The Puritans on Perseverance of the Saints

by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones

Did Christ finish His work for us? Then there can be no doubt but He will also finish His work in us.—JOHN FLAVEL1 

Since the Puritans routinely preached consecutively through books of the Bible, or else from selected Scripture texts, and seldom preached catechetically,2 they did not frequently preach through the loci of systematic theology. For this reason, most of the works of the Puritans—with the notable exception of John Owen—do not deal with the perseverance of the saints as a doctrine distinct from other doctrines in Scripture. The Puritans rather dealt with this doctrine in connection with the doctrines linked to it in Scripture: the order of salvation, saving faith, good works, and assurance of salvation.

The Puritans expounded the doctrine of perseverance as they did all the doctrines of the ordo salutis, that is, with anexperimental emphasis. This allowed them to apply the doctrine to their own Christian pilgrimage to the celestial city. This method of theologizing also has the distinct benefit of making the doctrine easily transferable to pastoral theology in general, and pastoral oversight and counseling in particular.

As we consider what the Puritans taught about the perseverance of the saints, we will investigate the certainty of perseverance, objections against the doctrine of perseverance, the grounds of perseverance, the difficulty of perseverance, the necessity of perseverance, and the means of perseverance.

The Certainty of Perseverance

One of the cardinal truths of Reformed soteriology is that the elect of God, called by Him to the communion of His Son, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and delivered from the dominion of sin, are preserved in this salvation and persevere in faith, not by their own merits or strength, but by God’s free mercy in Christ, according to the Canons of Dort (fifth head, articles 1, 8, and 9). The Puritans embraced this doctrine fully, stressing that all who are truly brought into saving union with Christ can never be severed from Him, and will forever continue in that union, with all its benefits and fruits. John Flavel(1628–1691) answered the question, “What is perseverance unto the end?” with, “It is a steady and constant continuance of Christians in the ways of duty and obedience, amidst all temptations and discouragements to the contrary.”3 The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), chapter 17, “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” provides a more carefully nuanced definition of perseverance in its opening words: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” The Westminster divines begin by asserting the certainty of perseverance, connecting it to other links in the golden chain of salvation. As they assert the interconnection of calling, sanctification, and perseverance, the reader cannot help but think of Jude 1: “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that aresanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called” (emphasis added).

The Westminster divines go on to say that no believer can finally fall away. They do not say that true people of God cannot temporarily fall away. It is important to notice that distinction, because when the divines discuss the difficulty of

perseverance in the Westminster Confession of Faith (17.3), they acknowledge that the elect may indeed “fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein.” The Puritans did not define this doctrine as “Once saved, always saved,” because this assertion can easily be misunderstood to mean that the true Christian never falters in the face of temptation and is never troubled by any lack of assurance. Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) quoted Augustine as saying, “Grace may be shaken with fears and doubts, but it cannot be plucked up by the roots.”4 What the Puritans taught about salvation was, “If you have it, you can never lose it.” They also taught, “If you lose it, you never had it.” Hypocrites do indeed fall away, but not true believers, Watson wrote, adding that “though comets fall, it does not follow that true stars fall.”5

The Puritans used 1 Peter 1:3–5 to support this assertion: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, asserts that true believers, in contrast to nominal Christians, are preserved by the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable omnipotence of God. Watson commented on this passage, “The heavenly inheritance is kept for the saints, and they are kept to the inheritance.”6 William Greenhill (1598–1671), a member of the Westminster Assembly, asserted, “A man pardoned, and justified by faith in Christ, though he may, and sometimes doth, fall into foul sins, yet they never prevail so far as to reverse pardon, and reduce [him] to a state of non-justification.”7 Elisha Coles (c. 1608–1688) quoted Proverbs 24:16: “A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.”8

Paul says in Philippians 1:3–6, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Commenting on these verses, William Bridge (1600–1671) encouraged his congregation by saying, “God’s calling grace doth assure us of his confirminggrace.”9 Thomas Manton (1620–1677) wrote,

The children of God would be troubled if grace should fail; for as grace is sure, so are also the privileges of grace. This was figured under the law; an Israelite should never wholly alienate his inheritance and title to the land: Lev. 25:23, “His title to the land shall not be cut off, nor sold for ever.” This was a type of our spiritual inheritance in Christ, which cannot be alienated from us; he might for a while pass it away, but it is to return again; so those that are made co-heirs with Christ are never disinherited. It is true we forfeit it by the merit of our actions, but God doth not take the advantage of every offence. It is true we lose the evidences that are in our keeping, peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost; but the estate itself is undefeatable, and cannot be made [taken] away from us.10

The Puritans understood the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as one of the benefits of the three cardinal blessings of salvation that the believer receives in this life: justification, adoption, and sanctification. The Westminster divines in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC), Q. 32, ask, “What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?” The answer is: “They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits flow from them.” The Puritans generally included perseverance of the saints with four additional benefits or gifts of God that are both objectively true and subjectively either accompany faith or are experienced in the Christian’s life. The Shorter Catechism (Q. 36) says, “The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.”

The Puritan doctrine of perseverance is opposed to that of Rome. The Council of Trent pronounced an anathema on anyone who said that a justified man cannot “lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified.”11 Roman Catholicism teaches that if you have committed a mortal sin, you fall from the state of grace,12 and unless you do works of penance and receive priestly absolution, you cannot be restored to this state. According to this teaching, the Christian is constantly falling from the state of grace by committing mortal sin, then being restored to it through the sacrament of penance. Taking their stand on the Word of God, the Puritans rejected every aspect of this view, denying that there is a divinely instituted sacrament of penance, that Christians must confess their sins to a priest, and that unless they receive priestly absolution, they forfeit the salvation that is promised to us in Christ.

