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OUTLINES IN THEOLOGY
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
1. What is the Scriptural doctrine as to the perseverance of the saints?
“They whom God hath accepted in his beloved, effectively 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.” [“Confession of Faith,” Chapter 17; “L. Cat.,”] Question 79.
2. By what arguments may the certainty of the final perseverance of the saints be established.
1st. The direct assertions of Scripture. (John 10:28-29; Rom. 11:29; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5).
2d. This certainty is a necessary inference, from the Scriptural doctrine (1) of election, (Jer. 31:3; Matt. 24:22-24; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:30); (2) of the covenant of grace, wherein the Father gave his people to his Son as the reward of his obedience and suffering, (Jer. 32:40; John 17:2-6); (3) of the union of Christians with Christ, in the federal aspect of which Christ is their surety, and they cannot fail (Rom. 8:1), and in the spiritual and vital aspect of which they abide in him, and because he lives they must live also, (John 14:19; Rom. 8:38-39; Gal. 2:20); (4) of the atonement, wherein Christ discharged all the obligations of his people to the law as a covenant of life, and purchased for them all covenanted blessings; if one of them should fail, therefore, the sure foundation of all would be shaken, (Isa. 53:6, 11; Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:24); (5) of justification, which declares all the conditions of the covenant of life satisfied, and sets its subject into a new relation to God for all future time, so that he can not fall under condemnation, since he is not under the law, but under grace, (Rom. 6:14); (6) of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, (a) as a seal by which we are marked as belonging to God, (b) as an earnest, or first installment of the promised redemption, in pledge of complete fulfillment, (John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14); (7) of the prevalency of Christ’s intercession, (John 11:42; 17:11, 15, 20; Rom. 8:34).
3. What is the doctrine of the Romish Church on this subject?
“Council of Trent,” Session vi., Canon 23. “If any one maintain that a man once justified cannot lose grace, and, therefore, that he who falls and sins never was truly justified, let him be accursed.”—See below, under Romish doctrine in this chapter, their view as to “venial sins.”
4. What is the Arminian doctrine on this point?
It is an inseparable part of the Arminian system, flowing necessarily from their views of election, of the design and effect of Christ’s death, and of sufficient grace and free will, that those who were once justified and regenerated may, by neglecting grace and grieving the Holy Spirit, fall into such sins as are inconsistent with true justifying faith, and continuing and dying in the same, may consequently, finally fall into perdition. —“Confession of the Remonstrants,” xi. 7. The Lutherans and the Arminians agree on this point. They both believe that the “elect” (those whom God has chosen to eternal life because he has certainly foreseen their perseverance in faith and obedience to the end) cannot finally apostatize. The true question between them and the Calvinists, therefore, is not whether the “elect,” but whether those once truly “regenerate and justified” can finally apostatize and perish.
5. What objection is urged against the orthodox doctrine on the ground of the free agency of man?
Those who deny the certainty of the final perseverance of the saints hold the false theory that liberty of the will consists in indifference, or the power of contrary choice, and consequently that certainty is inconsistent with liberty. This fallacy is disproved above, [Chapter XV., see especially Question 25, 26].
That God does govern the free acts of his creatures, as a matter of fact, is clear from history and prophecy, from universal Christian consciousness and experience, and from Scripture, (Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11; Phil. 2:13; Prov. 21:1).
That he does secure the final perseverance of his people in a manner perfectly consistent with their free agency is also clear. He changes their affections and thus determines the will by its own free spontaneity. He brings them into the position of children by adoption, surrounding them with all of the sources and instruments of sanctifying influence, and when they sin he carefully chastises and restores them. Hence the doctrine of Scripture is not that a man who has once truly believed is secure of ultimate salvation, subsequently feel and act as he may; but, on the contrary, that God secures the ultimate salvation of everyone who is once truly united to his Son by faith, by securing, through the power of the Holy Ghost, his most free perseverance in Christian feeling and obedience to the end.
6. What objection, is urged against the orthodox doctrine upon the ground of its supposed unfavorable influence upon morality?
The objection charged is, that this doctrine, “once in grace always in grace,” must naturally lead to carelessness, through a false sense of security in our present position, and of confidence that God will secure our final salvation independently of our own agency.
Although it is certain, on the part of God, that if we are elected and called, we shall be saved; yet it requires constant watchfulness, and diligence, and prayer to make that calling and election sure to us, (2 Pet. 1:10). That God powerfully works with us, and therefore secures for us success in our contest with sin, is in Scripture urged as a powerful reason not for sloth, but for diligence, (Phil. 2:13). The orthodox doctrine does not affirm certainty of salvation because we have once believed, but certainty of perseverance in holiness if we have truly believed, which perseverance in holiness, therefore, in opposition to all weaknesses and temptations, is the only sure evidence of the genuineness of past experience, or of the validity of our confidence as to our future salvation, and surely such an assurance of certainty cannot encourage either carelessness or immorality.
7. What objection to this doctrine is founded on the exhortations to diligence; and on the warnings of danger in case of carelessness, addressed to believers in the Scriptures?
The objection alleged is, that these exhortations and warnings necessarily imply the contingency of the believer’s salvation, as conditioned upon the believer’s continued faithfulness, and consequently involving liability to apostasy.
1st. The outward word necessarily comes to all men alike, addressing them in the classes in which they regard themselves as standing; and as professors, or “those who think they stand,” are many of them self-deceived, this outward word truly implies the uncertainty of their position (as far as man’s knowledge goes), and their liability to fall.
