Concerning the Perseverance of the Saints

by Jonathan Edwards

1. There is just the same reason for those commands of earnest care and laborious endeavors for perseverance, and threatenings of defection, notwithstanding its being certain that all that have true grace shall persevere, as there is for earnest endeavors after godliness, and to make our calling and election sure, notwithstanding all that are elected shall undoubtedly be saved. For as the case with respect to this is the same, decree or no decree, every one that believes shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned. They that will not live godly lives, find out for themselves that they are not elected; they that will live godly lives, have found out for themselves that they are elected. So it is here: he that to his utmost endeavors to persevere in ways of obedience, finds out that his obedience and righteousness are true; and he that does not, discovers that his is false.

2. As persons are commanded and counseled to repent and be converted, though it is already determined whether they shall be converted or no; after the same manner, and with the same propriety, persons are commanded and counseled to persevere, although by their being already converted, it is certain they shall persevere. By their resolutely and steadfastly persevering through all difficulties, opposition, and trials, they obtain an evidence of the truth and soundness of their conversion; and by their unstableness and backsliding, they procure an evidence of their unsoundness and hypocrisy. And it always happens, that persons who have the most need of being cautioned and counseled against falling and apostasy, by reason of the weakness of their grace, have most need of an evidence of the truth of their grace. And those who have the least need of any evidence, by reason of the strength and lively exercise of grace, have least need of being warned against falling, they being least in danger of it. And so the same persons, when they are most in danger of falling by reason of the languishing of their graces, their ill-temper and workings of corruption have most need of evidence; and, when in least need of care and watchfulness not to fall, by reason of the strength and vigorous actings of grace, they have least need of evidence. So that there is as much need of persons exercising care and diligence to persevere in order to their salvation, as there is of their attention and care to repent and be converted. For our own care and diligence is as much the proper and decreed means of perseverance, as of anything else; and the want of perseverance, as of anything else; and the want of perseverance, is as much an evidence of the want of true conversion, as the want of conversion is a sign of the want of election. Labor and diligence to persevere, is as rational a way to make sure of the truth of grace, as they are to make sure of the truth of election. God’s wrath and future punishment are proposed to all sorts of men, as motives to an universal and constant obedience, not only to the wicked, but also to the godly. Indeed, those that have obtained full assurance of their safe estate, are not capable of this motive, and they have no need of it. But when persons are most capable of the fear of hell, through their want of assurance and their uncertainty, whether or no they are not exposed to damnation by reason of the weakness of their grace, then they have most need of caution.

Correlation: Here we may observe that it is not the scripture way of judging of the truth of grace, to be determined principally by the method and steps of the first work, but by the exercise and fruits of grace in a holy life.

3. Perseverance in faith is, in one sense, the condition of justification; that is, the promise of acceptance is made only to a persevering sort of faith; and the proper evidence of its being of that sort is actual perseverance. Not but that a man may have good evidences that his faith is of that sort, before he has finished his perseverance, yea, the first time that he exercises such a faith, if the exercises of it are lively and vigorous. But when the believer has those vigorous exercises of faith, by which he has clear evidences of its being of a persevering kind, he evermore feels most disposition and resolution to persevere, and most of a spirit of dependence upon God and Christ to enable him so to do.

4. As to passages of Scripture like that, (Ezek. 18:24), wherein are declared the fatal consequences of turning or railing away from righteousness, they do not at all argue but that there is an essential difference, in the very nature of the righteousness of those that persevere, and the righteousness of those that fall away. The one is of a lasting sort, the other not; and so, falling away or holding out, are in those places respected as natural fruits or discoveries of the nature of the righteous or of the wicked. If a man that had a prospect of being ere long in calamitous circumstances, of being poor, and the object of general contempt, and should make this declaration concerning his friend, or him that now appeared to be such, that it his friend would cleave to him through all his circumstances, he would receive him and treat him ever after as his true friend, but otherwise he would utterly desert him as a false friend; this would not argue, that he thought there was no difference between the love of friendship that was persevering, and that which fails when it is tried; but only, that those difficulties discover the difference, and show whose love is of a lasting sort, and whose not. The promises in Scripture are commonly made to the signs of grace; though God knows whether men be sincere or not, without the signs whereby men know it.

