a practical syllogism

From Thomas Watson, the first puritan I ever read.

What is assurance? It is not any vocal or audible voice, or brought to us by the help of an angel or revelation. Assurance consists of a practical syllogism, in which the Word of God makes up the major proposition, conscience the minor, and the Spirit of God the conclusion. The Word says, ‘He that fears and loves God is loved by God;’ there is the major proposition; then conscience makes the minor, ‘But I fear and love God;’ then the Spirit makes the conclusion, ‘Therefore thou art loved of God;’ and this is what the apostle calls ‘the witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits, that we are his children,’ Romans 8 v 16. A Body of Divinity, BOT, p251

So it’s not that assurance of salvation is impossible to attain, or that a person can never know for sure if they’re saved, but the conclusion can’t be drawn at their own will, or on the basis of what your conscience says without corroboration.

3 thoughts on “a practical syllogism

  1. It should also be said that assurance is not of the essence of salvation. In other words, there are lots of people who struggle with assurance who are, in fact, Christians. (There are also lots of people who are convinced that they are Christians when, in fact, they are not!) The secret to gaining assurance is to look to the Word, not to one’s own feelings. Clinging to the latter is a sure way of changing your mind from day to day – or from hour to hour – regarding whether one is saved or not. Keep looking in the Word, which points us to Christ, for the assurance of salvation.


  2. Yes absolutely. In fact in the section immediately before the one i quoted, WAtson makes this very point. “A letter may be written, when it is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, and the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it. … You may have the water of the Spirit poured on you in sanctification, though not the oil of gladness in assurance.”


  3. It turns out from an article in the current issue of the Banner of Truth magazine that ‘practical syllogisms’ were frequently used by the puritans! There was me just admiring Thomas Watson’s.

    “Assurance is strengthened by good works through what the Puritans called ‘the practical syllogism’ (syllogismus practicus). The practical syllogism is a conclusion deduced from an action. The syllogism of assurance of salvation in relation to good works goes something like this. Major premise: According to Scripture, only those who possess saving faith will receive the Spirit’s testimony that their lives manifest some fruits of good works. Minor premise: When I reflect by faith on my life I cannot deny that, through the Spirit’s testimony, I manifest some fruits of good works. Conclusion: Consequently I am assured that I am a partaker of saving faith.” Joel R Beeke, ‘Good works and assurance.’ Banner of Truth Magazine issue 522 (March 2007), p11.

    I don’t know if much really hangs on this, but the work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the minor premise in Beeke’s version (as indeed is faith itself, which is what I thought was being demonstrated, but maybe I’m getting confused). My personal preference would be though to follow Watson in saying that the conclusion can only really be arrived at by the direct help of the Holy Spirit – no amount of reasoning or bare logic (you would think) could be adequate to give someone the sure assurance that they’re saved – if you know what I mean – even if they can tentatively entertain that hope as they continue waiting and asking for the Spirit to come and witness with their spirit.


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