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Hyper-introspection is just a spiritualized way of being self-centered.

I spoke at a leadership conference recently, and one of the points I made was The ministry is not about you. In the Q&A, there was some discussion about how pastors can focus attention making sure it’s not about them. At that point, I said, ”If you focus all your energy on making sure it’s not about you, then it is still about you.”

The key for a gospel-driven leader is this: remember to forget yourself.

Too many times, we dress up our introspection with flowery terms like “accountability” and “mortification” and “gospel-centered change.” Even if all these terms and concepts are good and needed, if our gaze is constantly inward-focused, then we are as self-centered as the Christian who is consumed with seeking personal pleasure apart from God.

We can avoid this type of introspection by avoiding the pitfalls of some of the Puritans. Though the Reformers sought to emphasize the assurance we can have because of God’s grace in election and salvation, their descendants sometimes undercut the beauty of assurance by stressing the fruit of sanctification more than the fact of justification. Self-examination was a “descending into our own hearts” to root out every possible sinful tendency and desire.

Beware the paralysis that comes from this type of introspection. If our goal is to discover, analyze, and root out every aspect of sinfulness in our hearts, then we will never come to the end of the task.

Satan loves to take the tender conscience and stir up doubt of salvation, doubt of sanctification, and doubt of progression in holiness. Then, he turns the gaze of the introspective person inward, where the dark recesses of our hearts continue to lead to darker recesses still. Instead of living in the shining light of gospel truth, the gospel that dispels all this darkness and grants us a new heart, we travel deeper and deeper into the cavernous rooms of our remaining sin.

Meanwhile, our missiological effectiveness is thwarted. We talk about grace, sing about grace, read about grace, and hear sermons about grace, but at the end of the day, we are paralyzed, not free. We see ourselves only as sinners, not saints. Constant self-doubt and introspection haunt our efforts to be on mission.

We will never be effective missiologically if the main source of our energy is spent rooting out every sinful tendency we have in our hearts. There is no end to discovering our depravity. The paradoxical truth is that the more we rest in the goodness of our Savior, the more progress we make in our fight against sin.

I’d love to see Martin Luther come in and bust up our accountability groups. After slapping us around a little, he would say, “Get on with the work of the ministry and rest in Your sovereign Savior.” Luther wrote:

Even if I am feeble in faith, I still have the same treasure and the same Christ that others have. There is no difference; through faith in Him (not works) we are all perfect.

To be clear, in warning against the Puritan paralysis, I am not saying we should never engage in self-examination. Self-examination in light of the Scriptures is appropriate and necessary for every believer. The Apostle Paul calls us to this discipline (2 Cor. 13:5).

But our self-examination needs to take place in light of Romans 8: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The gospel roots out species of pride that our morbid introspection could never reach.

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60 thoughts on “Beware the Puritan Paralysis”

  1. Trevin,

    Thanks for the article. It is good to learn from Puritans but not blindly receive their writings as gospel. Great critique and challenge for us today brother.

  2. I was just working through this with one of my students yesterday. There is a place where we say, “forgetting what is behind and striving for what is ahead.” We don’t wallow in our former sins, we repent of them, praise God for his grace over them, and look towards the holiness he’s prepared for us.

  3. Thank you for this great insight, Trevin.

    It was just the other day I was writing on “Why So Much of Christian Art is Second Rate” and this happened to be among the reasons: Our Puritan hyper-carefulness paralyzes us from going all out in our creativity because we are afraid that in our joyful abandon, we have committed a thousand unknown sins. The balance between hyper-introspection and non-introspection is a difficult balance to strike, but then again, the Christian life is all about balance.

    Here’s a link to the article mentioned in my comment above:

  4. Seth Fuller says:

    Trevin I think I understand what you are saying, but I think this issue may need further development. For example, I think there are different types of introspection. I know for me personally I have caught myself taking pride in the fact that I am rooting out my sinful tendencies, as if it is something within my own power. There is a real possibility I think in that sort of self-righteous rush that comes from this spiritual pride. I think there is also another type of introspection who’s purpose is ONLY to lead us closer to Christ, to be perfected and led by the Spirit, not in the flesh. So I would say that introspection needs to be talked about in categories because not all introspection is the same or rooted in the same motivation. Also Paul tells us to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord. This cannot be done without serious introspection. So I don’t know if that means we disagree, but with all due respect I’m just not sure your article covers the topic well enough to really help think properly through the issue.