5. God, when he had laid out himself to glorify his mercy and grace in the redemption of poor fallen men, did not see meet, that those who are redeemed by Christ, should be redeemed so imperfectly, as still to have the work of perseverance left in their own hands. They had been found already insufficient for this even in their perfect state, and are now ten times more liable than formerly to fall away and not to persevere, if, in their fallen broken state, with their imperfect sanctification, the care of the matter be trusted with them. Man, though redeemed by Christ, so as to have the Holy Spirit of God, and spiritual life again restored in a degree; yet is left a poor, piteous creature, because all is suspended on his perseverance as it was at first; and the care of that affair is left with him as it was then; and he is ten times more likely to fall away than he was then, if we consider only what he was in himself to preserve him from it. The poor creature sees his own insufficiency to stand, from what has happened in time past; his own instability has been his undoing already; and now he is vastly more unstable than before. The great thing wherein the first covenant was deficient, was, that the fulfillment of the righteousness of the covenant, and man’s perseverance, was entrusted with man himself, with nothing better to secure it than his own strength. And therefore, God introduces a better, which should be an everlasting covenant, a new and living way; wherein that which was wanting in the first should be supplied, and a remedy should be provided against that, which under the first covenant proved man’s undoing, viz. man’s own weakness and instability; by a Mediator being given, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; who cannot fail; who should undertake for his people, and take care of them. He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through him; and ever lives to make intercession for them. God did not see it fit that man should be trusted to stand in his own strength a second time. It is not fit that in a covenant of grace, wherein all is of mere, free, and absolute grace, that the reward of life should be suspended on the perseverance of man, as dependent on the strength and steadfastness of his own will. It is a covenant of works, and not a covenant of grace that suspends eternal life on what is the fruit of a man’s own strength. Eternal life was to have been of works in those two respects, viz. as it was to have been for man’s own righteousness, and as it was suspended on the fruit of his own strength. For, though our first parent depended on the grace of God, the influence of his Spirit in his heart; yet that grace was given him already, and dwelt in him constantly, and without interruption, in such a degree as to hold him above any lust or sinful habit or principle. Eternal life was not merely suspended on that grace that was given him, and dwelt in him, but on his improvement of that grace which he already had. For, in order to his perseverance, there was nothing further promised beyond his own strength; no extraordinary occasional assistance was promised. It was not promised but that man should be left to himself as he was. But the new covenant is of grace, in a manner distinguishing from the old, in both these respects, that the reward of life is suspended neither on his own strength nor worthiness. It provides something above either. But if eternal life under the new covenant was suspended on man’s own perseverance, or his perseveringly using diligent endeavors to stand without the promise of anything farther to ascertain it than his own strength, it would herein be farther from being worthy to be called a covenant of grace than the first covenant; because man’s strength is exceedingly less than it was then, and he is under far less advantages to persevere. And if he should obtain eternal life by perseverance in his own strength now, eternal life would, with respect to that, be much more of himself than it would have been by the first covenant; because perseverance now would be a much greater thing than under those circumstances; and he has but an exceeding small part of that grace dwelling in him, to assist him, that he had then: and that which he has, does not dwell in him in the exercise of it by such a constant law as grace did then, but is put into exorcise by the spirit of grace, in a far more arbitrary and sovereign way.

6. Again, Christ came into the world to do that in which mere men failed. He came as a better surety, and that in him those defects might be supplied, which proved to be In our first surety, and that we might have a remedy for the mischief that came by those defects. But the defect of our first surety was, that he did not persevere. He wanted steadfastness; and therefore God sent us, in the next surety, one that could not fail; but should surely persevere. But this is no supply of that defect to us, if the reward of life be still suspended on perseverance, which has nothing, as to ourselves, greater to secure it still, than the strength of mere man; and the perseverance of our second surety is no remedy against the like mischief, which came by failure of our first surety; but on the contrary, we are much more exposed to the mischief than before. The perseverance on which life was suspended, depended then indeed on the strength of mere man; but now (on the supposition) it would be suspended on the strength of fallen man. In that our first surety did not persevere, we fell in and with him; for doubtless, if he had stood, we should have stood with him. And therefore when God in mercy has given us a better surety to supply the defects of the first, a surety that might stand and persevere, and one that has actually persevered through the greatest imaginable trials; doubtless we shall stand and persevere in him. After alt this, eternal life will not be suspended on our perseverance by our own poor, feeble, broken strength. Our first surety, if he had stood, would have been brought to eat of the tree of life, as a seal of a confirmed state of life in persevering and everlasting holiness and happiness; and he would have eat of this tree of life as a seal of persevering confirmed life, not only for himself, but as our head. As when he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he tasted as our head, and so brought death on himself and all his posterity; so, if he had persevered, and had eat of the tree of life, he would have tasted of that as our head, and therein life and confirmed holiness would have been sealed to him and all his posterity. But Christ, the second Adam, acts the same part for us that the first Adam was to have done, but failed. He has fulfilled the law, and has been admitted to the seals of confirmed and everlasting life. God, as a testimony and seal of his acceptance of what he had done as the condition of life, raised him from the dead, and exalted him with his own right hand, received him up into glory, and gave all things into his hands. Thus the second Adam has persevered, not only for himself, but for us; and has been sealed to confirmed and persevering and eternal life, as our head; so that all those that are his, and who are his spiritual posterity, are sealed in him to persevering life. Here it will be in vain to object, that persons’ persevering in faith and holiness is the condition of their being admitted to the state of Christ’s posterity, or to a right in him; and that none are admitted: as such till they have first persevered. For this is as much as to say, that Christ has no church in this world; and that there are none on this side the grave admitted as his children or people; because they have not yet actually persevered to the end of life, which is the condition of their being admitted as his children and people; which is contrary to the whole Scripture. Christ having finished the work of Adam for us, does more than merely to bring us back to the probationary state of Adam, while he had yet his work to finish, knowing his eternal life uncertain, because suspended on his uncertain perseverance. That alone is inconsistent with Christ’s being a second Adam. For if Christ, succeeding in Adam’s room, has done and gone through the work that Adam was to have done, and did this as our representative or surety, he has not thereby set us only in Adam’s probationary, uncertain state, but has carried us, who are in him, and are represented by him, through Adam’s working probationary state, unto that confirmed state that Adam should have arrived at, if he had gone through his own work.

