Chapter VI, Preservation and Perseverance (continued)

In the confessions of the Reformed churches this truth is especially developed in the {Canons of Dordrecht, Chapter V. We must remember that Arminius himself, who died in 1609, did not directly deny or oppose the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But nevertheless he expressed serious doubts, and certainly wanted to have the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints settled at a synod. And the same is true of the Articles of the Remonstrance. It is in opposition to this that our fathers of Dordrecht composed the Canons. In the fifth chapter they emphasize that a final falling away from grace is impossible, and that therefore God preserves, and, as a fruit of that preservation, the saints in Christ persevere. 

In the first five articles of this Chapter V of the Canons, our fathers first of all emphasize that the remnants of sin are still in the members of the saints. Thus, in Article I we read: "Whom God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin, and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world." Then, in Article 2, the Canons teach that from the old nature that is still in them spring daily sins of infirmity. But, according to Article 2, the fact that these daily sins of infirmity reveal themselves in the Christian nevertheless causes him to be sorry over sin and to humble himself before God and to fly for refuge to Christ crucified, and also constantly to press forward to the goal of perfection. Then, in Article 3, the Canons teach that by reason of these remains of indwelling sin and also by reason of the temptations of sin and of the world, the saints would certainly fall away and could not persevere, if it were not for the eternal faithfulness of God, Who powerfully preserves them unto the end. In Article 4 we are taught that "Although the weakness of the-flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced by, and comply with the lusts of the flesh." And therefore the believers must constantly be busy in watching and prayer. If they neglect this, they may fall into some gross sins, as is evident from the fall of David, Peter, and other saints, described in the Word of God. In Article 5 the Canons still speak of the infirmities of the flesh and of its being possible to fall into some gross sins. And by these gross sins they may sometimes lose the sense of God's favor for a time. 

However, in Article 6 the Canons already teach that the. complete falling away from grace is impossible: "But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction." In Article 7 the Canons explain this impossibility of the saints falling away from grace entirely: "For in the first place, in these falls he preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling." 

And this is further explained in Article S, and again I quote: "Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail, neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated." 

In the following articles of Chapter V of the Canons they explain that believers may have the assurance of their preservation. But this assurance does not spring from any peculiar revelation, apart from the Word of God, but springs from a three-fold source: in the first place, from faith in the promises of God; in the second place, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children of. God; and finally, in the third place, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works. Not indeed as if believers are always fully assured of their salvation and of their preservation and perseverance unto the end: they have to struggle, and under grievous temptations they are not always aware of this full assurance of faith. Thus we read in Article 11: "The Scripture moreover testifies, that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptations they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith and certainty of persevering. But God, who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it. I Cor. 10:13, and by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering." 

This certainty of their preservation and of their perseverance certainly does not inspire in believers a spirit of pride, or make them carnal and profane. On the contrary, it is a source of humility, reverence, piety, patience in every tribulation, and induces the believers to pray fervently and to constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth and rejoicing in God. And when, after they have backslid, they stand again in renewed confidence of perseverance, this confidence does not cause in them licentiousness, "but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained, that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering, lest by abusing his fatherly kindness, God should turn away his gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life: the withdrawing whereof is more bitter than death, and they in consequence thereof should fall into more grievous torments of conscience." Canons V, 13. It is especially by the preaching of the gospel and by the use of the sacraments that this perseverance of faith is wrought in the believers. And finally, "'The carnal mind is unable to comprehend this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and the certainty thereof; which God hath more abundantly revealed in his Word, for the glory of his name, and the consolation of pious souls, and which he impresses upon the hearts of the faithful. Satan abhors it; the world ridicules it; the ignorant and hypocrites abuse, and heretics oppose it; but the spouse of Christ hath always most tenderly loved and constantly defended it, as an inestimable treasure; and God, against whom neither counsel nor strength can prevail, will dispose her to continue this conduct to the end." Canons V, 15. 

It is also in the nature of the case that all Pelagians and Arminians deny and combat this plainly revealed truth. And the deepest cause of it all is, of course, that. they deny sovereign -election and reprobation. They do, indeed confess to believe in a counsel of God in respect to the salvation of the elect. But it is a counsel that turns upon the axis of the free will of man. God foresaw that some would accept the gospel, and others reject it; and the former were elected unto faith. But God also foresaw that there was a way, a way of conflict and battle, between that beginning of salvation and its end. God foresaw that in that way many would fall away, and not persevere in the faith, while others persevere even unto the end. And only the last, namely, those that were foreseen by God to, persevere unto the end, He hath chosen unto everlasting life. Even as the beginning of the way of salvation rests in and depends upon the free will of man, so its continuant is dependent upon the same will. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Arminians, holding such an erroneous view of election, must teach a possible falling away from grace. This was already suggested by Arminius himself, according to the "Writings of Arminius," I, p. 254. There. he writes under the caption, "The Perseverance of the Saints," as follows: "My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the saints are that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by a true faith, and have thus been made partakers of His life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers or strength to fight against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies, yet not without the assistance of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by His Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of His hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore His help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hand of Christ." Thus far, of course, Arminius seems to teach the final perseverance of the saints. However, that this is not true the following quotation will verify: 

"But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, or synod, to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and cause divine grace to be ineffectual." 

