Sect. 2.
Of Certainty
of salvation.

The second property of conscience is an infallible certainty of the pardon of sin and life everlasting. That this point may be cleared, I will handle the question between us and the Papists touching the certainty of salvation. And that I may precede in order, we must distinguish the kinds of certainty. First of all certainty is either infallible or conjectural: Conjectural, which is not so evident, because it is grounded only upon likelihoods. The second all Papists grant, but the first they deny in the matter of salvation. Again, certainty is either of faith, or experimental, which Papists call moral. Certainty of faith, whereby anything is certainly believed: and it is either general or special. General certainty, is to believe assuredly that the word of God is truth itself, and this both we and Papists allow. Special certainty, is by faith to apply the promise of salvation to ourselves, and to believe without doubt, that remission of sins by Christ and life everlasting belong unto us. This kind of certainty we hold and maintain, and Papists with one consent deny it; acknowledging no assurance but by hope. Moral certainty, is that which precedes from sanctification and good works, as signs and tokens of truth faith. This we both allow, yet with some difference. For they esteem all certainty that comes by works to be uncertain and often to deceive: but we do otherwise, if the works be done in uprightness of heart.

The question is, whether a man in this life may ordinarily without revelation, be infallibly certain of his own salvation, first of all and principally by faith, and then secondly, by such works as are inseparable companions of faith. We hold this for a clear and evident principle of the word of God, and contrariwise the Papists deny it wholly. I will therefore prove the truth by some arguments, and then answer the common objections.1

Arg. 1. That which is the Spirit of God does first of all testify in the heart and conscience of any man, and then afterward confirm, is to be believed of the same man as infallibly certain: but the Spirit of God first of all does testify to some men, namely true believers, that they are the sons of God: and afterward confirms the same unto them. Therefore men are infallibly to believe their own adoption. Now that the Spirit of God does give this testimony to the conscience of man, the Scripture is more than plain, Rom. 8:15, “You have received the spirit of adoption where we cry, ‘Abba Father.’ The same Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are the sons of God.” Answer is made that this testimony of the Spirit is given only by an experiment or feeling of an inward delight or peace, which breeds in us not an infallibly but conjectural certainty. And I answer again, that this exposition is flat against the text. For the Spirit of adoption is said here not to make us think or speak, but to cry “Abba, Father”: and crying to God as to a father argues courage, confidence, and boldness. Again the same spirit of adoption is opposed to the spirit of bondage causing fear: and therefore it must needs be a Spirit giving assurance or liberty, and that means driving away distrustful fears. And the end, no doubt why the Holy Ghost comes into the heart as a witness of adoption is, that the truth in this case hidden and therefore doubtful, might be cleared and made manifest. If God himself have appointed that a doubtful truth among men, shall be confirmed and put out of doubt by the mouth of two or three witnesses, it is absurd to think that the testimony of God himself knowing all things, and taking upon him to be a witness, should be conjectural.

Mark it well.

Saint Bernard had learn better divinity, when he said,

Who is just, but he that being loved of God, returns love to him again? which is not done but by the Spirit of God (a) revealing by faith, unto man the eternal purpose of God concerning his salvation in time to come: which revelation undoubtedly is nothing else but an infusion of spiritual grace: by which, whilst the deeds of the flesh are mortified, the man is prepared to he kingdom of God, receiving withal, that whereby he may presume that he is loved, and love again. [Bernard. Epist. 107.]

Furthermore, that the Spirit of God does not only persuade men of their adoption, but also confirm the same unto them, it is most manifest: Grieve not the Spirit whereby you are sealed up to the day of redemption,” [Eph. 4:30.]. And 1.v.13, “After you believe, you were sealed with the Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.” 2 Cor, 1:22, “It is God that has sealed us, and given us the earnest of his Spirit in our hearts.” Here the words of sealing and earnest, are to be considered. For things that pass to and fro among men though they be in question, yet when the seal is put to, they are made out of doubt: and therefore when God by his Spirit is said to seal the promise in the heart of every particular believe, it signifies that he gives unto them evident assurance that the promise of life belongs unto them. And the giving of earnest is an infallibly token unto him that receives it, that the bargain is ratified, and that he shall receive the things agreed upon. And it were a great dishonor unto God, to think that the earnest of his own spirit given unto us, should be an evidence of eternal life, not infallibly, but conjectural.