7. That the saints shall surely persevere, will necessarily follow from this, that they have already performed the obedience which is the righteousness by which they have justification unto life; or it is already performed for them, and imputed to them: for that supposes, that it is the same thing in the sight of God as if they had performed it. Now, when the creature has once actually performed and finished the righteousness of the law, he is immediately sealed and confirmed to eternal life. There is nothing to keep him off from the tree of life. But as soon as ever a believer has Christ’s righteousness imputed to him, he has virtually finished the righteousness of the law. It is evident the saints shall persevere, because they are already justified. Adam would not have been justified till he had fulfilled and done his work; and then his justification would have been a confirmation. It would have been an approving of him as having done his work, and as standing entitled to his reward. A servant that is sent out about a work, is not justified by his master till he has done; and then the roaster views the work, and seeing it to be done according to his order, he then approves and justifies him as having done his work, and being now entitled to the promised reward; and his title to his reward is no longer suspended on anything remaining. So, Christ having done our work for us, we are justified as soon as ever we believe in him, as being, through what he has accomplished and finished, now already actually entitled to the reward of life. And justification carries in it not only remission of sins, but also being adjudged to life, or accepted as entitled by righteousness to the reward of life; as is evident, because believers are justified by communion with Christ in his justification. But the justification of Christ did most certainly imply both these things, viz. his being now judged free of that guilt which he had taken upon him, and also his having now fulfilled all righteousness his having perfectly obeyed the Father, and done enough to entitle him to the reward of life as our head and surety and therefore he then had eternal life given him as our head. That life which was begun when he was raised from the dead, was eternal life. Christ was then justified in the same sense that Adam would have been justified, if he had finished his course of perfect obedience; and therefore implies in it confirmation in a title to life, as that would have done; and thus, all those that are risen with Christ, and have him for their surety, and so are justified in his justification, are certainly in like manner confirmed. And again, that a believer’s justification implies not only a deliverance from the wrath of God, but a title to glory, is evident by Romans 5:12, where the apostle mentions both these as joint benefits implied in justification: “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” (Rom. 5:1-2). So, remission of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified, are mentioned together, as what are jointly obtained by faith in Christ: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, through faith that is in me,” (Acts 26:18). Both these are undoubtedly implied in that passing from death unto life, which Christ speaks of as the fruit of faith, and which he opposes to condemnation: “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,” (John 5:24). To suppose that a right to life is suspended on our own perseverance, which is uncertain, and has nothing more sure and steadfast to secure it than our own good-wills and resolutions, (which way soever we suppose it to be dependent on the strength of our resolutions and wills, either with assistance, or in the improvement of assistance, or in seeking assistance,) is exceedingly dissonant to the nature and design of the gospel scheme. For, if it were so, it would unavoidably deprive the believer of the comfort, hope, and joy of salvation: which would be very contrary to God’s design in the scheme of man’s salvation, which is to make the ground of our peace and joy in all respects strong and sure: or else, he must depend much on himself, and the ground of his joy and hope must in a great measure be his own strength, and the steadfastness of his own heart, the unchangeableness of his own resolutions, &c.; which would be very different from the gospel scheme.

8. It is one act of faith to commit the soul to Christ’s keeping in this sense, viz. to keep it from falling. The believing soul is convinced of its own weakness and helplessness, its inability to resist its enemies, its insufficiency to keep itself, and so commits itself to Christ, that he would be its keeper. The apostle speaks of his committing his soul by faith to Christ, under great sufferings and trials of his perseverance; “For which cause also I suffer these things. Nevertheless, 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 to him against that day,” (Tim. 1:12). And we are commanded to commit our way and our works unto the Lord; (Ps. 37:5; Prov. 16:3). Faith depends on Christ for all the good we need, and especially good of this kind, which is of such absolute necessity in order to the salvation of our souls. The sum of the good that faith looks for is the Holy Spirit. It looks for spiritual and eternal life; for perfect holiness in heaven, and persevering holiness here. For the just shall live by faith. It seems to be because continuance in faith is necessary to continuance in justification, at least in part, that the apostle expresses himself as he does, “For therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith unto faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith,” (Rom. 1:17).  For it is by faith that we first perceive and know this righteousness, and do at first receive and embrace it; and being once interested in it, we have the continuance of faith in future persevering exercises of it made sure to us. And thus that is fulfilled, “The just shall live by faith,” (Rom. 1:17). Agreeable to 1 Peter 1:5, “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” And also Hebrews 10:35-39, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry. Now, the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”

9. Perseverance is acknowledged by Calvinian divines, to be necessary to salvation. Yet it seems to me, that the manner in which it is necessary has not been sufficiently set forth. It is owned to be necessary as a sine qua non: and also, that though it is not that by which we first come to have a title to eternal life, yet it is necessary in order to the actual possession of it, as the way to it; that it is as impossible we should come to it without perseverance, as it is impossible for a man to go to a city or town, without travelling throughout the road that leads to it. But we are really saved by perseverance; so that salvation has a dependence on perseverance, as that which influences in the affair, so as to render it congruous that we should be saved. Faith (on our part) is the great condition of salvation; it is that by which we are justified and saved. But in this faith, the perseverance that belongs to it is a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation. Perseverance indeed comes into consideration, even in the justification of a sinner, as one thing on which the fitness of acceptance to life depends. For, God has respect to perseverance as being virtually in the first act. And it is looked upon as if it were a property of that faith by which the sinner is then justified. God has respect to continuance in faith; and the sinner is justified by that, as though it already were; because by divine establishment it shall follow; and so it is accepted, as if it were a property contained in the faith that is then seen. Without this, it would not be congruous that a sinner should be justified at his first believing; but it would be needful that the act of justification should be suspended till the sinner had persevered in faith. There is the same reason why it is necessary that the union between Christ and the soul should remain in order to salvation, as that it should be begun; for it is begun to the end that it might remain. And if it could be begun without remaining, the beginning would be in vain. The soul is saved no otherwise than by union with Christ, and so is fitly looked upon as his. It is saved in him; and in order to that, it is necessary that the soul now be in him, even when salvation is actually bestowed, and not merely that it should once, have been in him; and therefore God, in justifying a sinner, even in the first act of faith, has respect to the congruity between justification and perseverance of faith. So that perseverance is necessary to salvation, not only as a sine qua non, or as the way to possession; but it is necessary even to the congruity of justification.

