Wilhelmus à Brakel
Having considered sanctification, growth in grace, and its decline due to spiritual maladies, it is necessary that we add to this a consideration of the perseverance of the saints in grace. When considering this from God’s side, it is called a keeping (thpein, terein) (John 17:15), julassein, (phulassein) (John 17:12), jrourein, (phrourein) (1 Pet. 1:5), sthrixein, (sterizein), that is, to strengthen (2 Tim. 3:3), and bebaiwn (bebaion), that is, to confirm (1 Cor. 1:8). When considering this from the side of believers, it is denominated upomonh, (hupomone), that is, to continue (Rom. 2:7), and steadfastness (Luke 8:15). In considering this matter, four things are to be noted: 1) in whom something is preserved, 2) what is preserved in them, 3) the cause and means whereby preservation occurs, and 4) its purpose.
Believers Are the Objects of Divine Preservation
First, believers are the persons who are preserved; and it is in them that something is preserved. God maintains and preserves everything He has created. God also preserves good angels in their confirmed state—they being referred to as the elect (1 Tim. 5:21). Our reference here is, however, to the preservation of the elect, the regenerate, the true believers—viewing them as being in the church militant upon earth and as being under assault by their enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. Since the believer’s renewal is but in part, he sins daily. These sins strictly speaking, are worthy of reprobation, and believers, when left to themselves, do not have sufficient strength to preserve themselves, their faith, or their spiritual life. They would succumb to the assault of the enemy. Nevertheless, they are preserved, but by a strength which comes from without. “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1:5); “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down” (Ps. 37:24).
By this power spiritual life and faith, bestowed upon them by the Spirit of God in regeneration, are preserved. It can be that spiritual life is so besieged by opposition and becomes so weak, that for a season it only manifests itself by a looking on high, a sigh, an inclination toward God or an affection for God. Yes, a believer can faint, so to speak, so that spiritual life does not manifest itself at all for a season. However, spiritual life in its essence that is, union with Christ, will remain. It will never disappear. “Whosoever is born of God ...his seed remaineth in him,” (1 John 3:9).
The only cause of their steadfastness is the omnipotent and faithful God. That God is able to preserve spiritual life in them is a certainty for all. Of His willingness to preserve them, the Lord Jesus assures us: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day,” (John 6:39). That He will do so, is evident from the promises: “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation,” (Heb. 6:17-18). Peter states that God in actuality does so: “Who are kept by the power of God,” (1 Pet. 1:5).
Means Employed by God for Preservation
Just as the Lord works all things in the realm of nature by way of means, God likewise uses means in the work of grace. He also does so in preserving His saints. This is not to suggest that there is efficacy in the means or in the use of those means by believers. Rather, both the use of the means and the outcome of their use are dependent upon the Lord alone. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” (Phil. 2:13); “Without Me ye can do nothing,” (John 15:5). The means God uses for the preservation of His own are, among others:
(1) Instruction and direction by means of the Word: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” (Ps. 119:9, 105);
(2) Comforting and quickening promises: “This is my comfort in my affliction: for Thy word hath quickened me. Unless Thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction,” (Ps. 119:50, 92).
(3) Stirring exhortations: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith,” (Acts 14:22); “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” (Matt. 26:41).
(4) Admonishing reproofs: “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,” (Titus 1:13); “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” (Luke 13:3); “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die,” (Rom. 8:13).
(5) The rod of chastisement: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes,” (Ps. 119:71); “... He (chastens us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness ... afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” (Heb. 12:10-11).
(6) Sacramental sealing: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life,” (Rom. 6:4); “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16).
(7) The use of the keys of the kingdom when they grievously depart from the way. “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” (1 Cor. 5:5).
The purpose for which believers are preserved is salvation itself. “Moreover whom He did predestinate ... them He also glorified,” (Rom. 8:30); “Who are kept by the power of God ...unto salvation,” (1 Pet. 1:5). God’s ultimate objective is the manifestation of His goodness, longsuffering, faithfulness, immutability, wisdom, and power. “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day,” (2 Thess. 1:10).
From that which has been said it is evident that the perseverance of the saints is a gracious and powerful operation of God whereby He preserves the spiritual life and faith in the truly converted in such a fashion that it can neither self-destruct, nor be extinguished or removed by their enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. Instead they will most certainly attain to eternal felicity.
Just as other truths have always had and still have their opponents also, this doctrine, so full of comfort, has its opponents. Yes, all parties within the church which to a greater or lesser degree deviate from the truth—such as Papists, Socinians, Anabaptists, Arminians, and even Lutherans—are opposed in one way or the other to the perseverance of the saints.
Question: Can those who are truly regenerate and are true believers apostatize as far as spiritual life and faith are concerned, and perish?
Answer: All other sects resolutely answer in the affirmative. The Lutherans confess that true believers can completely lose spiritual life and faith; however, God will restore them from this state of death and most certainly save them. They hold to a full apostasy, but not a final apostasy. The others hold to a full and final apostasy of the saints. We reject both the full and final apostasy of the saints, and confess that spiritual life in its essence, even though its manifestation may for a season be impeded to a greater or lesser degree, always remains in believers, and that they will most certainly be led to the state of felicity.
Proof #1: The Saints’ Perseverance Proven from Scripture
We derive this proof from specific texts.
A. “Though he (the righteous or godly man) fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with His hand” (Ps. 37:24). A godly man is here referred to as falling and sinning, as he still offends daily in many things. If he were to be cast away, it would have to be for the sake of his sins. The text says, however, that he will not be cast away for that reason. The reason is then added: It is not that he will restore himself and arise, but because the Lord sustains him and keeps him from falling. He will thus most certainly remain standing.
Evasive Argument: The text speaks of a falling due to temporal trials, and not of a falling into sin. Not to be cast down refers to a not perishing in these afflictions.
