Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ian Hamilton on Christian Assurance

Last week I attended a Bible Conference at Eastwood Presbyterian Church (Montgomery, AL). The speaker for these few days was the Rev. Ian Hamilton (see a brief introduction here), and the theme was the Glory of Jesus Christ.

On Sunday evening, Rev. Hamilton spoke on the doctrine of justification from Gal. 1 (see here).

On Monday evening, he spoke on the doctrine of propitiation from Romans 3:25-26 (see here).

On Tuesday evening, he spoke on the doctrine of reconciliation from Romans 5:1-11 (see here).

On Wednesday, the final evening of the conference, he spoke on the doctrine of Christian Assurance from Romans 8:31-39. I offer here a few thoughts from my notes on this message.

Hamilton began this sermon by arguing that he does not believe that the Epistle to the Romans is "a theological treatise, but a pastoral letter; a letter to struggling suffering, needy Christians." A major pastoral concern presented in this epistle is that "God wants all His children to know that they are His children." He also sought to make it clear that "Christian assurance is not for the favored elite, but for all believers." And, that "Lack of assurance is a spiritual sickness that needs to be cured."

It is a fact that the early Roman church taught that assurance was for the elite (see my post, "Reflections on the Eve of All Saints' Day," for more on this). However, Christian assurance "belongs natively to those who are justified in Jesus Christ."

What is the best remedy for a Christian who is lacking assurance? Hamilton argued that it is the consistent and clear presentation of doctrine that will increase the Christian's assurance. "Doctrine," he said, "is not simply for believing, but also for living. The greatest practical good is to unpack for them the great doctrines." This has not been the standard response of the Church. Rather there has been a disconnect between doctrine and life. What every Christian needs is to understand the implications of doctrine for living. (This part of the sermon caused me to consider John Piper's argument in The Supremacy of God in Preaching. See the quote Tim Ashcraft supplied in his post, "What's God Got to Do With It?")

What is the ground of Christian assurance?

We tend to look for comfort from within. Paul says, “all our comfort is from without—in Jesus Christ.”

In this passage Paul posed five questions:

  1. Since God is for us, who can be against us?
    • (Rom. 8:28f; Isa. 40:21; 1 Cor. 6—“Do you not know?” repeated often)
  2. How will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?
    • The cross demonstrates the unbounded generosity of our heavenly Father.
  3. Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
    • “I will,” says conscience and the Evil One.
    • The heart of Christian assurances confesses, “It is Christ who justifies.”
    • Every charge that could or would ever be laid against God’s children was laid upon Jesus. This is the great scandal at the heart of the Bible.
    • Many lack assurance because they fail to understand this.
  4. Who is to condemn?
    • What about the final judgment?
    • Christ Jesus died, was raised, and exalted for us.
  5. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
    • The “us” refers to all who have been justified in Christ through faith alone.

Hamilton quoted Rabbi Duncan as having said, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” (This quote is accurate, but I can only find it attributed to Robert Murray McCheyne. However, McCheyne may have been quoting Duncan. I would be glad if anyone can locate this in the writings of Rabbi Duncan.)