Arg. 2. The faith of the elect, or saving faith, is a certain persuasion, and a particular persuasion of remission of sin and life everlasting. Touching the first of these twain, namely, that faith is a certain persuasion, yea that certainty is of the nature of faith, it appears by express testimony of Scripture, Matt. 14:31: “O thou of little faith, why hast thou doubted?,” and 21-22: “If you have faith, and doubt not.” Jam. 1:6: “Let him ask in faith, and waver not: for he that wavers is like a wave of the sea, tossed of the wind, and carried away.” Rom. 4:20, “Neither did he doubt of the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith.” I will not stand longer on this point which is not denied of any.

Touching the second part of my reason, that faith is a particular persuasion applying things believed: I prove it thus. The property of faith is to receive the promise, Gal. 3:14, and the thing promised, which his Christ with his Spirit, Joh. 1:12. Now Christ is received by a particular application, as will appear, if we do but mark the end use of the ministry of the world, and of the Sacraments. For when God gives any blessing to a man, it is to be received by man, as God gives it. Now God gives Christ, or at the least offers him, not generally to mankind, but to the several and particular members of the Church. In the Lord’s supper, as in every sacrament, there is a revelation of analogy between the outward signs, and the things signified. The action of the minister giving the bread and wine to the hands of particular communicants, represents God’s action in giving Christ with his benefits to the same particular communicants. Again the action of receiving the bread and wine particularly, represents another spiritual action of the believing heart, which applies Christ to itself, for the pardon of sin and life everlasting. Papists yield not this: yet if they refuse to maintain this analogy, they overturn the sacrament, and dissent from antiquity. Augustine says,

The body of Christ is ascended into heaven: some may answer, and say, ‘How shall I hold him being absent? how shall I reach up my hand to heaven, that I may lay hold of him sitting there?’ Send up your faith, and thou have laid hold of him.

And what is more common then another saying of his?: “What means thou to prepare thy belly and teeth: ‘Believe and thou have eaten.’” Again, Eph. 3:12, Paul says, “By Christ we have boldness and entrance with confidence by faith in him.” In which words are set down to notable effects and fruits of faith: boldness and confidence. Boldness is, when a poor sinner dare come into the presence of God, not being terrified with the threats of the law, nor with consideration of his own unworthiness, nor with the manifold assaults of the devil: and it is more than certainty of God’s favor. Now whereas the Papists answer, that this is liberty of boldness coming unto God, proceeds of a general faith, they are far wide. It is not possible that a general persuasion of the goodness and truth of God, and of his mercy in Christ, should breed confidence and boldness in the heart of a guilty sinner, and no example can be brought thereof. This general faith concerning the articles to our belief, was no doubt in Cain, Saul, Achitophel, Judas, and some of them made away themselves: and the devil for all his faith trembles before God. Wherefore that faith which is the root of these excellent virtues, of boldness and confidence, must needs to be a special faith, that is, a large and plentiful persuasion of the pardon of a man’s sins, and of life everlasting. Again, Heb. 11:1, faith is called hypostatis, and other like things, is made to go beyond hope: for hope waits for things to come, till they have a being in the person hoping; unto them. This cannot be that general faith (of Papists termed Catholic) for it comes short of hope, but it must needs be a special faith that makes us undoubtedly believe our own election, adoption, justification, and salvation by Christ. And to this purpose have some of the fathers said excellent well, Augustine says, “I demand of thee, O sinner, do thou believe Christ or no? thou says, ‘I believe.’ What believe thou? Thou hast that which thou hast believed,” [August. de verbia dom. serm. 7.]. Ambrose says, “This is a thing ordained of God that he which believes in Christ, should be saved without any work, by faith alone freely receiving remission of sins,” [Ambr. On 1. Cor. 1.]. And with Ambrose, I join the testimony of Hesichius upon Leviticus, who says,

“God pitying mankind, when he saw it disabled for the fulfilling of the works of the law, willed that man should be saved by grace, without works of the law. And grace proceeding of mercy is apprehended by faith along without works.”

