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"A Reformed Catholic", William Perkins (4) Certainty of Salvation

In this next section from A Reformed Catholic, Perkins deals with the issues between the Reformed Church and the Church of Rome regarding the certainty of salvation.

The Reformed doctrine of Assurance was later set out by the Westminster Assembly at Chapter XVIII of its Confession:

"...such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed."

A chapter that was heavily influenced by the writings of William Perkins.

Rome however, holds that man, without special revelation, may at best only attain a conjectural and probable persuasion of salvation, and upon this perpetual uncertainty and doubt it has, "... built the most gainful parts of their traffic." (Robert Shaw). And here it leaves its people seeking to remove doubt in part through the prayers of the Church, absolutions by Priests, through monkery, and the merits and prayers of the Saints and Martyrs. It is therefore a subject of the utmost importance.

In considering Perkins's exposition of the doctrines, we shall see the errors of Rome proven as false and most importantly that those in Christ have no reason to waiver, but are to be certain of their salvation.


1. Our Consent with the Church of Rome

Conclusion 1

We hold and believe that a man in this life, may be certain of salvation: and the same thing does the Church of Rome teach and hold.

Conclusion 2

We hold and believe that a man is to put a certain confidence in God's mercy in Christ for the salvation of his soul: and the same thing by common consent holds the aforesaid Church: this point makes not the difference between us.

Conclusion 3

We hold that with assurance of salvation in our hearts is joined doubting: and there is no man so assured of his salvation, but he at some time doubts thereof, especially in the time of temptation: and in this the Papists agree with us, and we with them.

Conclusion 4

They go further and say, that a man may be certain of the salvation of men, or of the Church by catholic faith: and so say we.

Conclusion 5

Yea they hold that a man by faith may be assured of his own salvation through extraordinary revelation, as Abraham and others were, and so do we.

Conclusion 6

They teach that we are to be certain of our salvation by special faith in regard of God that promises: though in regard of ourselves and our indisposition we can not: and in the former point they consent with us.

2. The Dissent or Difference between us and the Church of Rome

The very main point of difference lies in the manner of assurance.

Conclusion 1

We hold that a man may be certain of his salvation in his own conscience even in this life, and that by an ordinary and special faith. They hold that a man is certain of his salvation only by hope: both of us hold a certainty, we by faith, they by hope.

Conclusion 2

Further, we hold and avouch that our certainty by true faith is infallible: they say, their certainty is only probable.

Conclusion 3

And further though both of us say, that we have confidence in God's mercy in Christ for our salvation: yet we do it with some difference. For our confidence comes from certain and ordinary faith: theirs from hope, ministering (as they say) but a conjectural certainty.

Thus much of the difference.

3. Objections of Papists Against Us.

Objection 1

Where there is no word there is no faith: for these two are relatives: but there is no word of God saying, Cornelius believe thou, Peter believe thou: or thou shalt be saved. And therefore there is no such ordinary faith to believe a man's own particular salvation.


The proposition is false, unless it be supplied with a clause on this manner. Where there is no word of promise, nor any thing that does countervail a particular promise, there is no faith. But (say they) there is no such particular word. It is true, God does not speak to men particularly, Believe thou, and thou shalt be saved. But yet does he that which is answerable hereunto, in that he giveth a general promise, with a commandment to apply the same: and has ordained the holy ministry of the word to apply the same to the persons of the hearers in his own name: and that is as much as if the Lord himself should speak to men particularly. To speak more plainly, in the Scripture the promises of salvation be indefinitely propounded; it saith not any where, if John will believe he shall be saved, or if Peter will believe he shall be saved: but whosoever believes shall be saved. Now then comes the minister of the word, who standing in the room of God, and in the stead of Christ himself, takes the indefinite promises of the Gospel, and lays them to the hearts of every particular man: and this in effect is as much as if Christ himself should say, Cornelius believe thou, and thou shalt be saved: Peter believe thou, and thou shalt be saved. It is answered, that this applying of the Gospel is upon condition of men's faith and repentance, and that men are deceived touching their own faith and repentance: and therefore fail in applying the word unto themselves.