And then, at the close of this same chapter, Arminius writes: "Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages in Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves in all points to my understanding." 

And he closes this same chapter with the following words: "On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine (of unconditional perseverance) which are worthy of much consideration." 

It is therefore plain that, to say the least, Arminius doubted the final perseverance of the saints. 

But this same error was rather clearly expressed in the Remonstrance of 1610, Article V: "That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have therefore become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28, 'Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.' But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, or turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds." 

It is quite evident that in the above quotation the Remonstrants were true disciples of Arminius because they literally quote from his writings, from which I quoted before. 

It stands to reason that, like all heretics, also the Arminians appeal to Scripture for their view of the possibility of the falling away from grace. They refer, for instance, to the fact that the Scriptures themselves exhort us to perseverance and self-preservation. Thus, we are exhorted to endure unto the end, Matt. 24:13. Eternal life is promised to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, Rom. 2:7. Thus we are also exhorted to abide in Christ, and that whoever does not abide in Him, as the branch in the vine, is cast out, John 15:1-4. The final glorification of the saints, according to Scripture, depends on the keeping of the faith, Col. 1:33. It binds upon our hearts and consciences to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip, Heb. 2:1. Only if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end, are we made partakers of Christ, Heb. 3:14. We must labor and give diligence to enter into the rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief, Heb. 4:11. If the church of Ephesus does not repent and remember whence she is fallen and do the first works, Christ will come unto her quickly and will remove the candlestick out of its place, Rev. 2:5. The church of Thyatira is admonished to hold fast that which she already has until the coming of the Lord,Rev. 2:25. The church of Smyrna is exhorted to be faithful unto death; and unto those that are faithful Christ promises the crown of life. Rev. 2:10. And the church of Sardis is addressed as follows: "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Rev. 3:3. And again, the church of Philadelphia is admonished and exhorted as follows: "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." 

What conclusions the Remonstrants draw from these passages is self-evident. In the first place, they conclude that seeing that Scripture exhorts us to persevere and to be faithful and steadfast unto the end, it must be plain m itself that such perseverance and steadfastness depend upon our own will and exertion. Admonition presupposes not only responsibility for that unto which we are admonished; but this responsibility presupposes, in turn, that we who are thus admonished also are able to follow up the contents of the same admonition. Hence, it depends on us. In the second place, the Arminians insist that in these Scriptural passages the final salvation is presented as dependent upon our giving heed to and following up the admonition. Whoever fails in this respect falls away and becomes reprobate; but whoever is faithful and perseveres unto the end receives eternal life. Salvation, according to the Arminians, is always contingent upon our act of abiding in Christ. In last instance, this is an act of our own. Hence, according to them, it is abundantly plain that perseverance and final salvation depend on man's own free will. And finally, these passages of Scripture also presuppose the possibility that some do not abide in Christ and are cast out. 

They also appeal to those passages in Scripture that seem to point to examples of falling away from grace. Thus they point to Hymenaeus and Philetus, who departed from the truth, claiming that the resurrection from the dead had already occurred in the past. II Tim. 2:17, 18. And they point to Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom the apostle delivered unto Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme. I Tim. 1:20. Again, they refer to the false teachers that arose in the church, denying that the Lord had bought them, and that bring upon themselves swift destruction. II Peter 2:1. And they point to those who, after they have escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of Christ Jesus, are again entangled in those same pollutions and are overcome, and whose latter end is worse than the beginning. For thus writes the apostle, "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them." II Peter 3:20, 21. And the apostle concludes: "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, "The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." II Peter 2:22. Of all these examples the Arminians presuppose that these apostates had been really partakers of the grace of regeneration and faith, and that they lost all this grace through their own unfaithfulness and apostasy. 

They also refer to certain passages of Holy Writ in which, according to them, the possibility of final falling away from Christ is literally taught. Such passages are, for instance, Romans 11, where the apostle speaks of branches that are cut off on account of unbelief, and where he warns the believers that they must not be high-minded but rather fear. If God did not spare the natural branches, they must beware lest He also does not spare them. At the same time, they also appeal toJohn 15:2, where the Lord speaks of branched that are cut off from the vine. And again, they appeal toHebrews 10:26-31, where the author writes: "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 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? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." 

—H.H.