Answer: (1) The godly generally have more afflictions than the ungodly, and they do indeed perish in them. “The righteous perisheth,” (Isa. 57:1). Thus, the promise, in the absolute sense of the word, cannot primarily be applicable to the temporal.
(2) If it were so that the godly would always be, and remain, blessed in a temporal sense, they would certainly also persevere in godliness. That, which brings forth a positive effect thereby becomes more positive itself.
(3) And if the reference here is to a falling into wretched circumstances, then this is a powerful proof for perseverance, for the psalmist confirms what Paul writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation...? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life ... shall be able to separate us from, the love of God,” (Rom. 8:35, 38-39).
(4) The psalmist speaks in this psalm of the exercise of godliness and that the Lord will bring forth their righteousness as the light (vv. 3-6), while declaring in verse 24 that they are yet imperfect and do stumble and fall. Nevertheless, they will not be cast away, because the Lord upholds them.
B. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). This chapter makes reference to a twofold violence inflicted upon the elect: persecution and deception. However, it indicates the impossibility of the elect being drawn away and deceived, and thus their spiritual state is sure.
Evasive Argument #1: “Impossible” here implies “difficult,” (cf. Matt. 19:26; 26:39; Acts 20:16; Rom. 12:18).
Answer: “Impossible” never means “difficult”—also not in the quoted texts.
Evasive Argument #2: This text speaks of what false prophets are not able to do, but not what they themselves are able to do.
Answer: (1) Believers are then most certainly set free from all external influences. All this then cannot have as its result, that with their intellect, will, and in very deed they would relinquish Christ, the faith, and godliness—and thus that they would apostatize from all these. It is natural for man’s desires, to have an object which is external to them, and it is this object which sets desires in motion. Since there is then nothing from without which can set the desires of believers in motion and cause them to fall out of grace, they are thus in a state which is certain and sure.
(2) The text says that eternal election is the foundation of their spiritual state, making it impossible for them to be deceived unto apostasy. It is therefore an impossibility from every perspective—for others as well as for themselves.
Evasive Argument #3: Christ speaks of the work of false prophets and what their objective would be—not concerning the outcome; that is, whether or not the elect will be deceived thereby. Thus, the issue of certainty or uncertainty is not discussed here.
Answer: This flatly contradicts the text. It speaks of the result of this deception in respect to the elect, stating that their apostasy is impossible. It is therefore also recorded as a parenthetical argument.
Evasive Argument #4: This text speaks of some eminent Christians, and not of all Christians.
Answer: (1) The text makes no exception, but speaks of the elect, which includes them all.
(2) There are thus some who cannot be deceived.
(3) It is not the strength or weakness of believers which is here defined as the foundation for this certainty, but rather election.
Evasive Argument #5: The elect can be deceived prior to their conversion, and thus also after their conversion.
Answer: No one is deceived prior to conversion, for one is then in sin, proceeding from sin to sin as others do. Then there is nothing good within him which needs to be preserved. After conversion believers have both spirit and life, however, and preservation is predicated upon that life—and that life will not be able to be removed.
Evasive Argument #6: The elect cannot be deceived; that is, upon condition that they perform their duty and persevere in faith and godliness.
Answer: (1) No condition is mentioned here. The promise pertains to being preserved in faith itself.
(2) That is as much as to say: They cannot be deceived when they are not deceived, and they will persevere in faith, hope, and love when they persevere. Likewise, a man will not die when he does not die. This is nonsense.
C. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 38-39). This text speaks of the elect, stating that neither a creature, nor any event precipitated by them, will be able to remove the love which they have toward Christ and God, and which God and Christ have toward them.
Evasive Argument #7: Paul speaks of tribulations and not of sin. He does not say that sins are not able to separate believers from the love God has toward them and make them subject to the hatred of God. Rather, it states that tribulations are not capable of doing this.
Answer: (1) Paul states that all tribulations are not able to take away the love they have toward God; that is, they cannot lead them to apostasy. That the apostle is speaking of the love of believers toward God is evident from the fact that these tribulations are against the godly which could cause them to succumb in faith, hope, and love, and thus separate them from God. These tribulations do not pertain to God Himself, and thus the thought cannot be entertained here that God would thereby change in His love toward them. The apostle says in verse 37 that believers in all their tribulations will be more than conquerors; thus there is not even a remote possibility that tribulations would separate them from their love toward Christ. The apostle therefore refers here to sins, declaring that all tribulations cannot cause believers to sin unto death—which a forsaking of the love of God would be.
(2) If one understands the love of God here to refer to the love He has for His elect, and if it is here stated that no tribulations can remove the love of God toward His elect and change it into hatred, then this could only occur if, by reason of these tribulations, they would fall into sin, for there is nothing that removes God’s love except sin. Since God’s love for His elect cannot be removed, however, tribulations cannot bring believers to such a condition and to such a sin.
(3) No matter how one may view the love of God, the text says that this love remains immutable, and that all that is in heaven and earth cannot change that love.
D. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” (1 John 3:9). The apostle wrote to the congregation (where the wicked are always intermingled with the upright) to warn the members that they are not to deceive themselves by imagining that they will be saved anyway, even if they yield to sin. Instead, the truly regenerate neither sin nor can sin, for the seed of God is in them and will remain in them, and they are born of God. Thus, they who are born of God are in a state which is both certain and immutable in respect to the spiritual life which is in them and remains in them. This does not mean that they neither offend nor are able to offend, for the apostles confirm this to be so (cf. 1 John 1:8; Jam. 3:2). Rather, “to sin” here refers to “living in sin,” that is, to find delight in and to relish sin. This is true for the ungodly, concerning whom he says in verse 8, “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” This refers to being under the dominion of sin, and such cannot be true for a regenerate person “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” (Rom. 6:14). Thus, the apostle strongly argues here for the perseverance of believers when he says that 1) the believer “doth not commit sin,” 2) “his seed remaineth in him,” 3) “he cannot sin,” and 4) he cannot sin “because he is born of God.” The papists, Arminians, and Lutherans each have a different response to this.