    For His glory,

    Seth Fuller

  5. Hi Seth,

    Kindly check the first word in the blog-post. The word is HYPER-introspection, not merely introspection. I hope that helps. Have a blessed day/evening.

  6. Mike says:

    “accountability groups” “accountability” been there done that NEVER AGAIN! Gone in my church. I have seen a pretty big move in my church, which is reformed calvinist very much influenced by the TGC culture and Piper, over the past 5 years or so move away from the “root out sin” “puritan” hard line Piper type teachings to a more grace orientation in the sense that almost any sin discovered in the church is not a threat to a persons salvation, and I mean anything.
    So much has come out that the pastor and the elders are at the point that they cant handel it or so I hear. Bring it to Jesus not us! Althought the church is exploding in growth it is also exploding in grace. Thanx Mike

  7. Mark Jones says:


    I don’t think this is a terribly helpful way of stating the matter. Which Puritans did you have in mind? Which works? I have yet to talk to a single person who has read Thomas Goodwin’s “Christ Set Forth” without them confessing how it radically changed their view of the Christian life and their assurance of salvation for the better.

    It seems to me that the Puritans, including the WCF, spoke of the promises of God as the chief ground for assurance. So I’m a little surprised that you wrote what you did!

    Mark Jones

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      It’s certainly not all the Puritans, Mark. It’s just that there is sometimes a marked tendency toward hyper-introspection that I believe competes with our missionary identity.

      For example, Bunyan is a hero of mine, but his “Grace Abounding” would not be a work I would recommend to a naturally introspective person without significant caveats and warnings along these lines.

      Healthy introspection leads to mission. Unhealthy introspection leads to needless navel-gazing that can hinder us from accomplishing the tasks God has for us.

      No one is immune to this temptation, including the great heroes of the faith.

      1. Mark Jones says:


        Your title did give the impression that this was a problem among the Puritans in general.

        There are so many works, primary and secondary sources, that show this charge to be quite untrue. And I would say it is best not to contrast the Reformation outlook with the Puritan view for a number of reasons.

        What’s interesting, of course, is the fact that in Bunyan’s work that you cited he refers to Luther’s commentary on Galatians in the most positive way – “before all books as the best for a wounded conscience”.

        It seems to me that if we are to speak of “the Puritans”, as opposed to an individual such as Bunyan, we should generally look at their comprehensive thought on a subject, such as their teaching on assurance in the WCF, if we are going to describe their view, rather than isolated writings that may or may not prove the point. That will keep us from saying things about them (whether on slavery or assurance) that simply are not true of them as a whole.

        Incidentally, the very thing you wish to avoid was not, of course, a problem for Bunyan. His views (supposing you are correct) clearly did not affect his “missional” outlook or keep him from “accomplishing the tasks God had for him”.


        1. Trevin Wax says:


          Perhaps I haven’t been clear in the blog post. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

          I am not questioning the helpfulness of much Puritan teaching, or the theological precision of the WCF and other confessions. I’m speaking in general of the culture that arose in some Puritan circles, not the confession of faith they held.

          Just as a church can hold a confession that affirms the necessity of evangelism, it is still possible to have a culture of evangelistic apathy. Likewise, the confessions of the Puritans may be solid (and I think they are, when it comes to assurance), and yet certain excesses can appear in practice among some Puritans and some of their descendants (even today).

          My point was admittedly a generalization of some Puritans. Certainly not all.

          1. Daniel F. Wells says:

            I am on vacation at the moment and do not have my library in front of me, but I recall in Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology a section where is distinguishes between Calvin’s notion of ‘objective assurance’ versus the Westminister Divines carving out much space for ‘subjective assurance’.

      2. Brad says:

        Trevin, I’m wondering about the root motivation of your article? Are you really suggesting (as it seems) that we are too introspective in Reformed circles? Because I don’t think that you can fault us for being too introspective. Though I’m not a huge Puritan fan per se (I do love Bunyan and acknowledge there are abuses here) I don’t see a great danger with a little modern experimentation in an area we deeply lack.

