“Every man to whom the gospel is revealed is bound to believe his own election, justification, sanctification, and glorification in and by Christ.“
A Discourse of Conscience
Works VIII, pp. 23-26
God in the gospel generally reveals two points unto us: the first, that there is perfect righteousness and life everlasting to be obtained by Christ; and the second, that the instrument to obtain righteousness and life eternal is faith in Christ.
Moreover, when this gospel is dispensed and preached unto us, God reveals unto us two points more: the first, that He will make us particularly to be partakers of true righteousness and life everlasting by Christ; and the second, that He will have us without doubting to believe thus much of ourselves. And for this cause, every man to whom the gospel is revealed is bound to believe his own election, justification, sanctification, and glorification in and by Christ.
The reasons and grounds of this point out of the Word of God are these. First, “This is his commandment that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Now to believe in Christ is not confusedly to believe that He is a redeemer of mankind, but withal to believe that He is my Savior, and that I am elected, justified, sanctified, and shall be glorified by Him. This is granted by all men, yea by papists themselves, who otherwise are enemies of this doctrine. For Lombard says, “To believe in God is by believing to love, and as it were to go into God: by believing to cleave unto him, and as it were to be incorporate into his members.”
Second, Paul first of all propounds a general sentence: “That a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Christ” (Gal. 2:16). Afterwards, he adds a special application: “Even we (namely Jews) have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Jesus Christ.” And then he descends more specially to apply the gospel to himself: “I live (says he) by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved me and given himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And in this kind of application there is nothing peculiar to Paul, for in this very action of his he is an example unto us: “For this cause (says he) was I received to mercy, that Jesus Christ should show first on me all long suffering unto the example of them which shall in time to come believe in him to eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16). Again he says, “I think all things but loss, that I might win Christ, and might be found in him not having mine own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, that I may know him and the virtue of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:8-10). And afterwards he adds, “Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded” (Phil. 3:15).
Third, whatsoever we pray for, according to God’s will, we are bound to believe that it shall be given unto us. “Whatsoever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye shall have it, and it shall be done unto you” (Mark 11:24). But we pray for the pardon of our own sins and for everlasting life by Christ, and that according to the will of God. Therefore, we are bound in conscience to believe the pardon of our own sins and life everlasting.
Fourth, if God should speak particularly to any man, and say unto him, “Cornelius, or Peter, believe you in Christ, and you shall be saved,” this commandment should bind him particularly. Now when the minister lawfully called, in the name and stead of God, publishes the gospel to the congregation, that is as much as if God Himself had spoken to them particularly, calling each of them by their names and promising unto them life everlasting in Christ. “We as ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you through us, pray you in Christ’s stead, that ye be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
It may be (and is) objected that if every man is bound in conscience to believe his own election and salvation by Christ, then some men are bound to believe that which is false, because some there are, even in the midst of the church, who in the counsel of God were never chosen to salvation. I answer that this reason would be good if men were bound absolutely to believe their salvation without further respect or condition. But the bond is conditional, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace; for we are bound to believe in Christ if we would come to life everlasting, or if we would be in the favor of God, or if we would be good disciples and members of Christ.
I answer again that whatsoever a man is bound to believe is true, yet not always in the event, but true in the intention of God who binds. Now the commandment of believing and applying the gospel is by God given to all within the church, but not in the same manner to all. It is given to the elect, so that by believing they might indeed be saved, God enabling them to do that which He commands. To the rest, whom God in justice will refuse, the same commandment is given not for the same cause, but to another end, that they might see how they could not believe, and by this means be bereft of all excuse in the day of judgment. God does not always give commandments simply that they might be done, but sometimes for other respects, that they might be means of trial, as the commandment given to Abraham of killing Isaac. Again, that they might serve to keep men at the least in outward obedience in this life, and stop their mouths before the tribunal seat of God.
Implications of this doctrine.
In that we are bound in conscience in this manner to believe the promises of the gospel with an application of the benefits thereof to ourselves, sundry necessary and profitable points of instruction may be learned.
The first is that the popish doctors abolish a great part of the gospel when they teach that men are bound to believe the gospel only by a Catholic faith, which they make to be nothing else but a gift of God, or illumination of the mind, whereby assent is given to the Word of God that it is true; and more especially that Jesus is Christ, that is, an all-sufficient Savior of mankind. All which the damned spirits believe. Whereas the gospel, for the comfort and salvation of men’s souls, has a further reach, namely to enjoin men to believe that the promise of salvation is not only true in itself, but also true in the very person of the believer, as appears evidently by the sacraments which are as it were a visible gospel in which Christ with all His benefits is offered and applied to the particular persons of men. To this end, no doubt, that they might believe the accomplishment of the promise in themselves.
Second, we learn that it is not presumption for any man to believe the remission of his own sins, for to do the will of God, to which we are bound, is not to presume. Now it is the will of God, to which He has bound us in conscience, to believe the remission of our own sins, and therefore rather not to do it is presumptuous disobedience.
Third, we are here to mark and to remember with care the foundation of the infallible certainty of man’s salvation. For if man is bound in conscience, first, to give assent to the gospel and, second, to apply it to himself by true faith, then without doubt a man by faith may be certainly persuaded of his own election and salvation in this life without any extraordinary revelation, God’s commandments being in this and the like cases possible. For commandments are either legal or evangelical. Legal commandments show us our disease, but give us no remedy. And the perfect doing of them, according to the intent of the Law-giver, by reason of man’s weakness and through man’s default, is impossible in this world. As for evangelical commandments, they have this privilege, that they may (and can) be performed according to the intention of the Law-giver in this life, because with the commandment is joined the inward operation of the Spirit to enable us to effect the duty commanded. And the will of God is not to require absolute perfection at our hands in the gospel as in the law, but rather to qualify the rigor of the law by the satisfaction of a Mediator in our stead, and of us (being in Christ) to accept the upright will and endeavor for the deed, as the will to repent and the will to believe for repentance and true faith indeed. Now then, if things required in the gospel are both ordinary and possible, then for a man to have an infallible certainty of his own salvation is both ordinary and possible. But more of this point afterward.
Lastly, all such persons as are troubled with doubting, distrusting, unbelief, despair of God’s mercy, are to learn and consider that God by His Word binds them in conscience to believe the pardon of their own sins, be they ever so grievous or many, and to believe their own election to salvation whereof they doubt. Men who are but civil have care to avoid robbing and killing because God gives commandments against stealing and killing. Why then should not we much more strive against our manifold doubting and distrusting of God’s love in Christ, having a commandment of God that calls upon us and binds us to do so?