One of the most striking and comforting expressions in the Scriptures is that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Nonetheless, this statement creates a theological conundrum of sorts and has led in part some Reformed theologians, including puritans, to at least suggest if not advocate a subtle form of justification before faith. So what then is the problem? The issue pertains to the order of salvation, namely, the precise relationship between regeneration, faith and justification.
Placing regeneration and faith before justification, as the Reformed do, appears to be incompatible with the fact that God justifies the ungodly. For how can a regenerated, holy sinner who exercises sincere faith and repentance be viewed as ungodly? Yet, placing regeneration after justification has its own problems, chiefly, how can a sinner dead in sins turn to Christ in true faith and repentance?
John Owen suggests that a partial justification in heaven before faith, which he calls an “absolution in heaven,” could cut the Gordian knot of the justification of the ungodly (Works, 10:470). According to this scheme, justification is a process—likely a logical and not temporal one—that begins before faith with the sinner being absolved from guilt and punishment of sin, and ends in the conscience by faith whereupon the believer receives “a complete soul-freeing discharge” (Works, 10:471).
Matthew Mason proposes that Owen is making use of the Reformed distinction between active and passive justification (“John Owen’s Doctrine of Union with Christ in Relation to His Contributions to Seventeenth Century Debates Concerning Eternal Justification,” Ecclesia Reformanda 1.1 (2009): 62). Regardless, Louis Berkhof, albeit not in reference to Romans 4:5, argued for something similar to Owen by means of this distinction. Broadly speaking, active justification is God’s act or declaration as judge and passive justification is the communication of God’s declaration by the Holy Spirit to the sinner so that the sinner knows that he is justified. The former takes place in heaven and the latter in the sinner’s heart or conscience. The surprising move that Berkhof made is that he placed active justification of a particular sinner logically before faith (Systematic Theology, 517). He also astonishingly said, albeit consistently, that passive justification is what the Bible normally means by justification by faith. Thus, Berkhof went even further than Owen by asserting without hesitation that the sinner is logically justified before he believes.
Although affirming a partial or whole justification before faith might help explain the justification of the ungodly, it does so at the expense of the biblical role of faith in justification. Justification occurs logically after a sinner believes.  Herman Witsius is surely correct that justification “is of faith, and by faith, as Paul every where teacheth; and consequently the effect and fruit of faith, the result of regeneration and effectual calling" (Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, under the unhappy names of Antinomians and Neonomians, trans. Thomas Bell [Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807], 111). Thus, it is not logically prior to faith but “immediately, on his receiving Christ by faith, God declares in the court of heaven, that he is no longer under wrath, but under grace” (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1:417).
This is not to say that the term justification in its active sense cannot be used theologically to refer to acts that are temporally and logically prior to the actual justification of a particular sinner. Decretive justification is the decree to justify the elect. Virtual justification—also called general justification and fundamental justification— is a general justification of the elect pronounced at the resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Justification may also be used with reference to regeneration. Witsius, for example, is willing to admit that justification may be used in this way. Since all saving benefits, including regeneration and faith, are given to the sinner only on the basis of Christ’s satisfaction, a sinner can be said to be justified at regeneration in the sense that God declares him “to be one of those for whom Christ purchased a right to life, by virtue of which right he is now raised from spiritual death to life” (Conciliatory Animadversions, 111).
This use of justification at regeneration by Witsius, however, is different from Owen’s absolution in heaven or Berkhof’s use of active justification. The latter two refer to a partial or whole act of absolution/justification while Witsius only means a declaration or acknowledgment of the sinner’s right to absolution/justification. There is quite a difference between declaring someone is justified and declaring someone has to the right to be justified by virtue of Christ’s satisfaction. Moreover, Witsius is adamant that Scripture does not use the word justification in this sense and that the actual justification of a particular sinner takes place at the moment of faith.
Since faith logically precedes justification, Owen’s absolution in heaven and Berkhof’s use of the active/passive distinction are unacceptable. How then should we understand the Pauline statement that God justifies the ungodly? Anthony Burgess said that the common answer among divines is that “he that was ungodly, is, being justified, made godly also, though that godliness doe not justifie him” (A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, 34). [*Besides this common response, Burgess adds a second one that is found among some divines. The term “ungodly” refers to a believing sinner: “that ungodly there is meant of such, who are so in their nature considered, having not an absolute righteousness, yet at the same time beleevers, even as Abraham was…So then, the subject of justification is a sinner, yet a beleever.”] Samuel Rutherford provided the same answer to this problem. He wrote, “We grant, the Lord doth not justifie an ungodly man, as an ungodly man, and as voyd of faith for by order of nature, he is first a believer, and in Christ, and then he is justified, though there be no ordinary time between his ungodlinesse and his justification." Witsius followed suit as he said that “in this sense God is said to justify the ungodly, Rom. iv. 5.; him who is so in himself, and actually continues such till he is born again, when that faith is freely bestowed on him for which he is immediately justified” (The Economy of the Covenants, 1:416-417).
The puritans used Jesus’ healing miracles to further explain their answer. Jesus told John the Baptist’s disciples to tell John that the lame walk and the deaf hear (Matt. 11:5). But as Rutherford pointed out, “no man dreamed that the lame as lame remaining lame, does leap, and the dumb remaining dumb sing” (A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, 2:110-111). In other words, to say that the lame walk means that the person who was lame now walks. Similarly, to say that God justifies the ungodly is to say that God justifies a person who was ungodly, but who now is a regenerated believer.
The justification of the ungodly is by no means an unsolvable puzzle. You don’t have to sacrifice a Reformed understanding of the order of salvation in order to make sense of it. God indeed justifies the ungodly, even as he makes the blind see, the lame walk and the deaf hear.