        Also, I see a distinction between a godly introspection that leads to authentic repentance and to Christian love, and a carnal introspection that leads to false humility. Maybe this is what you’re driving at? Also…please don’t think for a moment I didn’t enjoy your article or the deep thinking that went into it. I did, you just hit a live nerve.

  8. Andrew Thornquist says:

    Thank you, Mr. Jones, for your input in this discussion.

    I am far from fully-read in the Puritans, but from what I have read from a number of the better known Puritans has by no means driven me to paralysis in self-examination. If anything, I have learned to “look to Christ ten times every time I look at myself.” Do you have any other sources, Mr. Wax, to justify the title of this post? If not, please consider a wiser and more fair choice of words.

    In joyous slavery to Christ,

    Andrew Thornquist

    1. Andrew Thornquist says:

      It seems we have cross-posted and you have sought to clarify yourself already. Thanks.

  9. It would have been nice to have a little specificity to the post. Generalizations are usually worth the weight that sits behind them.

  10. Aaron says:

    Thanks Trevin,

    The critique of “over generalization” here is misguided unless one is also against the broad brush that is used to commend the Puritans. If we don’t want them to be critiqued generally, than let’s not commend them generally either. . . or at least do it with the same care we’d want them to be critiqued with. Trueman and Walker have already stepped up to defend, as if someone was trying to throw out any and all Puritan contributions. Let’s let the critique stand.

    Trevin, I’ve shared your thoughts about Owen for a long time but haven’t spoken up due to Owen’s busy schedule of hanging the moon for some current pastors.

  11. Mark Jones says:

    I don’t believe I said you were questioning the helpfulness of Puritan teaching. The issue is assurance, and even Tullian, who links to this post, calls it the “glaring weakness” of the Puritans. The contention about the Reformation theologians versus the Puritans just cannot be sustained, which is a significant reason for your title.

    It just seems to me that a lot of posts are written on blogs that really shouldn’t be. And ordinarily I wouldn’t give a hoot about a blog post that gets the Puritans wrong, but with the whole “Precious Puritans” fiasco, I think we should be a little more judicious when speaking of a group of individuals.

    The plain fact is that the vast majority of the Puritans – the Reformed orthodox ones, that is – gave the objective (i.e., direct act of faith) a precedence over the subjective (i.e., reflex act of faith). With their unique contributions to Christology – something the broader Reformed church needs to learn – I think we could actually praise the Puritans for their contributions to the doctrine, not critique them!


  12. Thank you for this article!

    I have found myself in the paralysis in the past, and have been very thankful for the freedom to love the Puritans without feeling forced to take everything I’ve ever read by a Puritan (even the best ones) as Gospel.

    I’ve so often read Puritan exhortations and warnings along the lines of, “If you’re not sobbing and grovelling on the floor in self-hatred, you haven’t really repented” [not a direct quote of words, but of concept]. Of course, they want you to then get up and rejoice in forgiveness, but they reserve forgiveness and grace for those who have beaten themselves up with enough self-loathing first (Owen and Gurnall, whom I dearly love, come to mind).

    Before anyone responds with anger because they don’t read Owen or Gurnall this way, please accept that they DO come across this way to many readers, and the issue needs to be addressed.

    ONLY the Spirit of God can soften the hard places of our hearts. The emotional self-flagellation recommended in “Mortification” and other works can quickly cross the line into being a form of self-justification ironically reminiscent of Catholic pilgrimages on bloody knees.

    Having just come out of a season (a couple of days) of defeat in my own life, it bothered me in my devotional time this morning that I was so tempted to try to work up more self-loathing in my flesh to convince myself I wasn’t dead. But my gut knew that to present my bloodied knees to the Savior would be an insult.

    So how did I repent? By bringing ALL of my sin, (including my sin of not feeling sorry enough for my sin) to my Savior’s cross and leaving it there. I asked HIM to grant me true repentance, to soften the hard places in my heart, to restore to me the joy of my salvation. I read a few of my favorite devotionals (including Gurnall, because like I said, I love these guys, even if they went too far on the self-loathing bit), was deeply blessed, and was reminded to rejoice in hope. So I asked the Lord to grant me hope, too, knowing again that only what HE puts in me is acceptable to Him.

    Then, knowing that this walk is a lifelong process, and that I couldn’t expect to become fully sanctified if I stayed on my knees long enough, I stood up, fully JUSTIFIED by His grace, and went on with my day, trusting the Lord with the state of my soul, and determined to walk by faith.

