Thursday, 9 August 2018

Richard Hooker on doubt and assurance

Richard Hooker (1554-1600), the great Anglican divine, has some pastoral words for those who struggle with doubting their own status as a Christian, with wondering if they perhaps are not truly elect.  These doubts are particularly troublesome in light of the Reformed and Puritan teaching that true saving faith is a faith that is assured and certain.  Hooker was arguing against an over emphasis on assurance as an unhealthy and unhelpful doctrine which can tend to put too much of a burden on people's consciences and have them turning inward to examine their own hearts as though under a magnifying glass when they ought to be turning to and trusting in Christ. Hooker reasons that only those who are true believers, who possess real faith, are in a position to suffer anxiety over whether or not their faith is genuine.
But are they not grieved with their unbelief?  They are.  Do they not wish it might and also strive that it may be otherwise?  We know they do.  Whence cometh this but from a secret love and liking which they have of those things that are believed?  No man can love the things which in his own opinion are not.  And if they think those things to be, which they show that they love when they desire to believe them, then must it needs be that by desiring to believe they prove themselves to be true believers. 
So for those who doubt their whether or not they are saved by Christ, who question the genuineness of their faith and their status as a redeemed member of Christ's household, Hooker has more words of comfort.
I know in whom I have believed, I am not ignorant whose precious blood hath been shed for me, I have a shepherd full of kindness, full of care, and full of power; unto him I commit myself; his own finger hath engravened this sentence in the tables of my heart, "Satan hath desired to winnow thee as wheat, but I have prayed that thy faith fail not."  Therefore the assurance of my hope I will labour to keep as a jewel unto the end and by labour through the gracious mediation of his prayer I shall keep it.
So true assurance of saving faith comes not so much from looking inside our hearts and minds at whether or not our faith is genuine, but looking to Christ, the true, real, genuine and actual saviour of sinners.  Assurance of salvation is found in Christ's love and in his efficacious saving work on the cross.  Certainty comes from looking not to the strength or power of our faith but from looking to the strength of the sacrifice Christ made to rescue us from sin and looking to the power of his promise to intercede for us before the Father so that no one can pluck us from his hand.