2d. That God secures the perseverance in holiness of all his true people by the use of means adapted to their nature as rational, moral, and free agents. Viewed in themselves they are always, as God warns them, unstable, and therefore, as he exhorts them, they must diligently cleave to his grace. It is always true, also, that if they apostatize they shall be lost; but by means of these very threatenings his Spirit graciously secures them from apostasy.
8. What special texts are relied upon to rebut the arguments of the orthodox upon this subject?
Ezekiel 18:24; Matthew 13:20-21; 2 Peter 2:20-21, and especially Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26.
All of these passages may be naturally explained in perfect consistency with the orthodox doctrine which is supported upon that wide range of Scripture evidence we have set forth above, Question 2. They present either, 1st, hypothetical warnings of the consequences of apostasy with the design of preventing it, by showing the natural consequences of indifference and of sin, and the necessity for earnest care and effort; or, 2d, they indicate the dreadful consequences of misimproving or of abusing the influences of common grace, which, although involving great responsibility, nevertheless come short of a radical change of nature or genuine conversion.
9. What argument do the opponents of this doctrine urge from Bible examples and from our own daily experience of apostates?
They cite from the Scriptures such instances as that of David and Peter, and they refer to the many examples of the apostasy of well-accredited professors, with which, alas! we are all familiar.
All these examples, however, fall evidently under one of two classes, either, 1st, they were from the beginning without the real power of godliness, although bearing so fair an appearance of life in the sight of their fellow-men, (Rom. 2:28; 9:6; 1 John 2:19; Rev. 3:1); or, 2d, they are true believers who, because of the temporary withdrawal of restraining grace, have been allowed to backslide for a time, while in every such case they are graciously restored, and that generally by chastisement, (Rev. 3:19). Of this class were David and Peter. No true Christian is capable of deliberate apostasy; his furthest departure from righteousness being occasioned by the sudden impulse of passion or fear, (Matt. 24:24; Luke 22:31).
“Conc. Trident.,” Sess. 6, ch. 15. —“It is to be maintained that the received grace of justification is lost, not only by infidelity, whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost.”
Ib., can. 23. —“If any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified . . . let him be anathema.”
Ib., chap. 11. —“For, although, during this mortal life, men how holy and just soever, at times fall at least into light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just.”
Ib., Sess. 14, ch. 5. —“For venial sins, whereby we are not excluded from the grace of God, and into which we fall more frequently, although they be rightly and profitably, and without any presumption, declared in confession, as the custom of pious persons demonstrates, yet may they be omitted without guilt, and be expiated by many other remedies. But, whereas all mortal sins, even those of thought, render men children of wrath, and enemies of God, it is necessary to seek also for the pardon of them all from God, with a modest and open confession.”
Bellarmin, “De Amiss. Gra.,” Sess. 14, cap. 5. —“(1.) Venial sin is distinguished from mortal sin, as of its own nature, and without any relation to the predestination or the mercy of God, or to the state of the regenerate, deserving a certain but not an eternal punishment. (2.) These sins are either venial from their own nature, having for their object a thing evil and inordinate, but which does not oppose the love of God and of our neighbor—as an idle word, or they are venial from the imperfection of the action, i.e., (a) such as are not perfectly voluntary (deliberate), as arising from a sudden movement of cupidity or anger, and (b) such as relate to trifles, as the theft of one obolus.”
“Formula Concordice,” p. 705. —“That false opinion is to be earnestly confuted and rejected, which certain feign, that faith, and realized justification, and salvation itself, cannot be lost by any sins or crimes whatsoever.”
Ib., p. 591. —“We condemn that dogma, that faith in Christ is not lost, and that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell none the less in a man, although he knowingly and willingly sins, and that the sanctified and elect retain the Holy Spirit, although they fall into adulteries or other crimes, and persevere in them.”
“Apol. Aug. Conf.,” p. 71. —“Faith cannot coexist with mortal sin.”
Ib., p. 86. —“That faith, which receives remission of sins . . does not remain in those who indulge their lusts, neither can it coexist with mortal sin.”
“Canon of the Synod of Dort,” ch. 5, c. 3. —“Because of the remains of indwelling sin . . . the converted could not continue in this grace, if they were left to their own strength. But God is faithful who confirms them in the grace once mercifully conferred on them, and powerfully preserves them in the same, even unto the end. Can. 4.—But though that power of God, confirming the truly faithful in grace, and preserving them, is greater than what can be overcome by the flesh, yet the converted are not always so influenced and moved by God, that they cannot depart in certain particular actions, from the leading of grace, and be seduced by the lusts of the flesh, and obey them. They may fall even into grievous and atrocious sins. . . . . Can. 5.—But by such enormous sins they exceedingly offend God, they incur the guilt of death, they grieve the Holy Spirit, they interrupt the exercise of faith, they most grievously wound conscience, and they sometimes lose for a time the sense of grace, until by serious repentance returning into the way, the paternal countenance of God again shines upon them. Can. 6. —For God, who is rich in mercy, from his immutable purpose of election, does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls, nor does he so permit them to glide down that they should fall from the grace of adoption, and the state of justification, or commit the sin unto death, or against the Holy Spirit, that being deserted by him, they should cast themselves headlong into eternal destruction. . . Can. 8.—So that not by their own merits or strength, but by the gratuitous mercy of God they (the elect) obtain it, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their falls and perish.”
“West. Conf. Faith,” ch. 17, § 1. —“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. §2. —This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own freewill, 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.”
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