    After all, the Lord didn’t sanctify the disciples by sending them to a monastery to beat themselves up, and neither Owen or Gurnall would want that either (though they were apparently blind to how much their writing sometimes sounded like that in places).

    Christ sanctified the disciples as they worked it all out in a life of love and blessing and obedience and repentance and joy in being forgiven. Owen and Gurnall wanted that for all of us, too, but we mustn’t deify them and think that they could “teach no wrong” in their efforts to show us the way.

    I thank God for all that the Puritans have taught me, and for all that I’ve learned NOT to listen to. Thank God for them, but they were human, just like us.

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      “If you’re not sobbing and grovelling on the floor in self-hatred, you haven’t really repented” That’s the Puritan error known as “Preparationism”. This Christless focus was more prevalent among the Puritans than our Reformed circles care to admit. We like to think we’re more involved in the process of salvation than we are… as long as there is a personal (not general assent to knowledge) trusting in Christ for salvation and no indifference toward the sin sin struggle (antinomian) then we are chosen, and any “holiness” we add to our journey is an act of gratitude and love toward our Savior… and allows for Calvin’s “double assurance”. Grace is too good to be true and why are we always trying to make it “believable”. Pauls means what he says in Romans 5.

  13. Michael says:

    I know it’s cool to bash on the Puritans these days, but considering the enormous output of their writing, preaching and suffering it would seem unwise to say they were so haunted by introspection that they were not on mission. However they would likely see their mission as different than most “missiologues” do today.

    Our goal is to be sanctified, which requires some active participation on our part. That includes trying to rout out sinfulness in our hearts.

    “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

    1. Trevin Wax says:


      I don’t think it’s cool to bash on the Puritans, and even if it were, I don’t think the proper motivation for critique should ever be “what’s cool.”

      I don’t recall having ever criticized the Puritans on this blog before. The point of my post was simply to say that sometimes some of the Puritans went to extremes in their introspection, and it would be good to learn from them without becoming like them in all respects.

      I haven’t said anything any number of Puritan fans have also said. I’m puzzled why in the responses to this blog most everyone has agreed that this tendency exists and should be avoided, and yet people seem to be upset that I’ve pointed it out.

      Broad brush? Perhaps. It’s a blog post, not an academic treatise. But the same way we generally recommend Puritan writings, I think we can point out some general tendencies and pitfalls to avoid.

      1. Michael says:

        Hi Trevin,

        My comment was more a general statement about recent events, so I apologize if it came off as critisizing you. By “cool” I meant in recent weeks with the Precious Puritans song. Also a college pastor recently told me that all the college kids were asking him about the Puritans, and he was annoyed that it was the “in thing” among Christian collegiates right now.

        I think the Puritans can and should be critiqued. Maybe some did go to extremes, but it would be best to actually quote them here.

        And to back up a bit, is it actually wrong to try to mortify all the sin in our hearts? If it hinders ministry, maybe so. But I’m not sure it follows that a man who is routing out all the sin in his heart is also not proclaiming the gospel and showing others how to do it as well. The Puritans that I know of would not fit this mold at all.

    2. Wolfgang Musculus says:


      I think, in the case of the Puritans, we also need to consider the power of legalism and the weight of the guilt associated with it. It’s the chicken/egg dilemma… which came first? When Pastor tells his people that a particular trait or quality is the needed sign for saving faith do they then perform because they are truly saved or because they are aware of the implications for not performing? Now that the cat is out of the bag, how does one properly assess the state of their soul… it’s nothing more than works salvation unless you immediately abandon trusting in the strength of your faith and return to the object of your faith… Christ.

  14. Daniel F. Wells says:

    Did anyone have a chance to check Berkhof or other STs? I got the impression that Trevin’s point was similar to Berkhof’s.

    I would check the reference myself, but I’m on vacation….watching college football. (Go Gators!)