Objections against the Reformed Doctrine of Perseverance

No writer has matched the profound thinking, thorough exposition, and rigorous application of the Reformed view of perseverance put forth by John Owen (1616–1683) in The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed(1654). Owen’s defense of perseverance was a response to a treatise written by John Goodwin (1594–1665), titledRedemption Redeemed (1651), in which Goodwin denied that God secures the continuance of faith in a believer.13 John Goodwin (to be distinguished from Owen’s Independent colleague and friend Thomas Goodwin) was an Arminian. Owen’s rebuttal of Goodwin is helpful for understanding how Puritans dealt with Arminian objections to the Reformed view.

Because Goodwin’s work was rambling, repetitious, and lacking logical progression, Owen’s rebuttal also lacked structure. Nonetheless, Owen responded to the three major objections Goodwin raised against the doctrine of perseverance, for he believed that leaving those objections unanswered would ultimately undermine the doctrines of grace.14 

Objection One: The Reality of Apostasy

John Goodwin insisted that passages such as Hebrews 6:1–8 and 10:26–39 taught the possibility of a believer’s defection from a state of grace. He said that was confirmed by large numbers of churchgoers who were once zealous but then became indifferent.

Owen did not deny the existence of backsliders and apostates. However, he suggested that Goodwin’s error, like that of all Arminians, was to assume that all who profess faith in Christ are true believers. In exhaustive detail, Owen examined scriptural passages describing people who fell away from faith, concluding that they had never been true believers. Owen said these apostates had experienced only a “temporary holiness” that did not change their natures.15 Each time Scripture mentions a Hymenaeus or Philetus, for example, it makes a declaration, such as, “nevertheless, the firm foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:17–19; cf. Heb. 6:1–9; 10:26–39). Thus biblical references to hypocrites, who are the tares sown among the Lord’s wheat, are no argument against perseverance of the true Christian in faith.

Before stating his own position, Owen established a biblical basis for perseverance by exegeting Philippians 1:6, 1 Peter 1:5, and John 10:27–29. He then offered the following syllogism to respond to Goodwin’s objections:

1. The elect cannot fall away (John 10:27–29, etc.).

2. Some who profess to believe fall away from the faith.

3. Hence, professors who fall away are not elect believers.16 

Next Owen explained the doctrine of perseverance in relationship to three potent forces. (1) The immutable nature of God as well as His promises and eternal purposes, which extend to His electing love and covenant. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).17 These gifts include perseverance, for God is bound to His people through His promises, which form the heart of the covenant of grace.18 The covenant then becomes an unconditional promise of grace and perseverance for the believer through the mediatorial work of Christ.19 God’s foreknowledge, power, promises, covenant, and immutability are all part of His sovereign, eternal love. And perseverance is part of the unbreakable chain of salvation granted to the elect.

(2) The nature of grace itself, which in Scripture always triumphs. Since grace perseveres, God Himself also perseveres

with the believer, making grace a conquering power and Christ a conquering king.20 Christ has also granted His Spirit to Christians. This Spirit secures their perseverance, for in fulfilling the covenant of grace, the Comforter will dwell with the elect forever (John 14:16).21

(3) The integral unity of the plan of salvation. If the outcome of God’s saving activity in the believer is questionable, the entire enterprise of salvation must fail. If the Holy Spirit does not keep believers in grace, neither can He call, regenerate, sanctify, and assure them, for all of these are indissolubly linked.22 Christ must then be only an impotent intercessor.23

Objection Two: Human Responsibility

Goodwin’s second argument against perseverance was based on Scripture passages that urge Christians to maintain themselves in a state of grace. Goodwin said such texts prove that perseverance is the sole responsibility of the believer.

Owen’s response was that Goodwin failed to see that obligation does not entail ability. In other words, sinners are obligated to repent and believe, but this does not prove they have the power to do so. Similarly, God commands His saints to use the means of grace and to persevere in faith, but that does not mean they can do so in their own strength. Granted, they must strive to enter the narrow gate (Luke 13:24), must hold fast the Word preached (1 Cor. 15:2), and must be diligent to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10), but they can only do these things in Christ, by the power of God. Believers work out their salvation with fear and trembling, not because of doubt or uncertainty but in holy awe, for they know that God Himself is at work in them, both to will and do (Phil. 2:12–13). Owen wrote, “It is utterly denied, that men, the best of men, have in themselves, and of themselves, arising upon the account of any considerations whatsoever, a power, ability, or strength, vigorously or at all acceptably to God, to incline their hearts to the performance of anything that is spiritually good, or in a gospel tendency to walking with God.”24

To believe, as the Arminians do, that the saints maintain their own faith is to minimize the doctrine of total depravity, for even after regeneration the believer does not have perfect knowledge of what is good, much less the unwavering desire or unimpaired ability in himself to do it.25 The believer works out his salvation in his ongoing sanctification, but only through God’s eternal power, which works mightily in him (Col. 1:29). In short, Owen taught that assurance is to perseverance what perseverance is to divine election and faithfulness. Election therefore must be the motive for perseverance in faith, holiness, and assurance. Owen wrote,

[Election] hath the same tendency and effect in the assurance we have from thence, that notwithstanding all the oppositions we meet withal, we shall not utterly and finally miscarry. God’s “election” will at last “obtain” (Rom. 11:7); and “his foundation standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19). His purpose, which is “according unto election,” is unchangeable; and, therefore, the final perseverance and salvation of those concerned in it are everlastingly secured…. And there is no greater encouragement to grow and persist in holiness than what is administered by this assurance of a blessed end and issue of it.26

Owen taught what Philip Craig calls “the concurrence of divine grace and human duty.”27 Owen said, “Our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yea, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty.”28 So our responsibility to work out our perseverance does not nullify God’s promise to work perseverance in us, but instead depends upon it (Phil. 2:12–13).

