Week 33 of 50 in the Institutes: The Right and Wrong Way of Seeking Assurance

In 3.24.4 Calvin describes the great peril a soul hazards when seeking assurance “outside the way” (McNeill-Battles rendering), or “out of the proper way” (Beveridge) by seeking to inquire into the secret things of God:

Among the temptations with which Satan assaults believers, none is greater or more perilous, than when disquieting them with doubts as to their election, he at the same time stimulates them with a depraved desire of inquiring after it out of the proper way.  By inquiring out of the proper way, I mean when puny man endeavors to penetrate to the hidden recesses of the divine wisdom, and goes back even to the remotest eternity, in order that he may understand what final determination God has made with regard to him. In this way he plunges headlong into an immense abyss, involves himself in numberless inextricable snares, and buries himself in the thickest darkness. For it is right that the stupidity of the human mind should be punished with fearful destruction, whenever it attempts to rise in its own strength to the height of divine wisdom. And this temptation is the more fatal, that it is the temptation to which of all others almost all of us are most prone. For there is scarcely a mind in which the thought does not sometimes rise, Whence your salvation but from the election of God? But what proof have you of your election? When once this thought has taken possession of any individual, it keeps him perpetually miserable, subjects him to dire torment, or throws him into a state of complete stupor. I cannot wish a stronger proof of the depraved ideas, which men of this description form of predestination, than experience itself furnishes, since the mind cannot be infected by a more pestilential error than that which disturbs the conscience, and deprives it of peace and tranquillity in regard to God. Therefore, as we dread shipwreck, we must avoid this rock, which is fatal to every one who strikes upon it.

Instead of seeking to pry into the secret things of God, Calvin counsels his readers to seek assurance in Christ alone by resting on the promises found in Him (3.24.5), that is, the revealed things:

For though a belief of our election animates us to involve God, yet when we frame our prayers, it were preposterous to obtrude it upon God, or to stipulate in this way, “O Lord, if I am elected, hear me.” He would have us to rest satisfied with his promises, and not to inquire elsewhere whether or not he is disposed to hear us. We shall thus be disentangled from many snares, if we know how to make a right use of what is rightly written; but let us not inconsiderately wrest it to purposes different from that to which it ought to be confined.

By a right use and reliance upon the promises of God to receive all who come to him for mercy, the believer may safely navigate the perilous waters of predestination and find comfort and consolation therein, knowing that salvation is of the Lord:

And though the discussion of predestination is regarded as a perilous sea, yet in sailing over it the navigation is calm and safe, nay pleasant, provided we do not voluntarily court danger. For as a fatal abyss engulfs those who, to be assured of their election, pry into the eternal counsel of God without the word, yet those who investigate it rightly, and in the order in which it is exhibited in the word, reap from it rich fruits of consolation.The_calm_after_the_storm_-_Port_Lincoln_-_South_Australia_(Explored)

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Aug. 17: 3:24.1 – 3.24.5

Aug. 18: 3.24.6 – 3.24.11

Aug. 19: 3.24.12 – 3.24.17

Aug. 20: 3.25.1 – 3.25.3

Aug. 21: 3.25.4 – 3.25.6


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