10. That perseverance is thus necessary to salvation, not only as a sine qua non, but by reason of such an influence and dependence, seems manifest from Scripture; as particularly, “Now the just shall live by faith. But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul,” (Heb. 10:38-39). “Well, because of unbelief they were broken off. But thou standest by faith. Be not high minded, but fear,” (Rom. 11:20). “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” (John 11:7) “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end,” (Heb. 3:14).  “Be ye followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” (Heb. 5:12). So that not only the first act of faith, but subsequent acts of faith, and perseverance in faith, do justify the sinner; although salvation is in itself sure and certain after the first act. For the way in which the first act of faith justifies, is not by making the futurition of salvation certain in itself; for that is as certain in itself by the divine decree, before the first act of faith, as afterwards. Salvation is in some sense the sinner’s right, before he believes. It was given him in Christ, before the world was. But before a sinner believes, he has not anything from God that he can lay hold of, so as to either challenge it, or on good grounds hope for it. He cannot be said to have any right, because he has no congruity; and as to the promise made to Christ, he has no hold to that, because that is not revealed to him. If God had declared and promised to the angels that such a man should be saved; that would not give him any right of his own, or any ground of challenge. A promise is a manifestation of a person’s design of doing some good to another, to the end that he may depend on it, and rest in it. The certainty in him arises from the manifestation; and the obligation in justice to him arises from the manifestation being made to him, to the effect that he might depend on it. And therefore subsequent acts of faith may be said to give a sinner a title to salvation, as well as the first. For, from what has been said, it appears that the congruity arises from them, as well as the first; they in 599 like manner containing the nature of unition to Christ as mediator; and they may have as great, nay, a greater hand in the manifestation of the futurition of salvation to us for our dependence, than the first act. For our knowledge of this may proceed mainly from after-acts, and from a course of acts. The Scripture speaks of after-acts of faith in both Abraham and Noah, as giving a title to the righteousness which is the matter of justification. (See Rom. 4:3; Heb. 11:7).

11. The doctrine of perseverance is manifest from the nature of the mediation of Christ. For as Christ is a mediator to reconcile God to man, and man to God, and as he is a middle person between both, and has the nature of both, so he undertakes for each, and, in some respect, becomes surety for each with the other. He undertakes and becomes a surety for man to God. He engages for him, that the law, that was given him, shall be answered; and that justice, with respect to him, shall be satisfied, and the honor of God’s majesty vindicated. So he undertakes and engages for the Father with man, in order to his being reconciled to God, and induced to come to him, to love him, and trust confidently in him, and rest quietly in him. He undertakes for the Father’s acceptance and favor, “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father,” (John 14:21). He undertakes that the Father shall hear and answer their prayers. He becomes surety to see that their prayers are answered; “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son,” (John 14:13). He undertakes that they shall have all necessary supplies of grace from the Father; and he engages for the continuance of God’s presence with them, and the continuance of his favor, and of the supplies of grace necessary to uphold and preserve them, and keep them from finally perishing; “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever,” (John 14:16).  And verse 23. “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him.” Christ does not only declare that God will give us needed grace, but he himself undertakes to see it done. He promises that-he will bestow it from the Father; “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send you from the Father,” (John 15:26). It was necessary that someone should thus undertake for God with man, for the continuance of his pardoning and sanctifying grace, in order to the sinner’s being fully reconciled to God, and brought fully and quietly to rest in him as his God: otherwise the sinner, conscious of his own weakness and sinfulness, could have no quiet rest in God, for fear of the union being broken between God and him, and for fear of incurring God’s displeasure and wrath, and so having God an enemy forever. He is in a capacity to undertake for us, and be surety for us, with the Father, because he puts himself in our stead. He also is in a capacity to undertake for the Father, and be surety for him with us, because the Father hath put him in his stead. He puts himself in our stead as priest, and answers for us, and does and suffers in that office what we should have done and suffered; and God puts him in his stead as King. He is appointed to the government of the world, as God’s vicegerent, and so, in that office, answers for God to us, and does, and orders, and bestows, that which we need from God. He undertakes for us in things that are expected of us as subjects, because he puts himself into our subjection. He appears in the form of a servant for us. So lie undertakes for the Father, in that which is desired and hoped for of him as king: for the Father hath put him into his kingdom and dominion, and has committed all authority and power unto him. He is in a capacity to undertake for the Father with us, because he can say, as in “All things that the Father hath are mine,” (John 16:15).