Evasive Argument #1: The Papists respond to this, saying that those who are born of God cannot sin insofar as they are born of God, but that they can yet fully and completely fall into sin when they neglect and do not preserve the seed of God which is in them.
Answer: If one understands the words “insofar as they are born of God” to refer to the regenerate part of the believer, then this evasive argument is not against us, but rather in our favor, for no sin can proceed from the regenerate man. If one understands “insofar as” to refer to a condition—namely, if they persevere—then this is contrary to the text and contradicts the matter itself. It is contrary to the text, for there is not the least indication of a condition. It is not stated here: “They cannot sin if they retain the seed of God and if they continue to be born of God.” Instead, it is written: “...because the seed of God remains in them and because they are born of God.” Here we have an absolute proposition: They do not sin and they cannot sin. This proposition is confirmed by arguments which are both absolute and established: for the seed of God remains in him, for he is born of God. It is also self-contradictory, for it is nonsense to say that he cannot sin if he does not sin.
Evasive Argument #2: The Arminians claim that this text only intends to say that to sin is contrary to the inclination and habit of the truly regenerate; they have an aversion for sin. The phrase “to be born of God” does not refer to a characteristic of true believers which would prevent them from sinning, but is identical to what is expressed in the words “not to commit sin,” that is, to be conformed to God in their life. Furthermore, the remaining of God’s seed in them is as much as to say that the seed of God is in them. Thus, the meaning of the text comes down to this: The propensity of grace cannot coexist with the propensity of sin, and when the propensity of sin prevails, the propensity of grace will be lost. It is therefore not the apostle’s intent to say that believers cannot apostatize, for he says in Romans 6:14 that believers can also come under the dominion of sin and apostatize.
Answer: (1) All these misinterpretations are obviously contrary to the text, and therefore we reject them as quickly as they are uttered. The apostle does not speak of an inclination, but rather of deeds—of sin. He does not say that sin is contrary to their inclination and that they have an aversion for it, but that they neither sin nor are able to sin. This is not due to their aversion for it (which is a fact), but because the seed of God remains in them, they having been born of God.
(2) To be born of God expressly refers to a characteristic which has been brought forth in man by way of regeneration, for thereby he becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and thereby he becomes a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).
(3) The verb “to remain” expresses more than simply “to be.” It expresses a being steadfast and durable—something that neither departs nor is removed, and something that endures to the end. A small child knows this to be so. It is to be observed in the following passages: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him,” (John 1:32); “Abide in Me, and I in you...continue ye in My love,” (John 15:4, 9).
(4) The apostle does not only say that the propensity of reigning sin cannot coexist with the propensity of grace, but says that wherever the seed of God (the propensity of grace) —the new creature, being partaker of the divine nature—is present, the propensity of sin cannot exist there, and thus he cannot sin.
(5) We deny strongly that true believers can become subject to reigning sins. The passage, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death,” (1 John 3:14), is no proof for this. The reference here is to the unconverted, and they are thereby distinguished from the truly converted who love the brethren. They who do not love the brethren are said to abide in death, and thus they had never been brought to life. We do indeed admit that true believers can fall into great sin; however, sin does not have dominion over them. There is and remains, a warfare and even if the regenerated man has been subdued for a season, he nevertheless renders no obedience to it as his lord. He will always reemerge and the seed of God will remain.
Evasive Argument #3: The Lutherans hold to full apostasy, but not to final apostasy. They say about this text that the believer’s inability to sin means that he can neither yield to ungodliness nor find delight in living in sin to the extent and for the duration that the seed of God is in him. They say that the word “for” is not suggestive of the reason why he cannot sin, but is merely indicative of a restatement; it means “as much as and as long as the seed of God remains in him and he is born of God.”
Answer: (1) We admit that a regenerate person does not sin in the manner mentioned; that is, insofar as the seed of God is in him and he is born of God. For sin does not proceed from the spirit, but from the flesh (cf. Rom 7). It is also true that he does not sin as long as the seed of God remains in him and he is born of God. The apostle says, however, that the seed of God remains in him, will not spontaneously expire, and will never be removed from him. Thus, a regenerate person will never live under the dominion of sin.
(2) It is nonsense to maintain that he will not sin to the extent that the seed of God remains in him, and then quietly conclude from this that when it dissipates, he will sin. This would be as much as saying, “Fire heats insofar as it does not chill.”
(3) The word “for” does not mean “and,” but points to the cause why a regenerate person neither sins nor can sin. It thus remains an immovable truth that the regenerate cannot apostatize.
Proof #2: The Saints Persevere by Virtue of the Immutability of Eternal Election
This proof we derive from the immutability of eternal election. This decree of the only wise and omnipotent God is immutable: “... that the purpose of God according to election might stand,” (Rom. 9:11); “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel ...,” (Heb. 6:17); “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His,” (2 Tim. 2:19). Therefore the apostle connects glorification to eternal election with an unbreakable tie: “Moreover whom He did predestinate ... them He also glorified,” (Rom. 8:30). God neither will nor can change this decree due to His immutability. “I am the LORD, I change not,” (Mal. 3:6); “... the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” (Jam. 1:17). Man will not be able to annul God’s counsel. He has not been chosen on the basis of any condition, but unconditionally—in the absolute sense of the word. The Lord will save him in a way in which He himself will lead him. No creature will be able to annihilate this decree. “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” (Isa. 14:27). Since God wills and shall give salvation to His elect by an immutable, eternal decree, and will make them partakers of salvation in the way of faith and repentance, then those who have been called according to His purpose can neither become apostates as far as spiritual life and faith are concerned, nor perish. (Cf. chapter 6.)