Indeed this manner of applying is false in all hypocrites, heretics, and unrepentant persons: for they apply upon carnal presumption, and not by faith. Nevertheless it is true in all the Elect having the spirit of grace, and prayer: for when God in the ministry of the word being his own ordinance, saith, Seek ye my face: the heart of God's children truly answer, O Lord, I will seek thy face. Psal. 17. 8. And when God shall say, Thou art my people, they shall say again: The Lord is my God, Zach. 13. 6. And it is a truth of God, that he which believes knows that he believes: and he that truly repents knows that he repents; unless it be in the beginning of our conversion, and in the time of distress and temptation. Otherwise what thankfulness can there be for grace received.

Objection 2

It is no article of the Creed, that a man must believe his own salvation: and therefore no man is bound thereto.


By this argument it appears plainly, that the very pillars of the Church of Rome do not understand the Creed: for in that which is commonly called the Apostles Creed, every article implies in it this particular faith. And in the first article, I believe in God, are three things contained: (i) the first, to believe that there is a God, (ii) the second to believe the same God is my God, (iii) the third to put my confidence in him for my salvation: and so much contain the other articles, which are concerning God. When Thomas said, John 20:28, 29. My God, Christ answered, Thou hast believed Thomas. Where we see that to believe in God, is to believe God to be our God. And Psal. 78. v. 22. to believe in God and to put trust in him are all one, They believed not in God, and trusted not in his help.

And the articles concerning remission of sins and life everlasting, do include, and we in them acknowledge our special faith concerning our own salvation. For to believe this or that, is to believe there is such a thing, and that the same thing belongs to me: as when David said, I should have fainted except I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psal. 27. 13. It is answered, that in those articles we only profess ourselves to believe remission of sins, and life everlasting, to be vouchsafed to the people and Church of God. This indeed is the exposition of many, but it stands not with common reason. For if that be all the faith that is there confessed, the devil has as good a faith as we. He knows and believes that there is a God: and that this God imparts remission of sins and life everlasting to his Church. And to the end that we being God's children, may in faith go beyond all the devils in hell, we must further believe, that remission of sins and life everlasting belongs unto us: and unless we do particularly apply the said articles unto ourselves, we shall little or nothing differ from the devil, in making confession of faith.

Objection 3

We are taught to pray for the pardon of our sins day by day, Math. 6. 12. and all this were needless, if we could be assured of pardon in this life.


The fourth petition must be understood not so much of our old debts or sins, as of our present and new sins: for as we go on from day to day, so we add sin to sin; and for the pardon of them must we humble ourselves and pray. I answer again, that we pray for the pardon of our sins: not because we have no assurance thereof, but because our assurance is weak and small; we grow on from grace to grace in Christ, as children do to man's estate by little and little. The heart of every believer is like a vessel with a narrow neck, which being cast into the sea is not filled at the first; but by reason of the straight passage, receives water drop by drop. God gives unto us in Christ even a sea of mercy, but the same on our parts is apprehended and received only by little and little, as faith grows from age to age: and this is the cause why men having assurance pray for more.


4. Our Reasons to the Contrary.

Reason 1

The first reason may be taken from the nature of faith on this maner. True faith is both an infallible assurance and a particular assurance of the remission of sins and of life everlasting. And therefore by this faith, a man may be certainly and particularly assured of the remission of sins and life everlasting. That this reason may be of force, two things must be proved: first that true faith is a certain assurance of God's mercy to that party in whom it is. Secondly that faith is a particular assurance thereof.

For the first that faith is a certain assurance, Christ saith to Peter, Mat. 14. 31 O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt. Where he makes an opposition between faith and doubting: thereby giving us directly to understand, that, to be certain, and to give assurance is of the nature of faith. Rom. 4. 20, 22 Paul saith of Abraham, that he did not doubt of the promise of God through unbelief: but was strengthened in faith, and gave glory to God, being fully assured, that he which had promised was able to do it: where I observe first, that doubting is made a fruit of unbelief; and therefore infallible certainty and assurance, being contrary to doubting must needs proceed from true faith; considering that contrary effects come of contrary causes: and contrary causes produce contrary effects. Secondly I note that the strength of Abraham's faith, did stand in fullness of assurance: for the text saith, he was strengthened in the faith, being fully assured: and again Heb. 11. 1, true saving faith is said to be the ground and subsistence of things hoped for and the evidence or demonstration of things that are not seen: but faith can be no ground or evidence of things, unless it be for nature certainty itself and thus the first point is manifest.