12. The first covenant failed of bringing man to the glory of God, through man’s instability, whereby he failed of perseverance. Man’s changeableness was the thing wherein it was weak. It was weak through the flesh. Not properly through the flesh, but through that passive power, that of liability to fail, that want of essential perfection (the only ground of infallibility) which belonged to the whole man, prior to any moral defect. W. But God had made a second covenant in mercy to fallen man, that in the way of this covenant he might be brought to the glory of God, which he failed of under the other. But it is God’s manner, in things that he appoints and constitutes, when one thing fails of its proper end, he appoints another to succeed in the room of it; to introduce that the second time, in which the weaknesses and defects of the former are supplied, and which never shall fail, but shall surely reach its end, and so shall remain as that which needs no other to succeed it. So God removed the first dispensation by Moses, “For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second,” (Heb. 8:7-13),  &c. So the priesthood of the order of Aaron ceases, because of the weakness and insufficiency of it to answer the ends of priesthood, which are, to reconcile God to man. Therefore God introduces another priesthood, of the order of Melchizedec, that is sufficient, and cannot fail, and remains for ever. (Heb. 7). So Moses, the first leader of Israel, failed of bringing them into Canaan; but Joshua, the second leader, did not fail. The kingdom of Saul, the first anointed of the Lord, did not continue; but the kingdom of the second anointed remains forever. The first sanctuary that was built in Israel, was a movable tabernacle, and therefore ready to vanish away, or be removed finally: and God forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh. But the second sanctuary was a firm building, an immovable temple, which was typically an everlasting sanctuary, and that which God would never forsake; (2 Sam. 7:10-11). So the first covenant, that God made with Adam, failed, because it was weak through the weakness of human nature, to whose strength and stability the keeping was entrusted. Therefore God introduces another better covenant, committed not to his strength, but to the strength of one that was mighty and stable, and therefore is a sure and everlasting covenant. God entrusted the affair of man’s happiness on a weak foundation at first, to show man that the foundation was weak, and not to be trusted to, that he might trust in God alone. The first was only to make way for the second. God lighted up a divine light in man’s soul at the first; but it remained on such a foundation, that Satan found means to extinguish it; and therefore, when God lights it up a second time, it is that it may never be extinguished.

13. Some things may yet remain, that are properly the conditions of salvation; on which salvation may be suspended, that it may well excite to the utmost caution, lest we should come short of eternal life, and should perish for the want of them, after it is already become impossible that we should fail of salvation. For the condition on which the man Christ Jesus was to obtain eternal life, was his doing the work which God had given him to do; his performing perfect persevering obedience, and his therein conquering Satan and the world, and all opposition, and enduring all sufferings that he met with. Therefore Christ used the utmost diligence to do this work, and used the utmost caution lest he should fail of it; and prayed with strong crying and tears, and wrestled with God in a bloody sweat, that he might not fail, but might have God’s help to go through. Yet it was impossible he should fail of eternal life, and the whole reward that had been promised him. The joy that was set before him, was not only certain to him, but he had a proper title to it as God’s heir, by reason of his relation to God the Father, as being his only-begotten Son. It was impossible that he should fail in the work to which he was appointed, as God had promised him sufficient and effectual grace and help to persevere, and already had made known his election “He shall drink of the brook in the way, therefore shall he lift up the head,” (Ps. 110:7). “Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my Spirit upon him. He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles,” (Isa. 42:1). “He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” (Isa. 42:4).  And “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness: I will hold thine hand and keep thee,” (Isa. 42:6). So it was in effect promised in the revelations that were made to Mary and Joseph, Zechariah, &c. and so to himself in answer to his prayers, by a voice from heaven. “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again,” (John 12:28). It appears that all was certain beforehand, by God’s actually saving great numbers beforehand, on the ground of his future perseverance in his work.

14. Grace is that which God implants in the heart against great opposition of enemies, great opposition from the corruption of the heart, and from Satan and the world. Great are the efforts of all these against the implantation of it, and they all labour to the utmost to keep it out. Seeing therefore that God manifests his all-conquering power in giving grace a place in the heart in spite of those enemies, he will doubtless maintain it there against their united efforts to root it out. He that has so gloriously conquered them in bringing in grace, will not at last suffer himself to be conquered, by their expelling that which he has so brought in by his mighty power. He that gloriously subdued those enemies under his feet, by bringing this image of his into the soul, will not suffer this image of his finally to be trampled under their feet. God alone could introduce it. It was what he undertook; and it was wholly his work, and doubtless he will maintain it. He will not forsake the work of his own hands. Where he has begun a good work, he will carry it on to the day of Christ. Grace shall endure all things, and shall remain under all things; as the expression GREEK, literally signifies, in 1 Corinthians 13:7.

15. The Spirit of God was given at first, but was lost. God gives it a second time, never to be utterly lost. The Spirit is now given in another manner than it was then. Then indeed it was communicated, and dwelt in their hearts. But this communication was made without conveying at the same time any proper right or sure title to it. But when God communicates it the second time, as he does to a true convert, he withal gives it to him to be his own; he finally makes it over to him in a sure covenant. He is their purchased and promised possession. Man, in his first estate, had no benefit at all properly made over to him: for God makes over benefits only by covenant: and then the condition of the covenant had not been fulfilled. Rut now, man, at his first conversion, is justified and adopted: he is received as a child and an heir, as a joint heir with Christ. His fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. God is theirs, and Christ is theirs; and the Holy Ghost is theirs; and all things are theirs. The Holy Spirit, who is the sum of all good, is their inheritance; and that little of it that they have in this life, is the earnest of their future inheritance, till the redemption of the purchased possession. Heaven is theirs: their conversation is there. They are citizens of that city, and of the household of God. Christians are represented as being come already to heaven, to mount Zion, the city of the living God; to an innumerable company of angels, &c. Heaven is the proper country of the church. They are raised up together with Christ, and made to sit together in heavenly places: “They are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” (Eph. 2:6). The whole tenor of the gospel shows, that Christians have actually a full and final right made over to them, to spiritual and heavenly blessings.

