May 7, 2013
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.
1. The Psalter, No. 91, Stanzas 3 and 5 (Psalm 34;19, 20, 22).