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      I have Berkhof’s book on assurance and Berkhof is in agreement with Trevin. Berkhof’s is a moderate position, he doesn’t go to the extreme of the Puritans or of Calvin. Berkhof maintains that assurance AND introspection are of the essence of saving faith. Calvin does not make theses views parallel but gives them a sequential priority. Calvin’s view on assurance would appear, on the surface, to be antinomian except that Calvin rightly divides the line at indifference to sin being the sole reason to doubt one’s salvation. Calvin makes assurance the essence of saving faith and fruits a buttress that supports our assurance but never defeats it; as long as there is a personalization of Christ’s sacrifice and a desire/fight to be free from besetting sin. For Calvin, the reason the true Christian’s assurance is never ultimately quenched is because the true Christian perseveres in trusting on Christ despite their perceived weak fruit and weak faith, while simultaneously not using their adoptive status and absolute freedom to excuse sin. This is the gospel and for Calvin, anything less undermines the gospel and diminishes the work of Christ.

  15. Kyle Howard says:

    Brother, I understand what you are trying to say. The principles which you are encouraging are correct. But I come away from your article under the impression that you have either not read much Puritan literature and you do not understand the historical and theological context of the puritan era. The puritans were not over introspective. That is an assertion that liberal christian historians have made but have produced no backing. Can you provide any actual puritan quotes in their proper context that would justify your assertions about some of them being over introspective? Which ones?

    Love you brother!

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      With all due respect, it appears you are guilty of what you are accusing. There is no confusion about the Puritan error in the doctrine of assurance caused by hyper-calvinism. The error certainly was not dominant in all Puritans, nevertheless, many of our Puritan heroes were mistaken when it came to obtaining assurance; even though well-intentioned.

  16. I believe their introspection is mostly regarding sin, which then brings us to the cross which causes us to praise God for what he’s done for us, and to see us in our correct position In Him. The Puritan prayers reflect this. I’ve never seen an imbalance in them, although I have a long way to go in reading their writings.

  17. Wolfgang Musculus says:

    Trevin is speaking generally (no specific Puritans) but specifically by his “hyper-introspection” label. A little research will quickly bring these specific hyper-Puritans to light.

    This problem of Puritan Hyper-Introspection is a merely a symptom rooted in a more serious error occurring in their doctrine of assurance, which departed from Calvin and the Reformation. For Calvin, assurance is the essence of saving faith, for many (if not most) Puritans the essence of faith is fruit in keeping with repentance. The Puritans actually went more in the direction of Roman Catholicism’s doctrine of assurance (Trent) and cast many of God’s children into the pit of despair. The last bastion defending the Reformation’s view is known as the Marrow Controversy.

    I’ve been down the path of Puritan hyper-introspection and being spared by God’s grace from a shipwrecked faith I can safely say that it is gospel-less, a clever re-hashing of works salvation.

    In my analysis, what seems to have happened is a categorical error amongst the Puritans in which they paralleled carnal Christians with antinomians, those struggling with sin and displaying extremely slow progress in sanctification and yet continuing to trust in Christ for their righteousness (Luther’s weak faith in a strong object) with the “Christian” indifferent to their sin and yet believing still to be saved. The over-reaction seems to stem from Edwards’ offensive against those in the Church adhering to the error of eternal justification. From here, the Puritans, taking T.U.L.I.P’s election (as opposed to Scripture’s “election”) to its logical conclusion, then digressed into the error of Preparationism, which annihilated Calvin’s view of assurance and essentially canceled out the still strong Puritan message of grace. (See ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ as a prime example of the Puritan doctrine of assurance alongside a strong message of grace, and the confusion that results. [Spurgeon has an interesting critique of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and was vehemently opposed to Puritan hyper-Calvinism.])

    The issue one is seeking to find in assessing the state of one’s soul is ALWAYS indifference to sin, unrepentant when confronted while maintaining a profession of faith; which makes the exercise a moot point… which I think is the point. For Calvin, the continued perseverance in a personalization of Christ’s sacrifice for one’s sins is the work of God and all progress in holiness allows for a “double assurance”, but for a true Christian there is never ultimately the doubting of one’s salvation because they are trusting on Christ for their salvation and NOT the strength of their faith or attempting to measure up to the standard of some Christian “oak of righteousness”. “You are to be holy as I am holy” = you are to trust on Christ’s holiness and pursue a manner of life in keeping with your calling. The latter can be negligible, but to be saving faith there will be no indifference toward sin. Romans 5 sums it all up nicely.