It's an assumed point of hermeneutics today that the grammatical historical meaning of the Song of Songs is that it merely a love song, a poem between a husband and wife. John Owen reminds us of the ancient method of Christological exegesis, seeing in the Song a type and shadow of the mutual love between the Lord (Christ) and his Church. At the end of chapter 3 in his devotional classic, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Owen inserted a "Digression" in which he exposited Song of Songs chapter 5. At the end of this chapter, the Shulamite said of her beloved, "he is altogether desirable" (Song 5:16). Owen then concluded his exposition with a description of the loviness of Jsus Christ:

When the spouse hath gone thus far in the description of him, she concludes all in this general assertion: "He is wholly desirable,—altogether to be desired or beloved." As if she should have said,—"I have thus reckoned up some of the perfections of the creatures (things of most value, price, usefulness, beauty, glory, here below), and compared some of the excellencies of my Beloved unto them. In this way of allegory I can carry things no higher; I find nothing better or more desirable to shadow out and to present his loveliness and desirableness: but, alas! all this comes short of his perfections, beauty, and comeliness; 'he is all wholly to be desired, to be beloved;'"—

Lovely in his person,—in the glorious all-sufficiency of his Deity, gracious purity and holiness of his humanity, authority and majesty, love and power.

Lovely in his birth and incarnation; when he was rich, for our sakes becoming poor,—taking part of flesh and blood, because we partook of the same; being made of a woman, that for us he might be made under the law, even for our sakes.

Lovely in the whole course of his life, and the more than angelical holiness and obedience which, in the depth of poverty and persecution, he exercised therein;—doing good, receiving evil; blessing, and being cursed, reviled, reproached, all his days.

Lovely in his death ; yea, therein most lovely to sinners;—never more glorious and desirable than when he came broken, dead, from the cross. Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfulness; then had he made peace and reconciliation for us; then had he procured life and immortality for us.

Lovely in his whole employment, in his great undertaking,—in his life, death, resurrection, ascension; being a mediator between God and us, to recover the glory of God's justice, and to save our souls,— to bring us to an enjoyment of God, who were set at such an infinite distance from him by sin.

Lovely in the glory and majesty wherewith he is crowned. Now he is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; where, though he be terrible to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love, and compassion, towards his beloved ones.

Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolations, in all the dispensations of his Holy Spirit, whereof his saints are made partakers.

Lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom, which he exercises in the protection, safe-guarding, and delivery of his church and people, in the midst of all the oppositions and persecutions whereunto they are exposed.