Objection Three: The Danger of Antinomianism

Goodwin said widespread teaching of the doctrine of perseverance would give rise to lawlessness and disregard for the moral code of Scripture. He also said perseverance minimizes the importance of God’s exhortations and commands. He wrote, “If it is absolutely certain that God will preserve his people from apostasy, and he intends so to do, why then does he

appeal to them to strive and to use the means of grace? This doctrine empties God’s every command of all meaning.”29

The essence of Owen’s reply to Goodwin concerning Antinomianism was simple: God preserves His saints in holiness. Christ saves His people from, not in, their sins. Justification is inseparable from sanctification; reconciliation with God goes hand in hand with regeneration, which necessarily results in new life. Rather than promoting loose living, perseverance promises the assurance of eternal salvation by the only path that will get the believer to heaven: the King’s highway of holiness.30 The doctrine of perseverance stimulates love that can only yield obedience, for “it is the Spirit of Christ in the gospel that cuts [sin’s] throat and destroys it,” Owen wrote.31 Though a Christian may fall into sin, Christ effectually prays that his faith may not fail.32 Consequently, perseverance guarantees the believer’s continued sanctification and eventual glorification (cf. 2 Thess. 1:3–5; 2:13; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; Eph. 5:3–6).

Owen responded to Goodwin’s concern that perseverance undercuts God’s exhortations to holiness by pointing out that it is the moral duty of everyone to obey God’s commands and, further, that when believers do so, their obedience signifies God’s work within them. Hence, the sovereign activity of God negates neither the means of grace nor their efficacy. God has created the universe to work through cause and effect. Consequently, no one has an excuse for disobeying God’s moral imperatives. Owen explained, “As well might we argue that it is unnecessary for us to breathe because God gives us breath, or that Hezekiah need no longer to eat and drink because God had promised he should live another fifteen years…. Grace does not annul our responsibility but fits us to discharge it; it relieves from no duties, but equips for the performance of them.”33

Owen thus exemplified the Puritan combination of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in the doctrine of perseverance. Whereas Arminianism affirmed human responsibility in a way that undermined the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign will, the Reformed Puritan response affirmed both human responsibility and divine sovereignty, while subjecting man’s will to God’s will. This biblical duality of agency is worked out in the Puritan explanation of the divine grounds of perseverance and the human use of means to persevere.

The Grounds of Perseverance

The Westminster divines (WCF, 17.2) also spoke of the grounds of perseverance: “This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit and, of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.” This superstructure of perseverance has deep foundations. The Puritans recognized how important it is for a believer to understand the foundation of perseverance while living in a valley of tears.

The Puritans said perseverance is not ultimately based upon the believer’s will but upon God’s will. They based this teaching upon texts such as John 10:28–29, “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.”34 According to the Puritans, the words of this promise and others like it stand upon a fourfold foundation, laid by God and set forth in His Word.

Ground One: The Father’s Electing Love

The four grounds of perseverance start with the love of God the Father. The believer’s perseverance depends first of all“upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father” (WCF, 17.2). The attached proof text is 2 Timothy 2:19: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” Watson said, “The foundation of God is nothing else but God’s decree in election; and this stands sure; God will not alter it, and others cannot.”35

Coles wrote that God’s fatherly love toward believers in Christ secures their future: “Believers are the product of his love, both in respect of election and regeneration; and being so, he cannot but have a paternal affection for them.”36 His infinite love will provide for them and protect them without fail. Coles added, “All the natural affections that are in creatures towards their own, are but drops of his immense fullness: a mother might possibly forget the child of her womb; but the Lord cannot forget his offspring” (cf. Isa. 49:15).37

The Puritans stressed that our perseverance in faith is based on God’s preservation of us in grace. The Arminian approach to God’s commands and man’s responsibility fails to account for the way God’s sovereignty overarches all our actions (WSC, Q. 11). Coles said the saints’ perseverance must be set in the context of the all-controlling providence of God, which never fails to accomplish His purposes (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:35).38 The labors of a child of God to persevere ultimately depend not on the child’s human strength but on the power of his heavenly Father. Watson wrote, “It is not your holding God, but his holding us, that preserves us. When a boat is tied to a rock, it is secure; so, when we are fast tied to the Rock of Ages, we are impregnable.”39 Our perseverance is grounded in God’s love and election, as they come to fruition in His works of creation, redemption, and providence.

Ground Two: Christ’s Merit and Intercession

The Westminster divines said the perseverance of the saints is also based on “the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ” (WCF, 17.2). They cite texts such as the following:

• Hebrews 9:14–15: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that…they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance,” and,

• Hebrews 7:25: “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.”