The second, that saving faith is a particular assurance, is proved by this, that the property of faith is to apprehend and apply the promise, and the thing promised, Christ with his benefits. John 1. 12 As many, saith St. John, as received him, to them he gave power to be the sons of God, namely to them that believe in his name. In these words to believe in Christ, and to receive Christ, are put for one and the same thing. Now to receive Christ, is to apprehend and apply him with all his benefits unto ourselves, as he is offered in the promises of the Gospel. For in the sixth chapter following, first of all he sets forth himself not only as a Redeemer generally, but also as the bread of life and the water of life: secondly he sets forth his best hearers as eaters of his body and drinkers of his blood: and thirdly he intends to prove this conclusion, that to eat his body and to drink his blood, and to believe in him, are all one. Now then if Christ be as food, and if to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, be to believe in him, then must there be a proportion between eating and believing. Look then as there can be no eating without taking or receiving of meat, so no believing in Christ without a spiritual receiving and apprehending of him. And as the body has his hand, mouth, and stomach, whereby it takes, receives, and digests meat for the nourishment of every part: so likewise in the soul there is a faith, which is both hand, mouth, and stomach to apprehend, receive, and apply Christ and all his merits for the nourishment of the soul. And Paul says yet more plainly, that through faith we receive the promise of the spirit, Gal 3:14.

Now as the property of apprehending and applying of Christ belongs to faith, so it agrees not to hope, love, confidence, of any other gift or grace of God. But first by faith we must apprehend Christ, and apply him to ourselves, before we can have any hope or confidence in him. And this applying seems not to be done by any affection of the will, but by a supernatural act of the mind, which is to acknowledge, set down, and believe that remission of sins, and life everlasting by the merit of Christ, belong to us particularly.

To this which I have said agrees:


Why preparest thou teeth and belly: BELIEVE AND THOU HAST EATEN, (Tract. 25. on John) and How shall I reach my hand into heaven, that I may hold him sitting there? Send up thy faith, and thou layest hold on him (Tract. 50).


Who saith, Where he is thou canst not come now—; yet go to follow him and seek him: believe and thou hast found him: for TO BELIEVE IS TO FIND, (Homily in Cant. 76).


On Mark (Homily 10) Let us believe and we see Jesus present before us.


On Luke lib. 6. cap. 8. By faith Christ is touched, by faith Christ is seen.


He must be chewed by understanding, and be digested by faith (de resurrect. carnis).

Reason 2

Whatsoever the Holy Ghost testifies unto us, that we may, yea that we must certainly by faith believe: but the Holy Ghost does particularly testify unto us our adoption, the remission of our sins, and the salvation of our souls: and therefore we may and must particularly and certainly by faith believe the same. The first part of this reason is true, and cannot be denied of any. The second part is proved thus: Saint Paul saith Rom. 8. 15. We have not received the spirit of bondage to fear: but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, father: adding further, that the same spirit bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God. Where the Apostle makes two witnesses of our adoption: the spirit of God, and our spirits, that is, the conscience sanctified by the Holy Ghost. The Papists to elude this reason, allege that the spirit of God does indeed witness of our adoption, by some comfortable feelings of God's love and favour, being such as are weak and oftentimes deceitful. But by their leaves, the testimony of the Spirit is more then a bare sense or feeling of God's grace: for it is called the pledge and earnest of God's spirit in our hearts. 2 Cor. 1. 21 and therefore it is fit to take away all occasion of doubting of our salvation: as in a bargain the earnest is given between the parties, to put all out of question. Bernard saith, that the testimony of the spirit is a most sure testimony, Epist. 107.

