A Tale From Our Puritan Past: Temporary Faith, Experimental Predestinarianism, and the Practical Syllogism

The following is a post I wrote some years ago, and while I have developed in my understanding in some ways—like I might argue with Kendall’s attribution of the doctrine under discussion to Calvin—what remains central is the reality that following Puritan theology, and now neo-Puritan theology (like the kind Piper has made popular), has the same kind of informing theology and implications as described below by R.T. Kendall (he himself is no stranger to controversy, and Paul Helm has responded to Kendall in book form). But given the release of that new book From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, I think continuing to highlight the kind of implications that are associated with a doctrine like ‘definite atonement’, ‘particular redemption’, and/or ‘limited atonement’ is apropos. And so here is the post (this will also give you insight into the ways I used to write much more frequently):

As we read further with R. T. Kendall he answers my question in my last post on where “Temporary Faith” went. Let’s follow along as Kendall describes the unfolding of this doctrine and how the pastoral implications of this teaching became the “hard teaching” of what we now commonly refer to as Calvinism:

The doctrine of temporary faith became the embarrassment, if not the scandal, of English Calvinism. The followers of Perkins claimed less and less for it so that it eventually presented no threat at all to the believer; William Ames gave its virtual demise a systematic sanction. This teaching seems to have begun with Calvin himself and to have been perpetuated especially by Perkins. Neither Calvin nor Perkins apologizes for a teaching that may seem to some as pastorally insensitive. This teaching depicts God as giving the reprobate, whom He never intends to draw effectually, but a ‘taste’ of His grace. Indeed, in the preface to Whether a Man Perkins claims that this temporary faith ‘proceedeth from the holy Ghost, but yet it is not sufficient to make them sound professor’. These men teach this doctrine simply because they find it in Scripture; to them it explains such passages as Matthew 7:21-3, Hebrews 6: 4-6, and the Parable of the Sower.

The thesis in Whether a Man is that a man may think himself regenerate when he is not, but a truly regenerate man ‘maie discerne’ that he is. In this connection Perkins employs 2 Peter I: 10 (‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall’), a verse he sees as the chief mandate for preaching generally as well as the formula by which Christians particularly may prove to themselves that they have the object of an effectual calling. The verse 2 Peter I: 10 may be safely called the biblical banner for the Perkins tradition; it stands out in bold relief on the title-page of Whether a Man and heads the list of Scriptures printed on the title-pages of his other works.

It is Perkins’s conviction, then, that the regenerate man may discern that he has the knowledge of saving faith, or assurance of election. Such knowledge Perkins calls ‘experimental’. The testimony of the Spirit is given by ‘an experiment’ that is not conjectural but ‘an infallible certenty of the pardon of sinne’. Perkins believes that 2 Peter I: 10 is to be related to one’s conscience. The conscience itself, he believes, takes effect in a man’s mind by a process of syllogistic reasoning. Conscience pronounces judgement ‘by a kinde of reasoning or disputing, called a practical syllogisme’. By the ‘practical syllogisme of the holy Ghost’ one may not only have ‘experimental certentie of the truth of the Bible’ but know ‘hee is in the number of the elect’. (R. T. Kendall, “Calvin And English Calvinism To 1649,” 7-8)

Again, I am struck by the lack of this kind of language and thinking amongst those who claim to be the heirs of folks like William Perkins and William Ames. I have interacted with plenty of contemporary Calvinists today, and read many of their writings (even their blogs); and I can honestly say that I have never heard the grammar that we are hearing described here. In other words, I don’t hear the language of temporary faith, experimental predestinarian, practical syllogism; and beyond that I don’t hear contemporary Calvinists stressing over whether they may or may not be one of the elect. I don’t see them trying to discern if they have a ‘real faith’ or a ‘temporary faith’; instead most typically assume the “positive side” of this equation, and just assume that they indeed are one of the elect — the negative piece, articulated by folks like Perkins, that they in fact could only “appear” to have a saving faith is really never engaged (I would suggest, at least with the Western psyche, that contemporary Calvinists are more socio/culturally “liberated” and “individualized” so that the notion of their “election” simply becomes an “understood reality” for them).

Even Kendall notes that teaching like this became a “scandal” for the Puritans and the implied pastoral concerns that this kind of teaching engendered; but instead of jettisoning this teaching these “divines,” like Perkins, came up with an elaborate system and procedure to counter the negative vacuum that things like “temporary faith” generated — so the creating of the mechanism known as the “practical syllogism.”



  1. I can thank God for the historical reality of the Anglican and creedal theological statements, like the Anglican Article of XVIII, Of Predestination and Election!

    “At this point we reach the goal of which Articles IX and XI maybe regarded as the starting-point. Looking back over these Articles it is possible to review the process step by step from Predestination to Glorification. This Article is concerned with the completed salvation, of which the various aspects and details have been brought before us in previous Articles. The predestinating love of God is thus the original ground of salvation, and the meaning and dangers of the doctrine are here noted.” (W.H. Griffith Thomas, from his book: The Principles Of Theology, An Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles).

    But see too the Anglican Articles 1615, and # 3. (Archbishop James Ussher).

    Btw, thank God too our many Reformed Creeds are also more approachable, than so much of the theological heat and verbiage over the centuries!

    *See btw, I. John Hesselink’s nice book: Calvin’s First Catechism, Columbia Series In Reformed Theology, A Commentary, Featuring Ford Lewis Battle’s translation of the 1538 Catechism, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).


  2. Hi Fr Robert,

    I like Hesselink. I’ve read him on Calvinism.

    And I, look you, actually appreciate the diversity present in the Reformed trad; it attests to the fact that it is wrestling with Scripture, for one thing. Of course, I have found one expression within that trad that I prefer; obviously.

    Hope all is well in the ‘Land of Gracious Living’ :-).


  3. Hey Bobby: Yes, I too like old John Hesselink, another one from a much different generation! Indeed I like to think I can appreciate the Reformed diversity, at least to some degree. But I am an old Calvin Calvinist, again this is more of my own kind of neo-Calvinism, however. But Calvin for the most part, with his Genevan Reformers and Academy, both Beza and Turretin! With of course a few moderns, like Muller and Frame, etc. Though I strain everything to some degree through my own classic Anglicanism! I am doing still some hospital chaplain work, this keeps me grounded in the real and pastoral world, thankfully! But, I am still a convinced Historic Pre-Mill, with some moderate dispensationalism, though mostly within the PD. Though I have some solid general dispensational friends, one is even an old Lutheran minister/pastor… now that is some eclecticism! 😉

    Btw, if you have not read Bruce Gordon’s historical bio on Calvin, I would really recommend it, just grand!

    Yes my wife and I are enjoying the ‘Land of Gracious Living’ still, though we are thinking about moving up to Victoria Canada perhaps? God’s will and providence however, always!

    Best for you and yours mate, and that old turkey dinner! My wife and I are having steak (porterhouse’s, but with dressing!)

    Yours Always In Christ,
    Fr. Robert