That is beautiful, is it not? To us is given the description of the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells. But -- are you convinced that you shall arrive there? Are you sure at this very moment, without any shadow of doubt, that this place is your place? We live in the present age; and though the end is at hand, the road before us yet looks long and treacherous. There are the snares of the wicked laid to catch our souls. Their temptations surround us along this road to glory, for the wicked would seek to lead us astray. Do you think then that you shall surely arrive at the New Jerusalem? Can you endure to the end in the face of additional threats? There is persecution along that way before one arrives in the new heavens and earth. And all the time we live on the earth, we still have a sinful flesh: a flesh which wants to enjoy this world; a flesh which falls so often into sin. Will we arrive at that glorious place described in Rev. 21?
Remember what the Psalmist said in Psalm 69? "I sink in deep mire where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me, I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head; they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty; then I restored that which I took not away." The Psalmist saw the terrible pitfalls along the way indeed. Psalm 38 expresses the same fact, "There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me." Other passages express the same idea. You get the point, do you not? Between here and heaven there is a long way which the child of God must go; a way in which there appears to be threat and danger on every hand. Will you stand fast along that entire way?
That question is the concern of this essay. We confess the truth of the perseverance of the saints. We maintain that though the way is dark and though dangers lurk on every hand, the child of God shall be preserved and shall persevere until New Jerusalem descends from the heavens.
If you have followed the series of lectures as spoken and presented now in this booklet, you would have to acknowledge that if the preceding four points of Calvinism are true, then this fifth one follows as B follows A. We confessed the truth of total depravity. We confessed the truths of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace. If those four are true, and they are, then the fifth, which is concerned with the perseverance of saints, follows. I will point that out later more definitely.
The truth of perseverance of saints is a truth so plainly scriptural that one wonders how any could question it. I hope to point out some of the most pertinent texts in this essay.
The subject we now consider is, "The Perseverance of Saints." Let us consider first, what is the perseverance of saints? In the second place, we must view its basis: how does one know that the saints shall persevere to the end? Finally, we must see the wonderful comfort of this truth.
There are two terms in our theme: "perseverance" and "saints." We must understand them clearly. First of all, there is the term: "saints." Of whom do we speak? Sometimes one gets this wrong notion that a saint is a person far above all other normal people in the church. A saint is one who has performed a superabundance of good works and is therefore above all others to be praised. That idea comes from the Romish church, which elevates some above others, maintaining that saints, because of their superabundance of good works, can immediately enter into heaven. But this is not the Scriptural idea of a saint. According to the Word, a saint is one who is both separate and separated. A saint is one chosen by the living God from all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord. He was no better than others, but is lifted out of that miry clay of sin and death. He is regenerated, called, converted, so that now he lives in conscious union with his Lord Jesus Christ. He is separated then from this world, and is made righteous and holy. That is a saint. I do not say he is a man without sin; I do say that he is a saint for Jesus' sake. And we confess that we are numbered among those saints.
It is to those saints, though they are so imperfect on this earth, that the Word of God is addressed repeatedly. The epistles are written to the "saints" of a certain city. Of these saints we speak.
In the second place, there is the term, "perseverance." By this, we mean that one continues in the state of holiness and righteousness to which he has been elevated through the work of the Holy Spirit, and he continues in this state through all of his way through the valley of the shadow of death until he is brought finally to glory.
Perseverance suggests first of all dangers or threats to that new life which one has received. There is that which seeks to drag one down, to destroy, to take away that living faith which we confess is ours for Jesus' sake.
But perseverance likewise implies that though the dangers are present on every hand, we walk safely through them all until finally we receive exactly that glory which God has promised to us in Christ. There is one passage in Scripture which points out this truth clearly: I Corinthians 15:58. Remember it? After the apostle had spoken much of the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection in Him, Paul declares, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." That is it; that is the perseverance of the saints. And though the word, "perseverance," is used only once in the Bible, the idea is found throughout Scripture, including that passage in I Cor. 15.