Lovely in all his ordinances, and the whole of that spiritually glorious worship which he hath appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and have communion with him and his Father.

Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he taketh, and will finally execute, upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.

Lovely in the pardon he hath purchased and doth dispense,—in the reconciliation he hath established,—in the grace he communicates,— in the consolations he doth administer,—in the peace and joy he gives his saints,—in his assured preservation of them unto glory.

What shall I say? there is no end of his excellencies and desirableness;—"He is altogether lovely. This is our beloved, and this is our friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." (Works, 2:77–78 )

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13)
We’ve paused at the half-way point in our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection, to answer a question concerning “The Great Ejection” of 1662: Why were up to nearly 20% of Church of England ministers silenced from preaching and teaching by law and so lose their parishes or positions? You may read the first and second part of the answer in previous posts.
The third part of our answer highlights the tensions in how we understand the Anglican Puritan movement as a whole. In other words, what historical evidence establishes the categorization of Anglican Puritan movement in the English Reformation to 1662 as “something other than Anglican?" The last forty years of English Reformation scholarship has been built on the insights of Arthur Dickens, Geoffrey Elton, and Patrick Collinson that has led students from the pages of sermons, letters, and tracts and treatises of Anglican divines, courtiers, and politicians to the forgotten folios of visitation act books and sheaves of consistory cause papers. In these under-used resources was recorded not the Reformation of the Court, London or Oxbridge colleges, but the Reformation of the people in the parishes of England. And it has proved possible to trace the impact and the growth of reformed theology and thinking. What we find is real diversity in the counties and parishes of the reformed Church of England. There were serious, godly, and conscientious Anglican Puritans who did conform and remained serious, godly, and conscientious Anglican Puritan ministers.
One famous example of a conforming Anglican Puritan is William Gurnall, rector of St. Peter and Paul, Lavenham in Suffolk and the author of Puritan classic, The Christian in Complete Armour, the one book that John Newton said he would chose if confined to one book beside the Bible. Other conscientious Anglican Puritans were ejected but were willing to conform. They were ejected because they had to give way to their predecessors being restored to their previous positions. These Anglican Puritans were able to find other significant positions in the Church of England. An example of one of these is Thomas Horton, Professor of Divinity, President of Queen’s College, and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Horton was a solid Puritan who became rector of St. Helen, Bishopsgate after his ejection from the presidency of Queen’s to make room for the returning Edward Martin. His biographer, John Wallis, who had Horton as his tutor at Cambridge, says he was, “…a pious and learned man, an hard student, a sound divine, a good textuary, very well skilled in the oriental languages, very well accomplished for the work of the ministry, and very conscientious in the discharge of it.”
Some good men were ejected and later conformed because they held parishes far from London. Meet the Puritans friend and contributor, Lee Gatiss, writes of Richard Kidder, who was deprived of his parish for nonconformity, but in his “Autobiography states that he did not receive a copy of the new Prayer Book till September 1662: though ‘intirely satisfied in Episcopacy, and with a liturgy.’” Lee underlines that this was a problem in many places since, as Edmund Calamy writes,
“the Common Prayer book with the alterations and amendments… did not come out of the press till a few days before the 24th August.  So that of the seven thousand ministers in England who kept their livings, few, except those who were in or near London could possibly have a sight of the book with its alterations, till after they had declared their assent and consent to it!”
Provision was later made later for men like Kidder, who afterwards was able to conform and serve as Rector of St. Martin, Outwich, eventually becoming Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1691.
It is not that long ago that you could pick up any respectable history of the late 16th to mid 17th century England to read of the binary “Anglicanism” and its nemesis “Puritanism.” Indeed, as the Anglican church in North America struggles to form an identity, the two opposing categories are very much alive. Therefore in my forthcoming fourth part of The Anglican Conscience, I will challenge this outdated taxonomy.
Thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Bookswe have two (2) copies of Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition edited by Ian Hugh Clary, Michael Haykin, and Robert Davis Smart.
The deadline to register is Friday, July 15.
Reformation Scotland Trust was formed in 2013. Their stated aim is “to promote the restoration of the Christian Church in Scotland, by informing, educating and promoting understanding of the attainments of the Second Reformation in Scotland.” That is an aim that I’m sure many readers of Meet the Puritans would support. I encourage you to check out the Trust's attractive website and well-produced publications.  
Continuing on from the previous review of Reformation Scotland Trust’s publication, Family Worship: A Daily Guide to Reformation at Home, I’d like to highlight another of their works: Penetrating Preaching: Learning from the Saviour’s Method of Making the Word Hit Home.
Wanted: Penetrating Preaching?
But what is a booklet on Penetrating Preaching going to be about? Well, in essence it is a sustained defence and exposition of the exhortation of the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for Public Worship that the preacher:
is not to rest in general doctrine, although never so much cleared and confirmed, but to bring it home to special use, by application to his hearers: which albeit it prove a work of great difficulty to himself, requiring much prudence, zeal, and meditation, and to the natural and corrupt man will be very unpleasant; yet he is to endeavour to perform it in such a manner, that his auditors may feel the word of God to be quick and powerful, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and that, if any unbeliever or ignorant person be present, he may have the secrets of his heart made manifest, and give glory to God.
Those at the Westminster Assembly who wrote these words would agree with the sentiments of Richard Baxter, quoted at the start of the booklet, that “It would grieve one to the heart to hear what excellent doctrine some ministers have in hand, while yet they let it die in their hands for want of close [searching] and lively [living] application”.
This booklet’s burden is that Baxter’s warning is as much needed in our day as it is was in the 17th century. And therefore it aims to stir up preachers to apply the word of God to their hearers.
The Booklet
The booklet itself has six sections. There is an introduction, a reprint of a Banner of Truth magazine editorial by Maurice Roberts, and four extracts from the writings of outstanding Scottish theologian James Durham (1622-1658).
There is so much helpful material packed in to the 38 pages of this booklet that it would take many posts to cover them all. And so I just want to reflect on a few key statements, particularly those which counter the one main objection to application in preaching: that it is man centred rather than God centred, and that it fails to place the weight on the gospel that the New Testament does.
The first of these statement is that “the key focus of application for all preachers” should be “to bring sinners to Christ.” Application is not man centred, it is Christ centred. Application exposes sin, application lays bare hypocrisy and self-confidence. But is does that not as an end in itself but to present Christ as “the right remedy for their condition. That is himself, and his benefits and his imputed righteousness.” To have application is not to detract from Christ, rather it is ultimately point to him.
The second of these are the wise words of Maurice Roberts that “exhortation comes best on the back of doctrine. All the imperatives of the Christian life are based on the indicatives.” Nothing in this booklet contradicts this sense of the “grammar” of the New Testament. The application this booklet seeks to encourage in no way undermines the indicative/imperative force of the New Testament. 
This the booklet, then, is Christ centred. That is especially clear in sections 4 and 6, which are extracts from Durham’s writings. All the exhortations presented to encourage more searching application in preaching are consistent with Durham’s conviction stated in section 6 that “any preaching which does not relate to Christ misses the mark and its text.”
Once again this booklet is beautifully produced and attractively set out. It deserves a wide readership, especially amongst those who “labour in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17). One need not agree with everything (e.g. the caution about consecutive expository preaching) to find immense help here. There is indeed a crying need for more “searching” application and this book gives may wise and practical counsels on how to do that in a balanced and Christ exalting way.
Let me leave those who preach with one thought. Maurice Roberts states in this booklet that “A sermon is a thing of fire. A good sermon drips energy from the lips of the speaker.” Preachers, pray that your sermons would become “things of fire” which will touch and transform your hearers.
This post has been sponsored by the Reformation Scotland Trust.
This post has been sponsored by the Reformation Scotland Trust.
Emidio Campi's, Shifting Patterns of Reformed Tradition, Reformed Historical Theology vol. 27 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014) is an outstanding collection of essays that illustrates unity and diversity in the Reformed tradition on a wide scale. With special emphasis on Reformers such as Calvin, Bullinger, and Vermigli, Campi does not simply regurgitate the work of others (such as Richard Muller and David Steinmetz) on this subject. He uses hitherto neglected resources, such as Vermigli’s book of prayers and Beza’s correspondence with Bullinger, to show how Reformed authors interacted with one another as they sought theological unity and consensus. This book will be useful to all who desire a broad contextual study of the shaping of Reformed theology in the early orthodox period.
In my opinion, some of the best articles include the analysis of the Consensus Tigurinus, Calvin’s impact on and relation to other Swiss Reformed churches, and the influence of the conversion story of Galeazzo Caracciolo on English Puritanism. The Consensus illustrates how early Reformers such as Calvin and Bullinger were willing to debate theological issues in pursuit of theological and ecclesiastical unity. Through this process, the Consensus resulted in a large measure of uniformity in Reformed views of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper for generations to come. This chapter is thought provoking and provides a model for proper theological debate and biblical ecumenicity, since Calvin (albeit unsuccessfully) continually tried to involve Lutherans in these debates. The story of Galeazzo Caracciolo is a juicy conversion story of a prominent Italian aristocrat turned Protestant who fled to Geneva. His story became a paradigmatic example of leaving all to follow Christ among English Puritans. The disturbing side of this story is that Caracciolo abandoned his wife and children to do so and that the Genevan authorities permitted him to remarry after his questionable divorce. This illustrates the fact that it is unwise to idealize any period in church history. Even our heroes often have clay feet.
All of these articles originated as conference presentations and all of them have appeared in print before. While some readers will consider this a disadvantage, others (like this reviewer) will be grateful to have these materials collected in one volume instead of lost in over a dozen multi-author works. Campi is an internationally respected scholar who is published in English, French, Italian, and German. This volume makes his valuable research accessible to English students of historical theology.