  18. Ryan Vinten says:

    Thanks for this post Trevin. It was an encouraging and wonderfully pastoral caution away from puritanical self-righteous indulgence in narcissistic navel-gazing. To do such in the name of holiness only illustrates an ignorance of the very concept.

    As a side-note, so often the back-lash resulting from a post criticising anything much adored is worth ignoring. If we weighed every qualification and caveat levied at us in perfect balance, we would never really say anything-at least, anything of consequence.

    We have to paint with broad brush-strokes sometimes, and even the thinnest brush is too thick for some. Let us critically speak boldly (and broadly if necessary)-for the sake of God’s flock it is paramount.

    1. KB says:

      But in leveling criticisms against others-broad strokes or not-it ought to be with integrity. That’s the issue of late with the criticisms of the Puritans. They’re not fair, they’re not well articulated, and they’re not accurate pictures of Puritan theology.

  19. Daniel Ray says:

    Trevin, I have enjoyed reading a lot of what you have written over the years. However, I am curious how you would respond to Joel Beeke when he writes in his book Puritan Reformed Spirituality, ch. 13 “Assurance of Faith”: “People who accuse the Puritans and Second Reformation divines of morbid introspection and anthropocentrism have simply missed the mark. The truth is, contemporary Christians have much to learn from the English Puritans and Second Reformation divines. They carefully examined personal, spiritual experiences because they were eager to trace the hand of God Triune in their lives and then returm all glory to the electing Father, redeeming Son, and applying Spirit” (p.295)? Obviously Beeke’s statement has its own context and I think you will find his chapter very helpful in expanding your thoughts on this discussion as it relates to generalizations towards Puritans. Much love brother, and thank you for providing a place for discussion.

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      Beeke is a reliable source but the error of the Puritans in regards to the doctrine of assurance is clear but ignored today. It’s too easily dismissed, but I feel it negatively affects our Calvinism today.

      This doctrinal error is serious and undermines the purity of the Puritans as it turns it into mere moralism. I think there are nuggets to be mined in Puritan writings, and these men deserve respect, but this error in the doctrine of assurance, for me, casts a shadow over the entire movement.

      Satan is clever in the many ways he infuses legalism into the lives of Christians and the Puritan movement, seen in their departure from the Reformation in the doctrine of assurance, is the first time, as far as I can tell, where satan uses the message of grace to flank Christians with works salvation.

    2. Consider this a second recommendation for Beeke’s fantastic work on Puritans and assurance. It is both historically enlightening and pastorally useful.

      Assurance is the subjective sense a believer possesses of the certainty of his or her own salvation—a personalizing of God’s promises. All believers have some degree of assurance (Rom. 8:16–17), but some believers have a stronger sense of it than others. Because of the deceptive human heart, “false assurance” is possible and must be avoided. “True assurance,” on the other hand, is to be pursued by all believers, with “full assurance” possible for some believers. The Puritans believed, following Calvin, that faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded on the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds, and sealed upon our hearts, through the Holy Spirit.” Consisting of the same essence as faith, assurance is then the “cream of faith,” an increase in the amount and richness of faith, but not a change to its substance.

      1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

        I would say that it is more than a subjective sense. It is a certain knowing that Christ has died for you, personally not generally. For Calvin assurance was the essence of saving faith and he held to a doctrine of “double assurance”, meaning that as much as the Christian pursued holiness he had a right to be more assured but for the true Christian there is never an ultimate doubt of one’s salvation as the knowing is the essence of faith and for Calvin this was the work of God, a perseverance in this knowing.

        I agree with Calvin that the issue we should all be concerned with is antinomianism and not a subjective evaluation of fruits. For, there is no true profession, even if it professes a personal salvation, if it’s substance is antinomianism; an indifference to one’s sin (“if you say you are without sin you deceive yourself”). We have no right, as many Puritans attempted to do in judging another’s salvation or even our own as long as there is a personalized faith and a fight against sin, no matter how much failure is present in that fight or how weak the faith appears to be, because the object of the faith of the weak brother and the “oak of righteousness” is identical and both are saved by the strength and righteousness of this Object alone… Christ. The Puritans made assurance and works parallel when assurance needs to be prioritized and fruit allowed to bolster assurance (Calvin) or show that by indifference to sin, the profession is false.