Proof #3: The Saints Persevere by Virtue of Christ’s Satisfaction, Intercession, and Preservation
This proof we derive from the efficacy of Christ’s satisfaction, intercession, and preservation.
(1) The satisfaction of Christ is perfect both in regard to original and actual sins—all sins which are committed until the day of one’s death. This is true for all His elect, and for them alone; it is not for others. There is absolutely no condition whereby it would be contingent upon man. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,” (1 John 1:7). By His satisfaction God is reconciled with His elect. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,” (Rom. 5:10). They are perfect in Christ (Col. 2:10), and the “righteousness of God,” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is of eternal duration: “For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14; cf. chapter 22).
(2) The intercession of Christ is efficacious and cannot be resisted, since it occurs by the efficacy of His satisfaction. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 2:1). Therefore He said, “I knew that Thou hearest Me always,” (John 11:42). The Father promises to give what He demands: “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance,” (Ps. 2:8). However, Christ demands preservation and salvation for His elect: “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me. ... Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory,” (John 17:11, 24); “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them,” (Heb. 7:25). Since Christ prays for their preservation and salvation, and He is always heard, they cannot apostatize.
(3) Preservation by Christ is a certainty. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand,” (John 10:27-29). They who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him are His sheep. Hearing and following come naturally to sheep. Those sheep the Lord Jesus knows, He grants them eternal life, and they will not perish. No one either will or is able to pluck them out of the hands of Christ and the Father. Their spiritual state is thus certain and well-preserved, and they cannot fall away. It cannot be stated more clearly than this.
Evasive Argument: They will be preserved as long as they remain sheep.
Answer: (1) Christ says that they will remain sheep. Those who once are sheep; that is, those to whom He grants eternal life and who will not perish, will remain sheep.
(2) Christ says that no one—whoever he may be—and therefore also they themselves will not be able to pluck them out of His hand. There is no condition here: If someone has become a sheep, his preservation is certain.
(3) Christ is the good Shepherd. He is not a good shepherd who only protects his sheep against the wolf and the thief, but does not protect his sheep when they of their own accord would wander away from the flock and go astray. Therefore, the faithful Shepherd Jesus will keep His sheep from all evil, for to that end—that He would keep them and give them eternal life—they have been given to Him by the Father: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day,” (John 6:39).
Consider all this together. Those for whom Christ has made full satisfaction, for whom He prays that they may be kept and may have eternal life, and whom He Himself powerfully preserves—they cannot lose spiritual and eternal life, apostatize, or perish.
Proof #4: The Saints Persevere by Virtue of the Abiding Operation of the Holy Spirit
This proof is derived from the operation of the Holy Spirit in believers.
(1) The Holy Spirit abides with them eternally. “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever,” (John 14:16).
(2) The Holy Spirit is the earnest of their salvation. “... in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession,” (Eph. 1:13-14); “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption,” (Eph. 4:30).
(3) All the operations of the Holy Spirit in them are of a permanent nature. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” (Rom. 11:29).
Evasive Argument: This text refers to the conversion of the Jews.
Answer: This text refers to eternal felicity by virtue of the election of grace (Rom. 11:5), upon the manifestation of mercy (v. 32). He is speaking of the gifts of grace which were bestowed upon the elect Jews. Whatever is permanent for the elect Jews is permanent for all the elect.
From that which has been said we conclude the following: He in whom the Holy Spirit resides eternally, for whom the Holy Spirit is an earnest of eternal felicity, who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption, and in whom the operations of the Holy Spirit are of an irrevocable and permanent nature, cannot apostatize, but will most certainly be saved. All this is most certainly true for believers, and thus they will most certainly be saved.
Proof #5: The Saints Persevere by Virtue of the Immutability of the Covenant of Grace
This proof we derive from the immutability of the covenant.
First, this is evident from the following passage: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed,” (Isa. 54:10).
Evasive Argument: This text pertains to the immutability of the covenant from God’s side; God from His side will not break it. It does not follow from this, however, that believers will not break it from their side.
Answer: (1) It is a covenant of grace in which God has promised to give and do all that was to be accomplished for His children. Thus, in regard to man, this promise is not conditional: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them,” (Ezek. 36:26-27). It is therefore sufficient that the covenant is immutable from the side of God. It is therefore entirely immutable, for the Lord Himself will cause them to walk upon the way in which He leads His own unto salvation.
(2) The covenant of grace is as steadfast as the covenant with Noah (Isa. 54:9). This latter covenant cannot be changed by either man, sin, human will, or human might. Likewise, the covenant of grace cannot be changed, for it is said to be as steadfast as the covenant of Noah.
Secondly, the immutability of this covenant is also evident in the following texts: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people,” (Jer. 31:33); “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. 32:40). This covenant neither can nor will be broken. This is true from God’s side, for He, who is the faithful One, promises this, and it is a purely gracious covenant which was not established upon any conditions. Man will also not break it, for the Lord has promised that He will prevent them from doing so, and cause them to do according to His will even though their conduct is not a condition. This covenant is not in force for some days or years; it is an eternal covenant, and therefore it will remain steadfast.
Evasive Argument #1: These texts relate to the restoration of the Jews in Canaan but not to eternal felicity.
Answer: (1) Jeremiah 31:33 very clearly refers to the days of the New Testament, as is evident from Hebrews 8:8.
(2) Even though Jeremiah 32:40 also pertains to the restoration of the church in Canaan, it nevertheless primarily relates to the spiritual and eternal benefits of the covenant of grace. Out of this issued forth the restoration of Canaan, since the Surety of the covenant had to be born in Canaan. There is but one covenant: the covenant of grace. To this, temporal blessings are appended as a means and way to bring the elect to the promised salvation.