Since theological seminaries have recently held graduations and a new class of students will soon enter, I thought it would be a fun exercise to write a post on "the learned Doctor" William Ames' advice to theological students. William Ames (1576–1633) was an Englishman who was "exiled" to the Netherlands for the end of his life and ministry. If any of you know much about the Dutch, you'll understand the great blessing Ames had in teaching at the University of Franeker in the province of Friesland (laugh if you get the tongue-in-cheek joke). On May 23, 1622, the independent-minded, some would say stubborn, Frieslanders installed Ames at their small but "gracious academy of Friesland." A little over year later he gave a lecture entitled, Parenesis ad studios theologiae, habita Franekerae, Aug. 22, anno 1623, "An Exhortation to the Students of Theology, Dwelling in Franeker, August 22, the Year 1623." This lecture was translated in 1958 by Douglas Horton and is available through Inter-Library Loan or through sending me a few guilders.

Ames begins by defining the nature of theology as he did in his Medulla theologica, also published in 1623, in which Ames said so famously, "Theology is the doctrine or teaching of living to God." In his exhortation, Ames said it was necessary for the University to "call theology away from questions and controversies, obscure, confused, and not very essential, and introduce it to life and practice so that students would begin to think seriously of conscience and its concerns." No doubt Ames' definition and populist concern reflects his relationship towards Johannes Maccovius, whom he considered too speculative.

First among Ames' concerns was to counter what he perceived as a lack of understanding by students of "the proper end of theology." He discussed this using 1 Timothy 4:16 as his text, which says the minister must be aware of his teaching since it saves himself and his hearers. This meant that students need to know that they were to be devoted to the glory of God and the edification of the church. Contrary to this concern for the proper end of theology were those who entered the ministry for financial gain or just like they would enter

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a business. God help us from this attitude in ourselves and for us so privileged, in purging this attitude from those we are shepherding towards the ministry as seminary students. While these were "useless weights to the church," Ames said "the greater marvel is the grace and providence of God, by which it has come about that up till now the church has lived on, although burdened to an unhappy degree by men of this hireling kind." Amen! Ames also linked his concern for the proper end of theology with the conscience, saying, "The mirror in which the image of eternal truth is reflected must be pure and clean. As far as possible there ought to be no stains of vice or flaws of selfishness in that heart in which the divine wisdom is to tabernacle." How important a godly character is to the preparation for the ministry! Cleanse your mind, seminary students, of greed, pride, arrogance, anger, envy, and contentiousness, to name a few areas. I remember those seminary days well.