The Puritans said our union with Christ cannot be dissolved. Watson explained, “If one believer may be broken off from Christ, then, by the same rule, why not another? Why not all? And so Christ would be a head without a body.”40 Christ will not let His people be sundered from Him, anymore than a head will willingly be cut off from its body or a husband from his wife. Hosea 2:19 says, “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.” Watson explained, “God does not marry his people unto himself and then divorce them; he hates putting away (Mal. 2:16). God’s love ties the marriage-knot so fast that neither death nor hell can break it asunder.”41

The Puritans taught that the merit or value of the sacrifice Christ made at the cross guarantees that those for whom He died will be eternally saved. On the nature of Christ’s purchase of believers, Watson asked the rhetorical question, “Would Christ, think ye, have shed his blood that we might believe in him for a while, and then fall away? Do we think Christ will lose his purchase?”42 Obadiah Sedgwick (c. 1600–1658) wrote,

Hath Jesus Christ our Mediator confirmed the covenant by his death! Then O Christian, keep up thy faith, and draw out thy faith, and exceedingly rejoice in Christ; for thy estate is sure, and thy soul is sure, and thy salvation is sure, all is sure, because all is surely confirmed by the death of Christ: the death of Christ was a ratification to the whole testament, to the whole covenant, and to every part and tittle of it: and as sure as Christ hath died, so sure art thou to enjoy all that God hath covenanted with thee for there shall not fail one word of all the good [which he] hath promised.43 

The Puritans viewed the intercessory work of Christ as our high priest as integral to the believer’s perseverance in faith. Owen said Christ’s prayer in John 17 is “a manifest declaration on earth of that which Christ lives in heaven to do.”44 Owen

said Christ’s intercession for His people must prevail because He prays for the very things the Father has willed and sealed in the covenant of redemption, and Christ has already fulfilled His responsibilities in that covenant:

That which the Lord Jesus, as mediator, requesteth and prayeth for continually of the Father, according to his mind, in order to the accomplishment of the promises made to him and covenant with him (all his desires being bottomed upon this exact, perfect performance of the whole will of God, both in doing and suffering), that shall certainly be accomplished and brought to pass; but thus, in this manner, upon these accounts, doth the Lord Jesus intercede for the perseverance of believers, and their preservation in the love of the Father unto the end: therefore, they shall undoubtedly be so preserved.45

William Gurnall (1616–1679) put it in much more personal terms: “Does Christ pray for us? Yea, does He not live to pray for us? Oh, how can children of so many prayers, nay of such prayers, perish? Say not, your weak faith shall perish, till you hear that Christ has left praying, or meets with a repulse.”46 Christ’s praying for us does not encourage us to be lazy or indifferent, however. Gurnall said, “Christ’s prayers in heaven for His saints are all heard already, but the return of them is reserved to be enclosed in the answer God sends to their own prayers. A Christian cannot in faith expect to receive the mercies Christ prays for in heaven, so long as he lives in the neglect of his duty on earth.”47 We persevere in grace because of the Father’s eternal love and election, but also because of the value of Christ’s work on the cross and His continual intercession for us.

Ground Three: The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

The Westminster divines said perseverance depends, thirdly, “upon the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them” (WCF, 17.2). Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) said, “There are none that hold out but those that have the Spirit of God to be their teacher and persuader.”48 Watson says, “The reason men persevere not in religion, is for want of a vital principle; a branch must needs wither that has no root to grow upon.”49

In Ephesians 1:13–14, Paul tells believers that they “were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” John Owen wrote, “To have this stamp of the Holy Ghost, so as to be an evidence unto the soul that it is accepted with God, is to be sealed by the Spirit; taking the metaphor from the nature of sealing.”50 In response to the question, “What is the privilege of being sealed with the Spirit?” Flavel said, “Consider the designs and aims of the Spirit in his sealing thy soul, which are, 1. To secure heaven to thee for ever, 2. As intermediate thereunto, to bring very much of heaven into thy soul, in the way to it; indeed to give thee two heavens, whilst many others suffer two hells.”51 Owen wrote,

Men set their seals on that which they appropriate and desire to keep safe for themselves. So, evidently, in this sense are the servants of God said to be sealed (Rev. 7:4); that is, marked with God’s mark, as his peculiar ones,—for this sealing answers to the setting of the mark (Ezek. 9:4). Then are believers sealed, when they are marked for God to be heirs of the purchased inheritance, and to be preserved to the day of redemption. Now, if this be the sealing intended, it denotes not an act of sense in the heart, but of security to the person. The Father gives the elect into the hands of Christ to be redeemed; having redeemed them, in due time they are called by the Spirit, and marked for God, and so give up themselves to the hands of the Father.52

The ground of perseverance is closely connected with the Word of God which abides in us, for the Word of God and the Spirit of God are always closely connected. The apostle John said, “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 Puritans said that to correctly understand this passage, we must first examine its broader context: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). Clearly, 1 John 3:9 is speaking of a radical break with sin in a believer, but not a perfect

sinlessness. John Trapp (1601–1669) commented, “He sinneth not totally and finally, he cannot so fall as apostates; for the seed of God abideth in him.”53 Owen said, “The scope and intendment of the apostle in the place is, to give a discriminating character of the children of God and the children of the devil.”54

The apostle John in 1 John 5:4 writes, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (emphasis added). Gurnall wrote, “Mark from whence the victory is dated, even from his birth: there is victory sown in his new nature, even that seed of God which will keep him from being swallowed up by sin or Satan.”55