Evasive Argument #2: This promise was given to the entire Jewish nation. Since it is known that they are not all saved, it cannot be a promise concerning perseverance.
Answer: (1) All Jews were never restored to Canaan. By reason of the same argumentation we would then also be permitted to say that this promise does not pertain to the Jewish nation. This is absurd, however, as is the evasive argument itself.
(2) There is an express reference here to the spiritual benefits of the covenant of grace: to have God as a God, to have the fear of God, not to depart from the Lord, and to have the law of the Lord written in the heart. Repeated mention is thus made of the benefits of the covenant and of their perseverance in it.
(3) When God makes promises to His church, these promises do not pertain to persons who merely “run along,” but to true believers alone, who constitute the church. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,” (Rom. 9:6-8). Even if it is true that all Jews will not be saved, God’s covenant with His church will nevertheless abide— whether it consists of Jews or Gentiles. It is one church which is steadfast and indestructible.
Evasive Argument #3: Here something is promised which had no prior existence. It can therefore not refer in any way to the perseverance of saints, since in our opinion perseverance has been part and parcel of believers from the very beginning.
Answer: (1) This immutable covenant is in essence the same from the beginning unto the end of the world. There is, however, a difference in administration, and in that respect it is called new.
(2) God frequently promises the fulfillment of promises at a future date which he already had fulfilled in believers at an earlier date in order to further assure believers of a later date that He would also fulfill these promises for them. The repetition of promises is not a denial of promises made previously. It thus is and remains an immovable truth that believers cannot apostatize.
Objection #1: “Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while,” (Matt. 13:21). It is thus evident that believers can apostatize.
Answer: (1) All that is denominated as faith is not saving faith. Otherwise Agrippa would also have been a believer, for he believed the Holy Scriptures (Acts 26:27). Likewise, these temporal believers also had historical faith accompanied by a confession, but they did not have true saving faith. This is clearly to be observed in the contrasts made between true believers (the good earth) and the beaten path, as well as between the earth beneath the thorns and the good earth.
(2) Their heart was not right, they being represented by the stony ground. This heart of stone is removed from believers, (Ezek. 36:26).
(3) They were without root, whereas true believers are rooted in Christ, (Col. 2:7).
(4) They bore no fruits, and thus their faith was a dead faith, (Jam. 2:17), for believers bear manifold fruit, (Matt. 13:23), and their faith worketh by love, (Gal. 5:6).
Objection #2: “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: ... If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered,” (John 15:2, 6). Here mention is made of branches which are in Christ, branches which due to their fruitlessness and not abiding in Christ are cast out. True believers can therefore apostatize.
Answer: (1) The congregation is the Lord’s vineyard (Isa. 5). Many unconverted join the church and thus appear to be incorporated into Christ. We readily admit that such can fall out of this state and that they will be cast out. However, this does not relate to our point of contention.
(2) Those who are here said to be cast out were never true believers, for they bore no fruit and therefore their faith was dead.
(3) This is a parable and we must not make all details applicable at will. Rather, our focus must only be on the objective, and the objective is very clear. It is an exhortation to believers to be fruitful, and a warning to everyone not to be satisfied with only the external relationship to the church and a mere confession of Christ. For all who bear no fruit will be eliminated here from the church, and hereafter from heaven.
(4) It does not say that such persons were ever truly in Christ; rather, it speaks of those who are in Him but bear no fruit, as is true for all the unconverted who never bear fruit in Christ and who never have been in Christ. The fact that they do not abide in Him is proof that they have never been in Him and have never been true believers. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us,” (1 John 2:19).
Objection #3: “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck,” (1 Tim. 1:19). It is thus evident that they who have faith and a good conscience can lose them and in that respect can become apostate.
Answer: The apostle exhorts Timothy to remain steadfast and to adhere to the true doctrine of faith and of a good conscience. True doctrine is here referred to as faith, which is frequently the case. This is to be observed in the following passages: “Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils,” (1 Tim. 4:1); “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” (Jude 3); “Who ... overthrow the faith of some,” (2 Tim. 2:18). Many others—also Hymeneus and Alexander—had this faith, this true doctrine of faith, in common with Timothy. However, they did not have that true saving faith in Christ unto justification and sanctification which Timothy possessed. Otherwise they would have persevered in it, (1 John 2:19). Timothy had a good conscience which had been cleansed in the blood of Christ, (Heb. 9:14). Such a good conscience they did not have, even though they could have had a natural sincerity, conducting themselves according to their conscience without hypocrisy—as was true of Paul prior to his conversion, (Acts 23:1). Such a faith and such a good conscience the unconverted can readily cast away, reject, and let go if it happens to be in their interest. Furthermore, relative to themselves they are capable of spurning true saving faith and a good conscience by the blood and Spirit of Christ, so that they do not become partakers of them—just as the Jews rejected the gospel, (Acts 13:46). Paul delivered those who had fallen away from the doctrine of faith and from having an upright conscience to Satan as a means to their conversion—as he did with the incestuous person (1 Cor. 5:5). It is thus evident that we do not have a shred of evidence here for the apostasy of the saints.
Objection #4: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame,” (Heb. 6:4-6). All these things are applicable to none other but truly converted people and true believers. Such are able to apostatize and crucify the Son of God afresh. It will then be impossible for them to come again to repentance.
Answer: (1) Paul uses conditional language here: “... if ...” A condition does not establish anything as a fact, however, nor does it suggest that it will be thus and can transpire as such. Paul speaks in this fashion: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8). Such conditional propositions are but urgent warnings and exhortations to refrain from sin.
(2) It is very evident that Paul is speaking of such who have never been converted and who in their heart were without virtue. For as he continues to speak of such, he says, “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” Apostates are like soil which is not good and brings forth thorns and thistles. Our point of contention does not relate to them and thus this text is not contrary to our view.