You are aware, I presume, that this fifth point, together with the other four points of Calvinism, was proposed overagainst the heresy known as Arminianism. There were in the years 1600 and following in the Netherlands, a group influenced by Arminius who taught that a saint can also fall from grace. He can be a real saint; he can be holy and righteous; he can actually be regenerated -- and yet fall away from grace. I will quote to you from their own works to show that this is indeed what they teach. First, I quote from the fifth article of the Remonstrance, the so-called Arminian Articles, written in 1610. Listen to it carefully. Notice how the Arminian definitely questions the truth of perseverance of saints.
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations; extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.
Notice how cleverly the above is stated? The Arminian also emphasizes the assisting power of the Holy Ghost. He is careful in the article to state not that the saints Do NOT persevere, but rather that the matter is not yet clearly ascertained from Scripture.
But later the Arminian openly rejected the idea of perseverance of saints. I quote from John Wesley as given in the book, "Elements of Divinity," by Ralston, page 455.
Can a child of God, then, go to hell? Or can a man be a child of God today, and a child of the devil tomorrow? If God is our Father once, is he not our Father always?
I answer, 1. A child of God - that is, a true believer - (for he that believeth is born of God,) while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell. 2. If a believer makes shipwreck of the faith, he is no longer a child of God; and then he may go to hell, yea, and certainly will, if he continues in unbelief. 3. If a believer may make shipwreck of the faith, then a man that believes now may be an unbeliever some time hence; yea, very possibly tomorrow; but if so, he who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow. For, 4. God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe; but the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no.
The sum of all is this: If the Scriptures are true, those who are holy or righteous in the judgment of God himself; those who are endued with the faith that purifies the heart, that produces a good conscience; those who are grafted into the good olive-tree, the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the true vine, of whom Christ says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches;" those who so effectually know Christ as by that knowledge to have escaped the pollutions of the world; those who see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, of the witness and of the fruits of the Spirit; those who live by faith in the Son of God; those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, MAY NEVERTHELESS SO FALL FROM GOD AS TO PERISH EVERLASTINGLY.
Therefore let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.
The capital letters above are added. The quotation allows no doubt to remain. Words could not be plainer. A saint, says Wesley, a real living spiritual child of God can fall and finally be cast into hell though Christ died for him.
Of course the Arminian claims the support of Scripture. When one reads the passages which he quotes, one would begin to think that indeed the Arminian has proved his point from the Bible. I can not possibly mention all of the passages which are quoted. There are certain representative ones nevertheless which we must consider. One of them is from Hebrews 6:4-6, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Does not this appear to teach a falling away of the saints? What would you say of that? These were once enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, etc. Does not then the Arminian correctly teach that one can fall from grace?
Another passage is Romans 11:17, 21, 22, "And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree.... Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." What can one say of this passage? There is a grafting in and a cutting off. Is that not falling away of saints? The Arminian says, "Yes."
We read again in I Timothy 1:18-19, "Holding faith, and good conscience, which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck; of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." Some have made faith shipwreck. Now these are cast into destruction. That proves, does it not, the falling away of saints? The Arminian says, "It does."
What would you say of these texts? In the first place these passages can not mean that there is a falling away of saints. Whatever meaning they have, they can not mean that. Otherwise, some texts would conflict with and contradict hundreds of other passages of Scripture. And Scripture does not contradict itself.