Ground Four: The Covenant of Grace

The fourth ground cited is “the nature of the covenant of grace” (WCF, 17.2). The agreement of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity is intimately connected with God’s covenant mercies to us because in the covenant God revealed the order of the cooperative work of the Trinity through the incarnate Mediator. John Owen wrote, “The principium essendi[principle of its being] of this truth [of perseverance], if I may so say, is in the decrees and purposes of God; the principium cognoscendi [principle of knowing it], in his covenant, promise, and oath, which also add much to the real stability of it, the truth and faithfulness of God in them being thereby particularly engaged therein.”56

God revealed to David “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure,” says 2 Samuel 23:5. Samuel Rutherford(1600–1661) called this “a sure and eternal covenant bottomed upon infinite love.”57 God promises to all believers, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:3). The covenant promises that God will be faithful to His people, and He will ensure their faithfulness to Him. Oliver Heywood (1630–1702) wrote, “But may they not depart from God? No, not totally and finally, ‘for God hath put his fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from him’” (Jer. 32:40).58 Gurnall said of the parallel passage in Ezekiel 36:27, “He does not say they shall have His Spirit if they will walk in His statutes; no, His Spirit shall cause them to do it.”59

Solid Ground for Hope

Standing upon these grounds, the Puritans said, the Christian’s hope is solid, substantial, and certain. David Dickson (c. 1583–1662), in refuting errors related to the doctrine of perseverance, gave eleven reasons to support his affirmative answer to the question “Do not the Papists, Socinians, Arminians, and some ringleaders among the Quakers err, who maintain, That the saints may totally and finally fall away?” They include the following:

1. The saints are built upon a rock, and not upon sand. Therefore, when temptations of any kind assault, they can never fail, nor can the gates of hell prevail against them (Matt. 7:24; 16:16, 18).

2. He that hath begun a good work in the saints, will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

3. Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35, 38–39).

4. They that fall away have never had true justifying faith (Luke 8:4–15; 1 John 2:19).

5. It is impossible for the elect to be seduced (Matt. 24:24).

6. They that believe in the Son of God have life eternal (1 John 5:13; John 6:47, 54, 58); and they that have passed from death to life, shall never thirst nor hunger any more (John 6:35).

7. God hath promised in his covenant, that though he may chastise his own children for their faults, yet he will never take away his mercy and loving-kindness from them (Ps. 89:30–34; Jer. 32:38–40).

8. That golden chain, that Paul speaks of, cannot be broken (Rom. 8:30), whom he did predestinate, them he also called, etc.

9. Christ says, This is the Father’s will, which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I shall lose nothing

(John 6:39).

10. We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).

11. He hath prayed for us, that our faith fail not (Luke 22:32; John 17:20).60

Having set forth these grounds for perseverance, the Westminster divines concluded, “from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof” (WCF, 17.2). The Puritans held as a consequence that, by the exercise of faith upon these objective truths, the Christian can experience the subjective full “assurance of grace and salvation” (WCF, 18). Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) could say, “To suppose that a right to life is suspended on our own perseverance that is uncertain, and has nothing more sure and steadfast to secure it than our own good wills and resolutions…is exceeding dissonant to the nature and design of the gospel scheme.”61 It robs the believer of comfort and forces him to depend upon his own strength.

Owen concluded by warning those who said God’s will was dependent upon man’s will:

Notwithstanding the undertaking of God on both sides in this covenant; notwithstanding his faithfulness in the performance of what he undertaketh; notwithstanding the ratification of it in the blood of Jesus, and all that he hath done for the confirmation of it;…notwithstanding the seal of the oath that God set unto it,—they, I say, who, notwithstanding all these things, will hang the unchangeableness of this covenant of God upon the slipperiness, and uncertainty, and lubricity [slipperiness] of the will of man, “let them walk in the light of the sparks which themselves have kindled”; we will walk in the light of the Lord our God.62

The security of believers grounded in the covenant of grace is ultimately grounded in God’s promise of Himself to be our God. Thus, this fourth ground of perseverance ties together the previous grounds of the Father’s election, the Son’s purchase, and the Spirit’s sealing. True believers may be assured that they will have heaven because they already have the Lord as their covenant God, and that is the essence of heaven on earth. Richard Alleine (c. 1610–1681) said that when the Lord gives Himself in the covenant, all that He is in His glory, omnipotence, omniscience, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, all-sufficiency, and faithfulness becomes ours as our friend, portion, sun, and shield forever.63 Coles said “all the attributes of God do stand engaged” to guarantee that the saints will persevere to the end.64 So Puritan logic presses the application home: Is anything too hard for the Lord? The divine grounds of assurance are very important for the peace of the soul, for perseverance is no easy matter for mere men.

The Difficulty of Perseverance

Having dealt with the certainty and the grounds of perseverance in the first two sections of chapter 17, the Westminster divines went on to identify the difficulty of perseverance, that is, the dangers to which believers are exposed in this life. The third section says, “Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein.” The word nevertheless is an important admission, for with it the Puritans admitted that true Christians still sin and sometimes sin grievously. But the words for a time are also added as a contrast to the word finally in Westminster Confession of Faith 17.1.