Reason 3

That which we must pray for by God's commandment, that we must believe: but every man is to pray for the pardon of his own sins, and for life everlasting; of this there is no question: therefore he is bound to believe the same. The proposition is most of all doubtful: but it is proved thus. In every petition there must be two things: a desire of the things we ask, and a particular faith whereby we believe, that the thing we ask shall be given unto us. So Christ saith, Whatsoever ye desire when you pray, believe that you shall have it, and it shall be given unto you. And St. John further notes out this particular faith, calling it our assurance that God will give unto us, whatsoever we ask according to his will, 1 John 5:14) And hence it is, that in every petition there must be two grounds: a commandment to warrant us in making a petition, and a promise to assure us of the accomplishment thereof. And upon both these, follows necessarily an application of the things we ask to ourselves.

Reason 4

Whatsoever God commands in the Gospel, that a man must and can perform: but God in the Gospel commands us to believe the pardon of our own sins: and life everlasting: and therefore we must believe thus much, and may be assured thereof. This proposition is plain by the distinction of the commandments, of the law, and of the Gospel. The commandments of the law show us what we must do, but minister no power to perform the thing to be done: but the doctrine and commandments of the Gospel do otherwise; and therefore they are called spirit and life; God with the commandment giving grace that the thing prescribed may be done. Now this is a commandment of the gospel, to believe remission of sins: for it was the substance of Christ's ministry, repent and believe the Gospel. And that is not generally to believe that Christ is a Saviour, and that the promises made in him are true (for so the devils believe with trembling:) but it is particularly to believe that Christ is my Saviour, and that the promises of salvation in Christ belong in special to me, as St. John saith: This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of Jesus Christ: now to believe in Christ is to put confidence in him; which none can do, unless he be first assured of his love and favour. And therefore in as much, as we are enjoined to put our confidence in Christ, we are also enjoined to believe our reconciliation with him, which stands in the remission of our sins, and our acceptation to life everlasting.

Reason 5

Whereas the Papists teach, that a man may be assured of his salvation by hope: even hence it follows, that he may be infallibly assured thereof. For the property of true and lively hope is never to make a man ashamed. Rom. 5. 5, And true hope follows faith and ever presupposes certainty of faith: neither can any man truly hope for his salvation unless by faith he be certainly assured thereof in some measure.

The popish doctors take exception to these reasons on this manner.

First Exception

First they say, it cannot be proved that a man is as certain of his salvation by faith, as he is of the articles of the creed.


First they prove this much that we ought to be as certain of the one as of the other. For look, what commandment we have to believe the articles of our faith; the like we have enjoining us to believe the pardon of our own sins, as I have proved.

Secondly these arguments prove it to be the nature of essential property of faith, as certainly to assure man of his salvation, as it does assure him of the articles which he believes. And howsoever commonly men do not believe their salvation as infallible, as they do their articles of faith: yet some special men do; having God's word applied by the spirit as a sure ground of their faith, whereby they believe their own salvation, as they have it for a ground of the articles of their faith. Thus certainly was Abraham assured of his own salvation: as also the Prophets and Apostles, and the martyrs of God in all ages; whereupon without doubting they have been content to lay down their lives for the name of Christ; in whom they were assured to receive eternal happiness. And there is no question, but there be many now, that by long and often experience of God's mercy, and by the inward certificate of the Holy Ghost, have attained to a full assurance of their salvation.

Second Exception

Howesoeuer a man may be assured of his present estate, yet no man is certain of his perseverance unto the end.


It is otherwise: for in the sixth petition, lead us not into temptation, we pray that God would not suffer us to be wholly overcome of the devil in any temptation: and to this petition we have a promise answerable, 1. Cor. 10. That God with the temptation will give an issue: and therefore howsoever the devil may buffet, molest, and wound the servants of God, yet shall he never be able to overcome them. Again he that is once a member of Christ, can never be wholly cut off. And if any by sin were wholly severed from Christ for a time, in his recovery he is to be baptised the second time: for baptism is the sacrament of initiation or engrafting into Christ. By this reason we should as often be baptised as we fall into any sin, which is absurd. Again St. John saith, 1 John 2. 19, They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. Where he takes it for granted, that such as be once in Christ, shall never wholly be severed or fall from him. Though our communion with Christ may be lessened, yet the union and the bond of conjunction is never dissolved.