(3) All those things mentioned are no marks of true regeneration and faith. They can very well be, and frequently are, present in the unconverted. An unconverted person can be illuminated to the extent that he understands the truths of the gospel. Baalam said, “He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty ...having his eyes open,” (Num. 24:4). He whose eyes have been enlightened can taste of the heavenly gift, (Heb. 6:4). Paul recounts such gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. The unconverted can also find delight in tasting such gifts. To receive revelations concerning future things, wisdom, gifts to heal the sick, and the ability to speak, understand, and interpret various languages are delightful things, even for the flesh. These gifts are heavenly and are sent from heaven by the Holy Spirit, for “all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:11). In this respect also the unconverted become partakers of the Holy Spirit. The unconverted also taste at times “the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” All knowledge of matters of which one had no prior knowledge is delightful. This is particularly true if one may be acquainted with the glorious state of the children of God, the benefits of the covenant of grace, redemption in Christ, the standing at the right hand of Christ in the last judgment, and being taken into eternal glory. To taste these blessings by way of reflection is to have delight and sweetness in them. This is true for many unconverted persons. Temporal believers received the Word with joy (Luke 8:13), and Herod heard John gladly (Mark 6:20). Thus, all these matters can very well be known by unconverted persons—and frequently are. It is an entirely different matter to be a partaker of the Holy Spirit unto regeneration, faith, hope, and love; and to be assured of being a partaker of all the benefits of the covenant of grace, and to rejoice and delight in the hope of glory, of which some believers do have some foretaste. This was, however, not the portion of those of whom the apostle speaks here.
(4) The words “to renew them again unto repentance” do not imply that they were ever truly converted. Rather, they imply that it is impossible to lead such to true repentance because they have been hardened. Furthermore, God generally withholds His grace from such, for otherwise it would not be impossible with God. “To renew” does not imply that something will be restored to its former condition; that is, to bring something which is old and dilapidated into a better condition. Rather it implies to bring something into a condition which is superior to its previous condition. Such is the meaning in the following passages: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom. 12:2); “He saved us by ...renewing of the Holy Ghost,” (Titus 3:5). The word “again” also does not imply that something will be restored to its previous condition, but implies a change to a condition in which it previously was not. The same word palin, (palin) is used for the initial translation of a person from spiritual death to spiritual life—regeneration. This is to be observed in the following passages: “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration,” (Titus 3:5); “... that ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration,” (Matt. 19:28).
(5) If one insists that “to renew again to repentance” means restoration into the previous state, then it means restoration into the state of a temporal believer. For repentance is not always indicative of regeneration, but can also signify only an external change. “The men of Nineveh ... repented at the preaching of Jonas,” (Matt. 12:41).
Objection #5: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). Such as have been sanctified by the blood of Christ do tread under foot the Son of God and do despite unto the Spirit of grace.
Answer: (1) Paul speaks conditionally, from which nothing else can be concluded but that it is an exhortation.
(2) If one determines that such indeed occurs, then the entire strength of the argument appears to be in the words “to be sanctified by the blood of Christ,” as if “to sanctify” only signifies true sanctification by the Holy Spirit, since it also signifies separation unto holy usage, and an external sanctification by an external entrance into the covenant. “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth,” (Deut. 7:6); “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy,” (1 Cor. 7:14). Before one can conclude from Hebrews 10:29 that there is an apostasy of the saints, it must first be proven that the word “sanctified” here signifies true sanctification only, that is, the renewal of God’s image in man. This simply cannot be done. Rather, it is evident that here it must be understood as referring to external sanctification, for the saints cannot apostatize.
Additional Objection: To be sanctified by Christ’s blood is true sanctification.
Answer: We deny this. By His blood Christ has received the right and the authority to use all creatures and all men—both good and evil—according to His will, to the glory of God, and to the benefit of the elect. By His blood He has been authorized to be the Judge of heaven and earth (John 5:27), and to damn the ungodly in judgment. Since He has been obedient to the Father, even unto the death of the cross, all knees must bow before Him, (Phil. 2:8-10). It is for this reason that all power has been given Him in heaven and upon earth, (Matt. 28:18). Thereby He has also received power to bestow many external blessings upon the non-elect: to heal their bodily diseases, to proclaim the gospel to their soul as prophet, to call and bring them externally into His church, and thus to externally sanctify and separate them from others. Thus, to be sanctified by Christ’s blood neither signifies true conversion, growth in grace, nor the possession and manifestation of the image of God. Rather, it signifies a being brought into the church externally, and to have escaped the pollution of the world and gross sins through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. That such can apostatize is a matter beyond controversy.
Objection #6: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction,” (2 Pet. 2:1). To be bought by Christ is to be delivered by Christ’s blood from guilt and punishment and to be His property, (Rev. 5:9). Such persons can, however, apostatize and go lost.
Answer: (1) Such persons have never been true believers, for they were false teachers who subtly introduced damnable heresies. Therefore this text does not relate to this controversy.
(2) Christ purchases His own unto salvation, and purchases others to be used for His purposes. This we have demonstrated relative to Hebrews 10 in the fifth objection. One purchases vessels both to honor and to dishonor. These false teachers who pretended to be partakers of the merits of Christ were bought in order to be ministers, but not unto salvation. There can be various reasons for purchasing something.
Objection #7: Many examples of apostatizing can be produced to counter the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, such as the angels who have become devils, as well as Adam. If they have apostatized, then the godly can also apostatize.
Answer: (1) We are not discussing here what could happen potentially to the godly as they are in and of themselves, and if left over to themselves, but what cannot happen, since they are kept by the power of God.
(2) The angels and Adam had no promises relative to preservation; however, the godly have promises that are sure.
