19 June 2010

Purgatory and Assurance Don't Mix

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Full Assurance," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 28 April 1861, just one month after Spurgeon's congregation held their first worship service at the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

f course, the Papist does not like full assurance. And why? The Pope and his priest would have a lean larder if full assurance were well preached.

Only conceive my brethren, if the Roman Catholic could get the full assurance of salvation, surely the Cardinals would hardly find money enough to buy their red hats. For where were purgatory then?

Purgatory is an impossibility, if full assurance be possible. If a man knows himself to be saved, then he is not to be troubled with a silly fear about waiting in the intermediate state, to be purified with fire, before he can enter into heaven.

Purgatory is only acceptable to those poor trembling souls who know of no sure salvation here, and are glad of this deceptive hope of a salvation to be wrought in the world to come. Purgatory being thus builded upon a lying imposition—on the fears of ignorant consciences—becomes what brave old Hugh Latimer used to call it, "Purgatory Pick-purse," to the poor sinner, and Purgatory Fill-purse to the vagabond priest.

Once let full assurance be given to all Christian men—first make the Romanist a Christian, and then let him be fully assured of his interest in Christ, and away goes purgatory, and there will never be a soul found to tremble at it any more.

C. H. Spurgeon


naturgesetz said...

Spurgeon clearly doesn't understand the doctrine of
purgatory, Or else he is totally devoid of logic. There is no necessary contradiction between purgatory and assurance.

Assurance, as I understand it, has to do with the notion that once one is saved it is impossible to lose that salvation, no matter what sins one might commit, even ones the Apostle John would classify as deadly. And anyone who is in purgatory is necessarily going to heaven when his sinful attachments have been purged. Logically speaking, a person whose salvation was assured when he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior could still be short of perfection when he died and need to have his sanctification completed after death (cf. C.S. Lewis)

Maybe there is some other doctrine of the Reformers or their followers which says that it is impossible for a Christian to die while still in need of sanctification, But Assurance doesn't seem to be it, so I think Spurgeon is either not thinking clearly or (more likely) ignorant of the actual doctrine of purgatory.

Unknown said...

The doctrine of pugatory causes Rome to grow wealthy through indulgences given by loved ones of those in purgatory or those who think they will be going there. this post has more to do with romes extra biblical doctrines robbing those poor souls monetarily and spiritually.

Christ was the once for all sacrifice for the elect of God. there is no need for an intermediate state since at the time of justification we are made blameless and holy in Gods sight. while there is progressive santification in a practial sense there isn't in a positional sense.

One illustration of this is the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him " I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise." I hope this helps

Gordan said...


It boils down to the question, "Do we have to help Christ along in the work of purging our sins, or was His work on the Cross enough all by itself?"

Answered the Reformed/Biblical way, then the need for things like purgatory in the next life, and legalism in this one, drops away.

Answered the other way, and suddenly you can never be sure whether you're going to make it or not, and room is left for unscrupulous religious folks to come and pick your pockets by preying on that uncertainty.

So, they are very much related, assurance and purgatory.

naturgesetz said...

I believe that Matthew 5:25-26 is not a bit of worldly wisdom, and taken with the parallel language of Mt 18:34-35 indicates clearly that there is a "prison" from which one is released when our sinfulness is completely removed, as is necessary according to Revelation 21:27. If Christians were all sinless after they became Christian, and if they were all perfected by the time they died, there would be no need for purgatory. But the alternative to purgatory is that sinful and imperfectly hole people are admitted to heaven.

Yes, Jesus' saving work is sufficient, but it doesn't save us until we accept it, and mot of us know that although we have accepted it, we are still divided, that we yield to temptation. And it seems to me that assurance, in the extreme version which claims that it is impossible to lose one's salvation, is contrary to the plain meaning of Romans 11:22, John 15:1-6, and 2 Peter 1:10.

And by the way, the idea that Purgatory is a cash cow for the Church is simply untrue. THe connection is, of course through the further development of the doctrine of indulgences. While in Pre-reformation days, the "good work" for which an indulgence was granted was frequently the donation of money, and it became an abuse which needed to be remedied, nowadays indulgences are granted for prayer and spiritual works. The other thing that involves money is stipends for Masses for the dead, but in the overall picture, they are a drop in the bucket of the Church's revenue.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:12 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. What we need to fear is that we will choose to abandon the Lord, because we do have the assurance that if we do not abandon God, he will not abandon us. Salvation is ours as long as we hold on to it. And we need not fear that our remaining imperfections at death will not keep us from heaven, because God, in his infinite mercy will remove them and perfect us.

naturgesetz said...

A word about the "good thief." Clearly, it is possible for a person to become totally given over to God before death, as this example shows. Martyrs, also, give their lives totally to God, and therefore the common opinion is that they pass directly from this life to heaven.

In other words, the doctrine of purgatory does not hold that all go to purgatory, only that those who need it do.

BTW, here's the official statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"III. The Final Purification, or Purgatory

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.604 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:605

'As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.'606

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: 'Therefore Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.'607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

'Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.'609

604 Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563): DS 1820; (1547): 1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336): DS 1000.
605 Cf. ⇒ 1 Cor 3:15; ⇒ 1 Pet 1:7.
606 St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396; cf. ⇒ Mt 12:31.
607 ⇒ 2 Macc 12:46.
608 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 856.
609 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361; cf. ⇒ Job 1:5.

