Results tagged “perseverance of the saints” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 17.3

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iii. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God's displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.
      
When John Bunyan took the readers of his allegory into the House of the Interpreter, he gave them two vivid pictures of perseverance. One was a picture of sovereign grace. A man stood by a fire, pouring water upon it as the devil pours temptations on our faith--but the fire burned hotter and higher. Hidden behind the wall, another person stood pouring oil into the fire, as Christ works secretly by the Spirit to preserve the Christian's faith. 

However, Bunyan's other picture depicted personal combat. Many people stood outside a beautiful palace, wanting to go in but unwilling to face the fierce soldiers who stood in their way. One brave man put on armor and attacked them. They hurt him with many wounds, but he fought his way through them and was welcomed into the palace with the words, "Come in, come in; eternal glory thou shalt win." Grace-empowered perseverance is war.

In the first two sections of the seventeenth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we have seen the promise and the grounds of perseverance. The third section of WCF 17 cautions us to maintain the watchfulness of perseverance. Believers must fight a war on three fronts: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Soldiers on the frontline must always be alert, and how much more soldiers with invisible enemies! 

The Confession warns believers against "the neglect of the means of their preservation." God works through means, and failing to use the means will have serious consequences. Disdaining the means of grace over the long term reveals an unconverted heart. Hebrews 3:12 warns, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." As for the true saints of God, they will repent and persevere, but careless walking may lead them into sad and horrible sins that will cost them dearly before they reach heaven. Therefore, the Scriptures call us to watch and pray (Matt. 26:41; Eph. 6:18).
 
The Westminster divines list seven weighty consequences that may fall upon believers if they backslide into spiritual lethargy and disobedience.

First, they may experience God's fatherly anger. God will not come against believers in holy wrath and fury, for they have a heavenly Advocate (1 John 2:1). But the Father has not ceased to be holy. His children should fear to displease Him more than they fear anything else (1 Peter 1:15-17). They should fear His frown and rebuke, and seek His smile and reward (Matt. 6:1). 

Second, they may grieve the Holy Spirit. Everywhere a believer goes, he carries in his heart a holy Guest. The Lord within our souls is gracious and loving, but He hates the least sin. Let the Christian not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), but entertain Him as a good host entertains a welcome and beloved friend. 

Third, they may lose the blessings of the Spirit to some degree. The Spirit produces all their love, joy, peace, patience, and other good fruit (Gal. 5:22-24). Should they grieve this Spirit and risk Him withdrawing some of His gracious influences? 

Fourth, they may harden their hearts. Even believers need regular exhortation or the deceitfulness of sin begins to harden them (Heb. 3:13). They do not benefit as much from the Word because they become foolish and slow to believe all that God has promised (Mark 6:52; Luke 24:25). They may even become instruments of Satan discouraging God's servants and opposing the kingdom of God in some respects (Matt. 16:22-23).

Fifth, they may injure their consciences. Unrepentant sin makes a healthy conscience cry out in protest. Until David confessed his sins, his soul was "roaring all the day long" and God's hand was heavy upon him (Ps. 32:3-5). A good conscience before God and men is a great blessing (Acts 23:1; 24:16).

Sixth, they may do spiritual harm to other people. David's double sin of adultery and murder gave the enemies of God a reason to blaspheme His holy name (2 Sam. 12:14). A faithful life makes the gospel look beautiful, but impurity and rebellion among God's people provokes the world to mock at the Bible (Titus 2:5, 10). 

Seventh, they may suffer the judgments of God upon their earthly life. God forgave David, but He disciplined him by taking away one of his sons and allowing his family to be torn apart with strife (2 Sam. 12:11-14). The Lord sometimes visits sinning Christians with sickness and even death to discipline them (1 Cor. 11:30-34). 
 
All seven of these considerations call believers to watch against sin and pray for daily grace so that they may persevere in faithfulness. They give us sober reminders that we dare not wave the banner of "once saved, always saved" over a life of rebellion against God. Rather, they call us to a life of faith, repentance, and new obedience, for that is the essence of perseverance.

The perseverance of the saints is a promise to runners in the race of holiness. It is not meant to cradle sleepy sinners in spiritual La-Z-Boy recliners. Therefore, get up out of your sin, fix your eyes upon Jesus, and begin again to run the race set before you with the promise of glory in your hand. 