The confession goes on to cite the consequences of these temporary lapses into sin for believers: “they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit; come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves” (WCF, 17.3). Here the focus is not on the apostasy of an unbeliever, but on the sins of believers who do nottotally and finally fall away, but who do stumble, sometimes badly. Matthew Henry (1662–1714) wrote, “Is every fall a falling away? No: for though he falls he shall not be utterly cast down (Ps. 37:24). May they be secure then? No: be not high-minded, but fear (Rom. 11:20). But may they be encouraged? Yes: he will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom (2

Tim. 4:18).”65

John Bunyan (1628–1688) illustrated both the struggle and the certainty of perseverance with the image of a fire burning by a wall. The fire represents the work of grace in a heart. A man, symbolizing the devil, pours water upon the fire to quench its flame. But the fire keeps burning because behind the wall, another man (Christ) continually yet secretly pours oil (grace) onto the fire. Here we see both the conflict of the believer with the devil and the prevailing yet often unseen work of God to sustain and preserve His people.66

The Puritans contrasted temporary and partial backsliding with “drawing back unto perdition” (Heb. 10:39), or apostasy. Consider the parable of the soils. The stony ground and the thorny ground hearers listen to the Word and respond positively to it for a time, but they bear no fruit evident of true faith. As Watson said, “All blossoms do not ripen into fruit.”67 Richard Fairclough (1621–1682) wrote, “It is one thing to fall in the way; another thing to deviate from the way.”68 He added:“There is a difference between recession from grace, and excision [cutting off] of grace: the first is possible to happen for a time to a believer; but God will never suffer the second to come upon him: for although a believer may fall, yet he falls only as cork falls into the water, which may for a time be immersed, but it will rise again, and get aloft; but a hypocrite falls as lead into the water, which sinks, and rises no more.”69

The Puritans recognized the possibility of temporary backsliding, or lapsing into sin, in such notable cases as those of David and Peter. Think of Christ’s intercession for Peter in Luke 22:31–32: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Watson said Christ prayed for Peter’s faith, “that it be not totally eclipsed.”70 In one sense we could say that Peter’s exercise of faith failed. His faith was not strong enough to overcome three temptations to deny Christ. But his weakness also manifested Christ’s strength (2 Cor. 12:9), specifically, the power of Christ’s intercession for us. Thomas Manton said, “The greater the pressures are the more visible and conspicuous is the perfection of the divine assistance. More goeth to the keeping of a saint here in the world than to the preserving of an angel; for the angelsare…out of gunshot and harm’s way, but we are making our way to heaven almost every step by conflict and conquest.”71

What God has promised in Hosea 14:4 is true: “I will heal their backsliding.” What a blessing it is that God heals our backsliding! Furthermore, God uses our backslidings to bring us to further progress in sanctification. God actually uses our sin for our good, for sin humbles us and creates in us a fear of falling again. Sibbes wrote, “Often times God’s children gain by their slips, which makes them look the more warily to their way forever after that. He that walks in the way to heaven, if he be a good man, he looks to make a surer footing in the ways of God after he slips and falls.”72 Coles said, “Satan got nothing by his winnowing Peter: Peter lost some of his chaff, which well might be spared, and the tempter lost many an after-advantage; for the world of believers have been the warier ever since.”73

The Necessity of Perseverance

The Puritans said the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches that all who are truly in a state of grace will most assuredly persevere unto the end. They must do so to gain eternal glory. As Augustine said, “The promise is not to him that fights, but to him that overcomes.”74 Watson said, “The crown is set at the end of the race; and if we win the race, we shall wear the crown.”75 And Gurnall wrote, “He that will be Christ’s soldier, must persevere to the end of his life in this war with Satan. Not he that takes the field, but he that keeps the field; not he that sets out, but he that holds out in this holy war, deserves the name of a saint.”76

Edwards stated, “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.”77 John Bunyan encouraged his readers, “Friend it is a sad thing to sit down before we are in heaven, and to grow weary before we come to the place of rest; and if this should be thy case, I am sure thou dost not so run as to obtain.”78

The Puritans were quick to differentiate the biblical view of perseverance from the views of Romanists and Arminians. The

Puritans said Scripture teaches both the certainty of perseverance and the necessity of persevering. Believers should find comfort and encouragement in the certainty of perseverance promised to them in God’s Word, but they must also feel the weight of the obligation Scripture lays on them to persevere in their confession of faith, the practice of obedience to Christ, and the pursuit of holiness.

In harmony with the Word of God, the Puritans maintained that a Christian must be actively engaged in the work of persevering in the faith while knowing that Christ is preserving him in the enjoyment of salvation (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 31). Watson wrote, “A man may lose a single battle in the field, yet win the victory at last. A child of God may be foiled in a single battle against temptation, as Peter was, but he is victorious at last. Now, if a saint be crowned victor, if the world be conquered by him, he must needs persevere.”79 Edwards said, “If Christians cease to take care to persevere, that very thing is falling away.”80

The Means of Perseverance

The Puritans said the perseverance of the saints is a certainty because it is grounded in the work of the three persons of the Godhead, the abiding truth of God’s Word, and the unchangeable nature of the covenant of grace. The Puritans said that from our perspective, the perseverance of the saints is both difficult and necessary. Perseverance assumes our active engagement to make diligent use of those means that God has ordained for the achievement of His saving purpose. The Puritans recognized that this doctrine has no affinity with antinomianism. Edwards summarized the Puritan position well, saying, “He that to his utmost endeavours to persevere in ways of obedience, finds out that his obedience and righteousness is true; and he that does not, discovers that ’tis is false.”81

The means appointed by God to be the conduits of His continuing grace for His people are known as the means of grace:“The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 154). Through such means Christians maintain a living and active faith. Watson exhorted his readers to “keep your faith, and your faith will keep you. While the pilot keeps the ship, his ship keeps him.”82 Owen wrote that a grasp of this truth should promote faith: “The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and stability of God’s love to them, giving him the glory of his excellencies, which in his promises are to be considered, is suited to the carrying on of faith in its growth and increase.”83 And Sibbes said in Faith Triumphant, “Faith resting in the power of God quiets the soul, carrying it to the thing it is made for…. Where there is true faith, there is always love, and joy, and delight in the things believed…. Our precious faith is made to embrace precious promises, and to carry the whole soul to them.”84

The quantity of faith is not as critical as the quality of it. Weak faith, as long as it is true faith, will carry a man to heaven. Yet, as Owen so aptly put it, weak faith “will never carry him comfortably nor pleasantly thither…. The least true faith will do its work safely, though not so sweetly.”85 Nonetheless, believers must strive to grow in their faith, and the means of grace are appointed for this end.