16. That the saints should be earnestly exhorted and pressed to care and caution, and earnest endeavors to persevere, is most reasonable; and it cannot be otherwise, notwithstanding their having an absolute, unchangeable promise that they shall persevere. For still perseverance is their duty, and what they are to do in obedience to God. For that is the notion of perseverance, their holding out in the way of God’s commandments. But if it were absurd to command them to persevere, as the work they have to do, then how would they do it in obedience to him? The angels in heaven are confirmed, and it is promised unto them that they never shall sin: yet it is proper for God to give them commands, though in so doing he requires the improvement of their care and endeavors to obey and fulfill his will exactly. It is not obedience, if they do not take care and endeavor to obey. If they should cease to take care, that very thing would prove their fall. So, in this case, if Christians cease to take care to persevere, that very thing is falling away.

17. It shows the infallible perseverance of true Christians, that their spiritual life is a participation with Christ in the life that he received as risen from the dead. For they live by Christ’s living in them: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which 1 now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” (Gal. 2:20): that is, by the life that he has received since his resurrection, and by his communicating to them that fulness which he received when he rose from the dead. When he rose, he received the promise of the Father, the Spirit of life without measure, and he sheds it forth on believers. The oil poured on the risen head goes down to the skirts of the garments; and thus Christ lives in believers by his Spirit dwelling in them. Believers, in their conversion, are said to be risen with Christ; “Ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins, and the circumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him,” (Col. 2:12-13). And, “If ye then be risen with Christ,” (Eph. 3:1) &c. And, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together,” (Eph. 2:5-6). “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life,” (Rom. 5:10). This spiritual resurrection and life is procured and purchased for Christ’s members, by Christ’s suffering obedience, in the same manner as his own resurrection and life is purchased by it. And they receive life as united to him, as members of a risen Saviour, and as being married in their conversion to him.

18. The perseverance of faith is necessary to a congruity to salvation. For it is implied in several places of Scripture, that if true believers should fail in persevering in faith, they would be in a lost state; “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he. If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled which he spake, “Of them which thou gavest me, have I lost none:” (John 18:8-9). i. e. Christ took care that they might go away, that they might not be in the wav of such temptations as would be in danger of overthrowing them, so that they should not persevere. And it is implied, that if they were overthrown, and should not persevere, Christ would have lost them; the saving relation that they stood in to Christ would have been dissolved. The same seems fully implied in Christ’s prayer in the 17th chapter of John. Thus, he makes use not only of their having received God’s word, and believed that God had sent him, but their having kept his word, as a good plea for their title to that favor and acceptance of the Father, which he asks of the Father for them; as verses 6, 7, 8,. &c. The same is implied in the 11th verse: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may he one, as we are.” This implies, that their being one, or their standing in a saving relation to him, and in union with his mystical body, depends on the perseverance of their faith even that union on which a title to all spiritual and saving benefits depends, which is more fully spoken of in the 21st and following verses. This perseverance of believers seems to be the benefit, which is the principal subject of this whole prayer. And in Luke 22:31-32, it is implied, that if Peter’s faith had railed, Satan would have had him: “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” “Who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation,” (1 Pet. 1:5). Where it seems implied, that if they were not kept through faith, or if their faith did not persevere, they never would come to salvation. So, believers being overthrown in their faith, or their not knowing Christ’s voice and following him, is called a being plucked out of Christ’s hand; and it is implied, that the consequence would be their perishing. It also seems to be implied, that their possession of eternal life by Christ’s gift depends on their perseverance; “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I will give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand,” (John 10:27-28).  And in the 15th chapter of John, believers persevering in faith in Christ, or their abiding in him, is spoken of as necessary to the continuance of the saving union and relation that is between Christ and believers, and Christ’s abiding in them; as verses 4 and 5. “Abide in me, and I in you. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” And in the 6th verse, it is spoken of as the necessary consequence of their not abiding in Christ, if that were possible; that the union should be utterly broken between Christ and them, and that damnation should be the consequence. “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 15:6). And in the 7th verse, this perseverance of faith is spoken of as the necessary means of the success of faith as expressed in prayer, which is faith’s voice, necessary to obtain those good things which faith and prayer seek, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” (John 15:7) And in the 9th and 10th. verses, it is implied, that Christ’s acceptance of us, and favor to us as his, depends on our perseverance: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you. Continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love,” (John 15:9-10). So, the same perseverance is spoken of as necessary to our continuing in the favor and grace of God. “Now, when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God,” (Act 13:43). And so it is spoken of as necessary to continuing in the goodness of God; and being cut off, is spoken of as a certain consequence of the contrary. “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise, thou also shall be cut off,” (Rom. 11:22). That expression, of standing fast in the Lord, (1 Thess. 3:8; Phil. 4:1), implies that perseverance is necessary to a continuing in Christ, or in a saving relation to him; and more plainly still in 1 John 2:24. “Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.” (See 1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; Heb. 12:28; See also Jer. 3:19).

