TULIP – The Fifth Point: (P) Perseverance of the Saints
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2013|
|The Canons of Dordt, under the “Fifth Main Point of Doctrine: The Perseverance of the Saints,” says in Article 1 that the Holy Spirit not only regenerates but “also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.” What does this mean, in practical terms, for the Christian?|
TULIP – The Fifth Point: (P) Perseverance of the Saints
At first reading, some of the statements in the articles are difficult to comply with the others in this section. Therefore, comments will be made to clarify any contradictions.
Article 1. The Holy Spirit not only regenerates but “also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.” If this means that the old sin nature can assert itself in the life of the believer, it is correct. Even Paul said, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24). Still, at any given time, victory over a particular sin is promised “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25).
Article 2. Believers have “continual cause” to flee to Christ, “to put the flesh to death more and more by the Spirit of supplication and by holy exercises of godliness, and to strain toward the goal of perfection, until they are freed from this body of death and reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.” This begins to sound like it is the effort of the believer’s “holy exercises of godliness” and “to strain toward the goal of perfection” which are the means of their ultimate salvation, rather than the power and promises of Almighty God! Yet note the following article!
Article 3. The title is “God’s Preservation of the Converted.” Believers “could not remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources. But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to the end.” It makes one wonder; why make it necessary to strain oneself to the end, seeing that God is ultimately doing the preserving?
Article 4. Believers “can be so carried away by the world, the flesh and Satan… witness the sad cases described in Scripture of David, Peter and other saints falling into sins.” Note what is said in the next articles.
Article 5. Believers can even “suspend the exercise of faith, and sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time” and they repent. Can a true believer ever lose his conscience, or the consciousness of the wrong he is doing?
Article 6. God “does not take his Holy Spirit away from his own completely” nor “does he let them fall down so far that they forget the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit) and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by him, into eternal ruin.” How can God take away the Holy Spirit from a believer in any way, or to any degree? Christ said in John 14:16-17, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you.”
Further, did not some true believers commit the sin unto physical death, the sin against the Holy Spirit? Certainly Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 were two cases; and how else can anyone interpret 1 Corinthians 11:30-32, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” See also I John 5:16-17 for the difference between a sin not unto death and one which is unto death.
Article 8. The Certainty of This Preservation This article comes closest to what we would call “eternal security” and deserves to be quoted in full. Even the title uses the word “Preservation” rather than “Perseverance.” Yet, in Article 10, the ground of this assurance rests to some extent on “good works.”
Article 8: “So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since his plan cannot be changed, his promises cannot fail, the calling according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.”
Article 10. The Ground of This Assurance. Instead of keeping to the Preservation by God, this article confuses the issue by the inclusion of man’s efforts as part of the ground of Assurance. The assurance of both preservation and perseverance is mentioned in Article 9, and here in Article 10, the ground of this assurance comes “from faith in the promises of God… from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children and heirs (Rom. 8:16-17) and finally from a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works.”
Article 14. God’s Use of Means in Perseverance. God “preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats and promises, and also by the use of the sacraments.”
True believers, then, must not only depend upon the promises of God, but continue to live under His threats, and the use of sacraments to be sure they will be preserved until the end!!
Modern day Calvinists, along with Arminian and Roman Catholic authors say practically the same things about the perseverance of the saints. I am indebted to the writings of Pastor Tom Stegall of the Word of Grace Bible Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for the following quotes, published in The Grace Family Journal, of the Duluth Bible Church, Duluth, Minnesota, March/April 2002, pp. 11-15.
Louis Berkhof: “although the Bible tells us that we are kept by the grace of God, it does not encourage the idea that God keeps us without constant watchfulness, diligence, and prayer on our part” (p. 13)
Benjamin B. Warfield: “We can never know that we are elected of God to eternal life except by manifesting in our lives the fruits of election—faith and virtue, knowledge and temperance, patience and godliness, love of brethren…. It is idle to seek assurance of election outside of holiness of life” (p. 12).
R.C. Sproul: Endurance in faith is a condition for future salvation. Only those who endure in faith will be saved for eternity” (p. 12).
John MacArthur: “The point is not that God guarantees security to everyone who will say that he accepts Christ, but rather that those whose faith is genuine will prove their salvation is secure by persevering to the end in the way of righteousness” (p.15).
John Piper: “We mean that the saints must and will persevere in the obedience which comes from faith. Election is unconditional, but glorification is not. There are many warnings in Scripture that those who do not hold fast to Christ can be lost in the end” (p. 22, Winter 2003 edition of Grace Family Journal).
John Gerstner: “Thus, good works may be said to be a condition for obtaining salvation in that they inevitably accompany genuine faith…. The question is not whether good works are necessary for salvation, but in what way they are necessary. As the inevitable outworking of saving faith they are necessary for salvation.” (p. 23, Winter 2003 edition of Grace Family Journal). We would only comment, Mr. Gerstner, which one of these two is correct; is it a condition for obtaining salvation or is it the outworking of salvation? These are two completely different things, and neither of them has reference to the obtaining or outworking of salvation. Good works have reference to rewards only!
Guy Duty: There is no cleansing from sin, and no salvation, without a continual walking in God’s light” (Grace Family Journal, March/April 2002 p. 12).