Ames' second concern was to impress upon his students the high calling of the ministry: "What can be thought more important or useful than the profession of the ministry? Here one does not treat of lands and estates and similar earthly matters, as in civil law, but of the supremest good and the highest heaven, not of temporal bodily health, as in medicine, but of salvation and eternal life. Not here, as elsewhere, do they enquire into the sentiments, orders, decisions, and rulings of men, but into the eternal wisdom of God and His perfect will." I don't know if I've ever read it better than this.

Ames' third concern was to show that the ministry concerned not only doctrine, but method and practice, using the illustration of physicians of old who divided their discipline into these three areas. This was important, because, as Ames said, "Our ministers, however, think themselves to be quite prepared for all the parts of their office if they know only the doctrines—and would they knew them!" It is for this reason that the Scriptures were to be studied for doctrine and for the practice of godliness. What does this mean for us? It means that just because you like to read, just because you like theology, and just because you are able to cite a few passages of Scripture, from Calvin, or from the Confessions to make a point does not mean you are being called into the ministry.

In conclusion, like a good Ramist, Ames ended his exhortation with the use of his word concerning the end of theology, the high calling of the ministry, and the need to study for purposes of doctrine and godliness. Here Ames spoke to his students about "theological exercises," which were the ways the things they learned were sharpened and put into practice. Ames' exhortation to his students was that they participated in disputations, that is, formal theological debate. They needed to engage in rehearsing their sermons so that they would benefit their hearers; they need to pray; they needed to engage in holy meditation; and as fellow students, they needed to exhort, admonish, and console each other as brothers in the Lord. May God help us to do so.