Whereas in the two last testimonies, faith is opposed generally to all works, and is withal said to apprehend and receive, yea alone to apprehend and receive grace and remission of sins, they can not be understood of a general, but of a special applying fiath. Bernard has these words,

“If thou believe that they sins cannot be blotted out by him against whom thou has sinned, thou do well; but go yet further, and believe that he pardons thy sins. This the testimony which the holy Ghost gives in our hearts, saying, ‘Thy sins are forgiven then.’ For so the Apostle thinks that a man is justified by faith,” [Bernand. Serm. 1. de Annunc. Mariæ.].

Papists being much choked with this place, make answer, that S. Bernard does not say, that we must believe the pardon of our sins absolutely without respect of works, but that he requires the condition of our conversation and repentance, as signs whereby persuasion is wrought. I answer again, that he vouches plainly the general faith, whereby the points of religion are believed, to be but a beginning or rudiment of faith, and therefore not sufficient, unless we go further, and apply the grace of God to ourselves by faith, simply, without respect to any condition performed on man’s part. Indeed, I grant that the truth of conversation and other works are by him mentioned afterward, but that was for this end, to show how any man may have a sensible and evidence experience by works, as fruits of pardon of his own sins, and life everlasting, which he believes.

Arg. 3. S. John penned his first epistle that he might show unto the church of God a way how they might ordinarily and fully be assured of the love of God, and of eternal life: and therefore he afforded us many pregnant testimonies for this purpose. 1 Joh. 2:23, “And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments,” and v. 5, “He which keeps his word, in him is the love of God truly accomplished: by this we know that we are in him,” Chap. 3:10: “By this are manifest the children of God, and the children of the devil,” and v. 19, “By this we know that we are of the truth, and before him we shall make our hearts confident.” Chapter 4:13: “By this we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit.” Chapter 5:2, “By this we know that we love the sons of God, when we love God and keep his commandments,” [and] v. 13, “I have written these things unto you which believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have life eternal.” To these testimonies, first of all answer is made, that none of them do necessarily imply a certainty of divine faith; because we are said to know the things which we learn by conjectures. Behold a silly and poor shift [evasion]. S. John says, chap. 1:4, “These things we write unto you that your joy may be full.” Now it is but an uncertain joy rises by conjectural knowledge. Again, this knowledge brings forth “confidence and boldness even before God,” c. 3. v. 19-21, and therefore it cannot but include an infallible certainty. And to put it out of question that the knowledge here mentioned is the knowledge of divine faith, or as infallible as it is or can be, it is added, chap. 4:16, “And we have known and believed the love which God has toward us.” Secondly, it is answered, that all these speeches are general, and not concerning particular men: but it is safe: for when S. John says “we know” he speaks of himself, and includes the rest of the Church in the same condition with himself. Now he himself was fully assured of his own salvation. For Christ a little before his departure out of the world, did comfort all his disciples, partly by renewing the promise of life everlasting and of the presence of his Spirit unto them; and partly by praying unto the Father for their final preservation: so as they could not be fully resolved of their happy estate, both in this life, and in the life to come.

Arg. 4. Abraham’s faith was a full persuasion whereby he applied the promise unto himself, Rom. 4:21. And this faith of his was an example propounded unto us, according to which we are to believe: and therefore he is called the “father of the faithful,” v. 16, and Paul having set down the nature and effects of this faith, says, “It was written not only for them, but also for us which believe,” v. 23. It is objected that Abraham’s faith was not of salvation, but it concerned his issue in his old age, as Paul says, Rom. 4:18, “Abraham above hope believed that he should be the father of many nations: according to that which was spoken, ‘So thy seed shall be.’” Ans. We must distinguish the object of faith, which is either principal or less principal: less principal are other less and particular benefits obtained by Christ. As of Abraham’s faith, the object less principal was a carnal seed or issue: and the principal object most of all respected, as the foundation of all other blessings, was the blessed seed Christ Jesus, Gal. 3:16, “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, And to the seeds, as of many: but, and to thy seed, as of one, which is Christ,” and v. 29, “If you be Christ’s then Abraham’s seed.” Thus it is plain, that issue was neither promised nor desired, but with respect to Christ, who could not have descended of Abraham, if he had been wholly without seed. William Perkins, The Works of that Famovs and Worthy Minister of Christ in the Vniversity of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins. The First Volume (London, Printed by Iohn Legatt, 1626), 540-543. [Some reformatting; marginal comments cited inline; some spelling modernized; italics original; square bracketed inserts mine; and underlining mine.]


1Perkins’ answers to certain objections are not included in this extract.

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