19. Concerning the objection from Ezekiel 18:24. “If the righteous shall fail from his righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but in the iniquity which he hath done shall he die,” and the like; God saying this does not at all prove, that it is supposed possible that a truly righteous man should fall from his righteousness; any more than God’s saying, “Ye shall do my judgments and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them,” (Lev. 18:4-5). The Scripture in saying, He that doeth these things shall live in them, does not design to teach us, that in the present state of things, it is possible for us to do those things in a legal sense, (in which sense the words are certainly proposed, as the apostle teaches,) but only teaches the certain connection there is between doing these things and living in them, for wise ends; particularly to lead us, by such a legal proposal, to see our utter inability to obtain life by our own doings. So the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The Scripture in saying, If the righteous shall fall away from his righteousness, he shall die; does not teach us, that in the present state of things, since the fall, it is possible for a truly righteous man to fall from his righteousness; but only teaches us the certain connection between the antecedent and the consequent, for wise ends; and particularly, that those who think themselves righteous, may beware of falling from righteousness. For it is not unreasonable to suppose that God should put us on bewaring of those things that are already impossible, any more than that he should direct us to seek and pray for those things that are promised and certain.

20. With respect to those texts in Ezekiel that speak of a righteous man’s falling away from his righteousness the doctrine of perseverance was not so fully revealed under that dispensation. It was of service to the godly to make them wary; but especially to those who were legally righteous, and trusted in their own righteousness, as Ezekiel’s hearers did; to convince them of this, that there was a connection between the antecedent, falling away, and the consequent, the dying in their iniquity. “And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them; and 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. 32:39-40). And it is so spoken of once and again by this very prophet, chapter 11:17-21 and chapter 36:24-29. Yea, in this very chapter, after he had been declaring the danger of falling away from righteousness, the children of Israel seem to be exhorted to this very thing as a remedy against falling away; “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31) They needed not only to turn from their transgressions, but to cast them away utterly, to have finally done with them, and to make them a new heart; for the prophet declares, that their old heart was a backsliding heart, bent to backslide, as the prophet often complains.

21. The godly themselves were really exposed to die in their iniquity, i.e. they were liable to be destroyed by God’s awful judgments in this world. The prophet has a special eye to those destroying judgments that God had lately brought on the nation of the Jews, which are very much the subject of the prophecy, and seem to have given occasion for it, and which the Jews had respect to in the proverb which they used, and which gave occasion to what is said in this chapter. If the sinner turned from his outward wickedness, unto an outward righteousness only, he would save his soul alive with regard to those outward calamities; and if the righteous fell away outwardly by committing some grievous sin, and getting into a bad way, they exposed themselves to die by this their iniquity in this manner.

22. That there is a real difference between them that fell away, and them that persevere, even before they fall away, is evident by the things that are given as a reason of their falling away: because they have no root in themselves; because they have not counted the cost, and because they have no oil in their vessels. Those that have no root, differ from those who have root, before there be the effect of their having no root: and so those that have no oil, &c. And it appears again, by what is said, that “when Christ was at Jerusalem at the Passover, on the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man,” (John 2:23). And, so, “They went out from us, because they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us,” (1 John 2:19).

23. Objection. But it is in the same chapter said, “That if a wicked man turn from his wickedness and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live,” (Ezek. 18:21): where doubtless must be understood by “doing that which is lawful and right,” sincere and gracious righteousness, because there is a promise of life. And we must doubtless understand doing that which is lawful and right here, in the same sense as before. Answer. We may understand it in the same sense, for an external, visible, material righteousness. When it is said, if he turn from his iniquity and do that which is lawful and right, it must be understood, if he continue so to do, and do not turn from it again. According to the schemes of both Arminians arid Calvinists, this must be understood. Whereby the objection is overthrown. Visible Christians are in Scripture called saints, or holy; which is equivalent to the calling them righteous. The Jews are called an holy nation; the land is a land of uprightness; when only visibility is intended. By righteous, sometimes is meant only innocent, or materially righteous in some particular. “Wilt thou also destroy a righteous nation?” (Gen. 20:4; Ex. 23:7). “The innocent and the righteous, slay thou not,” (Deut. 25:1); “Ye shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked,” (1 Sam. 4:11). “How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person?” (2 Kings 10:9). By the righteous man that the prophet Ezekiel speaks of, he certainly does not speak in so limited a sense as to mean those that are of perfect and upright hearts, but so as to include those of an unsound heart, that trust in their own righteousness to commit iniquity; (see Ezek. 33:13) i.e. those whose motive is only self-love, and their own safety, and so trust that they have righteousness enough to render them safe, though they do commit sin. Those that are only restrained from committing sin by fear, and are ready to embrace, and are glad of opportunities of committing sin with impunity; these cannot be such as the sincerely righteous are often described to be, viz. such as love God with all their hearts and souls; that love the way of his commandments; that choose the way of his commands, &c. The reason why some do not persevere, is, that there is not now a right heart in them; as is evident by “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me and keep my commandments!” (Deut. 5:29), &c.

24. When it is said, “If a righteous man turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, his righteousness shall not be remembered, but he shall die in his iniquity,” (Ezek. 18:26); we need not, according to the scripture manner of expression, understand anything, but his seeming righteousness, or the righteousness that he seemeth to have. Christ has often such an aphorism as this; “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath,” (Matt. 13:12); which he applies to that apparent godliness, grace, or piety, which natural men have, as is evident by the contexts, and the occasions of his using this aphorism; as Matthew 13:12; 25:29 and Mark 4:25. This, in another place, is explained thus, “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have;” (Luke 8:18). Being a righteous man, does indeed commonly signify to be one that is truly and sincerely godly. And so is believing in Christ mentioned frequently as the distinguishing character of one that is truly Christ’s disciple. Yet we read of some that are said to believe, who, even at that very time, are spoken of as wanting something necessary to make them true disciples: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men; and needed not that any should testify of men, for he knew what was in man,” (John 2:23-25) These words intimate, that though they believed, yet Christ knew that they had not that in them then, that was to be depended on for perseverance: which implies, that if they were true believers, of a right principle, their perseverance might be depended on. And we are elsewhere told, why some that believe, endure but for a while, and do not persevere, viz. because they have no root in themselves.

