The symptoms of evanescent grace and real grace seem to be indistinguishable.

yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.

Here Calvin is making the lack of difference between the elect and the reprobate clear.

Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself, a temporary faith, is ascribed to them.

Here Calvin is making it clear that the reprobate can have the fruits of the Spirit aswell.

the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption.

Here Calvin tells us that it is God himself putting this into their minds, so if the reprobate man receiving evanescent grace knows he is dammed, he is overcoming the power of God.

Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition.

But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.

Here we see the Holy Spirit working in the reprobate. Institutes book 3, chapter 2, section 11

It seems that regarding the reprobate with evascevent grace and the elect there is no difference before death. Both have the fruits of the Spirit and the working of the Spirit.

Taking the teaching of Calvin into account, how does the Calvinist know he is not receiving evanescent and therefore going to hell? a usefull illustration from shamelesspopery.com summarising what a lot of people think the section from Institutes teaches

Why this question cannot be answered here quote by quote... The proposed answer seems to contradict the terms set by Calvin on evanescent grace.

This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. This quote from the Westminister Confession of Faith seems to ignore Calvin's idea that a fruit of election can be given to the reprobate

I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election

This quote does not give make the Calvinist feel any better because Calvin said "the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them". Therefore the Calvinist can not know he is saved through the “inward evidence of those graces”.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

This quote does not give the Calvinist any comfort, because Calvin said "the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them". This dammed man believes he is at peace with God.

Assurance of their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word—such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.

Again, our Calvinist can have all these lovely qualities and still be reprobate. Remember faith is attributed to the reprobate and the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them therefore all these "unmistakable" gifts of election are something the reprobate can have aswell.

Every single one of these tests can be dismissed by the fact that according to Calvin, it is God who ascribes “temporary faith”, and gives a "present sense of grace" and "instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness" therefore it is by the power of God that some of the reprobate think they are elect. This leaves any human effort of the Calvanist to know if he is elect or not fruitless.

True assurance, however, may be distinguished from that which is false by the following tests: True assurance begets unfeigned humility; false assurance begets spiritual pride. 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 6:14. The true leads to increased diligence in the practice of holiness; the false leads to sloth and self-indulgence. Psalm 51:12-13,19. The true leads to candid self-examination and to a desire to be searched and corrected by God; the false leads to a disposition to be satisfied with appearance and to avoid accurate investigation. Psalm 139:23-24. The true leads to constant aspirations after more intimate fellowship with God. 1 John 3:2-3.


This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

This quote does not answer my question, but it raises an interesting concept. It tells us that the true believer may not have assurance now, but he will later. How long later? Since people who live a bad lifestyle turn out to be elect, we can only assume this applies the other way round. So how can the good Calvinist know he will not lose his faith upon death?

  • What is "evanescent grace"? None of your quotes use that term.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:10
  • It is the type of Grace Calvin talked about in the part of the Institutes that I made hyperlinked underneath the quotes.
    – aska123
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 23:52
  • All the quotes are from section 11, chapter 2, book 3 from Institutes of the Christian Religion
    – aska123
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 0:44
  • You seem to be asking more than one question. which one are you seeking an answer to? But because all our conceptions of the power and works of God are evanescent without the word, we are not rash in maintaining, that there is no faith until God present us with clear evidence of his grace Is that the cornerstone of your question, or does this question pivot on a different passage of the linked work? While my personal belief is that God does not owe me proof/further proof, that's beside the point. Please further clarify the link between your title question and the text of your question. Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 2:56
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Do Calvinists believe they know whether they are saved? Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 18:10

2 Answers 2


Taking this teaching of Calvin into account, no man can logically know he is saved. He may feel and believe that he has saving grace, but he may be mistaken about that, or deceived. Therefore, he cannot know. He can believe, but he cannot know. It is a logical impossibility.


Evanescent grace, or vanishing Grace, is a phenomena addressed by Jesus in the Parable of the sower:

Matthew 13:18 through 23 KJV Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;  Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

In this Parable Jesus is warning us that the Gospel will be received by people in one of four ways The first by the wayside is actually not assuming the Gospel. This is the incident where the listener is given the Gospel but instead of accepting it prefers to retain the pleasures of the World.

The next two are what you refer to as evanescent grace, In these two cases the hearer accepts the Gospel, but does not have enough fortitude to reject the things of the World or to withstand the ridicule Christians of the fourth kind are able to overcome.

To answer your question about how one can know that they are truly saved, we need to look at Jesus other revelations about gaining the Kingdom of God.

Luke 14:16 through 24 KJV Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.  So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

This is actually a warning; it tells us that we have a chance to accept salvation, but if we reject it others will be given our place in the Kingdom. But here is the good news:

Luke 15:1  Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, what man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

This tells us that Jesus will never stop offering us the Kingdom. 

 Luke 15:11 through 32  And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.  And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.  It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

If we dissect this Scripture what we come up with is that even though we were in the good graces of the Lord, and went astray he will welcome us back when we truly repent.

How can anyone know whether or not they are truly saved? the answer to that lies with the individual, only that person can know whether or not these Scriptures are fulfilled in them or not. And if the answer is yes then they can feel secure in their salvation. If the answer is no or maybe then some self re-examination is called for.

Hope this helps. 

  • Can the dammed man not "feel secure" because these scriptures apply to them due to an "inferior working of the Spirit"?, bear in mind that the Spirit is also working in the man going to hell.
    – aska123
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 7:16

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