In discussing the practical doctrine of assuance (see parts 1, 2, and 3 in this series), one careful distinction we must make is between assurance and presumption. The reason is that a false assurance is the worst delusion and spiritual insanity, but too many people bless themselves even while they are outside the door of the kingdom.
Assurance and presumption come from different root causes. Assurance comes from the Spirit of God enlightening the heart and working childlike affections. Presumption comes from a lack of experiential knowledge of the depth and danger of one’s sin and the clinging presence of self-love and self-flattery (Prov. 16:2). 
Assurance and presumption also differ in their motives and basis. Assurance comes from the Spirit of God working through the Word of God to produce spiritual comfort (Rom. 15:4). Presumption comes from a natural understanding of regeneration, which cannot be spiritually understood without the Spirit’s work (John 3:10). Presumption leans at least in part upon one’s own merits and worthiness, but assurance looks only for sincerity of grace mingled with many faults that Christ’s blood must wash away. People often presume that God loves them in a saving way because they have outward prosperity in riches, children, or honors—but they stand in slippery places and may be horribly surprised (Luke 16:25).
God generally works assurance in a manner quite different that presumption springs up. Though the Spirit is free to save as He pleases (John 3:8), God’s ordinary way is to bring a person to sincere humiliation under the burden of his sins (Matt. 11:28). Assurance is often attained after a conflict with doubts and unbelief, for it is the work of the Spirit, and the flesh wars against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). Assurance with never a doubt is too much like the man who said, “All these have I kept from my youth” (Luke 18:21). It is a good sign when a sense of God’s grace in us comes with a feeling of our imperfections, so that we cry, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Assurance also produces effects that go far beyond anything presumption can do. Godly assurance makes a person diligent to use the means of grace and careful to obey God’s commands, but the neglect of them weakens assurance (2 Peter 1:10). Sinful self-confidence swells all the bigger even while neglecting prayer and living in sin. Godly assurance ignites the heart with love to God, like a magnifying glass focuses the light of the sun to start a fire. Presumption works more lust for this created world and a proud abuse of God. Assurance has the power to support the heart when discouragements and disruptions abound and sinful confidence fails. True metal proves itself on the anvil.
We may also see the difference in the spiritual companions and enemies of assurance and presumption. Assurance comes with holy fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), and humility and low self-appraisal (Luke 1:46–48). Presumption keeps out godly fear, and comes with a flattering self-comparison to other sinners (Luke 18:11). The only enemies of assurance are sin and coolness of zeal, for it is produced by God’s Spirit and sin grieves the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Presumption may be shaken by outward troubles or psychological depression, but not by sin’s offense against God.
God has powerful weapons to destroy the fortresses of sinful self-confidence. This is a mercy, for no one has higher obstacles against coming to Christ than the falsely assured Christian. God can, however, destroy these strongholds by a powerful, soul-searching preacher (2 Cor. 10:4–5). Another weapon is an explanation and application of God’s laws to the motives of the soul, as Christ did in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5). God might also show people from the Bible how complete and necessary a Savior Jesus Christ is, for if He is everything, then we have nothing in ourselves. God may also accompany the thunder of the Word with the afflictions of earthly grief to awaken sinners. He can use the frightening examples of people who seemed so spiritual (and thought so highly of themselves) but then fell horribly. Indeed, God can use stupid decisions people make in other areas of life to show them that they may be fooling themselves about their spiritual state too.
On two different occasions recently, I have read and heard Spurgeon’s story of the Scottish “fishwife” carrying a basket of fish while an eager young man challenged her about spiritual things. When he compared her “burden” of fish to Bunyan’s spiritual one in Pilgrim’s Progress, the woman claimed that she got rid of such years before. She bemoaned that Bunyan took too long to get burdened Christian to the cross for relief. In the sermon, “The Plain Man’s Pathway to Peace” (1880), Spurgeon shares the woman’s complaint:
Why, that Evangelist, when he met the man with the burden on his back, said to him, "Do you see that wicket gate?" "No," he said, "I don't." "Do you see that light?" "I think I do." "Why, man," she said, "he should not have spoken about wicket gates or lights, but he should have said, 'Do you see Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross? Look to Him and your burden will fall off your shoulders.'"
Thus, Evangelist gave bad counsel by taking him through certain experiences to prepare or qualify him to come to Christ. In this way, Bunyan was guilty of “preparationism,” the teaching that a sinner needed to be appropriately humbled and convicted of sin before we can point him to Christ for salvation.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson relates the fishwife story in conference talks (2005) on the 18th-century Marrow Controversy and in The Whole Christ (Crossway, 2016).  In setting forth the dangers of both legalism and antinomianism, both of which distort the law and grace of God in Christ, Ferguson proposes that Bunyan emits a kind of legalistic preparationism detracting from the free offer of the gospel.
Derek Thomas at the 2016 Banner of Truth Conference sought to rescue Bunyan from the fishwife charge. First, Christian’s experience was descriptive of what happened to him not prescriptive of what should happen as paralleled by Bunyan in Grace Abounding. Second, Christian’s wife, Christiana, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II, had a different and easier way to the cross and so detracts from a prescriptive idea of qualification.
Spurgeon thinks that Bunyan could have been more careful, yet was right in “describing things as they generally are.”  Yet, the fishwife correctly related things “as they ought to be .”  So what do we make of the fishwife’s diagnosis? Well, I want to point out at least three problems with her argument. 