  20. Towne says:

    Mr. Musculus: Your argument appears atrophied. Lots accusation, damning accusation even, yet not a shred of evidence brought forward. To make matters worse, you begin by admitting Beeke’s authority in this subject field, and then completely turn your back on said authority as if it mattered not one bit. By the way, the good Rev. Beeke did more than write a chapter on assurance, he wrote an entire book. I would suggest that this entire discussion would profit greatly from a reading of The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of John Calvin and His Successors, published by The Banner of Truth Trust in 1999.

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      Yes, it’s a comment section… the references would be laborious and plentiful… I currently have roughly 20 books and papers on the subject… readers are welcomed to do their own research… it is research that saved my life and gave me joy again; Calvin was life to my bones. Beeke’s is perhaps the only book I have not read on the subject, but certainly will. Thanks.

    2. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      The bottom line is that the Puritan view of assurance differed from Calvin’s and there are two camps. Many Calvinists are unaware of this divide and I believe they should be made aware as many are under the pressing thumb of Puritan assurance doctrine.

      This doctrine became the springboard for Lordship salvation and can be seen branching out today in DeYoungs writings on holiness. I respect DeYoung but disagree, not that we are to pursue holiness, but that “being holy as I am holy” is anything more than trusting on the holiness of Christ while avoiding the error of antinomianism. Among all of DeYoung’s treasure of wisdom and insight is a subtle unbalanced emphasis on works and it is DeYoung’s emphasis, not his content, that puts the same yoke on God’s people that Puritan pietism (leading to Preparationism and Hyper-Calvinism [Introspection]) did. Both the Puritans and DeYoung are full of Grace in their writings but I fear the over-emphasis of other things has the potential to cancel out any good content on Grace. Being aware of the Puritan/Reformation divide is helpful in picking the bones and eating the meat in Owen and DeYoung alike. I’ll take Calvin on assurance in his Institutes any day.

      After much research and Bible study I have come to agree with Calvin (after being through Puritan hyper-introspection). I do not view the Puritan tweak on the doctrine of assurance as an evolution of proper Biblical interpretation but as a dangerous error, not quite crossing the line into heresy. Thanks for the recommendation.

      1. Seth Fuller says:

        “I respect DeYoung but disagree, not that we are to pursue holiness, but that “being holy as I am holy” is anything more than trusting on the holiness of Christ while avoiding the error of antinomianism.”

        I shudder at the thought of your definition of holiness. I hope I am misunderstanding you.

        1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

          Are you, or any other Christian, perfect in their holiness? I would shudder if you provided any answer other than an emphatic “No!” So, how then does one begin to assess how much holiness is enough and what the holiness God requires to enter His Kingdom looks like? It looks like Christ. This “cart before the horse” scenario is the slippery slope of hyper-introspection and looking to fruits for assurance of salvation rather than to the Christ’s finished work for sinners, while sinners. (Romans 5)

          The holiness that gives us access to God’s Kingdom is Christ’s holiness and it is ours by FAITH. If you read my other posts you will know that I draw the line of demarcation at antinomianism. There can be NO indifference toward sin, and a display of indifference shows that the profession and “fruits” are false… we are to pursue holiness and repent when we fail but the Puritan emphasis is a soft-sinless-perfection doctrine that is unhelpful. Again, God’s grace is too good to be true, but is… and we like to make it more “believable” by making us more responsible. No, we need to believe in reckless grace as chosen vessels and by this same grace pursue a manner of life worthy of our calling. But the focus of our perseverance should be a personal faith in the sufficiency of Christ and not in the sufficiency of our works.

          We are not saved by grace through faithfulness but by grace through faith in Christ’s faithfulness.

    3. Wolfgang Musculus says:

      One more thing… Calvin has his errors, Edwards has his errors, just because Beeke is a reliable resource doesn’t mean that his own theological bias could not get in the way. Good Bereans are often accused of being Trolls, and that doesn’t mean that I’m correct on the matter either. :)

  21. Todd Christensen says:


    Thank you so much brother for pointing this out. I went through an awful period of doubt because of the error of “preperationism” that Wolfgang pointed out. I finally realized after repeatedly listening to the Gospel rather than some of these writers that we come to Christ just as we are and he recieves us as such. Like Betsy mentioned, the grace of Christ is sufficient for a heart that is not as sorrowful as it should be. The ironic thing is that the more we experience the unconditional grace of God in Christ the more it softens us and changes us. But demanding a certain period of self loathing and a certain feeling before experiencing grace is getting the cart before the horse and taking amazing out of grace. Thank you so much for sticking your neck out on the line Trevin and encouraging those of us with a naturally “doubtful” personality that maybe it’s ok to leave the puritans alone in certain areas.