Dr. Joel Beeke is the President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Chapter 17.2

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ii. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
      
The Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not feed the complacency of the proud and hypocritical.It fosters the hope of the humble and dependent. John Newton wrote of the believer, "He believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him a habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit." David captures true Christian experience when he sings:
      Afflictions on the good must fall, but God will bring them safe through all;
      From harmful stroke He will defend, and sure and full deliv'rance send.
      The Lord redemption will provide for all who in His grace confide;
      From condemnation they are clear who trust in Him with holy fear.(1)
The perseverance of saints is rooted and grounded in God's grace and faithfulness.

Whereas the first section of WCF 17 tells us the promise of perseverance, the second section tells us its ground or basis. This is solid ground, giving believers "certainty and infallibility" in their hope. The Lord does not desire for His children to live in constant doubt about their future, but in assurance of eternal life with Him in glory (1 John 2:28-3:3; 5:13).

The Confession begins with what perseverance of the saints does not depend on, namely, "their own free will." Do not misunderstand this; the Confession does not deny that perseverance involves many acts of our will. Christians persevere not as robots but as willing believers, and perseverance is a duty as well as a grace (Heb. 12:1). Believers daily choose between faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience, Spirit and flesh, life and death (Deut. 30:19; Gal. 6:8). Having been justified, they must "work out" the implications of salvation with an eye on the coming day of the Lord (Phil. 2:11-12). However, their willing and working comes from God working in them according to His will (Phil. 2:13). Their faithfulness is a gift from God's faithfulness (1 Thess. 5:23-24). Therefore, believers must persevere, but their perseverance does not depend on them but on the grace of the Lord.

The Confession now proceeds to tell us the four-fold basis of Christian perseverance, reflecting the work of the three persons of the Trinity who have promised complete salvation in the covenant of grace. First, the perseverance of the saints cannot fail because of the unchanging love of God the Father for those whom He has chosen. Out of the rich generosity of His fatherly heart, He selected people to make them holy and blameless as His adopted children (Eph. 1:3-5). He knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). He has loved them with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). His plans do not change and His purposes cannot fail (Ps. 33:11). He will discipline His children (Heb. 12:4-11), but He will not condemn them (Rom. 8:1), for even His most severe chastening is intended to save them from being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32).

Second, the perseverance of the saints cannot fail because of the perfect sacrifice and continual intercession of God the Son. Our great High Priest by a single sacrifice "hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" by His blood (Heb. 10:14). His propitiation has satisfied God's justice (Rom. 3:24-26), and justice cannot demand double payment for sin. Risen from the dead, Christ "ever liveth to make intercession" so that His sacrifice will be applied and His people will be saved "to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25). Christ prays that God would keep His people from the devil's power so that their faith will not fail (Luke 22:32; John 17:15). Who then can condemn the elect for any charge brought against them? Christ died for them, Christ rose again for them, and Christ intercedes for them. Nothing in the present or future can separate them from His love (Rom. 8:34, 38-39).

Third, the perseverance of the saints cannot fail because of the almighty and ever active presence of God the Holy Spirit in the believer's soul. The Spirit dwells in them to sanctify them as God's holy temple (1 Cor. 6:19). The Spirit is not an inert substance they must stir up, but the sovereign Lord who rouses them from sleep and leads them to glory (2 Cor. 3:17-18). He plants, germinates, and fructifies a seed of sovereign grace in them such that they can never be the same again (1 John 3:9). The Spirit will not give up until His work is done. Paul was "confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). God has "sealed" believers and given the Spirit as the down payment until their redemption is fully applied (Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:22). If God were to fail to bring believers to their inheritance, He would violate His word of promise and have to forfeit His down payment--His Spirit!

Fourth, the perseverance of the saints cannot fail because of the solemn oath of the triune God in the covenant of grace. Before time began, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit promised to give grace and eternal life to the elect (Titus 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 1:9). The Father gave this people to His Son in a covenant, and now the Father holds them in His hands and nothing can snatch them away from His covenant faithfulness (John 10:29). The Lord swore a solemn oath so that all who take refuge in Jesus Christ can have a solid hope that His purpose to save them can never change (Heb. 6:16-20). He has promised that His covenant of peace will not be withdrawn from them (Isa. 54:9-10). He promised to so deeply plant His fear in them that they will never leave Him (Jer. 32:40). For unlike the covenant that Israel broke, God has promised to write His law upon the hearts of His people so that they will desire to do His will (Jer. 31:31-34; Ps. 40:8). They will persevere, and not fall away. 

Believers have solid grounds for confidence that they will make it to glory. They have every right to rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2). May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing His promises, so that by the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope!