Third Exception

They say, we are indeed to believe our salvation on God's part: but we must needs doubt in regard of ourselves: because the promises of remission of sins are given upon condition of man's faith and repentance. Now we cannot (say they) be assured that we have true faith and repentance, because we may lie in secret sins; and so want that indeed, which we suppose ourselves to have.


I say again, he that does truly repent and believe, does by God's grace know that he does repent and believe: for else Paul would never have said, Prove yourselves whether you be in the faith or not: and the same Apostle saith, 2. Cor. 12. We have not received the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might KNOW THE THINGS WHICH ARE GIVEN OF GOD: which things are not only life everlasting, but justification, sanctification, and such like. And as for secret sins, they cannot make our repentance void: for he that truly repents of his known sins, repents also of such as be unknown, and receives the pardon of them all. God requires not an express or special repentance of unknown sins; but accepts it as sufficient, if we repent of them generally: as David saith, Psal. 19. Who knows the errors of this life: forgive me my secret sins. And whereas they add that faith and repentance must be sufficient. I answer that the sufficiency of our faith and repentance, stands in the truth and not in the measure or perfection thereof; and the truth of both where they are, is certainly discerned.

Reason 6

The judgement of the ancient Church:


Of an evil servant thou art made a good child: therefore PRESUME not of thine own doing, but of the grace of Christ: it is not arrogance BUT FAITH: to acknowledge what thou hast received, is not pride but devotion, (de verbis Dei. serm. 28.); and

Let no man ask another man, but return to his own heart; if he find charity there, he HATH SECURITY for his passage from life to death. (Tract. 5. epist. Joh.)


On Math. 5. The kingdom of heaven which our Lord professed to be in himself, his will is that it must be hoped for WITHOUT ANY DOUBTFULNESS OF UNCERTAIN WILL. Otherwise there is no justification by faith, if faith itself be MADE DOUBTFUL.


Who is the just man but he that being loved of God, loves him again: which comes not to pass but by the SPIRIT REVEALING BY FAITH the eternal PURPOSE OF GOD of his SALVATION to come. Which revelation is nothing else but the infusion of spiritual grace; by which, when the deeds of the flesh are mortified the man is prepared to the kingdom of heaven. Together receiving in one spirit that whereby he MAY PRESUME that he is loved and also love again. (epist. 107. )


To conclude, the Papists have no great cause to dissent from us in this point. For they teach and profess, that they do by a special faith believe their own salvation certainly and infallibly in respect of God, that promises. Now the thing which hinders them is their own indisposition and unworthiness (as they say) which keeps them from being certain otherwise then in a likely hope. But this hindrance is easily removed, if men will judge indifferently. For first of all, in regard of ourselves and our disposition we cannot be certain at all, but must despair of salvation even to the very death. We cannot be sufficiently disposed so long as we live in this world, but must always say with Jacob, I am less then all thy mercies, Gen. 32. and with David, Enter not into judgement with thy servant, O Lord, for none living shall be justified in thy sight: and with the Centurion, Lord I am not worthy, that thou shouldest come under my roof, Matth. 8.

Secondly, God in making promise of salvation respects not men's worthiness. For he chose us to life everlasting when we were not: he redeemed us from death being enemies: and entitles us to the promise of salvation, if we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, Matt. 9. If we labour and travail under the burden of them. Matt. 11. If we hunger and thirst after grace. John 7. 37, And these things we may certainly and sensibly perceive in ourselves: and when we find them in us, though our unworthiness be exceeding great, it should not hinder our assurance. For God makes manifest his power in our weakness, 2. Cor. 12. and he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Isa. 42.

Thirdly if a man love God for his mercies sake, and have a true hope of salvation by Christ, he is in Christ and has fellowship with him: and he that is in Christ, has all his unworthiness and wants laid on Christ, and they are covered and pardoned in his death: and in respect of ourselves thus considered AS WE ARE IN CHRIST, we have no cause to waiver, but to be certain of our salvation, and that in regard of ourselves.

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