  22. John Dunn says:

    This type of introspecitve “Puritan paralysis” is pietism on steroids. It is nothing less than a self-focused idolatry which diminishes the glory of Christ. I have seen its devastating effects in many ultra “conservative” circles where vast numbers of congregants are medicated for severe depression and anxiety disorders. All of that deep Puritan self-introspection (experientialism) against the backdrop of the condemning Law, has caused a great many to descend into the depths of spiritual depression and despair.

    May Christ’s Gospel of free and liberating grace triumph against this respectable idolatry that enslaves many poor sheep!

    1. Thomas says:

      Yes, N.I. Sasser has a paper attempting to link the suicides of Edwards’ “Awakening” to the condemning content of his sermons leading up to the suicides. Sasser attempts to prove that Edwards was a Preparationist, I’m not sure he achieves his goal but there is certainly something true in Sasser’s ideas. A pastor can have a lot of conversion “fruit” on the surface when they emphasize something other than the gospel, whether that be despair through introspection or fear of hell, or through man-centered preaching.

    2. Todd Christensen says:

      Well said John. The progression downward you describe is exactly what happened to me and was a period of deep darkness for me. Thank Jesus for his amazing, unconditional grace and his work outside of us on the cross that frees us to look to him alone for our righteousness and peace!

      1. Wolfgang Musculus says:

        Amen, Todd.

  23. gill hermanos says:


    Can you give a list of some of the books and papers you’ve researched that helped you? I would like to look into them myself, and from your comments in this thread they seem like they would help me tremendously. I am coming out of a deeply introspective culture that has been a heavy burden to me.

    Thank you.

    1. Wolfgang Musculus says:


      Searching for Calvin and assurance will yield many good materials. If you provide an email address, I can send you the actual PDF dissertations, sermons (including some helpful sermons by Sinclair Ferguson) and the book list that I have.

      What I have found is that there are many Calvinistic/Reformed churches that are simply over-emphasizing works and fruit in the relationship to assurance and justification, but the ones I have come across are not committing the full-blown heresy of hyper-calvinism or preparationism. This over-emphasizing, I believe, stems from an unchecked legacy of the Puritans, which bore much good fruit but whose bad fruit is … VERY unhealthy!

      This over-reaction is also an understandable over-reaction to the “fruits” of Finney and the epidemic of tares among the wheat that is yielding an overwhelmingly indifferent, carnal and fruitless “Christianity”.

      Over-reactions always result in more error. Even the erroneous Puritan tweaks on the doctrine of assurance stemmed from an over-reaction to antinomianism and a rising belief in eternal justification, and this reaction had the unintended result of causing much despair and doubt among true Christians (some of them Giants of the faith) as the strength of one’s faith substituted a sole reliance on the Object of one’s faith.

      Don’t misunderstand me, the resurgence of holiness doctrine is excellent but I fear it is reactionary and unbalanced and will lead to the same negative results as Puritanism if we don’t accurately counter-balance. The Holiness with which we see God is obtained by faith in Christ, THIS is the faith we must persevere in and we will, feebly yet sincerely, seek after righteousness… yet, we must always remember that we were saved while sinners… and so how much more now will we be saved! (Romans 5)

      I will be happy to send you , or anyone else, what I have.

      1. Wolfgang,

        Thanks. Sounds like good stuff. Would love to look into what you have: gillhermanos (at) gmail (dot) com.

        Grace and Blessings,


  24. gill hermanos says:

    Hi Wolfgang,

    Hope you enjoyed your Christmas! When you get a chance, can you send me the book list/articles you mentioned? My email is in the post above. No rush, just wasn’t sure if my last post got through to you (I’m still somewhat new to how blog comment communications work – do they always link to a commentors email?).



  25. Paul says:

    As someone who has overly-introspective tendencies, I enjoyed this article and don’t believe the Puritan’s were unfairly bashed. There is such thing as being overly-introspective even if your motives are good.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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