Erosion of the Holy Spirit's gift of faith and assurance : Samuel Rutherford's departure from the Reformation

  • Martin Hendrik Bakker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


A variety of studies describe and explain the development of the ways in which the relationship between faith and assurance is viewed within the Reformed tradition. Attempts have been made to try to lessen the severity of the Reformers’ position on the inseparability of faith and assurance, to defend the segregation in time and sequence of the different aspects of faith, to argue that differing contexts warranted a change in emphasis, or to blame orthodox theology on God’s sovereignty for a perceived lack of assurance.

Our approach is different as we identify opposing pneumatological views as the underlying cause for the epistemological separation of faith and assurance so common among later Reformed theologians.

First, we demonstrate that most Reformers believe that an initial measure of subjective assurance is an integral part of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, imparted at regeneration, through the Spirit’s immediate witness. It is for this reason that the dominant Reformation position is that personal assurance is of the essence of saving faith.

Second, we show that the Puritan and Covenanter Samuel Rutherford departs in substance from most Reformers in several ways. Crucially, Rutherford rejects the Spirit’s direct testimony as determinative in the gaining of assurance. In Rutherford’s theology, the Holy Spirit gifts the ability to believe rather than gifting fiducial faith. Contrary to most Reformers, Rutherford makes the distinction between objective and subjective assurance, thereby still allowing the assertion that (objective) assurance is of the essence of saving faith.

Consequently, Rutherford departs from most Reformers by employing works to gain assurance rather than to confirm assurance.
In other words, Rutherford exhorts people to pursue the personal experience of salvation by good works from a position of uncertainty, rather than encouraging people to do good works from a position of personal assurance.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorStephen Ralph Holmes (Supervisor)


  • Assurance
  • Assurance of faith
  • Assurance of salvation
  • Certainty of faith
  • Gift of faith
  • Holy Spirit's gift of faith
  • Essence of faith
  • Objective assurance
  • Subjective assurance
  • Epistemology of faith and assurance
  • Good works
  • Gaining assurance
  • Strengthening assurance
  • Reformation theology
  • Pneumatology
  • Historical theology
  • Reformed theology
  • Puritan theology
  • Scottish theology
  • Systematic theology
  • Calvin vs Calvinism
  • Purpose of good works in faith and assurance
  • Inseparability of faith and assurance
  • Nature of faith and assurance
  • Joel Beeke
  • Robert Letham
  • Anthony Lane
  • Cornelis Graafland
  • Richard Muller
  • Calvin
  • Heinrich Bullinger
  • Huldrych Zwingli
  • Oecolampadius
  • Martin Bucer
  • Capito
  • Wolfgang Musculus
  • Peter Martyr Vermigli
  • Theodore Beza
  • William Cunningham
  • Thomas Torrance
  • R. T. Kendall
  • Charles Bell
  • Paul Helm
  • Grounds for assurance
  • Practical syllogism
  • John Coffey
  • Guy Richard
  • Covenant theology
  • Habit of faith
  • Westminster Confession
  • Experience of salvation
  • David Dickson
  • James Durham
  • George Gillespie
  • William Guthrie
  • James Fraser of Brea
  • Herman Bavinck

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 1 September 2028

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