideal appears in the promise of a peaceful work of righteousness, the effect of which is quietness and confidence for ever (Isaiah 32:17). In Matthew 11:27 Jesus declares that ‘no one knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ Such a personal revelation of God to the believer in Christ would seem to be necessarily obvious and assuring to him who receives it. The immediate context also gives assurance of rest and comfort to the souls of all who labour and are heavy laden, and who come to Christ for help. This teaching is confirmed and enhanced by the doctrine of the Gospel of St. John concerning the Comforter. This heavenly Comforter, the Holy Spirit of truth, bears witness of Christ, and makes known the things of Christ, unto those who receive and love Him (John 15:26; John 16:14). The world cannot receive this Spirit of truth, for He is an invisible presence, known only to the believer with whom and in whom He abides (John 14:17). Those disciples in whom the Spirit thus dwells are loved by the Father and realize the manifestation of Christ, so that Father, Son, and Spirit come unto them and make their abode with them (John 14:21; John 14:23). The doctrine also finds noteworthy confirmation in the First Epistle of St. John (1 John 3:19-24; 1 John 4:13), where it is said that the Spirit of God and of Christ abides in the believer, and assures (persuades) his heart with the Divine conviction of His immediate presence, so that he has great ‘boldness toward God’ (παρρησίαν πρὸς τὸν θεόν).

That the Holy Spirit bears immediate and direct witness within the human spirit to the fact of one’s being a child of God, is the explicit teaching of St. Paul (Romans 8:16). In Colossians 2:2 we note the remarkable expression about Christian hearts being comforted and ‘knit together in love unto all riches of the full assurance (πληροφορία, ‘fulness’) of understanding’ in knowing the mystery of God. The same truth appears in the phrases ‘full assurance of hope’ and ‘full assurance of faith’ (Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares faith itself to be ‘assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1).

This Biblical doctrine of Assurance presents one of the most precious truths of the gospel of Christ. It presupposes, as a matter of course, the believer’s personal acquaintance with the saving truths of Christianity and the facts of Divine revelation; but it has been needlessly complicated with the dogmas of Election and the final Perseverance of the Saints. It should not be construed to involve a present assurance of final salvation, but it should be defined and guarded against the various delusions of mere subjective feeling. A spiritual conviction, however deep and assuring, needs the constant test of verification in a pure and upright life. It must have the ‘testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world’ (2 Corinthians 1:12). The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25) must supplement and continuously establish the personal witness of the Spirit. Therefore Jesus Himself gave the important admonition that the real character of a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

Literature.—Calvin, Institutes, bk. iii. ch. ii. §§ 15–17; Westminster Confession, ch. xviii.; W. Cunningham, “The Reformers and the Doctrine of Assurance,’ the third essay in his Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation; John Wesley, Sermons on ‘The Witness of the Spirit,’ and ‘The Witness of our own Spirit’; Richard Watson, Theol. Institutes, vol. ii. pp. 269–284; Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. iii. pp. 106, 107; Miley, Systematic Theology, vol. ii. pp. 339–353; Bishop Sherlock, Works, vol. i. Discourse 8; R. N. Young, The Witness of the Spirit, Fernley Lecture of 1882; Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, Part iii., Introd.; Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, vol. iv. p. 184; J. Agar Beet, Romans, 231 ff.; J. H. Newman, Parochial Sermons, v. 239; J. Martineau, National Duties, 146 ff.

M. S. Terry.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Assurance (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/assurance-2.html. 1906-1918.

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