Robert Shank: “There is no valid assurance of election and final salvation for any man, apart from deliberate perseverance in faith” (Ibid., p. 12).
Joseph Kindel “The Scriptures continually exhort us to persevere, to ‘hang in there.’ It is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved” (Ibid., p. 12).
The Roman Catholic Catechism, article 161: “… without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life but ‘he who endures to the end’”(Ibid., p. 12).
These are only a few of the many quotations presented by Pastor Stegall. His excellent series of eight articles, so far, on the subject of Perseverance of the Saints is available from the Duluth Bible Church, 201, W. Saint Andrews Street, Duluth MN 55803.
Just what did the biblical characters themselves tells us about their salvation? Both Old and New Testament believers give testimony to their belief in eternal salvation, which was accepted as instantaneous and eternal in their lives.
In the Old Testament:
Job. Before the Law, even before the promises to Abraham, Genesis 10:29 records “Jobab” (which means, “father Job” or, “my father is Job”). In the book of Job 1:5, Job offers sacrifices for his family, which is patriarchal not Levitical. In Job 9:2 Job asks, “How should man be just before God?” Paul gives the answer in Romans 3:26, “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.” Did Job see his need of this, specifically? In Job 9:30-33, Job recognized that he needed cleansing from sin and that “a daysman [mesites in the Greek O.T., the Septuagint] between us, that might lay his hand upon us both.” Paul used this same Greek word in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator [mesites] between God and man, the man, Christ Jesus.” In Job 19:25-27 “For I know that my redeemer [goel, one who pays the price; referring to the death of Christ the Redeemer] lives [His resurrection], and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth [the second coming of Christ]; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God [glorification of the believer] Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” Now, does this sound like a believer who fears the threats of God, and is unsure of his glorification? To the contrary, Job says that he knows all these things! And he is definite about seeing his Redeemer with his own eyes!!
Abraham: The promise of Genesis 12:3, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” is repeated to Abraham in Genesis 18:18; 22:18, and to Isaac in Genesis 26:4, and to Jacob in Genesis 28:14. Is there any specific statement that Abraham understood this to refer to Christ? Christ Himself said it in John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” It was in Genesis 22 that Abraham “saw” the day of Christ, when the preincarnate Savior appeared to him as the Angel of Jehovah and miraculously provided the sacrificial lamb in place of his son Isaac. His faith was shown to be real as he proceeded with the offering of Isaac until the Savior stopped him. Thus, Paul could say, “For what saith the scripture, Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). James could say that this faith was followed by works (James 2:21-24), as Abraham offered up Isaac; thus they were both correct, since “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…. Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17). Abraham was secure in his faith, “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). To Abraham, his glorification was just as sure and certain as his justification!
Moses: According to Hebrews 11:24-26 the time came in the life of Moses after he was “full forty years of age” (Acts 7:23) that he made a choice of faith. This decision was based upon the fact that Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11:26). The Greek text of this verse includes the article tou Christou, “of the Christ.” The New International Version translates: “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater value than the treasures in Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” This speaks of certainty and security of glorification at 40! He lived until he was 120, and “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” Though Moses was trained in “all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), he must have learned about “the Christ” during those formative years in his own mother’s care, before he became the son of Pharaoh’s daughter!
David: Christ quoted David’s testimony from Psalm 110:1 when He asked the Pharisees: “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David, in the Spirit, call him Lord, Saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David , then call him Lord, how is he his son? (Matt. 22:42-45). Peter’s comments in Acts 2:25-31 clarify the details of David’s faith in the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David…. Therefore being a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath unto him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He, seeing this before, spoke of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:29-31). These several participles are used to show the strong, continuous assurance of David. This same assurance of glorification is emphasized in many of David’s Psalms. Just three examples:
Psalm 17:15, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”
Psalm 21:4, “He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days forever and ever.”
Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Isaiah: He is known as the Evangelical, or Gospel Prophet, since he predicts the details of Christ’s virgin birth, His death and resurrection for the sins of mankind as well as His return to astonish the kings of earth (Isa. 7:14; 52:12-53:12). Concerning everlasting assurance, Isaiah 32:17 says: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” In Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974, p. 112, the word batach, which is translated assurance here in Isaiah 32:17, and trust in Isaiah 12:2 is described:
Betach, masculine noun (1) Confidence, and as an adverb, confidently, with steadfast mind, Genesis 34:25. (2) Security, Isaiah 32:17, without danger and fear; safely.
Batach, verb; (1) to confide in anyone, to set one’s hope and confidence upon anyone (2) to be secure, to fear nothing for oneself. (a) it is used in a good sense of the security of the righteous, Isaiah 12:2.
Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on Isaiah, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1960, Vol. 2, p. 53, “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the reward of righteousness rest and security forever.”
Berkeley Bible: “And the fruit of justice will be peace, and the effect of righteousness rest and security forever.”
In the New Testament:
Jesus, in John 17:11,12 “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was in the world, I kept them in thy name; those that thou gavest me I have kept and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scriptures might be fulfilled.”
Paul: 2 Timothy 1:12, “I am not ashamed; 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.”
2 Timothy 2:3 “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself.”
2 Timothy 4:18 “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
Jude 24: Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
John: 1 John 5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”