One can find explanation for all these passages which are quoted. One of the simplest ways to refute all the arguments of the Arminian is to quote I John 2:19, "They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." That is the principal explanation for most of the passages the Arminian would use to deny perseverance of saints. Some do indeed appear to be of us; they are called "Christian"; they speak as Christians - but they depart from the church. The very fact that they left proves that they were really never of us. That is how we must understand Hebrews 6. There were those who were enlightened, etc. Were these regenerated sons of God? No; in this particular instance the text speaks of one unconverted or unregenerated. Here is one who had not fallen on his knees in sincere repentance and cried out, "Oh, God, be merciful to me the sinner." But the man of Heb. 6 is one of those who for one reason or another has affiliated with the church on earth. He has listened to the preached Word. In that sense he also tasted the good Word of God. He spoke of that Word. He was made "partakers" of the Holy Ghost. That is, he enjoyed the other means of grace given to the church: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Thishypocrite pretends to be righteous and holy, until finally he reveals his true colors and departs. Of such Hebrews speaks. If they fall away, it is impossible to renew them to repentance, seeing that they crucify again unto themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame. The following verses of Hebrews 6 substantiate this idea.
Or consider the passage of Romans 11. In this text there is mentioned a cutting off from and a grafting into that olive tree. But one who reads the passage carefully, understands that the apostle is comparing what happened to the church of the old dispensation with that which takes place in the new. Throughout the old dispensation God had gathered His people from among the Jews. After Pentecost, He yet had many of His people from among the Jews, but many there were who were cut off in their generations. At the time of Pentecost whole generations of Jews were separated from the church; and the Gentiles in their generations were brought in. Now the apostle warns these Gentiles that, in their generations, faithlessness results in this: rotten branches, generations, are cut off. That happens too. Not individual saints are cut off from the living tree which is Christ, but disobedient generations which were formerly called "church," are cut off.
Or again, there is the reference to Hymenaeus and Alexander. There one notes the same thing as presented in Hebrews 6. Those men had put on a show of piety and faith. It is this pretended faith that they made shipwreck. They departed. This is not a falling away of saints, but an exposing of hypocrisy. The "Arminian" texts do not disprove the perseverance of the saints.
May I state first of all that the Word of God throughout emphasizes that the saints must persevere. They must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. That is the calling of the church of Christ. It is our calling. Many passages teach this truth. In Rev. 3:11 (to the church of Philadelphia) Christ says, "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In Phil. 2:12 we read, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
And the Christian shall persevere. Do you want proof? Read John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Is that not plain? What is here true for him that heareth Christ's word and believeth? The Scripture does not state that this one might finally obtain eternal life, or that he shall conditionally receive it; but he has it already. It is his now. And that one shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life. The promise is sure.
Romans 8 emphasizes the same truth. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The point that this Word of God makes is exactly this: there is nothing that can or will separate us from that love of God in Christ. Nothing.
Or read Paul's own confession in II Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." Paul does not question whether finally the crown will be there, but he expresses the assurance that it IS laid up for him and for all the saints.
Now we should consider the confessions of the Reformed churches. In the Canons of Dordt there is an entire section treating the subject under discussion now. I will quote one pertinent article: Nine.
Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.
That is the confession of Reformed churches since 1618-1619 and even before.
When one speaks of the perseverance of the saints, there is one element that renders this perseverance of the saints absolutely sure, an element which may never be forgotten. One always perseveres because he is preserved by the living God -- and there is no other possible reason for perseverance. If one speaks with an Arminian concerning the subject of perseverance of the saints, it is very conceivable that he would not disagree with you. The Arminian would be ready to say that there is and must be perseverance -- and there will be if we remain steadfast to the end. If we continue to maintain the truth of God's Word, then we will persevere to the end. It is we who have the strength to persevere if we want to; but also we can lose that which we have and be lost. So the Arminian would also urge the saint to persevere. But he teaches then that it is really possible, and does happen, that a saint can finally be lost. We deny that such is ever possible. The saint can not fall because his preservation rests not on his own act, but on the power of the almighty God. There is much that could be emphasized to show this. One could he reminded of the fact that the attributes of God necessarily imply the sure preservation of the saint. God reveals His mercy, His love, His justice, His grace, His truth, His almighty power. Consider each of the attributes, which are all essentially one, and one must recognize that each necessarily implies that God must preserve His own people, otherwise He is not God.
