I like to think, inquire and pursue answers to pressing questions. Theologically, there is no end to the potential questions and so inquiries begin compiling. On occasion I need to take a few days to search after specific answers. This is my intention over the next week.
For the past several months I’ve had a number of questions floating around that I thought were disconnected. But the more I have thought about these questions, the most closely related they have become. The questions include: What assurances do we have and pursue to give us confidence that we are truly children of God? How does this laboring after assurance intrude or enhance the Cross-centered life? Are the trials and triumphs of the Psalmist a reflection of the normative Christian life, or an ancient pre-Cross lifestyle that we can avoid? Why is the intense internal life of the Puritans foreign to my own personal experience? Were they overly introspective and legalistic, or do they leave a discernable pattern for the Christian life today?
Like I said, these questions appear on the surface to all be unrelated. However, I’ve come to see them all overlapping into one large question that I want to explore in a short series called “Laboring after Assurance” (words of Puritan John Owen). It is impossible to understand the Puritans until we understand what it meant for them to “labor after assurance.” In fact, if we are to understand the Puritans at all we must understand how they understood assurance of salvation. As Joel Beeke puts it, “assurance was the most critical issue of the post-Reformation” (Quest, 275).
To begin formulating an answer to these questions I turn to several passages in the Psalms, 1 John, and Peter, along with some excerpts I’ve come across in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, John Owen’s long exposition of Psalm 130 (Works, 6:323-648), The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Puritan Walter Marshall (RHB: 1999 ed.), Joel Beeke’s Ph.D. dissertation, The Quest for Full Assurance: The legacy of Calvin and his successors (Banner of Truth: 1999) along with Derek Thomas’ final message at the Banner of Truth Conference.
Tomorrow we will begin a journey of sorts to see what Owen meant when he wrote, “It is the duty of every believer to labor after an assurance of a personal interest in forgiveness, and to be diligent in the cherishing and preservation of it when it is attained” (6:413). To find out what Owen means here, I think, will help us make sense of the Psalmist and the reflective lives of the Puritans.