Jason Engwer said...


Spurgeon is addressing assurance in a different sense than what you're referring to. It can be defined as you suggest in the second paragraph of your first post, and Spurgeon acknowledges that those in Purgatory go on to Heaven in the Roman Catholic system. He's not denying that point. Rather, he's addressing assurance of having such reconciliation with God settled prior to death, so that there is no experience of Purgatory prior to Heaven.

Your use of Matthew 5 and 18 is dubious, for more than one reason. Jesus is discussing Hell, not Purgatory (Matthew 5:22). If Hell is in view, then the price is never paid (Matthew 25:46). The Bible frequently discusses the afterlife, and Purgatory is never part of the landscape. The idea that we would have to go to passages like the ones you've cited to find vague references to it is unlikely. We don't have to resort to such argumentation to justify our belief in Heaven and Hell. Why do we have to do so with Purgatory?

In an article here, I discuss some of the Biblical evidence against Purgatory, as well as the early patristic rejection of the concept. To be deep into history is to cease to be Roman Catholic.

Phil Johnson said...

baturgesetz: "Spurgeon clearly doesn't understand the doctrine of purgatory, Or else he is totally devoid of logic."

More likely, naturgesetz simply doesn't understand the biblical doctrine of justification by faith or appreciate the depth of assurance Scripture says is the birthright of every believer.

Spurgeon's point is that the Romanist doctrine of purgatory is incompatible with the kind of assurance expressed in Romans 5:1-2; Romans 8:1; and other similar verses.

The hope of heaven after purgatory has nothing to do with the kind of assurance Jesus spoke of in John 5:24. Indeed, as Spurgeon indicated, the two things are mutually exclusive.

Phil Johnson said...


for the record, naturgesetz, cutting and pasting long quotations you could easily link to is frowned on here. If you want to quote long sections of the CCC or anything else, put it on your own blog and link to it in your comment; don't bog down our comment-thread with quotation-spam.

naturgesetz said...

None of the translations of ep' elpĂ­di in the "Precise Parallel New Testament" at Romans 5:1-2 uses any word other than "hope," nor does "assurance" appear in any of the translations of those two verses. If one wants to say that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for," Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV & NASB), well yeah, hope and assurance are related through faith. But hope and assurance are not the same as fulfillment Hpe and assurance don't necessarily achieve their object. If God saved us and kept us saved without our consent, then there would be no question. But in fact, although God is entirely and eternally reliable, we are not. This is why the scriptures exhort us to remain faithful, to stand firm in the grace we have received.

But even an extreme doctrine of eternal security is logically beside the point of whether there can be an after-death purification, (unless it is taken to mean that all true Christians are impeccable — which would, of course mean that anybody who sins is not truly a Christian, in other words is still unsaved).

Similarly, since purgatory is not condemnation, Romans 8:1 I don't see a contradiction.

In John 5:24, Jesus is speaking of the state of the believer in this life it seems to me. Already in this life, the believer has eternal life, which he will not lose as long as he abides in Christ's love. John 15:10 Since one can be sanctified during this life and purified of one's inclinations to sin, while already possessing eternal life, I see no reason that one cannot be after death as well. In other words, I don't think you, or Spurgeon in the passage you quoted, have demonstrated the incompatibility between assurance and purgatory. Purgatory implies assurance for all who undergo it.

naturgesetz said...

As for my long quote, I'm sorely tempted to make a wisecrack about attention spans. But it's your blog, so all I can say is, "mea culpa." I didn't realize it was too long, and I'll try to remember your suggestion and put in a url either to the original or to my blog if I can't make a url to the original work.

BTW, speaking of links, readers who aren't already aware of it may be interested to know that they can get the official word from Rome at the Vatican website — http://www.vatican.va/ — click on English. And the Catechism, which is the most convenient source for what Rome really teaches is at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

LeeC said...

Pardon the Long quote:

"Romans 8:

1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. "

Nuff said.

Anonymous said...


Amen and Amen!

I was about to post that same reference(first couple of verses), but you beat me to it. I can't add anything further other than to offer hearty affirmation.

Douglas Dahl said...

Interesting post. Purgatory is a fun theory for fiction books...but there is about as much reality to it from a Biblical standpoint as reincarnation or karma.

naturgesetz said...

So far, no one has been able to show the logical connection between the scriptures they cite and the supposed non-existence of Purgatory. Certainly, there is assurance. Some Catholics may not be well catechized on the point, but, for example, as he sat in prison awaiting his martyrdom at the behest of the bloodthirsty renegade Henry VIII, St. Thomas More wrote to his daughter, "And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he (Christ) will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him."

The question is not whether there is assurance. The question is whether it is absolute or contingent. It seems to me that if it is absolute, it renders meaningless and nonsensical the verses I cited on June 19 from Romans, John, and 2 Peter. But if their plain meaning is true, then assurance must be contingent, not on God, who is always faithful, but on us, who can backslide and fall away, as is shown by Matthew 13:19-22 and by 2 Timothy 2:12-13.