Additional Objection: David fell into such sins which are not compatible with the preservation of faith and spiritual life, such as adultery and premeditated murder.
Answer: (1) His repentance, restoration, and perseverance are clearly documented in Psalm 51—as well as in the description of the end of his life.
(2) Even though faith and spiritual life are in a state of lethargy when such gross sins are committed, the seed of God nevertheless abides in believers.
Additional Objection: Solomon fell into idolatry at the end of his life.
Answer: (1) Solomon was called Jedediah, the beloved of the Lord. However, the love of God does not change, (Jer. 31:3; John 13:1).
(2) It has not been recorded to what extent Solomon fell into idolatry. It could be that it was only a yielding to the insistence of his idolatrous wives or that it was but an external act of worship, for he is not listed among the ungodly kings, but among those whose hearts were not perfect before the Lord as the heart of David, (1 Kings 11:4). Thus he did not depart from the Lord.
(3) Subsequent to his death he, along with his father David, is recognized as an example for others. “For three years they walked in the way of David and Solomon,” (2 Chron. 11:17). It is thus evident that he died as a godly man.
(4) Everything has not been recorded, and one is thus not to conclude that he persevered in sin simply because no express mention is made of his repentance.
Additional Objection: Peter denied Christ thrice, and the denial of Christ cannot coexist with grace.
Answer: The Lord Jesus told him expressly that Satan would sift him, but that his faith would not fail, (Luke 22:32). Furthermore, he quickly arose from his sudden fall, went outside, and “wept bitterly,” (Matt. 26:75). A believer is indeed capable of committing an act of outward denial.
Additional Objection: Judas was an apostle and he became a traitor. Furthermore, Christ said in John 17:12 that He had kept all the apostles, except Judas. Thus, one of those whom the Father had given to Christ did perish.
Answer: Judas was never given by the Father to Christ in order to be redeemed by Him, for he was not one of the elect. “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen,” (John 13:18). Prior to becoming a traitor he already was a devil, (John 6:70), and a thief, (John 12:6). He had never been converted. In John 17:12 Judas is excluded from the number given by the Father unto salvation, and those who had been given are contrasted with Judas; Jesus preserved those who had been given to Him. Only Judas, being the son of perdition, did perish. Those who had been given to Jesus did not perish; however, Judas did. Judas’ only purpose for being among the apostles was that God’s decree might be executed.
Additional Objection: Demas left Paul and by renewal loved the present world, (2 Tim. 4:10). They who love the world, however, do not have the love of the Father in them, (1 John 2:15).
Answer: It must first be proven that Demas had indeed been regenerated; there is no evidence of this in the Word of God. The fact that he joined Paul is no evidence of conversion, for many who followed Christ departed from Him, (John 6:66).
Alexander and Hymenaeus departed from the true doctrine of faith. They have been discussed previously.
Additional Objection: The incestuous person was a believer, which is evident from his repentance, (2 Cor. 2:7). He had fallen so deeply that he had been delivered up to Satan, (1 Cor. 5:5). A believer can thus fall away completely.
Answer: (1) There is no evidence that he was a believer prior to his offense. This would have to be proven first.
(2) By reason of illumination and remorse of conscience someone can be overwhelmed with sorrow, upon which an excommunicated offender may be readmitted by the church.
(3) Excommunication could have been a means unto his true conversion.
(4) If he had been truly converted prior to that, the seed of God would have nevertheless remained in him. One cannot conclude total apostasy from the falling into one sin. To fall into one sin does not presuppose being under the dominion of sin. Excommunication brought him to repentance and caused him to forsake sin.
Comforts of this Doctrine
Having confirmed the truth regarding the perseverance of the saints, we shall now discuss the efficacy of this doctrine as far as comforting and stirring believers up in the way of sanctification.
It is this doctrine which underscores all comforts which believers derive from the other doctrines of the faith. For what comfort can be found in the fact that one is regenerated, has been adopted as a child of God, and has received the forgiveness of sin, if he knows that tomorrow he may be a child of the devil and of hell again? If; however, along with the reception of grace, one is assured that he shall be kept by the power of God, that the covenant is immutable, and that he shall most certainly become a partaker of eternal felicity—only then will grace truly yield him joy, will he be quickened in love, and can he forget what is behind him and reach forth to that which is before him, pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God,” (Phil. 3:14). Believers have many grievous and sinful encounters in this world; however, if this doctrine of perseverance is understood well, and is both believed and practiced, it will yield encouragement in the midst of all this It is a serious deficiency in the godly to be so inclined to focus upon themselves, desiring to derive all their comfort from the enjoyment of spiritual blessings, and to have such an excessive desire for them. If they then are deprived of this (for it is not God’s way always to give them the sensible enjoyment of this), they are discouraged. This is the reason why the godly are often so melancholy. Instead, they would run their course with joy if they would focus more upon the immutability of God, the covenant, and the promises. Their life would be more to the honor of God and to the edification of their neighbor. Therefore, train yourself to be fully assured of this doctrine and to use it continually to your comfort. Then the efficacy unto sanctification will immediately issue forth from it.
Here there is a remedy against spiritual desertions. Believers do not always have the privilege to be on the holy mountain with the disciples, to be in the third heaven with Paul, and always to live in the enjoyment of the embraces and kisses of the Lord Jesus. Rather, the Lord frequently hides His lovely countenance from them, stands afar, covers Himself with a cloud so that not a single prayer can penetrate, remains silent as if He were not concerned about them, withholds the motions of His mercy toward them, brings thick darkness upon them, seemingly casts them away, and appears to be wrathful toward them. This doctrine is, however, the foundation of your comfort, true believers, for God’s love toward you is immutable, and His calling and gifts are irreversible. Therefore, exercise faith, and consider the Lord to be to you who He was when He visited you in the very sweetest manner yes, infinitely more. He will most certainly return to you, for He says: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee,” (Isa. 54:7-8); “But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands,” (Isa. 49:14-16); “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” (Mal. 3:6).
