The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England C.1530-1740

By Ian Green | Go to book overview
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9 Assurance, Justification, and the Covenant of Grace

SOME of the topics raised in the last two chapters could not be dealt with fully within the frameworks dictated by a discussion of the twelve articles of the Creed and the main issues of the predestinarian debate, in particular the relationship of faith and assurance, the nature of justification, and its relationship to sanctification. These are not matters which dominated the texts of the works in our sample, but they are important in themselves and have been the subject of much recent debate, so that it may be wise to clarify our authors' positions on these issues before we proceed to discussion of the remaining three staples of catechetical instruction. The opportunity will also be taken to discuss at length a subject only mentioned in passing so far--the covenants of works and grace which, like justification, sanctification, and assurance, had an obvious soteriological dimension of which a growing number of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists took advantage in the seventeenth century. Again not all of the authors in our sample of forms did so, but a sufficient number did to make the exercise worthwhile. The covenants of works and grace can also be usefully raised here since they will form a distinctive part of the background to our examination in the closing chapters of our authors' expositions of the Decalogue and the sacraments.

For Augustine and Luther, assurance of salvation was through faith in Christ, though both doubted whether absolute assurance was possible, since the process of being drawn by grace was not a once-in-a-lifetime conversion but a continually recurring situation. Calvin and his followers thought that assurance was possible on this earth because of the fixed nature of the divine decree, but the greater stress placed on double predestination by Calvin and especially by Beza and his successors served to highlight the question of what God's purpose was for each individual: how could they be sure if their name was written in the Book of Life? Calvin restrained any tendency to concentrate on the fate of the individual by stressing that the effectual calling of the elect normally took place in church through preaching, and that this calling was to membership of the church. But in Beza, the Heidelberg theologians, and Perkins, there was a tendency to focus on how individuals could tell whether they had been called genuinely or not, and in particular whether they had saving faith or merely historic or temporary faith (which we have seen were developed as explanations of why some of those who appeared to be called subsequently

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