  1. First, when Evangelist pointed Christian to the wicket gate, he was directing him to Christ by the light of Scripture as seen in Bunyan’s marginal note: “Christ and the way to him cannot be found without the Word,” as supported by Bunyan’s marginal citation of  Matthew 7:13; Psalm 119:105; and 2 Peter 1:19. In summary, in response to Christian’s cry, “What shall I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:31), Evangelist points him to Christ. 
  2. Second, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory, does not express Bunyan’s theology as clearly as his doctrinal treatises and sermon tracts. Thus, we must interpret the unclear in the light of the clear. The marginal notes seek to do just that. Also, the allegory of a long journey easily leaves us wondering, “Why did it take so long to get to the cross?” In fact, Bunyan clearly taught sinners to seek Christ without delay.  For example, in Light for Them Who Sit in Darkness (1674),  he speaks against the idea of a qualified sinner:  “Shall he stay from Christ till his heart is better? No. What then? Let him NOW look to Jesus Christ crucified, then shall he see his sins answered for.”
  3. Third, if indeed Bunyan meant to express the idea of being in Christ when one enters the gate, Christian experienced forgiveness well before he got to the cross. As many scholars attest, that Bunyan was then expressing the assurance of justification at the cross and not the experience of it. Such an interpretation is quite plausible.
Bunyan was no erudite theologian such as his contemporaries John Owen or Thomas Goodwin and could be somewhat eclectic and even inconsistent in his theology. But, he was no preparationist. So, even if he at times was not careful enough in his discussion of such, Bunyan set forth a certain kind of preparatory work as the operation of God upon sinners not as a requirement for them to perform.
Quick; what’s the first thing you think of when I say the word “estate?” Got it? Now let me take a wild guess and say that you probably thought of the word sale, as in estate sale, right? To us materialist Westerners, an estate is the sum total of our lives that we can pass on to our children, with the help of a living trust or will. In a word, we think of an estate as what we have.
There is an older use of the word, though. We may have no doubt it even exists. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this use of the word speaking of a condition of our existence. Our estate is not our accumulation, then, but our condition; not what we have, but what we are. The Westminster Larger Catechism explains the biblical data concerning the fall of Adam by saying it has placed us into a new condition of existence: “an estate of sin and misery” (Q&A23).
Our lives are characterized by sin, which John described in 1 John 3:4 as “lawlessness.” Our condition is to be lawless, meaning, both that we do not keep the law but in fact break the law. This is why the Catechism defines sin as a “want [lack] of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (Q&A 24). Not only was Adam and Eve plunged into this estate but “all that proceed from them” by means of “natural generation” (Q&A 26) also enter this state of existence. What does it mean that Our Estate of Sin is a condition of our lives?
The Guilt of Sin
To be in an estate of sin is to be under the guilt of sin. We know from Romans 5:12–21 that when Adam sinned, we sinned. In Ephesians 2:4 Paul says this in another way: we were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:4). By “nature” Paul means the way we are.” Spiritually speaking, we are “by nature” sinners. This means that this is just the way we are. We were born this way.
What a weighty thing this natural state of ours is. We are “by nature children of wrath.” This does not mean that we are naturally angry with people, but it means that we were born under the wrath of Almighty God. When was the last time you, as those who trust in Jesus and who have joined yourselves to his church, meditated and reflected upon the reality of God’s wrath and judgment upon the unbelieving? Pail does this in 2 Thessalonians 1, where he says
God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (1:6, 7–9).
Our natural estate of sin should cause in us awe and reverence at what God is like. It should also cause heartfelt gratitude that God has saved us from this estate. It should cause deep concern for the lost because this is their predicament.
The Lack of Righteousness
To be in an estate of sin is to have the lack of righteousness. The Catechism speaks of “the want [lack] of that righteousness wherein he was created” (Q&A 25). This means we were born lacking the original righteousness of Adam. He was created upright; we are born fallen. In Ephesians 4:24 Paul exhorts God’s people to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” What Paul says about us we can read backwards as being true of Adam. What Paul means, then, is that when we come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith we regain something that we had lost. What we lost was that original righteousness and holiness, which Adam had. In Christ we are re-created. This is why Paul says of all humanity outside of Christ, that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). What does this lack of righteousness look like? It means that “no one understands” rightly the God who made them and that “no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). It means that “all have turned aside,” “become worthless,” and, therefore “no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:12). It means that “their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13–14). It means that “their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known” (Rom. 3:15–17). Finally, it means “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). This is an estate you do not want to belong to.
The Corruption of Nature
To be in the estate of sin is to have the corruption of nature. Corruption is defined by the Catechism as being “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Q&A 25). In Ephesians 2:1 Paul simply uses the term “dead.”
We were born not only with this guilt and lack of righteousness, but also with a corrupt nature. This “original sin” is who we are as humans. And from it “proceed[s] all actual transgressions.” Before Christ came to save us we actually walked in the deadness of our nature and transgressions against God, we followed the world’s ways, and we followed Satan’s ways. We lived in the passions of our flesh, we carried out the desires of our bodies, and the desires of our minds.
What a sorrowful state we found ourselves in! We a heinous state our neighbors are in! This is a state of undeniable guilt. This is a state of total unrighteousness. This is a state of utter corruption. O how sorrowful. O how lamentable. O how pitiful. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”