The Holy Spirit and the Work of Assurance
One of the most treasured stories from the gospels is the healing of the young boy after the transfiguration in Mark 9. In that telling of the situation immediately following the appearance of Moses and Elijah the men and Jesus come off the mountain to find the rest of the disciples engaged in a conversation with some scribes. Evidently the dispute is around why the followers of Christ were unable to fix whatever was wrong with the man’s son. The father explains to our Lord that he brought the child to where he heard Jesus was and not finding Him decided the best thing to do was to consult those who claimed to be His.
The whole circumstance seems to get Jesus in some righteous indignation. After lamenting the faithless generation of which He has come to save He heals the boy, bringing the demon out of him. Yet, in the midst of that Jesus asks a question/makes a comment to the dad. In v. 23 He says, “Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”. And then we hear the response in v. 24 we know so well, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”. Dumfounded at the events before them the hard-headed disciples inquire as to why they were unable to do what the Lord had done. Christ responds in v. 29, “So He said to them, ‘This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.’” So not only do we learn something about the nature of faith here, but we also learn something about the means by which to encourage ourselves and one another in the purposes of God in His Son.
There are a couple aspects of the story that have much to help us understand about the Larger Catechism questions for today. Assurance is such an important part of the Christian life, yet so many find it difficult to embrace it. I’ve said before that the criticisms some make of the Westminster Standards (WCF, WSC, WLC), that they lack warmth and piety, are in Q/A’s like the below shown to be not only false, but risibly so. The Divines knew men and women battle against the temptations to doubt the promises of the gospel in Christ, and they provide an answer to help the soul find peace in that struggle. Here’s this week’s questions and answers:
Q. 80: Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.
Q. 81: Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?
A. Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.
The key phrase or term to hold on to in the fight against the weakness of the flesh as it is described here is the Spirit of God. Notice how the writers of the Q/A’s ground the ability of the individual to maintain or even receive assurance of faith in the first place not in extraordinary revelation or some man-made hocus pocus, but in the gift of the Holy Spirit. How do we discern in ourselves that Christ is dead for us and we alive in Him? By endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him enabled by the Spirit. Likewise what are the means by which we are kept from sinking into despair at the appearance of distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions, either by our own faith or the support of others? The presence and support of the Spirit of God.
Now, the question I am sure that is being asked at this point is, “How does this happen”? The answer brings us back to Jesus’s response to the disciples in the private room in Mark 9:29.
Prayer and Fasting.
Consider that for a moment. What makes those means able to do all that? Remember for a second what Christ says about prayer when He is lifting up His supplications to the Father in John 17. In v. 15 our Lord says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” The promise believers have at this point is that Jesus desires that the Father protect His covenant people from the devil. Go back a little bit in the gospel and meditate on what Christ said to His disciples in John 14:26-28. I’ll post it below:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
What a beautiful statement which doth sweetly comply with what the writers of the Larger Catechism have provided for us in the Q/A’s. The WLC is eminently practical in helping the believer understand the world as it is, and the assurance they receive from above. Our salvation is based not on the word of man, but the sure word of God found in His Son, and through the “. . . bringing of remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you. . .”. That’s the heart of why we can say what the young man’s father said. We are weak, yet He is strong. Seek Him where He is to be found. Pray to the Lord and your prayers will be answered, especially when it comes to the assurance found in the heart of faith.
Here’s another word for this week:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church