25. That there is an essential difference between the faith and seeming grace of such professors as fall away, and such as persevere, even before any distinction appears as to perseverance, or while both retain their religion, is exceedingly manifest by; “But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father,” (John 6:64-65). And verse 70, “And Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?’’ Here, before Judas had fallen away, he is said not to believe, and to be a devil. Now Judas was a professing disciple and a distinguished one. He was a visible believer. Christ speaks of him as one that had forsaken all and followed him in the regeneration, as is evident in Matthew 19:27-28; and as one that had continued with Christ in his temptations, (Luke 22:28 compared with verse 30). There were great appearances of true grace in him, as there were in Ahitophel, his type, with whom David took sweet counsel, &c. And therefore, as a righteous man, Christ had given him the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, and sent him forth to preach the gospel, and heal the sick, and cast out devils. Yet he, even before he fell away, is said not to believe, but to be then a devil; which is agreeable to what the apostle says of apostates, “They went out from us, because they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us,” (John 2:19).

26. That they who once truly believe in Christ, never fall away finally and perish, is evident, because they that now believe not, and are in a state of condemnation, are spoken of as those that never have believed, “Because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God,” (John 3:18). Which supposes, that none of those that have believed, are now unbelievers, or are now in a state of condemnation. So again, those who shall be condemned at the day of judgment, are represented as those, not only whom Christ then will know not, but as those whom he never knew, (Matt. 7:23). But how can this be a true representation, if some of them were once true Christians, and so were known and owned by Christ, but only have since apostatized? “When St. Paul kept under his body lest he should be a castaway, (1 Cor. 9:27) he did no otherwise than he was wont to do in temporal concerns, in cases wherein he was beforehand certain of the event. So he sent word to the chief captain of the Jews lying in wait to kill him, lest he should be murdered by them, though it was revealed to him from God, but the very night before, that he should live to see Rome; (Acts 23:12-21). So, he would not allow the sailors to leave the ship. &c. Bellamy’s True Religion, Disc. 1. Inference 9. “Whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him,” (1 John 3:6).  This could not be true, if a man who has truly seen him, and known him, might finally fall away to sin.

27. As to scripture cautions against falling away, lest it should issue in damnation; we may observe that God had been pleased to connect eternal life with eating the fruit of the tree of life; and therefore, although it was utterly impossible that Adam should have eternal life in himself, after he had fallen, as God’s peremptory declaration and unalterable constitution had made it impossible; yet we are told, that after the fall, God placed cherubims and a flaming sword to keep the way of the tree of life, lest the man should put forth his hand, and take and eat of the fruit of the tree, and live forever. So God has connected damnation with living in allowed sin, and being overcome by sin, and brought under its power. And therefore, although it be impossible, that men, after they are once truly converted, should ever perish, yet they are warned against falling away and yielding to the power of sin, lest they should perish: and the apostle Paul kept under his body, lest he should be a cast-away.

28. As to objections from such hypothetical propositions as those, “If we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth,” (Heb. 10:27), &c. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, if they fall away,” (Heb. 6:4), &c. Such hypothetical propositions may be true, when one or both parts of it are impossible, as the truth of such a proposition consists in the connection of the antecedent and consequent; as when our Lord said to the Jews, “If I should say, I know him not, I should be a liar like unto you” (John 7:55) [See Gill against Whitby, vol. i. page 271].

29. Objection. That we are required to take care and to pray that we may persevere. It was impossible for Christ to fail under his trials; and yet how evident is it that he used means, endeavors, care, labor, and earnest prayers, that he might persevere? In order to show, that an absolute promise of perseverance does consist with counsels and exhortations to endeavor, and care to persevere, I would lay down the following positions.

Position I. What it is proper for us to seek by earnest and importunate prayer, it is proper for us to use means, labor, and care, for that end. The reason is plain: prayer is one kind of seeking the thing; it is using means, and one way of laboring for it, taking care to obtain it, and pursuing after it. There are many instances of prayer, and commands to pray, for things promised. Christ on earth prayed for things promised; and he continually intercedes in heaven for things promised.

Position II. What it is proper that persons should use endeavors, means, and care for, they are properly exhorted to use those means and endeavors.

Position III. That which it is proper for another to use means, labors, and care for, that he may obtain it, though he knows it is certainly promised, it is proper that we should use means, &c. to obtain for ourselves, though it is promised. But Christ used means, endeavors, labor, &c. for the salvation of sincerely good men, though it be promised. He labored, took care, denied himself, and suffered for the salvation of sincerely good men; which yet had been before abundantly promised to him and promised to men in the Old Testament; and Christ himself had promised it. The Scripture represents, that Christ ran a race to win a prize, and endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.

30. If it were left to the freedom of men’s own will, whether men should persevere, in the sense that the Arminians suppose; i.e. to a will not determined by God, but self-determined, then it would be absurd to pray to God that we may persevere; that he would keep us from falling, and that he would uphold our goings in his paths, &c.

31. If grace implanted in the heart be not an infallible sign that a man shall have eternal life, how is the Spirit of God an earnest of glory? when a man may have the Spirit, and yet have no assurance, that he shall be glorified. For every one who has the grace of God implanted in his heart, has the Holy Spirit of God in his sanctifying influences.


From the Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2

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