Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

Research Article

Covenant and Assurance in Early English Puritanism

John von Rohra1

a1 Professor of Historical Theology and History of Christianity, Pacific School of Religion

This paper deals with the nature of the idea of “covenant” in English Puritan writings of the first half of the seventeenth century, and particularly as this bears upon the question of the assurance of salvation.

That this assurance could be obtained was a commonly accepted axiom and, indeed, the actual striving for such awareness was a commonly recognized obligation. When William Ames wrote, “The assurance of our calling and election is a thing greatly to be desired”, he also added the statement that this certainty “is not only possible for us to attaine unto, but also … it belongs to our duty to make this our calling and election sure”. There may well be many difficulties along the way, with serious agonies and doubtings. But excessive fearfulness is as great a sin as presumption, denying as it does the power of God's mercy. And so William Perkins could say, “we doe not teach that all and every man living within the precincts of the Church, professing the name of Christ is certen of his salvation, … but that he ought so to be, and must indeavor to attaine thereto”.