The Puritans stressed the necessity of maintaining a good conscience. They said Paul’s watchword in Acts 24:16 should also be ours, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man.” Samuel Annesley (c. 1620–1696) said,

There is no greater riches, no greater pleasure, no greater safety, than a good conscience. Let the pressures of the body, the hurry of the world, the affrightments of Satan be ever so great, they cannot reach the conscience. A good conscience singularly cheers the dying body, joyfully accompanies unto God the departed soul, triumphantly presents both soul and body unto the desired tribunal. There is no more profitable means, nor surer testimony, nor eminent conveyer of eternal happiness, than a good conscience.86 

Maintaining a good conscience compels intense watchfulness, the Puritans said. They took seriously Christ’s warning to

the disciples: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). They also took seriously Paul’s warning to Hebrew Christians tempted to draw back from their profession to “take heed…lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). Watson warned, “Take heed of presuming. Fear begets prayer, prayer begets strength, and strength begets steadfastness.”87 Consider Bunyan’s description of the “Man of Despair” shut up in the iron cage in the Interpreter’s House. Asked how he came into his present condition, the man declares, “I left off to watch, and to be sober. I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts.”88 The Interpreter exhorts Christian, “Let this man’s misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.”89 To watch and to pray as one should requires humility before God. Watson said, “The lower the tree roots in the earth, the firmer it is; so the more the soul is rooted in humility, the more established it is, and is in less danger of falling away.”90

The Puritans knew that apostasy was not a fantasy but a real danger. They understood that the only alternative to apostasy was perseverance to the end. They recognized that though the grounds of our perseverance are in the three persons of the Godhead, the means are in our own hands, by God’s appointment. He will preserve us by His grace, making our use of the means of grace effectual to the accomplishment of His purpose. Therefore they taught that for anyone to expect to be preserved without using the God-appointed means of grace is to insult God and to trifle with His grace. Watson wrote, “As Paul said, ‘Except ye abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved’ (Acts 27:31). Believers shall come to shore at last, arrive at heaven; but ‘except they abide in the ship,’ viz., in the use of ordinances, ‘they cannot be saved.’ The ordinances cherish grace; as they are the breast-milk by which it is nourished and preserved to eternity.”91 Bunyan closed his treatiseThe Heavenly Footman by saying, “If thou dost not know the way, inquire at the Word of God; if thou wantest company, cry for God’s Spirit; if thou wantest encouragement, entertain the promises. But be sure thou begin betimes; get into the way; run apace, and hold out to the end, and the Lord give thee a prosperous journey.”92


The biblical doctrine of perseverance is not rightly understood by many Christians today. As proof of this assertion, the fruits of the doctrine of perseverance—diligent use of the means of grace, perseverance in heartfelt obedience to God’s will, desire for fellowship with God, yearning for God’s glory and heaven, love for the church and intercession for revival—appear to be waning. Many settle for an “easy believism” that grossly oversimplifies and misrepresents the true doctrine of perseverance, while others get used to living without any robust sense of the enduring love and grace of God to comfort them amid the struggles of this life.

The Puritans’ doctrine of the perseverance of the saints offers a biblical understanding of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. If, on the one hand, we proclaim a doctrine of “once saved, always saved” without any call to persevere in following Christ to the end, we encourage or reinforce a false hope grounded on self-deception. But if, on the other hand, we teach that believers cannot know if they will go to heaven, then we deny the sovereignty of God and throw our hearers back on their own efforts to attain salvation. Watson said, “A Christian’s main comfort depends upon this doctrine of perseverance. Take this away, and you prejudice religion, and cut the sinews of all cheerful endeavors.”93 The true doctrine of perseverance enables the church to walk both in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31).

Excerpt from  A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke & Mark Jones


1. Cited in John Blanchard, comp., The Complete Gathered Gold (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 170.

2. Exceptions include John Flavel, An Exposition of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism with Practical Inferences From Each Question, in The Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:138–317; Matthew Henry, A Scripture Catechism, in the Method of the Assembly’s, in The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 2:174–263; Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly Explained and Proved from Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1980).

3. Flavel, An Exposition of the Assembly’s Catechism, in Works, 6:206.

4. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958), 285.

5. Watson, Body of Divinity, 284.

6. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 279.

7. William Greenhill, Ezekiel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), 461.

8. Elisha Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty (Newburyport: Edmund Blunt, 1798), 307.

9. William Bridge, “The Good and Means of Establishment,” in The Works of the Rev. William Bridge (1845; repr., Beaver Falls, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1989), 4:262.

10. Thomas Manton, Commentary on Jude (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958), 51.

11. Philip Schaff, ed., “Canons and Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent,” Sixth Session (Jan. 13, 1547), “Decree on Justification,” canon 23, inThe Creeds of Christendom (1877; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 2:115.

