The Doctrines of Grace, Part Five: The Perseverance of the Saints Unto Glory
This final post of my series on the Doctrines of Grace, as displayed in the Canons of Dort, will appropriately cover our pilgrim perseverance unto the triumph of heaven and eternal glory. All the other doctrines logically lead to this most comforting truth - if we are elected, if salvation is all by God’s gracious call, if Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to save every single one of His people, then it must necessarily follow that Christians will persevere in their faith throughout all the drudgery, sadness, and tribulations of this life.
For life is indeed full of many trials and pitfalls. Though we have been forever delivered from the dominion and slavery of sin, we still labor under the “body of sin” and the infirmities of the flesh (CD 5:1). In fact, our struggle is so great that sometimes we can temporarily fall upon hard times and have to face difficult physical consequences due to yielding to these weaknesses. This, after all, did occur with saints such as David and Peter. Furthermore, our sins seriously grieve the Holy Spirit, burden our consciences, and remove us from the conscious enjoyment of God’s favor (CD 5:4-5). Yet in the end the Lord is always gracious to grant His erring children repentance.
In fact, God does use the existence of our struggles as a means to encourage us to draw close to Him for protection. For the saints, their infirmities “are to them a perpetual reason to humiliate themselves before God and to flee for refuge to Christ crucified; to mortify the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of piety; and to press forward to the goal of perfection, until at length, delivered from this body of death, they shall reign with the Lamb of God in heaven” (CD 5:2; 1 Cor. 1:8).
Furthermore, it is important to remember that all the precious gifts of salvation that God has given us cannot be withdrawn. God’s purpose of electing us is sure, His adoption of us as children in Christ cannot be revoked, and His justification of us based upon Christ’s righteousness is not able to be nullified. We Christians cannot commit the sin unto death, and that is a very comforting truth (CD 5:6; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 John 3:9; John 10:28-29).
It is entirely because of God’s mercy that we are enabled to draw back to Him and experience His favor once again. Since Christ is continually interceding for us (John 17; Rom. 8:32-35; Heb. 7:25), this means that the “incorruptible seed” of regeneration within us cannot perish and so we are encouraged to restore active fellowship with God and feel within ourselves the joy of our salvation (CD 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:23). Our assurance of our salvation is thus bolstered and strengthened according to the measure of our faith; and even though we may be tempted at times and lose a full realization of this assurance, God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13, CD 5:11). The assurance we have is not independent from the means which God provides for it: it comes through our trust in God’s promises, through the Holy Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), and through our ardent desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works. Indeed, “if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable” (CD 5:9-10).
One common objection made against the perseverance of the saints is the “saved, always saved” caricature that says it doesn’t matter what terrible things believers in Christ do - that they can sin willfully and do whatever they want, but they can still remain saved. This mischaracterizes the very nature of our perseverance: this perseverance is characterized by the love of Christ that our salvation produces within us. Indeed, the certainty of our perseverance “is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God” (CD 5:12). Rather than making us careless and flippant, the assurance of our salvation inherently encourages us to follow in the ways of the Lord, so that we may continue to please Him who gave us this assurance and bask in the immeasurable comfort of His gracious countenance (CD 5:13).
Our perseverance, just like many other facets of our Christian life, is ordinarily sustained through the proper use of means. As we pray, read the Word, attend upon worship every Lord’s Day, and partake of the sacraments, God continues to work within us through the power of His Holy Spirit to create endurance and strength that we may reach the finish line and finally gaze openly upon the beauty and glory of Christ. This is why we, as the bride of Christ, most tenderly love and constantly defend the perseverance of the saints as an inestimable treasure - because of the certainty of the amazing goal which we strive towards in spite of opposition from the devil, the corrupt world, and the heretics who futilely seek to destabilize us (CD 5:14-15; Rom. 8:39).
Truly, the Doctrines of Grace, the heart of the Gospel, testify to the magnificent, radiant glory of our God who delivered us from darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of heaven. Let us continue to cherish these truths of our salvation, delivered to us through Holy Scripture and summarized in such a faithful standard of doctrine as the Canons of Dort!
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