The five points of Calvinism are closely related. One point presupposes the others. There is the subject of eternal election. According to Eph. 1:4, election is sure; it is accomplished in Christ; and it is before the foundation of the earth. If that is true, and it is, it necessarily follows that there must be preservation of the saints. God has eternally elected some; if it means anything at all, it means this: these shall surely sit before His face in glory. Deny perseverance and preservation, and election means nothing. Or reverse it: deny election, and perseverance has no meaning.
The same relationship is seen with limited or particular atonement: that Christ dies for His people and that therefore their sins are removed according to the justice and righteousness of God. Because that is true, He must preserve His people so that they do persevere to the end. If Christ's death represents power and life, so that those who are in Him are forgiven all their sins, they must also surely be taken to glory. If these for whom Christ died could nevertheless fall from grace, to that extent Christ would have died in vain. But that is impossible. With irresistible grace this is likewise true. Irresistible grace is the power of God according to which He accomplishes His good pleasure with His saints. Those who were sinners, but chosen eternally in Christ, He fashions anew. God forms them in His own image by the power of grace. Therefore, where irresistible grace is, there must also be preservation of saints. The irresistible grace of God both begins and completes our salvation.
Scripture contains very many passages which prove the truth that God preserves His chosen people. I will quote some of these. In Phil 1:6 the apostle states, "...He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." There are no "ifs", no "buts", no "conditions." He WILL complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. He preserves and we persevere.
Here is another passage from John 10:27-29, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." Can there be anything clearer than that? He gives eternal life. What could the meaning of this be were one to adopt the Arminian concept? Does God give eternal life, and in some instances take it back again? Oh, no. Hear this: "And they SHALL NEVER perish." Do you know why? Not because these are so strong; not because they are better than anyone else. But they are in their Father's hand, and He is greater than all. No man can take the saints out of the Father's hand. No one!
In II Tim. 1:12 we read, "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." Notice how Paul speaks. He does not say, "I am persuaded that I am able to keep that which I have received unto that day;" but, "HE IS ABLE." That is God Who is greater than all. He keeps us in the way of life. He preserves the saints so that they are assured that they shall persevere.
Or again, read in Romans 8:29-30, "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified." You notice, God did not tell His church that He maybe will glorify them, conditioned upon their own action; but God declares, "Your final salvation is already an accomplished fact." God foreknew; God justified; God glorified. According to the eternal counsel of God that stands. We are preserved by our God.
Many more passages could be quoted. One could point to John 17, that beautiful prayer of Christ before crucifixion, where He speaks of and prays for His own. We could read of Peter who boasted so in his own ability to stand fast though all the others forsook the Christ. Christ tells Peter, "I prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." And that was the difference between Peter and Judas Iscariot. Christ held fast to Peter and died for him. And Peter entered into glory.
Now consider again our confessions, the Canons of Dordt, articles 6 and 7.
But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
For in the first place. in these falls he preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Our fathers confessed it. We must. It is the comfort, hope, assurance of the church.
The idea of the perseverance of saints is not something boring, cold, and unrelated to the Christian's life. Are we possibly willing to study perseverance occasionally as a doctrine of the church, but otherwise this means nothing to us personally? God forbid. This truth is vital; it is lovely; it is comforting; it is filled with hope -- nor does it lead a person into carelessness. That is one of the objections of the Arminian to this truth: he claims that this necessarily leads to carelessness in walk. If one is preserved to the end, it matters not what he does or says in his life. But if we realize that WE have to work, then we will not become careless -- says the Arminian. But the Arminian is dead wrong. The truth of perseverance does not lead to carelessness. This truth of the perseverance and preservation of the saints is exactly the truth which is an incentive to the child of God to walk in all godliness and holiness before God. That is a fact. No child of God would ever say that he can sin as he pleases -- for he will be preserved anyway. One who says that he may sin as he will is no Christian and gives no evidence of Christ's work in his heart. The Spirit just does not work that way. He regenerates us, giving us the life Christ merited for us; and the same Spirit leads us in a walk of godliness and holiness on the earth. We are not yet perfect. We do have the beginning of new life though, and according to that, there is the spiritual desire to serve God now while we are on the earth. Then with the apostle Paul, we truly say from the heart, "The good that I would, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do." Does the doctrine of perseverance lead to carelessness? To profanity? That can never be. Rather this truth must so stir us up that daily we adore only Him Who has delivered us by His own blood and keeps us by His Word and Spirit through all the way to the end when we shall surely be glorified.