Does this doctrine give Christians an excuse for lazy and careless spiritual living? God forbid. Every one of the reasons for perseverance is a declaration of God's love for us. Though the wicked may abuse God's promises to their own destruction, God's people respond to love with love. Furthermore, as we will see in the last section of this chapter in the confession, the fear of the Lord and desire to please their Father offer strong motives to avoid sin.

Dr. Joel Beeke is president and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

NOTES:
1.  The Psalter, No. 91, Stanzas 3 and 5 (Psalm 34;19, 20, 22).

Chapter 17.1

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i. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally, fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
      
Someone has said that a half-truth is often a great lie. Someone else quipped that you should beware of a half-truth, because you may have gotten ahold of the wrong half. Such is the case with the statement, "Once saved, always saved." 

Often people say "once saved, always saved" in the context of making a decision for Christ. They mean that if you ask Jesus into your heart or pray to accept Christ as your personal Savior, then no matter what you do, you are going to heaven. Famously, one advocate of this view has said publicly that all one needs is thirty seconds of saving faith! Many people concerned for the health and holiness of the church object to such an idea. They are right to do so because it is not biblical truth. It is also not the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. 

Reformed Christianity teaches that God preserves His people so that they continue to follow Christ in faith and obedience all the way to glory. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the promise, grounds, and necessary watchfulness of perseverance in its seventeenth chapter. The first paragraph of WCF 17 states the promise of perseverance. Those in "the state of grace . . . shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved." To persevere is to persistently and patiently pursue Christ through pain and persecution, in spite of assaults, temptation, lapses into sin, and struggles with unbelief.

This promise is precious because you must persevere in order to be saved (Heb. 3:6, 14). Christ warned His disciples that they will face persecution. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt. 10:22; cf. 24:13). He said, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:4). To abide is to continue in a vital relationship to Christ as your source of life. The apostle Paul wrote that you are reconciled to God and will be presented as blameless in His sight, "if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23). Perseverance is not optional to salvation. Rather, it is one of the surest marks of true faith.

God's love therefore secures the perseverance of His people so they will enter the joys of His glory. As a term of the new covenant in Christ, He promises: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me" (Jer. 32:40). Everyone born again by God's grace overcomes the world by faith (1 John 5:3-4). Even as his faith is tested by painful trials, God keeps him safe by using His power to preserve and purify his faith (1 Peter 1:5-7).

God's grace creates a people who willingly persevere in faith. He does not drag people kicking and screaming into the kingdom or save anyone against his will: "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Rather, He draws them to come to Christ in faith, and Christ will never cast them out or lose even one of them, but will raise every one of them up to glory on the last day (John 6:37-40). Even when many who have professed to be Christ's disciples turn back from Him, and some treacherously betray Him, true believers will not leave Him because they know only He can give them eternal life (John 6:66-71). They have a God-given appetite that only Christ can satisfy, and they will cling to Him forever.

Someone might object that both the Bible and experience show that some Christians do fall away from Christ. Yes, it is a sad fact that they do. The Confession wisely speaks of the perseverance of only those "whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit." This is not everyone who comes to church or responds positively to the gospel. Christ Himself teaches that some "receive the word with joy" and "for a while believe," but trouble or temptation cause them to fall away (Luke 8:13). However, they were not true believers, for in the same Scripture the Lord said that they "have no root"--the gospel never pierced their stony heart to create saving faith. They experienced God's truth and Holy Spirit as soil that receives the rain but produces thorns and not good fruit, and so they ultimately fall away (Heb. 6:4-8). Apostasy among professing Christians should grieve us but not shock us. The promise of perseverance belongs to those whom God has called, justified, and sanctified, in the outworking of His sovereign election in love (Rom. 8:29-30).

Another person might object that true believers still fall into sin. Again, we must agree. However, the Confession says that God's children cannot "totally, nor finally" fall from grace. Yet they may experience partial and temporary falls. David fell into adultery and murder until the Lord broke his heart with repentance (Ps. 51). Peter denied his Lord when Satan was sifting  him as wheat. How frail we are! But we also remember Christ's words to Peter, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). Christ guaranteed that Peter's faith would not totally or finally fail, but would turn back in repentance (which is what "converted" means in this context). The intercession of our Mediator guarantees that not one of His people will be finally lost. We will discuss the rock-solid grounds for the perseverance of the saints in more detail when we consider the second section of this seventeenth chapter.

Dr. Joel Beeke is pres­i­dent and Pro­fes­sor of Sys­tem­atic The­ol­ogy and Homilet­ics at Puri­tan Reformed The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary and pas­tor of the Her­itage Nether­lands Reformed Con­gre­ga­tion in Grand Rapids, Michi­gan.