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John Owen on Assurance

John Owen on Assurance

I cannot even begin to tell how much I appreciate John Owen. I’ve been slowly working my way through Volume 6 of his works over the last year or so, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has been life-changing. That an English Puritan who lived in the 1600’s can have such an effect on someone today, is amazing to say the least. But when the foundation for his writing is the timeless word of God, the years have no effect when the subject matter is solidly based on that word and Him who never changes.

One of the areas that Owen and the rest of the Puritans often wrote about was the subject of assurance – how can we know we are loved by God when our own sin testifies against us? In his writing on verse 4 of Psalm 130, he gives 4 rules to guide us when considering this very question. Here is part of what he writes in the first rule:

If you look to have such an evidence, light into, and absolute conviction of, this matter [of assurance], as shall admit of no doubts, fears, questionings, just occasions and causes of new trials, teachings, and self-examinations, you will be greatly deceived. Regeneration induceth a new principle into the soul, but it doth not utterly expel the old; some would have security, not assurance. The principle of sin and unbelief will still abide in us, and still work in us. Their abiding and their acting must needs put the soul upon a severe inquiry, whether they are not prevalent in it beyond what the condition of regeneration will admit. The constant conflicts we must have with sin will not suffer us to have always so clear an evidence of our condition as we would desire.

I like how Owen views assurance as being different from security. I believe that what most of us think of when we think of assurance is not really assurance, but security. This security is similar to what we think of when we think of financial security – I’ve got this much money in this secure place and I don’t really have to think about it, because it takes cares of itself. But the Scripture never views our salvation in that way – that’s why there are so many warnings to those who believe. The warnings are there not because you don’t believe, but because you do believe!

When we consider that all of Paul’s exhortations to mortifying the deeds of the flesh were addressed to churches, not the lost world, we must assume that the members of those churches had things in their lives that needed mortification. They were not already perfect and neither are we.

Our perfection is in Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Even though our felt assurance of his love may fluctuate, his actual love for us does not. In that only may we be secure.