Here there is a remedy for the assaults of Satan. The Lord has established an irreconcilable enmity between the seed of the woman—Christ, and all His members—and the seed of the devil, the ungodly. As soon as God’s children are set free from the snares of the devil and are translated into the kingdom of Christ, so soon the devil will persecute them. One time he will use subtle delusion to entice them to sin; then again he will use fiery darts to frighten them; and then again he will buffet them in order to injure and prevent them from having peace. These assaults are capable of tossing a believer to and fro, causing his faith to totter. However, in spite of all the violence of this evil, powerful, and subtle enemy, the devil will not succeed in causing the apostasy of a single one, not even of the most tender sheep; nor will he succeed in plucking him out of the hand of Jesus. Instead, the devil himself will be trodden under foot by believers. “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,” (Rom. 16:20). Therefore, by the truth and in the might of God, they may, triumph over the devil. “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,” (Rev. 12:10-11).
Here is a remedy against the enmity of the world. Since God’s children have forsaken the world, and convince it of sin by their light and conduct, the world consequently hates them and endeavors to draw them away from their faith and godly walk. It will do so either by caressing them with the lusts of the eye, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life; by threatening to take away all that could comfort them; or by way of cruel persecution and death. This causes a believer to be concerned whether he will remain steadfast in times of trial. Believers, do not fear, however, for also the world will not be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Rom. 8:38-39)—neither by her caresses, nor by her persecutions. “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33); “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world,” (1 John 4:4).
Therefore, we may “glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed,” (Rom. 5:3-5). Be therefore also of good courage in this battle, and triumphantly exclaim with the apostle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us,” (Rom. 8:35, 37).
Here there is also a remedy against sin. A believer is only regenerate in part. The old Adam still resides within him and he retains his nature and desires. These desires war against the soul and cause her to stumble and fall frequently—yes, they may even keep her captive to sin. Not only does this grieve her, but it also begets many doubts and troubling thoughts within her as to whether she will be deceived in the end, as sanctification cannot be separated from justification. Since faith without works is dead, she therefore wonders whether she has fallen from grace. However, this is not so, believers! If you still battle sin (even if you have but little strength), are time and again restored and renew the battle, pray against sin, and flee to the Lord Jesus for strength—then be of good courage. Also your sins, which remain in you contrary to your wishes, will neither pluck you out of the hand of Christ, nor will He cast you away because of them. He knew ahead of time—before He called, converted, and comforted you—who you were and what you would do, and He took hold of you out of sovereign grace and said, “I desire to love you and I shall love you to the end.” “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with His hand,” (Ps. 37:24); “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD,” (Jer. 31:37).
Here is a remedy against the weakness of faith, darkness, and all negative frames of the soul. Sometimes the faith of God’s children comes under assault from every angle, being assaulted by the devil, spiritual desertions, bodily crosses, sin, and darkness. Then they will not only be at a loss as to what to think of themselves, but they will wonder whether there are any true exercises of faith in them, for in this wretched darkness they can neither find Jesus nor engage in transactions with Him. This engenders despondency, listlessness, and deadness in them, so that it appears as if they give up. Nevertheless, the Lord preserves faith in their heart and causes it to resurface time and again. It will then be to their comfort that the Lord Jesus prays for them that their faith fail not (Luke 22:32), and that they are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” (1 Pet. 1:5) —just as experience has frequently taught them that this is so. Therefore, be encouraged, even while in that condition, to say with Paul, “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 Tim. 1:12).
Here is a remedy against the fear of death. Death is contrary to nature and is the king of terrors. Even when a believer is reasonably well spiritually, if he begins to focus upon death, he will find fear and trembling within himself. Sometimes this will be in anticipation of physical death, and sometimes he will begin to realize how great the distinction is between felicity and damnation. When he then considers how feeble he is, he will think, “Where is my faith; does it have any root and validity? Where is my sanctification? I could yet be deceived at last!” Thus, the terror of death will arise in him. However, also in this we have a steadfast comfort in the certainty of God’s preservation, who not only preserves His own in the state of grace in this life, but also in the hour of death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
As the perseverance of the saints yields a most powerful comfort, it is likewise a powerful motive for sanctification. Opposing parties, being neither acquainted with the nature of grace nor the possessors of grace, are of the opinion that this doctrine renders men careless. The contrary is true, however. There is nothing that moves man so sweetly and purely unto sanctification as grace and the permanency of this grace, for the love of God kindles the love of those whom He loves. “We love Him, because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). The steadfast hope and sure expectation of salvation is a powerful incentive unto holiness. “And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure,” (1 John 1:3). The apostle therefore uses the mercy of God as the basis for its exhortation. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies
of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,” (Rom. 12:1).
(1) Therefore, acknowledge the certainty of your spiritual state and you will behold the sovereign grace, goodness, power, longsuffering, faithfulness, and immutability of God, who, till the day of heir complete redemption, preserves the faith and spiritual life of a people who are so sinful and are surrounded and assaulted from every side. This will give you reason for adoration, to the praise and worship of the glorious perfections of God.
(2) Be encouraged in all perplexities; trust in the Lord who will also perfect that which concerneth you, will guide you with His counsel, and afterward receive you to glory.
(3) Be valiant in the battle, while trusting in God’s safe-keeping. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Forsake the world and all its counterfeit glory, for faith is of such a nature that it overcomes the world, (1 John 5:4). Refrain from indulging in fleshly lusts which war against the soul, knowing that the outcome of your walk is not uncertain, and your struggle is not as a beating in the air. Therefore, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong,” (1 Cor. 16:13); “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Excerpt from The Christians Reasonable Service