This perseverance of saints is specially of comfort to us who still sin. Perseverance does not mean that we are perfect, though all our sins are blotted out through the blood of Christ. We still do sin as long as we live on the earth. But the truth we are considering in this essay does comfort us with respect to our sins. There is that way which we must travel here below. There are all kinds of dangers along that way - not the least of which is my own flesh. Daily I sin. In thought, word, and deed, I sin. Shall I assuredly then enter into heaven? Ah, I know that great though my sins are, these are purged; I shall enter into glory without doubt. Scripture is replete with examples. Remember King David -- the man after God's own heart? Yet David committed some horrible sins: he committed adultery; committed murder; lied; numbered the people. These are only some of the more prominent sins of David. There was a time when David was overwhelmed because of the burden of his sins. For a time he lived in impenitence until the prophet of God came to him, pointing him to his transgressions and the way of deliverance therefrom. David knew what it was to sin against the living God; but David also knew what it was to be preserved in the faith. David, on his knees, in Ps. 51 cries out, "Cast me not away from thy Presence. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free Spirit." And God did for David -- and does for all His elect. Do not forget Peter either, boastful, proud Peter, who denies Christ three times. Can you think of any sin worse? But Christ prayed for Him. Christ kept him. Peter is brought back and once more enjoys the glories of his salvation in Christ. He did not fall away from grace; he could not fall from that grace. He could sin -- yes; grievously -- yes; but unto death? No. Christ died for Peter. And Christ preserved him so that Peter also is now in glory.
And so one could go through the whole roster of saints. They all had their sins, sometimes grievous sins, but they are forgiven; and these saints are preserved and glorified. That is my comfort. Nothing can change this fact. Arminianism says, "I know I am a child of God today. Today I know I shall inherit eternal life. But tomorrow possibly I can not say that." But the child of God (one does not have to call him a "Calvinist") on his knees before God cries, "I know my Redeemer lives; I know that I live through Him; I know that I shall receive the crown of glory laid up in store for me. I know it." Dangers there are on every hand; threats; fears; persecutions; -- but I know that I belong to Him and shall enter into that glory He has promised me.
Sometimes the question is yet asked, "Am I one of those saints who persevere to the end?" Sometimes children of God do question and wonder concerning their own final salvation. In the Christian, doubt does at times arise, sometimes to the extent that for a time we seem completely separated from all of the blessings and favors of our God. But God tells us in His Word that His people belong forever to Him. He speaks that Word and applies it to my heart by His Spirit. His Spirit with my spirit cries, "Abba, Father." When I am concerned, as I am, of my salvation; when I am concerned with the fact that I am a sinner unworthy of any blessing; I then see already the fruit of the work of the Spirit in me. The concern, real spiritual concern, for sin; the hope and longing for salvation is the work of the Spirit. The fruit of the work of the Spirit in me is proof that I also am one of those preserved to the end. He who begins the good work in us will complete it unto the end.
Need I add: tell this to your children. Do not have anyone teach them that there is no perseverance and preservation of the saints. They will need this comfort especially today when the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Not only we, but the covenant seed must know that whatever temptations, persecutions, imprisonments, or death lie in their path, they shall also persevere to the end. They are kept in His hand; no man can take them out. Knowing all this, we can say with the apostle Paul in Romans 8:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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