12. “The state of the soul which is free of original sin and actual mortal sin.” Donald Attwater, ed., A Catholic Dictionary (New York: Macmillan, 1942), 502.

13. On John Goodwin, see John Coffey, John Goodwin and the Puritan Revolution: Religion and Intellectual Change in Seventeenth-Century England(Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2008); Thomas Jackson, The Life of John Goodwin (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1872); Dewey D. Wallace Jr., “The Life and Thought of John Owen to 1660: A Study of the Significance of Calvinist Theology in English Puritanism” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1965), 242–47. Parts of this section are adapted from Joel R. Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 167–72.

14. John Owen, The Doctrine of the Saints Perseverance Explained and Confirmed, in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 11:82ff.

15. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:90.

16. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:113ff.

17. Owen similarly treated the everlasting covenant of God, the irrevocable promises and oath of God, and the irresistible grace of God. The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11, chapters 4–8.

18. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:227.

19. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:289ff.

20. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:172–73.

21. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:308–15.

22. John Owen, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, Etc., in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 6:145–46.

23. Owen, “The Saints Perseverance,” in Works, 11:499.

24. John Owen, The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers, in Works, 6:165.

25. Owen based this on Romans 7:17–21 and John 15:5. Indwelling Sin, in Works, 6:153–56.

26. John Owen, Pneumatologia, or, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965),3:601–2. Cf. John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 4:155–57.

27. Philip A. Craig, “The Bond of Grace and Duty in the Soteriology of John Owen: The Doctrine of Preparation for Grace and Glory as a Bulwark against Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Antinomianism” (PhD diss., Trinity International University, 2005), 89.

28. Owen, Pneumatologia, in Works, 3:384.

29. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:243.

30. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:254ff.

31. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:393.

32. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:495.

33. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:280.

34. See Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 307.

35. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 282.

36. Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 311.

37. Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 311.

38. Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 315–20.

39. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 289.

40. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 282.

41. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 281.

42. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 283.

43. Obadiah Sedgwick, The Bowels of Tender Mercy Sealed in the Everlasting Covenant… (London: Edward Mottershed for Adoniram Byfield, 1661),


44. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:367.

45. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:369.

46. William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War against the Devil (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 1:265.

47. Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 1:269.

48. Richard Sibbes, Faith Triumphant, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 7:438.

49. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 288.

50. John Owen, Of Communion with God, in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 2:242.

51. John Flavel, Sacramental Meditations, in The Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), 6:407.

52. Owen, Of Communion with God, in Works, 2:243.

53. John Trapp, Commentary on the New Testament (Evansville, Ind.: Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958), 729.

54. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:561.

55. Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 1:263.

56. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:205.

57. Samuel Rutherford, The Tryal and Trivmph of Faith (London: John Field, 1645), 63.

58. Oliver Heywood, Sure Mercies of David, in The Whole Works of the Rev. Oliver Heywood (Idle, U.K.: by John Vint for F. Westley, et al., 1825), 2:319.

59. Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 265.

60. David Dickson, Truth’s Victory over Error (Burnie: Presbyterian Armoury Publications, 2002), 84–85.

61. Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies,” no. 695, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 18, The “Miscellanies,” 501–832, ed. Ava Chamberlain (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 280.

62. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:211.

63. Richard Alleine, Heaven Opened… The Riches of God’s Covenant of Grace (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 9.

64. Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 322.

65. Henry, A Scripture Catechism, in Works, 2:212.

66. Robert A. Richey, “The Puritan Doctrine of Sanctification: Constructions of the Saints’ Final and Complete Perseverance as Mirrored in Bunyan’sThe Pilgrim’s Progress” (ThD diss., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1990), 148–49.

67. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 279.

68. Richard Fairclough, “The Nature, Possibility, and Duty of a True Believer’s Attaining to a Certain Knowledge of His Effectual Calling, Eternal Election, and Final Perseverance to Glory,” in Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689, ed. James Nichols (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 6:411.

69. Fairclough, “Nature, Possibility, and Duty,” in Puritan Sermons, 6:412.

70. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 281.

71. Thomas Manton, “Sermon upon Luke 22:31, 32,” in The Works of Thomas Manton (Homewood, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008), 17:401.

72. Richard Sibbes, The Returning Backslider, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 2:427.

73. Coles, A Practical Discourse of God’s Sovereignty, 309.

74. Quoted by Watson, Body of Divinity, 287.

75. Watson, Body of Divinity, 289.

76. Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 258–59.

77. Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies,” no. 415, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13, The “Miscellanies,” a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994), 475.

78. John Bunyan, The Heavenly Footman, in The Whole Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor (London: Blackie and Son, 1862), 3:392.

79. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 283.

80. Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies,” no. 945, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 20, The “Miscellanies,” 833–1152, ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 203.

81. Edwards, “Miscellanies,” no. 84, in Works, 13:249.

82. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 289.

83. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:404.

84. Sibbes, Faith Triumphant, in Works, 7:443.

85. Owen, The Saints Perseverance, in Works, 11:28.

86. Samuel Annesley, “How We May Be Universally and Exactly Conscientious?”, in Puritan Sermons, 1659–1689: Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, and in Southwark by Seventy-five Ministers of the Gospel in or near London, trans. James Nichols (1674; reprint, Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 1:32–33. This is enlarged upon in chapter 55.

87. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 287.

88. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 32.

89. Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, 33.

90. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 288–89.

91. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 280.

92. Bunyan, The Heavenly Footman, in Works, 3:394.

93. Watson, A Body of Divinity, 279.


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